DECCAN HERALD, 28-12-2003
Reflecting on the conservation measures adopted during the past year, SANJAY GUBBI & PRAVEEN BHARGAV point out that through political will and commitment most of the threatened wildlife and their habitats can still be saved
We were only 300 million Indians when the British left their most prized imperial possession. In just over half a century we have more than tripled our population and lost more than 50 lakh hectares of our natural forests. With the country needing to find food, water, shelter, energy, timber and medicine for a new mouth every alternate second, our forests and wild landscapes face fresh and bigger threats. With this burgeoning growth in human population certain species of our wildlife face risk of extinction than ever before.
The Indian Cheetah has been driven to extinction, the brow-antlered deer is facing the risk of extinction, the natural habitat of the tiger has shrunk to less than one percent of its former ranger, the home of Asiatic lion is pushed to one small corner in Gujrat, the habitat range of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros is now restricted to a few pockets in North East India, the rainforest habitat of the lion-tailed macaque is diminishing faster than we expected, the great pied hornbill which shares its habitat with the lion tailed macaque can fly away forever, well protected habitat of the Indian Elephant could be less than two percent of our country's land area.
As natural history writer Tim Radford truly commented in his recent article in the Guardian about wildlife extinction “the first five great extinction of life in the history of the planet were all natural: from volcanic catastrophe, climate change, asteroid impact, or even deadly radiation from an exploding star. But, this one is the unwitting work of humankind”.
Wildlife week and the year that was
Yet another year has quietly passed by. Many of us might not have given a serious thought to wildlife conservation. While we believe that this should be a hotly debated issue, the tangible and intangible benefits we receive from wildlife conservation directly concerns over 75 percent of our country's population who depend upon the traditional occupation - rainfed agriculture. This apart, it concerns most of us in several different ways both known and unknown. It is time again for all of us to think about the needs of wildlife conservation and pull up our socks to perform the onerous task of conservation on-the-ground. We need to analyze the various aspects that have affected the future survival of our wildlife species.
However the last year has seen some major gains for wildlife conservation. There have been several positive initiatives and victories for the conservation corps of our country. Various policies, decisions and initiatives by the government, judiciary and interested conservation organisations have directly or indirectly affected the management of our wild areas.
Strong laws-stronger enforcement
Amidst all the gloom and doom for wildlife, the year 2003 has actually seen major gains on the legal front. In a rare show of consensus the parliament of India passed the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2002. The amended (Wildlife Protection) Act, is stronger with several new clauses and important amendments making it the bulwark and guardian of wildlife and its habitat.
Penalties for hunting wild animals have been increased to a minimum of three years in order to ensure that killing of endangered animals including the tiger and elephant, now qualify as non-bailable offenses. A new clause now empowers enforcement authorities to effect forfeiture of property derived from illegal hunting or trade of wildlife. To ensure better protection of wildlife habitats, illegal encroaches within national parks or wildlife sanctuaries can now be evicted and structures removed; no construction of commercial tourist lodges, hotels and zoos can be allowed without the prior...