Burning Issues

Cattle of Bharatpur

Cattle of Bharatpur-Part III

    Priya Phadtare

The Bharatpur Study

Late in the seventies, the population of birds in the Bharatpur Park saw a slight decline. The BNHS was the first to notice so and this lead J.C. Daniel, now the honorary secretary of BNHS, to probe the matter by undertaking a ten year study (also funded by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service)  which was to be chiefly observational in nature.

BNHS had a fair idea about the culprit cattle. David Challinor, the Assistant Secretary for Science at the Smithsonian, visited Bharatpur in 1980 and was shocked to see that the park’s administration had been taken over by a villager who frequently allowed the cattle to enter park’s premises unchecked. The cattle destroyed some of the bunds leading to the widespread loss of water which was the primary supporting factor of the water birds.

This report prompted the government to declare the bird sanctuary as a national park with effect from 1981 which required the Keoladeo National Park to be free of livestock and people in compliance with the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. In 1982, the Government of Rajasthan enforced the rules which saw a wave of protests by the people of adjoining villages leading to the death of nine people. The BNHS study also began around the same time and this positioned it well enough to evaluate the status of the park’s ecology before and after the ban on grazing.

The BNHS dropped a bomb in 1991 by claiming that the bird biodiversity of the park had declined even more after the ban on grazing as found at the end of their ten year study. The actual culprits were found out to be a few weed species (both fast-growing native species, and intro¬duced species such as Paspalum and the water hyacinth) which were proliferating rapidly leading to the death of fish and ultimately the bird population.  Ironically it was found out that the weed population could be checked and the biodiversity of the birds could be maintained only if the cattle were reintroduced into the park.

BNHS, the strongest advocates of the ban on the grazing activities concluded that 'the only ecologically viable alternative [to the weed takeover] is to set the primary consumers (buffalo) back into the system'.  BNHS also stated that the policy of no interference followed elsewhere in the world (primarily in the US parks) and the progenitor idea behind the passing of the Wildlife Act (Protection) written in 1972 would not do the park much good.  These findings put the forest officials into a fix eventually as according to the studies the park could handle about 3000 cattle but the total population of cattle around the park was much larger and the much bigger problem was that the Wildlife Act had not undergone any amendments to allow the cattle in. The population of the cattle in the park has been increasing steadily over the years. The park officials have been constantly battling the cattle menace by sterilization and relocation methods but they say that it is a hopeless fight nevertheless. Until the law is changed, nothing much can be done really.

The BNHS Bharatpur study has never been published in a scientific journal. Copies of the final summary report have been bound and distributed widely throughout India, but informally. Even without publication, this study and its shocking determination that the banning of livestock hurt the health of the national park is one of the best-known research projects in India among ecologists and environmentalists. Many environmentalists accept the BNHS findings for Bharat¬pur, but still maintain that larger parks that are not so artificial would benefit from a ban on grazing.

A peopleless, cattleless park did not help Bharatpur's birds. That is what we might learn: the futility of imposing one vision of how to save nature across the globe, no matter how dire the environmental crisis seems to be.

The Keoladeo National Park is a little park with overflowing cattle population. Seeing cattle grazing around in a place dedicated to the protection and conservation of wildlife does not come across as a very pleasing sight.

The End

Part I  of this article can be read at


Part II  of this article can be read at


About the author:

Priya Phadtare has done biochemistry from Sri Venkateaswara College, Delhi.  She is an avid reader with a keen interest in wildlife.  She can be contacted at priyaa1808@gmail.com


1.    Adams, Alexander (1962), 'How it Began,' in Alexander Adams (ed), First World Conference on National Parks,

Seattle, Washington, June 30-July 7, 1962, pp. xxxii. Washington D.C.: National Park Service. 
2.    Ali, Salim (1985), The Fall of a Sparrow. Delhi: Oxford University Press.     
3.    Futehally, Zafar (1967), 'Misuse of Nature: Some Ecological Facts,' The Times of India’, 11 June (1992).
4.    The Wildlife of India. New Delhi: Harper Collins.   

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