Ovitla Landga
Ovi is the local folk poetry in Maharashtra which is even narrated by Dhangars

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About The Project
Grasslands - Dhangars - Wolves of Maharashtra
Grasslands are often relegated to the status of waste lands in India today. They are important ecosystems that are used extensively by pastoralist communities as well as wildlife, including species such as the Indian wolf and the Great Indian Bustard. India supports one of the highest livestock densities in the world with 500 million livestock heads. More than 50% of the fodder for these livestock comes from the grassland ecosystem.

Pastoralists, who form around 7% of the Indian population have been using these lands since historical times going back to even 1500 BC. Even so, currently, policy efforts aim to convert the pastoral lifestyle even though pastoralism constitutes an important part of the Indian economy. There is an absence of policy that aims to prevent the loss of grasslands to development and diversion to activities that are not amenable to pastoralism.

Grasslands are maintained by anthropogenic pressures in the Deccan plateau where transhumant people as well as resident shepherds have used these areas since historical times. These areas are typically in the rain shadow regions of Sahyadri requiring the pastoralists to migrate based on fodder availability.

Grasslands because of their unique characteristics are also home to a host of endangered wild species that are adapted to the arid conditions. Species like the Indian wolf, Blackbuck, Great Indian bustard, Indian fox occur in the grasslands most of which occur outside the Protected Area matrix. These areas therefore cannot be viewed or managed in the traditional “Protected Area” method because of the extensive spread of this ecosystem as well as the presence of dense human populations that have traditionally used these areas posing a challenge to the conservation of grasslands.

One of the iconic wild carnivore that inhabits this ecosystem is the Indian Wolf. Most of their ranging is outside Protected Areas in India and around half of their diet is known to consist of domestic animals. There is also evidence on the Indian grey wolf belonging to an ancient clade which has not mixed with the wolf-dog clade, making them genetically ancient and dif ferent from all other wolves of the world. This gives all the more reason to prioritize conservation efforts for the Indian wolf.

To understand better the grasslands of Maharashtra; the Pune Wildlife Division of the Maharashtra Forest department has launched a project “Ovitla Landga”. The project aims at obtaining basic information on the grasslands, dhangars and wolves and providing this information to managers, media and the public so that a better understanding can lead to informed future research and management actions.

Specifically, the project aims to:
  1. Assess the distribution of wolves and other large carnivores in human use landscapes of western Maharashtra.

  2. Assess the livestock losses Dhangars and other resident shepherds have to all natural causes, including wolves.

  3. Document the religious spaces of dhangars and the changes in accessibility of these sites in recent years.

  4. Assess the potential for restoring the grasslands in Supe which have been converted to plantations of exotic species in the past.

  5. Map the distribution of the Great Indian Bustard, an iconic grassland species.

  6. Assess the relationships between shepherds and the wolves that they share space with.

  7. Obtain information on the political ecology of human large carnivore interactions in the grassland landscape.

  8. Obtain information on distribution of grasslands and their carnivores using citizen science.
References:
  1. Abi Tamim Vanak. 2013. Conservation & Sustainable Use of the Dry Grassland Ecosystem in Peninsular India: A Quantitative Framework for Conservation Landscape Planning. Submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

  2. Anon. 2007. Report of the Task Force on Grasslands and Deserts. Government of India Planning Commission. New Delhi.

  3. Gadgil M., and K.P. Malhotra. 1982. Ecology of a pastoral caste: Gavli dhangars of peninsular India. Human Ecology (10): 107-143.

  4. Jhala Y,V. and R. H. Giles. 1991. The status and conservation of the wolf in Gujarat and Rajasthan, India. Conservation Biology 5: 476–483.

  5. Maurya, K.M., Habib, B. and S. Kumar, 2011. Food Habits of Indian Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) in Decc an Plateau of Maharashtra, India. World Journal of Zoology 6 (3): 318-322.

  6. Patil D. S., Meena H. R., Tripathi H., Kumar S. and Singh D.P. 2012. Socio Economic Profile of Sheep Reared Dhangar Pastoralists of Maharashtra, India. J Rec Adv Agri, 1(3): 84-91.

