Several Jirds bustled into their holes as we drove through the dirt road. I felt apologetic for disturbing these small burrowing rodents, who were busy feeding on the recently blossomed Bui flower (Aerva javanica). Just as we drove away, the Jirds were back to their business and we entered the territory of Jalore Wildlife Safari (henceforth JWS). The park (400 hectares) is situated few kilometers away from Jalore City, near Dhavla village, in Rajasthan. Jalore being a part of the great Indian Thar Desert is characterised by sandy trails, flat savanna, undulating grass bunds and is surrounded by the isolated Eserna range of hills and rocky ridges. The famous Jalore fort and Amba mata temple lies at a distance of 13 km from the park.
It was in the month of January 2013 that I was given this opportunity to volunteer for a 10 days biodiversity survey of JWS, by my professor, Dr. Sumit Dookia. At that time, I was pursuing Masters in Biodiversity and Conservation from GGS Indraprastha University, Delhi.
Dr. Dookia was assessing the prospect of this land as a potential conservation area. I teamed up with Mr. Vigil Wilson, a research scholar form my university, and the co-owner of Jalore resort, Mr. Ravindra Singh Chouhan.
JWS is connected to Eserna Reserved Forest, and hence, is part of a continuous forest patch. The faunal diversity comprises of rare and endangered animals like the Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena), Chinkara or the Indian Gazelle (Gazella bennettii), Jungle Cat (Felis chaus), and the elusive Asian Steppe Wildcat (ornata sub species) which is known in India as the Indian Desert cat (Felis silvestris ornata). This area is also rich in avifaunal diversity and consists of more than 120 species of resident birds including Long-billed Vulture, Eurasian Griffon, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Crested White-capped Bunting, Tawny Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Short-toed snake eagle, Rock Bush Quail, Jungle Bush Quail. Jalore vegetation is broadly classified as tropical thorn forest. Flora mainly consists of Mithijal (Salvedura olyeoidis), Kajari (Prosopis sineraria), Rohida (Tecomela undulata), Tribulus rajasthanensis, various wild savannah species including Sinia and Thor (Uphorbia Caducifolia), the endangered jungle basil, indigenous fruit trees, and various wildflowers.
Model for Ecotourism
Ecotourism is defined as tourism that is ecologically sustainable for which JWS is an excellent example. An eco-friendly campsite has been developed in the heart of the park with tents that ensure a comfortable stay for the guests. In JWS, only a small group of 1-6 visitors are allowed at a time. The mornings in Jalore greet you with a cacophony of calls from peacocks, quails, and francolins. A short walk in the park and visitors might be able to sight the magnificent raptors and ungulates. Another attraction of JWS is the night safari, where visitors can enjoy sightings of elusive species like the Desert Cat, Jungle Cat, Desert Hare and Indian Crested Porcupine. This area is occasionally visited by Leopards as well. Short treks into the hills provide lucky hikers a chance of enjoying the panoramic view and breath taking events of sun set.
Forty percent of funds received from the guests goes back to protection and maintenance of the park and some part is spent on schemes for local villages. Earlier this land was a popular hunting ground for the Royal families and guests of Khaniwara. Ecotourism initiatives and outreach programs have significantly helped in controlling poaching in Jalore Safari area and its surroundings. Various water harvesting systems have been built in the safari area that makes water available for wildlife year-round. Ecotourism programs also include purchasing, planting, and re-forestation of various indigenous trees and plants. Many research projects and conservation programs have been implemented in JWS. Photo-documented sighting of Ruddy Mongoose (Herpestes smitthii) was recently recorded by Dr. Sumit Dookia in this area and is believed to be an extension from the nearest population in Kumbhalgarh. JWS is one of the few areas known to have sizeable number of Asian Steppe-Wildcat. Camera trap studies conducted in and around the park has confirmed the presence of around 8-10 Hyenas in the park. The co-owner of JWS, Ravindra Singh Chouhan wants to extend his ambitions and intends to sensitize the populace, especially school children of Jalore towards wildlife and importance of their conservation. He wishes to increase ecotourism in this area, believing that this can help locals by providing new job opportunities. He says that “these initiatives can give Jalore, a small beautiful town of our’s, a global identity”. He seeks support from government agencies and desires to help in controlling poaching in the park and adjoining forest area.
Saving the last of Jalore’s biodiversity and its challenges
Jalore is also known as the granite city of Rajasthan. Mining in this part of Jalore started in 1991, since then continuous mining activity has drastically affected the biodiversity of this area. Granite mining has caused large-scale deforestation. Besides clearing the mining area, blasting and increase in human activities is taking a toll on the local wildlife. Grazing and granite mining are the prime threats to this habitat. Jalore Wildlife Safari is the only undisturbed land left in this region. Desert Foxes have started to abandon their dens in and around the mining sites. The commonly seen vultures in the past have moved out of this area and now have migrated to other hills at a distance from the safari. Remains of the scrapped, deformed and blasted granite hills can be seen around the park. These abandoned waste lands, if given some attention, can be restored back to life.
The park is surrounded by more than 5 villages and is under continuous pressure of human and livestock encroachment. Unfortunately, JWS is too small on its own to sustain the wild animal diversity and is highly dependent on the surrounding forest areas, which are in continuous threat from mining and grazing. Park’s existence and long term survival of its wildlife depends upon the continued existence of its surrounding forests. If mining and grazing activities are prevented, we will see a rise in the populations of these species. Conservation of this area and surrounding forests will go a long way in providing the local wildlife with a safe haven to flourish.
I have done my Masters in Biodiversity and Conservation from GGSIP University, Delhi. I have previously worked on Feral-dog conflict in Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh and is currently working as Research Biologist at Wildlife Institute of India under All India Tiger Monitoring Project. I have a deep interest in conservation biology and advocate understanding ecology of species as a fundamental part of any conservation initiatives.