Conservation Kaleidoscope — People, Protected Areas and Wildlife in Contemporary India review: Field notes from India’s shrinking green zones

A ringside view of conservation efforts, the impact of unbridled development on wildlife habitats and the challenges to preservation

Updated - May 02, 2022 04:12 pm IST

Published - April 30, 2022 04:05 pm IST

In our blind rush towards growth and development, the natural environment and those calling for environmental and social concern are often berated as impediments and speed breakers. Conservation laws and protected areas are constantly remapped by political powers to bring them in line with current requirements to meet objectives. We need a fundamental rethinking about the way we live and think about nature. In that backdrop, Conservation Kaleidoscope is a massive compilation of facts and issues from over two decades of the Protected Area Update newsletter, and offers a ringside view of conservation.

It provides the reader with a lens to look at and understand wildlife, wilderness and conservation practices in contemporary India. The extracts and editorials highlight the challenges and urge the reader to honour the commitment to nature. Above all, the book serves as a reminder of all that we have become while suggesting a path to recovery.

Joy and despair

The volume triggers a whole range of emotions — anxiety at the strife and conflict between man and his environment, joy at the success of a conservation effort and frustration when things do not go right. The heart-warming reports tracking the cross-continental migrations of the Amur Falcons, the annual renewal of life in the subcontinent with the coming of the monsoons, the recognition accorded to the dolphin, the recovery of Manas sanctuary after many years of insurgency and struggle are all laudable, calling for celebration. But the same cannot be said when it comes to issues such as tiger conservation, water management and tribal rehabilitation.

When surveys reveal that Sariska Tiger Reserve has lost most of its tiger population to poaching or that leopards are killed every year on the roads along Sanjay Gandhi National Park or that thousands of migratory birds have died in Sambhar Lake, we understand the tragic consequences of unfettered development.

In brief, the message against destructive projects in wildlife habitats is clearer than ever before.

Not the real markers

Our wetlands and coastal systems, grasslands, forests, deserts and semi-arid regions, the Himalayas as well as the rainforests of the Northeast and Kerala’s Western Ghats, are all crucially affected because of often-unregulated infrastructure projects. More roads that penetrate deeper, rail lines that promise a faster mode of transport, dam projects for power and irrigation, coal mining for electricity are all important markers of development, but is the environment being protected enough?

Coal may be a useful source of energy, but coal mining is a hazard and threatening the corridors of tiger reserves at Tadoba in Maharashtra, Kawal in Telangana, Satkosia and Similipal (Odisha), Palamau (Jharkhand), Sanjay-Dubri (Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh), Bandhavgarh and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh. In Rajasthan, overhead power lines have sounded the death knell of the Great Indian Bustard, one of the rarest birds on the planet.

Exhaustive approach

The book offers a mosaic of information and data collated and edited in 14 sections, from law, policy and governance through changing seasons, tourism, local contexts, and the fate of the elephant, tiger and the rhino. There is little doubt that the committed reader who wades through its pages will undergo sleepless nights. State-wise highlights of issues and happenings, interspersed with insightful editorials over the years, make this book a sort of atlas for environmental information.

For example, Conservation Kaleidoscope reiterates the fact that a protected area is much more than a mere line on the map, it is an entity with multiple identities and realities. And it is calling for urgent attention and action.

As the book says, we cannot undo the extinction we have caused already, but we can strive to prevent a worse fate for our environment and wildlife if we act immediately.

Conservation Kaleidoscope: People, Protected Areas and Wildlife in Contemporary India; Edited by Pankaj Sekhsaria, Kalpavriksh, Duleep Mathai Nature Conservation Trust, Authors Upfront, ₹650.

The reviewer is an artist and writer.

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