  7. Sharma, V.P., Kohler-Rollefson, I. and J. Morton. 2003. Scoping study on pastoralism in India. Centre for Management in Agriculture, Indian Institute of Management (IMM), Ahmedabad, India and League for Pastoral Peoples, Ober-Ramstadt, Germany. 63 pp.

  8. Sontheimer, G-D. 1989. Pastoral Dieties in Western India. Oxford University Press. New York. USA.

  9. Trivedi, T.P. 2010. Degraded and wastelands of India. Status and Spatial Distribution. Indian Council of Agricultural Research New Delhi.
Grassland
Grasslands support the livelihoods of millions of people in India, largely landless pastoralists and marginal farmers whose main source of subsistence is livestock rearing. An ancient occupation, today pastoralists form about 7% of the population and contribute significantly to the GDP of this country. India supports extremely high livestock densities and their food resources are either cultivated fodder/crop reside or fodder available from common grazing lands. The people mainly using the latter depend almost entirely on animal husbandry for their living.

However, with increasing irrigation and agriculture and increased grazing pressure the grasslands are a threatened ecosystem. Often they are also considered as waste lands. The Planning Commission report of 2011, states that India’s pastures have reduced from 70 million ha in 1947 to 38 million ha in 1997. Furthermore, grazing lands are also planted with invasive species which cannot be eaten by the livestock thereby decreasing the productivity of the lands. Despite focus by the MOEF and recommendations by the Planning Commission and the Grassland Task Force, on ground there is no concerted action on grassland management.

The grassland ecosystem is largely maintained by anthropogenic factors such as grazing, cutting and burning. These areas are also home to dense human populations. One example is the Deccan Plateau region in Maharashtra that spans across numerous dis-tricts and is home to a variety of different human communities. A well known example of a transhumant group are the migratory dhangars who travel large distances with large flocks of sheep and goats.

Apart from sustaining such high human and livestock densities, the grasslands of Maharashtra are also home to a variety of wildlife such as the Great Indian Bustard, Indian Wolf, Indian Fox, Hyaenas, Lesser Florican etc.
Given the complex nature of the system, its high productivity, it being maintained due to anthropogenic causes, the dependancy on its resources by a large number of people and by a variety of wildlife species, conservation of grasslands is a challenging task. This project aims to understand the importance of grasslands in Maharashtra from the perspective of the dhangars and wolves, both who depend extensively on the grasslands.

References:
  1. Abi Tamim Vanak. 2013. Conservation & Sustainable Use of the Dry Grassland Ecosystem in Peninsular India: A Quantitative Framework for Conservation Landscape Planning. Submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

  2. Anonymous.1988. National Forest Policy. Ministry of Environment and Forests. New Delhi.

  3. Anonymous. 2007. Report of the Task Force on Grasslands and Deserts. Government of India Planning Commission. New Delhi.

  4. Anonymous. 2011. Report of the Sub Group III on Fodder and Pasture Management. Constituted under the Working Group on Forestry and Sustainable Natural Resource Management. Planning Commission of India.

  5. Trivedi, T.P. 2010. Degraded and wastelands of India. Status and spatial Distribution. ICAR. New Delhi.
Dhangars
Pastoralism is an occupation that is dependant on livestock rearing and associated activities and has been practised in India since 3500 years. Today pastoralists constitute about 7% of the Indian population, occurring in the drylands of Western India, the Deccan Plateau and in the Himalayas.

A pastoralist group predominantly occurring in Maharashtra are the Dhangars who are a traditional semi nomadic group. They maintain large herds of largely sheep along with goats, buffaloes, horses, dogs and chickens. The men and women share work with relation to herding, feeding, milking, assisting ewes in labour, taking care of the animals.

Despite pastoralism being an important way of life in India, there is no official pastoral policy and very little ecological or anthropological information is present on the pastoralists and the Dhangars. However, intensive work on the religion of the Dhangars has been carried out .

The reason why this project is also focussing on the Dhangars, is because unlike settled farmers and pastoralists, they use the entire grassland landscape, moving large distances in search of fodder with their large herds of sheep and goats. Without grasslands they will not have fodder for their subsistence.

Dhangars are constantly interacting with the wolves who feed off their livestock. However, the relationship is not antagonistic as we expect it to be. In fact, one of their ovi’s recounts how the Dhangar God made wolves in order to keep the Dhangar on their toes.
A movie on the Hatkar Dhangars:
http://www.onlinefilm.org/en/film/51111
A journey of the Hatkar Dhangars.

