Wildlife conservation is almost becoming a catchphrase. Go and ask anyone, whether he has heard this term, and the chances are pretty good that he has. It is another matter than he may not know the exact definition, but the very fact that people are aware of this term bodes well for wildlife, many of which are fighting extinction.
Now, what is wildlife conservation?
Increase in human population, encroachment of areas reserved for wildlife to accommodate this expanding population, rapid industrialization, undesirable changes in global climate and other human activities have led to a situation where the wildlife and the wilderness are shrinking by the day. Many animal and plant species have already become extinct while many others are on the verge of extinction. If left unchecked, the destruction will continue and the world would be left barren with no wildlife and wilderness. Wildlife conservation is a practice that seeks to put a brake on this plundering of animals and plants and their habitat. More specifically, wildlife conservation focuses on those species that are endangered and needs immediate attention. The objective of wildlife conservation is to ensure that our future generations can enjoy, and more importantly understand the symbiotic relationship we share with the wildlife and the wilderness.
Why is wildlife conservation important?
Many of us still seem to relate wildlife to a sense of entitlement, like we can do anything with these creatures for pleasure and fun. This tendency is observed in many parts of the world where people clearly defy international and national conventions, and kill wildlife for personal gains. In India, despite there being a ban illegal hunting is a major source of concern –the Bengal Tiger, Asiatic Lion, and Indian Rhineroceros are under the list of endangered animal species in India that constantly find themselves on the firing line. Elsewhere, some nations are killing dolphins, whales, and elephants for food and for commercial reasons. In the given context, it becomes important that people start realizing the role wildlife plays in nurturing and sustaining life on the planet, and why they are so important.
Wildlife is essential for maintaining the ecological balance of nature. If you take out wildlife from the scheme of things, the food chain and natural cycles that we all depend on will collapse and so will humanity. Plants provide us with all the timber, as well as paper and gums, which have commercial value. Meanwhile the medicinal aspect of plants and animals need not be elaborated here as we all know how crucial they are for treating different diseases. Then, we get cloths, leather and other utensils from these animals. The wildlife also has recreational, scientific, social, and aesthetic value as well. Given how important wildlife is to us, we need to take steps to ensure its survival. As for India, it has taken some firm steps towards conservation of wildlife.
An overview of wildlife conservation in India
The Indian subcontinent is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna species which makes it a paradise for wildlife lovers. Some of the fiercest and most beautiful mammals and birds can be found here, but large scale poaching and other human activities have meant that many of these animals are fighting for survival. To address the looming threat faced by these endangered species, many conservation projects in India have come up, with Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project, Project Tiger and Project Elephant being the prominent ones. In fact the first national park in India, the Jim Corbett National Park is a part of the Project Tiger initiative, and was created to protect the endangered Bengal Tiger.
The Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project
The Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project was undertaken by the Indian government to protect the endangered Asiatic Lion which is found only in the Gir Forest of India as an isolated species. Considering the fickle nature of its habitat, and how the species is affected by epidemics, natural disasters, and human activities, the project proposes to translocate some of the population to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Leading experts believe that the translocation would give the lions a new home, which will boost their chances of survival.
One of the major tiger conservation projects in India, Project Tiger came into existence in 1973 with the intent of increasing the tiger population and providing them a habitat where they are safe. The project has so far managed to keep the Bengal Tiger afloat by protecting it from extinction. The Bengal Tiger today reigns supreme in the Jim Corbett National Park, the first national park to come under this project. The success formula of Project Tiger is based on identifying the limiting factors and finding practical solutions for their mitigation. It also prioritized restoring the damaged habitat, which is a perquisite for the revival of the tiger population.
The elephant is no less than a cultural symbol in India, where people treat this majestic creature with great respect. But frequent elephant-human conflicts, especially in areas where villages and wildlife areas are in close proximity, and illegal hunting have made a dent in elephant population. The lure of the task of the elephant is a common reason why elephants are killed. To safeguard the surviving elephant population and protect their habitat and migrating corridors, the Indian Government launched Project Elephant in 1992. One important aspect of the project is to create awareness about the problems faced by elephants among the public, especially the locals who are directly affected.
Wildlife Protection Act 1972
For the protection of plants and animals, the Indian Parliament enacted the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It has six schedules with each providing varying levels of protection for protected plant and animal species; there is also the provision of punishment for offences committed under them, with Schedule I and part II of Schedule II being the most severe. The act has been instrumental in protecting many endangered species like the Bengal Tiger, Asiatic Lion and Indian Rhinoceros, to name a few. After the act came into being, the process of building national parks –there were only five national parks in India before 1972 –gained in momentum and currently we have 104 national parks.
But despite so many efforts, these animals are still not completely safe. We have not been able to put a complete halt on poaching activities, while rising human-animal conflicts is also a serious threat. There needs to be better understanding and awareness about the threat faced by wildlife and about the gravity of the situation. And it is not just the responsibility of the government agencies and NGOs to take the cudgel of saving wildlife, but we also have an equally important role to play.