Bovine Caretakers of Chilika

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Endemic to the Chilika ecosystem is a unique species of buffalo that is endowed with the capability of entering deep into the brackish waters of the wetlands. These bovines graze on the grass and other vegetation that grows under water, drink the brackish water to quench their thirst, and remain immersed inside the water for days together. They are genetically wired with resilience to withstand the marshy environment and extreme weather conditions. They are tethered or let loose in the open under hot sun or heavy rains. Though low yielding, that fact that they are hardy and zero maintenance makes them a viable business option for villagers who rear them.

Chilika buffaloes clean the inside of the lake and wetlands by grazing on unruly vegetation, thereby clearing trails and channels for boats within the wetlands. They oxygenate the waters with their brisk movements and convert the grass fodder into highly nutritious milk. The buffalo droppings are nutritious feed for fish and other organisms. When they move in the waters, their movement forces the small fish, frogs and insects to come to the surface of the water. This is the reason why we often see birds sitting on the backs of the buffaloes and hovering low in the air just behind the buffaloes, to feed on such fish, frogs and insects.

Chilika buffaloes being an endemic species are an integral part of the functioning of the Chilika ecosystem, especially the biodiversity food chain. Therefore, it is imperative to safeguard this buffalo germplasm in order to maintain ecological balance in the habitat. As they are reducing in numbers due to disinterest in the younger generation of families that rear these animals, policies and programmes need to be adopted by government and other concerned agencies to align conservation of this species with research on genetic variations to find out if the dairy yield can be enhanced.

by Avinash Khemka, Industrialist and avid Wildlife Photographer.

03 Jun 2021
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By Avinash Khemka


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