References:
  1. Gadgil M., and K.P. Malhotra. 1982. Ecology of a pastoral caste: Gavli Dhangars of peninsular India. Human Ecology (10): 107-143.

  2. Patil D. S., Meena H. R., Tripathi H., Kumar S. and Singh D.P. 2012. Socio Economic Profile of Sheep Reared Dhangar Pastoralists of Maharashtra, India. J Rec Adv Agri, 1(3): 84-91.

  3. Sharma, V.P., Kohler-Rollefson, I. and J. Morton. 2003. Scoping study on pastoralism in India. Centre for Management in Agriculture, Indian Institute of Management (IMM), Ahmedabad, India and League for Pastoral Peoples, Ober-Ramstadt, Germany. 63 pp.

  4. Sontheimer, G-D. 1989. Pastoral Deities in Western India. Oxford University Press. New York.
Wolves
Wolves are one of the widest ranging carnivores with a distribution spanning North American, Africa, Asia and Europe. Recent studies using genetic markers finds that India is home to three different clades of wolves with the Himalayan wolf being the oldest going back to million years. The wolf of the dry peninsular grassland landscape dates back to 4,00,000 years. Wolf human interactions go back to 1,50,000 years ago when wolves were domesticated to form our companion animals; the dogs.

Three factors are crucial for wolf persistence; habitat, prey and humans who allow them to live. Persecution by humans was the main reason for wolf populations to disappear from many parts of Europe and North America and it is only recently, with increased conservation and protection that wolves are colonising parts of their historical ranges in these areas.

Even today wolves occur predominantly in human use landscapes in India. Fortunately they are not associated negatively in Indian culture and society as they have been in the Americas and Europe and although they are persecuted, populations still occur throughout the Deccan plateau. Wolf distribution in India spans Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Wolves are social animals that live in packs and because of large pack ranges of around 300 sq km, wolves requires large landscapes. Their wide ranging and social nature also implies that conservation and management that is restricted to only within Protected Areas cannot be applied to wolves.

Although wild prey such as blackbuck, chinkara are important for the wolves, their landscapes are also home to dense populations of sheep and goats which also form important proportion of wolf diet, as much as 50% in many cases. This also implies that local herders face losses to wolf depredation and are known to destroy wolf dens.
Very little is known about their interactions with humans in the human use landscapes in India. To a large extent the focus of eco-logical studies on interaction has been on the “conflict” aspect.

References:
  1. www.wolf.org

  2. Agarwala, M., Satish Kumar, Treves, A. and L. Naughton-Treves. 2010. Paying for wolves in Solapur, India and Wisconsin, USA: Comparing compensation rules and practice to understand the goals and politics of wolf conservation. Biological Conservation 143: 2945–2955.

  3. Habib, B. 2007. Ecology of Indian Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes Sykes, 1831) and modeling its potential habitat in the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Maharashtra, India. Aligarh Muslim University.

  4. Jethva, B.D. and Y.V. Jhala. 2004. Foraging ecology, economics and conservation of Indian wolves in the Bhal region of Gujarat, Western India. Biological Conservation 116: 351–357.

  5. Jhala, Y.V. & Giles, J.R. (1991). The status and conservation of the wolf in Gujarat and Rajasthan, India. Conserv. Biol. 5, 476–483.

  6. Jhala, Y.V. (2003). Status, ecology and conservation of the Indian wolf Canis lupus pallipes sykes. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 100: 293–307.

  7. Jhala, Y.V. and D. K. Sharma. 2004. The Ancient Wolves of India. International Wolf.

  8. Musiani, M. and P.C. Paquet. 2004. The Practices of Wolf Persecution, Protection, and Restoration in Canada and the United States. BioScience 51.

  9. Sharma, D.K., Maldonado, J.E., Jhala, Y.V. and R.C. Fleischer.2004. Ancient wolf lineages in India. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Biology Letters 271: S1–S4.

  10. Singh, M. and H. N. Kumara. 2006. Distribution, status and conservation of Indian gray wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) in Karnataka, India Journal of Zoology 270: 164–169.

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