A Great Indian bustard. Photo via Madras Ramblings.
When the animal a national park was designated to protect hasn't been seen in the area for 16 years, is it worth maintaining the land as a sanctuary? Residents of the villages around the Karera bird sanctuary in India say no -- and argue that their economic, and marital, prospects are being hindered by their inability to use the land devoted to the Great Indian bustard.The 124-square-kilometer bird sanctuary in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh was set aside in 1981 in an attempt to save the bustard, one of the world's heaviest flying birds and a species that was once common in the semi-arid grassland Karera area but whose population had dwindled by that time to just over a dozen birds. Area residents say not a single bird of the species has been sighted since 1994 and are pressuring local authorities to remove the area's park status -- something that would make Karera the first national park in India to lose its official designation, the BBC reports.
Habitat Destruction a Serious Problem
As in many other land-use conflicts around the world, the people who would like to see the sanctuary lose its status say they are being harmed by their inability to buy, sell, mine, or develop the land. But it's not just about material wealth, they told the BBC, it's also about wedded bliss:
Manoj Siwari, from Phatehpur village, is 25 years old and says he has been turned down five times by prospective brides. He blames the national park for his failure to marry. "Please declassify this sanctuary so that we can organize our lives," he said. "There are no rare birds here any more. We are being held to ransom unnecessarily. During marriage discussions, people criticize us for our inability to raise money. It is not fair."
Some officials, however, say the hostile attitude of villagers is part of what has led to the inability to protect the globally threatened bustards and other animals in the region. "When we built watch towers, they tore them down. They do not kill the animals but do not report any illegal activity either," one forest officer told the BBC. Others say mechanized farming, overgrazing, and habitat destruction are behind the birds' disappearance.
Whatever the reason, it seems clear that no bustards will return to Karera -- and more species will likely disappear -- unless officials can figure out a way to encourage locals to help protect the birds without sacrificing their prospects for brides.
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