Wildlife Week and conservation

ANALYSE THIS: the whales are killed in the deep ocean, the tusks are being removed from elephants and the skins and bones of tiger are exchanged in the border area, rare migratory birds are captured and sold in the black markets around the world. Yet, every year around this time (October 2 to 8) Wildlife Week is celebrated by governments, environmentalists, activists to accelerate the awareness of wildlife conservation among people. India, being a mega-storehouse of various species, is also able to manage several conferences, awareness programmes, public meetings among the nature lovers. But it lasts a week. Then the concern over wildlife is relegated to the backburner, or the mandate to conserve the wild species is given to the NGOs or self-claimed conservationists.

India, having two "hot spots" — the eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats — is one of the 12 mega-diversity countries. With only 2.4 per cent of the global land area, it possesses more than 45,000 plant species representing about 11 per cent of the world's biota. The flowering plants comprise about 17,500 species that represent more than 6 per cent of world's known flowering plants. There are a number of botanical curiosities in the Himalayas only. India's immense faunal diversity that is estimated to be over 81,000 represents about 6.5 per cent of world's fauna. As many as 29 endangered species like slow loris, brown bear, Himalayan lynx, clouded leopard, musk deer, ibex are found in India.

Tiger continues to be the cynosure of the government's conservationist efforts. Is it because tiger is our national animal? If so, what about peacock, the national bird? The rampant killing of this beautiful bird continues unabated for its feather in India.

However, tiger attracts much attention from the government as well as some so-called field biologists during the Wildlife Week. Is tiger the only species indispensable for the fragile ecosystems? Or, is it the only species on the verge of extinction? The answer is fairly endorsed by the scientific community as well as conservationists. That is, besides tigers there are many species that are on the verge of extinction or endangered and also as important as tigers for the balance of ecosystems. But other animals such as elephants, musk deer, Tibetan antelope, rhinoceros, red panda, Ganges river dolphin, etc., are not getting similar care.

Among various critically endangered species, the plight of Ganges river dolphin is an indicative of the government's callous attitude to the wildlife. The river dolphins, one of the four fresh water dolphins in the world, found in the Indian Subcontinent are on the verge of extinction. A recent survey conducted by the WWF-India has estimated the dolphin population to be between 1,800 and 2,000 in seven range States in India. This dwindling population is due to unmindful anthropogenic pressures like pollution, indiscriminate sand mining, unrestricted fishing and truncation of habitats due to construction of dams and barrages.

Once protected by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, the river dolphins, though legally protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, are neglected by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). If the number of species matters, as tiger gets 27 protected reserve areas, the river dolphin must get the same number of protected areas. The irony is that only a 50 km stretch of the Ganga in Bihar has been declared Dolphin Sanctuary so far. The government doesn't have any substantial data on the animal. It has never carried out any scientific study or conducted a head count of this endangered animal.

Tiger gets the lion's share from the budget of MoEF. Since 1973 (Project Tiger), millions of rupees have been spent on tiger and still the animal is in danger. Indian policy makers are still in the circle of outdated conservation theory (propounded by the West) that tiger conservation (animal in the highest level of ecosystem) would lead to balance the biodiversity.

The seriousness of celebrating Wildlife Week is not only to educate young people like school children but also to correct the flaws in the conservation effort by the government. The key to global wildlife conservation in the 21st century must be to craft solutions that meet the specific requirements of each species and its specific circumstances.


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