Saturday, 8 February 2014

Wildlife Conservation- A Pressing Need

Of late, there is good news. Tiger population in India has increased for the first time in a decade, thanks to better conservation efforts. It has been put at 1706, which is 295 more than it was in 2008. The figure then stood at 1411.
But that is only a small consolation. The bigger picture is that there has been a persistent decline in tiger population over the years, which is a cause for concern.
The story is no different in the case of another big cat species- The leopard. In the first nine months of 2012 India lost 252 leopards which according to the figures available with the Wildlife Protection Society of India was the highest since 1994. In 2011, the figure was 187. During the decade before, it averaged about 200 a year.
            Even as we write this, India has lost at least 3 more tigers in January so far. We lost 923 tigers from 1994 to 2010. The country which had a tiger population of about 40, 000 about a hundred years ago is now left with a handful of them. The story of depletion in tiger population is in fact similar the world over. The global tiger population today is estimated at just 3500 to 4000. Half of these are in India.
More than half of the killings take place for poaching. Despite leopards being covered under the Wildlife Protection Act, there is no respite in targeting them. The body parts, particularly skin, are then traded internationally through illegal channels. The same is true about tigers. It is left with just 10 % of the habitat it used to have earlier, touching a bottom of 7.5 million Acres. Besides the habitat, tiger has been losing its prey species as well. 
This has brought it in conflict with humans leading to further attacks on it. Though the government banned hunting of tiger in 1972 with the passing of the Wildlife Conservation Act, the problem is still there. The other important factor is the large scale destruction of natural habitat due to developmental works like road networks and hydel projects in hilly and forest areas. Rapidly growing human population living close to forest areas is no less a factor responsible for this story.
But there is still hope to reverse this trend, if only some basic issues are taken care of. They are - strict vigil on poaching, creating awareness among the people that protection of tiger is in the interest of humanity itself since its presence is important for the balance in ecosystem and taking care of the day to day requirements of the people living near forest areas. Enhancing NGO participation in this field by identifying the dedicated ones and extending them all support will also benefit.
            Despite some disappointments, the project tiger has achieved good results. The project was started in 1973 when the tiger population touched an all time low in the seventies. It raised the figure from 1200 in the seventies to 3500 in the nineties though there have been repeat setbacks later.
Recently, the Supreme Court asked the state governments and the Union Territories to frame   Tiger Conservation Plans. It gave them 6 months to do it. The plans have to be sent to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, NTCA, for its approval before these are implemented. In July last year, the Apex Court imposed an interim ban on tourism in National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. The sanctuaries are designated as core and critical tiger habitats and therefore need to be given special attention.  The Court later lifted the interim ban on tourism in these areas. But all the stake holders have been asked to take appropriate action in this regard.
            To give a thrust to conservation of endangered animals, in principal approval has been given for setting up five more wildlife parks in the country. There is also a proposal to have 6 more Tiger Reserves which will take the strength of such reserves from the current 41 to 52. The number of National parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries has also been progressively increasing.
            The planning Commission too has made a generous allocation for tiger conservation in the 12th plan. The tiger gets the lions share, so to say.  The Commission has earmarked Rs.5889 crore for tiger conservation in the plan against just 651 crore in the 11th Plan. That marks a nine- fold increase. The funds allotted for all other endangered species are Rs.3600 crore. They include elephants, lions, deer, rhinos and leopards whose number runs into over 45,000. It is argued that by taking care of tiger, some other animals like deer and rhinos would automatically benefit. This may be true to an extent but perhaps more needs to be done in respect of other animals.
            For over a thousand years, tigers have been hunted as a status symbol and used as souvenirs. Its parts have been used in traditional Asian medicines. This led to a fall in tiger population until 1930’s. Out of the 9 tiger species 3 have already become extinct. There is therefore a great need to take more effective steps to check the falling population of tigers in particular and other wildlife species in general. It is in our own interest and any lapse on this account can prove costly. The challenge is huge but it has to be met.

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