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Rich biodiversity in Western Ghats under threat, says professor

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GREATER VIGIL: A file picture of deer spotted in the Western Ghats near Coimbatore. Photo: M. Balaji
GREATER VIGIL: A file picture of deer spotted in the Western Ghats near Coimbatore. Photo: M. Balaji

Nagesh Prabhu

`The numbers of tigers, elephants have declined or stagnated'

BANGALORE: "The biodiversity of the Western Ghats, one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the world, is degrading fast despite conservation efforts," said K.N. Ninan, Professor, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore.

Prof. Ninan, who published a new book "The Economics of Biodiversity Conservation-Valuation in Tropical Forest Ecosystems," (2007), said the dense forest cover (forests with crown canopy of more than 40 per cent) in four out of six States in the Western Ghats region Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat and Maharashtra declined between the forest assessment years 2001 and 2003. The book is published by Earthscan, London.

Loss of forest cover

Prof. Ninan said each of these States recorded a loss of more than 2000 sq. km of dense forest cover.

The number of tigers, elephants and leopards has declined or remained stagnant in all these States, except Karnataka. The book raises serious doubts about the reliability of wildlife census data. The author recounts the reluctance and even obstacles created by some forest departments to give wildlife census data citing confidentiality. The book reveals that a forest official in charge of an important tiger reserve in Karnataka was candid enough to admit that the method of collection of wildlife data pointed to its unreliability.

High costs

The present system of giving compensation to farmers affected by wildlife damage was highly inefficient and the transaction costs to obtain this compensation were high, he said.

Focusing on the Western Ghats, the author looks at a cross-section of local communities living within or near sanctuaries and reserve forests such as coffee growers, indigenous people and farmers to assess the use and non-use values that people derived from tropical forests. He looked at the extent of their dependence on forests for various goods and services, and examines their perceptions and attitudes towards biodiversity conservation and wildlife protection.

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