New challenges in wildlife protection

For perpetuation of species, scientists are now exploring options such as cloning, surrogacy and implantation.

Despite the existence of Wildlife Conservation Act 1972 and seven sequ­ential amendments, wildlife conservation and protection is facing new challenges today. The recovery of endangered species has assumed special significance in the light of some species facing a threat to their survival.

Out of several terrestrial and marine eco system  species in the country, some 16 have been identified so far as ones  needing urgent attention. According to V B Mathur, Director, Wild Life Institute of India (WII), Dehra­dun, more species could be included in the list.

The endangered species identified by wildlife scientists include snow leopard, great Indian bustard, hangul, Nilgiri thar, wild buffalo, dolphin, dugong, brown antlered deer, vultures, Malabar civet, rhinoceros, Asia­tic lion and swamp deer. Curren­tly, recovery programmes are in the pipeline for these species.

Attention is also being paid to the depleting numbers of other threatened species like rhinocer­os, wild ass, wild dog, Nilgiri langur, red panda, bison, red stag, flying squirrel, black buck, ibex, Himalayan brown bear, forest owlet, Himalayan quail, winged duck and Burmese python.

Today, India, with some 4.8% of the surface area under parks, sanctuaries and biosphere reserves, has come a long way since early 1970s when there were less than half a dozen parks in existence.

With some 99 parks, 515 sanctuaries, 43 conservation reserves and four community reserves across the country today, wildlife species residing within these are comparatively safer, but those residing outside the protected areas may not be so safe.

In view of this, a scheme — Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats — had been initiated by the Union Ministry for Forests and Environment some years ago. However, a through appraisal of the scheme is being sought now in view of the ground realities.

Even though wildlife  protection and preservation has become crucial, our international commitments in this regard are no less compelling in the light of India being a signatory to the five main conventions. They are: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, International Whaling Commission, Unesco World Heritage Committee, and Convention on Migratory Species.    

The prime reasons behind  the survival problems confronting wildlife outside the protected areas as identified  by WII scientists are man-animal conflict and habitat fragmentation due to unabated developmental activities. Over the years, man–animal confrontation, poaching, wild fires have also affected wildlife  bloodline continuation in a big way.

Forest fires in many parts of the country have been decimating the mammal, primate, reptile and avifauna species  for decades now. Despite efforts by the respective state forest  departments under appropriate laws, conservation efforts have not yielded the desired results. It is said that such efforts under some ongoing schemes are at best slip shod.

For example, an old project  to provide a new sanctuary to the Asiatic lions is very slow in its progress. It was floated  many years ago. The translocation of some 40 lions from the overpopulated Gir forest in Gujarat to the Kuno wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh which covers 3,44,686 sq km of area is still hanging fire due to political or other reasons. Besides, the scientists and experts had suggested that Gir lions could be reintroduced in this sanctuary where lions had  existed till 1873.

The story of two flagship projects, Project Tiger and Project Elephant, have not been very encouraging given the situation in Sariska tiger reserve in Rajasthan and Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand where unnatural death  of tigers and elephants have been reported quite often. Some times, deaths  don’t even get reported.

Cloning, surrogacy
Efforts are no doubt being made by concerned organisations to ensure perpetuation of species. Wildlife scientists are now exploring the possibility employing technological options such as cloning, surrogacy and implantation. Breeding in the zoos through biotechnological interventions is also being identified  as a method for the same. 

Some wildlife enthusiasts strongly feel that the responsibility of the National Board for Wild Life has never been so crucial as now with its responsibility of giving clearance to pending projects in and around the parks and sanctuaries even while retaining the  eco-centric approach. Similarly, it is felt that the state forest departments and WII also need to coordinate better and prepare a new roadmap not only to extend and conserve forests but also forcefully protect the wildlife within.
It is worthwhile to mention here that at a workshop conducted at the WII in May last year, representatives from state forest departments, WII scientists, NGOs and Union Ministry for Forests and Environment stressed the need to implement the endangered  species recovery projects with total devotion.

In that conclave, some participants also pointed to the paucity of funds as a retarding factor in the effective implementation of conservation plans and projects in different states and Union Territories. Some experts agree that allocation of more funds towards protection of wildlife and creation of a new forest and wildlife protection force on the pattern of the Railway Protection Force could go a long way in ensuring an effective action on the ground.    

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Dehradun)

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