January 29, 2014
COMPREHENSIVE ARTICLE on WILDLIFE OF INDIA
- Apart from a handful of the major farm animals such as cows, buffaloes, goats, poultry and sheep, India has an amazingly wide variety of animals native to the country.
- It is home to Tigers, Lions, Leopards, Pythons, Wolves, Foxes, Bears, Crocodiles, Rhinoceroses, Camels, Wild dogs, Monkeys, Snakes, Antelope species, Deer species, varieties of bison and not to mention the mighty Asian elephant.
- The region’s rich and diverse wildlife is preserved in 89 national parks, 18 Bio reserves and 400+ wildlife sanctuaries across the country.
- India has some of the most biodiverse regions of the world and hosts three of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots – or treasure-houses – that is the Western Ghats, the Eastern Himalayas and Indo- Burma.
- Since India is home to a number of rare and threatened animal species, wildlife management in the country is essential to preserve these species. According to one study, India along with 17 mega diverse countries is home to about 60-70 % of the world’s biodiversity.
- India, lying within the Indomalaya ecozone, is home to about 7.6% of all mammalian, 12.6% of avian, 6.2% of reptilian, and 6.0% of flowering plant species.
- India’s forest cover ranges from the tropical rainforest of the Andaman Islands, Western Ghats, and Northeast India to the coniferous forest of the Himalaya. Between these extremes lie the sal-dominated moist deciduous forest of eastern India; teak-dominated dry deciduous forest of central and southern India; and the babul-dominated thorn forest of the central Deccan and western Gangetic plain.
- In recent decades, human encroachment has posed a threat to India’s wildlife; in response, the system of national parks and protected areas, first established in 1935, was substantially expanded.
- The Indomalaya ecozone is one of the eight ecozones that cover the planet’s land surface. It extends across most of South and Southeast Asia and into the southern parts of East Asia.
- Also called the Oriental Realm by biogeographers, Indomalaya extends from Afghanistan through the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia to lowland southern China, and through Indonesia as far as Java, Bali, and Borneo
In recent evolutionary history, threats facing many organisms have been driven primarily by the effects of a single species: humans. The extent to which humans have altered this planet has effected countless species and has initiated extinctions on such a vast scale that many scientists believe we are now experiencing a mass extinction (the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on earth).
Since man is indeed part of nature, man-made threats are merely a subset of natural threats. But unlike other natural threats, man-made threats are threats that we can prevent by changing our behavior.
The Types of Man-Made Threats
1. Habitat Destruction & Fragmentation
The destruction or splitting up of once continuous habitat to enable humans to use the land for agriculture, development of towns and cities, construction of dams, or other purposes.
2. Climage Change or global warming
Human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, have altered the Earth’s atmosphere and have resulted in global climate changes.
3. Introduction of Exotic Species
Accidental and intentional introduction of non-native species into regions never before occupied by the species have resulted in the extinctio of numerous endemic species.
Pollutants (pesticides, herbicides, etc.) released into the environment are ingested by a wide variety of organisms.
5. Over-Exploitation of Resources
Exploitation of wild populations for food has resulted in population crashes (over-fishing, for example).
6. Hunting, Poaching, Illegal Trade of Endangered Species
Some endangered species are targeted for their value on illegal markets.
7. Accidental Deaths
Car hits, window collisions (birds), collissions with ships (whales).
8. Invasive Species
When a new and aggressive species is introduced into an ecosystem, it might not have any natural predators or controls. It can breed and spread quickly, taking over an area. Native wildlife may not have evolved defenses against the invader or they cannot compete with a species that has no predators.
9. Oil Spills
- The need for conservation of wildlife in India is often questioned because of the apparently incorrect priority in the face of direct poverty of the people.
- Article 48 of the Constitution of India specifies that, “The state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country” and Article 51-A states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.”
- Large and charismatic mammals are important for wildlife tourism in India, and several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries cater to these needs.
