Aravalli hill range is one of the most amazing wildlife refuges: It has rolling hills, dhonk forest covers that change colours with seasons and a fort or a castle that perch atop almost every tall peak. The lands surrounding the hill ranges are cultivated to sustain humans. However, the hills are still left wild because they are not cultivable. So these hills sustain wildlife: There are almost 20 different wild life sanctuaries in the Aravalli hill range such as Ranthambhore, Sariska, Jamwa Ramgarh, Sawai Mansingh, Ramgarh Bishdhari, Mt Abu, Kumbhalgarh, Asola Bhatti and Sajjangarh.
Aravalli is an oldest formation on earth dating back to more than 1,700 to 2,500 million years (undoubtedly older than the great Himalayas, which are not more than 30 to 40 million years old). The hill range stretches from Ahmedabad to Delhi and crosses Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana running across almost 800 km from northeast to southwest.
This hill range has been sculptured through various erosional cycles represented by many surfaces. The Aravalli hill range is constituted with more or less flat-topped mountain ridges. Intramountany valleys and vast stretches of plains. Average hill range elevation is about 400m high: However; the highest point is Gurushikhar, which is almost 1,722m high.
This hill range has been facing the great threat of mining despite Supreme Court’s 2009 order banning mining in this region. Due to the mineral richness, many powerful hands still carry out mining in a very organised way. The maximum damage is done by the simple need for stones, which are used in construction. Taking out such stones leads to erosion, impacting the entire mountain range.
Ironically, the restoration work carried out by the forest department is damaging Aravalli hill range as well. When the forest department, funded by the Japanese government for afforestation of Aravalli, planted an Mexican species called Prosopis juliflora, they ended up killing many native species. At that time, the threat posed by juliflora was not known and it led to some irreversible damage. Other threat that the hill range faces is from sheep and goats. Rajasthan has the second largest livestock population, which has turned the entire Aravalli forest range into a pastureland. There had been traditionally many hunting communities — Bawariyas, Kalbelieas and Mogyas — living around the Aravalli hill range, who, with time, changed from hunters to poachers and this turned out to be another reason for the vanishing wildlife in the region.
Ultimately, the mining, grazing, poaching and exotic species invasion have been eating up the Aravalli slowly. There was a time when you could spot tigers in the entire hill range. Today, there is just one place left for them: Ranthambhore.
But banning the mining and grazing are, at best, an easy solution: We have to think beyond the traditional approaches. We also have to be practical and provide an economic alternative for the locals of this area. Only then, we will be able to secure Aravalli’s future.
(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)