Rapid growth of human and livestock population since the turn of the century and the consequent pressure on land due to development have taken an increasingly heavy toll on the country wilderness. One of the major threats facing wildlife is the destruction of its habitat through human development activities: agriculture, urban settlements, roads, dams and mines, have all contributed to the loss of habitat. Another problem is the fragmentation of the ecosystem into parcels too small for wildlife to use. In recent years illegal trade in ivory, horns, hides, feathers and organs has brought many species to the verge of extinction. This century alone India has seen the extinction of many species, among them the hunting leopard (cheetah) and the white winged wood duck.
The numerous threats facing our wildlife have created awareness for the urgent need for conservation. It has become clear by now that wildlife is an important biological, economic and recreational resource that has to be maintained through careful management. Conservation in this context is understood as a philosophy and policy of managing the human use of environment so that it may meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations. One of the basic principles of wildlife conservation involves providing adequate natural food and shelter to maintain population of each species in a given habitat. For this purpose the government has created and developed national parks and sanctuaries where threatened species can be preserved. Other conservation measures involve research and studies of wild animals and their habitat, their biological requirements, census operations, improvement of habitat, and effective measures to control poaching.
The root-needs for conservation can be found under various keywords like, aesthetics, economics, inter-dependence, and ethics. Everyone understands the loss of scenery when forests or hills have to make place for roads or irrigation schemes. Similarly, we may be aware of the economic implications of overuse of natural resources. By taking a broader view of the inter-relationship between natural phenomena, we must realise the wide-ranging implications of local actions, as nature has no boundaries. For example, the release of pollutants in a river may affect fish that may be the main source of food for migratory birds coming from faraway places. Finally, at an ethical level, it is essential that man realises that he is only a very tiny part of that huge an incomprehensible puzzle called Nature. Nature existed for millions of years before Man came to be ? Nature does not need Man, but Man needs Nature. This simple statement should be clear in our mind when we deal with use of resources and relation with other species.
Methodology In the first part of the project I have tried to obtain information on the problems facing wildlife and some of the conservation measures in the forests of Nagarole, Bandipur, Mudumalai and Wynad. Ten questionnaires were sent to researchers and naturalists working in these area, out of which ? were returned. This was followed by visits to each of these parks or sanctuaries to discuss further about conservation issues. I also obtained an appointment to interview Sri S.K. Chakrabarti, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Wildlife, at the Aranya Bhavan, Karnataka Forest Department. I also had extended discussions with Mr Madhusudan, researcher at the Asian Elephant Research and Conservation Centre, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and Mr E.R.C. Davidar, retired lawyer and dedicated conservationist, author of the book Cheetal Walk.
The outcome of these questionnaires and interviews are presented in the next section.