- Project Tiger, started in 1972, is a major effort to conserve the tiger and its habitats. At the turn of the 20th century, one estimate of the tiger population in India placed the figure at 40,000, yet an Indian tiger census conducted in 2008 revealed the existence of only 1,411 tigers. 2010 Tiger census revealed that there are 1700 tigers left in India. The passing of the Forest Rights Act by the Indian government in 2008 has been the final nail in the coffin and has pushed the Indian tiger to the verge of extinction. Various pressures in the later part of the 20th century led to the progressive decline of wilderness resulting in the disturbance of viable tiger habitats. At the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) General Assembly meeting in Delhi in 1969, serious concern was voiced about the threat to several species of wildlife and the shrinkage of wilderness in India. In 1970, a national ban on tiger hunting was imposed, and in 1972 the Wildlife Protection Act came into force.
Conservation of Wildlife In India
- The National Wildlife Action Plan provides the framework of the strategy as well as the programme for conservation of wildlife. The first National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP) of 1983 has been revised and the new Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) (File referring to external site opens in a new window) has been adopted. The Indian Board of Wildlife, headed by the Prime Minister, is the apex advisory body overseeing and guiding the implementation of various schemes for wildlife conservation.
- Project Tiger (External website that opens in a new window), now renamed as the National Tiger Conservation Authority, was launched in 1973 with a mandate to conserve tigers in a holistic manner. Its mandate was to be fulfilled by facilitating focused, concerted management of eco-typical reserves in various states, constituted on a core-buffer strategy through funding the technical support including site-specific inputs to elicit local community support for conservation. The project has put the tiger on an assured course of recovery from the brink of extinction, apart from conserving the floral and faunal genetic diversity in some of our unique and endangered wilderness ecosystem.
- Under the Project Elephant (External website that opens in a new window), which was launched in February 1992, States that have a free-ranging population of wild elephants are being given financial as well as technical and scientific assistance to ensure long-term survival of identified viable populations of elephants in their natural habitats. Elephant Task Force Report, Gajah, lays out a comprehensive action agenda for protecting elephants in the wild and in captivity, and for addressing human-elephant conflict.
- Established in 1982, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) (External website that opens in a new window) offers training programmes, academic courses and advisory in wildlife research and management. The Institute is actively engaged in research across the breadth of the country on biodiversity related issues
- Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) (External website that opens in a new window) is a statutory body under Section 4 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 with its headquarters at Chennai. Its basic mandate is to advise the Government on animal welfare issues, and create awareness regarding animal welfare. AWBI gives financial assistance to the eligible Animal Welfare Organisations for Shelter Houses, Model Gaushalas, for setting up Bio-Gas Plants, Famine/Drought Relief, Earthquake Relief, etc., in the various states.
- Zoological Survey of India (External website that opens in a new window) is a nodal organization under Ministry of Environment and Forests which plays a significant role in fulfilling India’s commitments under various international conventions. This organisation is a vast repository of National Zoological Collection in the form of various types and reference collections needed for the bio-systematic research and conservation strategies.
- CITES ,Convention on Illegal trade in Endangered Species.
Legal Framework for Wildlife Conservation in India
The Government of India has introduced various types of legislation in response to the growing destruction of wildlife and forests. These are:
1. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (Last amended in 2006)
The Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA), 1972 is an important statute that provides a powerful legal framework for:
- Prohibition of hunting
- Protection and management of wildlife habitats
- Establishment of protected areas
- Regulation and control of trade in parts and products derived from wildlife
- Management of zoos.
The WLPA provides for several categories of Protected Areas/Reserves:
- National Parks
- Wildlife Sanctuaries
- Tiger Reserves
- Conservation Reserves
- Community Reserves
a) National parks and Tiger Reserves are by law more strictly protected, allowing virtually no human activity except that which is in the interest of wildlife conservation.
b) Grazing and private tenurial rights are disallowed in National Parks but can be allowed in sanctuaries at the discretion of the Chief Wildlife Warden.
c) The amended WLPA does not allow for any commercial exploitation of forest produce in both national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, and local communities can collect forest produce only for their bona fide needs.
d) No wild mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile, fish, crustacean, insects, or coelenterates listed in four Schedules of the WLPA can be hunted either within or outside protected areas. On conviction, the penalty for hunting is imprisonment for a period ranging from a minimum of three to a maximum of seven years with fines not less than 10,000 rupees.
