BLACKBUCKS, also known as ‘Krushnasara Mruga’ in Odisha, are one of the few wild animals that have learned to coexist with human colonies for millennia. Though the species has cultural value in Hindu mythology, it has been regularly hunted for amusement or skin and horns. Unfortunately, their numbers have been reduced to the point where they are now listed as endangered.
But, like a beacon of hope in the darkest hour, Amulya Upadhyay works tirelessly for the protection of Blackbucks in the Balipadar-Bhetnoi and nearby regions of Ganjam District, the state’s only territory with blackbucks. Similarly to the Bishnoi community of Rajesthan, his dedicated efforts over the last two decades not only made the territory a safe habitat for blackbucks, but also raised their population from a few thousand to around 7,750 today.
Amulya Upadhyay is the former Sarpanch of Bhetnoi Village, which is located in Aska block of Ganjam district. As blackbucks grazed fields in their village like other cattle without fear, he was delighted as a child anytime he would accompany his relatives to see the picturesque frame of blackbucks in the lush green fields.
“Our village is well-known for blackbuck sightings. Our mystical bond with blackbuck stems back to a time when our town was hit by severe drought and starvation. The villagers’ lives were being impacted by dried wells and desolate farmlands. Then, one day, rain arrived with a few blackbucks to our village, and everything transformed. Since then, our village people have revered Blackbucks as a sign of good fortune and as holy as Gods. The blackbuck population gradually reciprocated. However, their increased number had an influence on villagers’ agriculture, causing a few to become hostile to them. They began to harm them, while poachers intervened to make the situation more difficult.”
The difficulties compelled Amulya to take a position for these helpless animals and ensure their protection. However, without local monitoring and cooperation with forest officials, the situation would not improve. So, in 1997, he founded the ‘Blackbuck Conservation Society’ to carry out awareness initiatives that encouraged native to fight for species protection on a personal basis. One member from each village in the region joined his society and took on the job of protecting blackbucks for his village.
“We have set a monetary reward of Rs 200 for the first person to report the birth of a blackbuck’s fawn and a monetary prize of Rs 1000 for the first person to report the poaching of a blackbuck while maintaining anonymity. All of this information is being disseminated in the local community via Dhindora in order to encourage participation and awareness. The collective effort of villagers has resulted in a spike in blackbuck count of more than 800 in his village alone.”
Amulya even turned down well-paying job offers from distant companies in order to devote his life to the safety of blackbucks. Although officials from the forest department have expressed their ardent support for his preservation plan, complete government assistance remains a faraway goal for him.
“I am hopeful that the state government will extend a helping hand to our committee one day and support our mission to provide a safe habitat for these nearly extinct species. Because blackbucks are unique to our district, their abundance encourages tourism and helps to establish our district’s identity around the world.”
Amulya Upadhyay has dedicated his entire life to the protection and expansion of blackbuck’s population in the region, for which he has been recognized by the forest department on numerous occasions. His message to superstar Salman Khan, “If you love blackbucks, come with camera not gun,” was met with applause from all sides. The increased strength of this rare species is a symbol of his unselfish efforts, and we hope that more people will join his cause and become the guardians of this rare yet fascinating species.