e) Community reserves and conservation reserves are two new categories of protected areas that have been included under the WLPA. These two categories provide a greater role for local communities, stakeholders and civil society as well as the opportunity to protect many areas of conservation value that cannot be designated under strict categories such as wildlife sanctuaries or national parks.
f) The statute prohibits the destruction or diversion of wildlife and its habitat by any method unless it is for improvement or better management and this is decided by the state government in consultation with the National and State Boards for Wildlife.
g) The WLPA contains elaborate procedures for dealing with legal rights in proposed protected areas and acquisition of any land or interest under this law is deemed as an acquisition for a public purpose. However, with the enactment of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, compliance of various provisions relating to tenurial and community rights must be ensured.
h) Apart from protected area establishment, other important aspects of the WLPA include procedures for the appointment of state wildlife authorities and wildlife boards, the regulation of trade in wildlife products and the prevention, detection and punishment of violations of the WLPA.
i) The 2006 amendment introduced a new chapter (IV B) for establishment of the National Tiger Conservation Authority and notification of Tiger Reserves (before this amendment, Tiger Reserves were not defined under the law, but were merely administrative designations to enable funding under Project Tiger).
j) The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) was constituted vide the 2006 amendment to monitor and control the illegal trade in wildlife products.
k) The WLPA provides for investigation and prosecution of offences in a court of law by authorized officers of the forest department and police officers.
2. The Indian Forest Act (1927) and Forest Acts of State Governments
The main objective of the Indian Forest Act (1927) was to secure exclusive state control over forests to meet the demand for timber.
The Act facilitates three categories of forests, namely
- Reserved forests
- Village forests
- Protected forests
Reserved forests are the most protected within these categories. No rights can be acquired in reserved forests except by succession or under a grant or contract with the government. Felling trees, grazing cattle, removing forest products, quarrying, fishing, and hunting are punishable with a fine or imprisonment.
3. The Forest Conservation Act (1980)
In order to check rapid deforestation due to forestlands being released by state governments for agriculture, industry and other development projects (allowed under the Indian Forest Act) the federal government enacted the Forest Conservation Act in 1980 with an amendment in 1988. The Act made the prior approval of the federal government necessary for de-reservation of reserved forests, logging and for use of forestland for non- forest purposes.
4. The Environment (Protection) Act (1986)
The Environment Protection Act is an important legislation that provides for coordination of activities of the various regulatory agencies, creation of authorities with adequate powers for environmental protection, regulation of the discharge of environmental pollutants, handling of hazardous substances, etc. The Act provided an opportunity to extend legal protection to non-forest habitats (‘Ecologically Sensitive Areas’) such as grasslands, wetlands and coastal zones.
5. The Biological Diversity Act (2002)
India is a party to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The provisions of the Biological Diversity Act are in addition to and not in derogation of the provisions in any other law relating to forests or wildlife.
6. National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016)
National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) replaces the earlier Plan adopted in 1983 and was introduced in response to the need for a change in priorities given the increased commercial use of natural resources, continued growth of human and livestock populations, and changes in consumption patterns.
The Plan most closely represents an actual policy on protection of wildlife. It focuses on strengthening and enhancing the protected area network, on the conservation of Endangered wildlife and their habitats, on controlling trade in wildlife products and on research, education, and training.
The Plan endorses two new protected area categories: “conservation reserves,” referring to corridors connecting protected areas, and “community reserves”, which will allow greater participation of local communities in protected area management through traditional or cultural conservation practices.
7. National Forest Policy (1998)
The National Forest Policy, 1988, (NFP) is primarily concerned with the sustainable use and conservation of forests, and further strengthens the Forest Conservation Act (1980). It marked a significant departure from earlier forest policies, which gave primacy to meeting government interests and industrial requirements for forest products at the expense of local subsistence requirements. The NFP prioritizes the maintenance of ecological balance through the conservation of biological diversity, soil and water management, increase of tree cover, efficient use of forest produce, substitution of wood, and ensuring peoples’ involvement in achieving these objectives.