The current policies to protect wildlife have failed to achieve intended goals. Can we think beyond borrowed concepts of Protected Areas and empower local communities to take initiatives for wildlife protection?
Several elephants have been killed by fast running trains this year
The Environment Ministry recently announced the plan to declare elephant as India’s national heritage animal and to establish National Elephant Conservation Authority.
Tragically during the same time seven elephants were crushed to death by speeding goods train in Banarhat forest in West Bengal. This is a clear indicator of the reality, the brazen cruelty of human beings against wildlife. We pride ourselves in the holistic outlook of ancient scriptures, depicting wildlife as incarnation of God. Nevertheless, the way we treat the wildlife is appalling. The train driver could have slowed down to save those elephants, instead he opted to mow thorough the herd, showing least concern for the innocent animals that cannot comprehend the fate of hitting a running train. In another incident, a calf elephant was mowed down by a truck on Ooty road near Bandipur National Park in Karnataka. Except few, majority of the people in this country believe and behave as if only people should have the right of way even at the cost of sacrificing the wildlife.
Despite having declared number of protected areas as National Parks and Sanctuaries, the threats to wildlife have increased rather than giving them any protection. The protected areas have increased manifold from 67 in 1970s to 491 in 2000, a rise of 700 percent over three decades. Enactment of the Wild Life Protection Act in 1972 was another step to provide legal protection to the wild animals in our country. But have these policies helped to give protection to the animals?
Having set up protected areas, the government has framed rules and laws to conserve them from outside threats of poaching as well as making it difficult to divert these areas for other purposes. However, in actual practice, the management of these areas by forest department has led to destruction of the protected areas. In Ranibennur Wild Life Sanctuary in Karnataka, specially carved out in deccan plains to conserve the Black bucks, the area is planted with eucalyptus mono culture. This monoculture hinders the growth of natural grass, creating shortage of fodder for black bucks. The planting of grassy patches in higher regions of Western Ghats with acacia auriculifomis has created fodder shortage for Gaur.
The protected areas have increased manifold from 67 in 1970s to 491 in 2000, a rise of 700 percent over three decades. But have these helped to give protection to the wild animals?
In addition to these anti ecological management practices, the state and central governments have given permission to build hydel dams inside the wild life sanctuaries. This is in clear violation of the existing Wild Life Act. Obviously, the pressure of power lobby is very strong to resist and the temptation is to sacrifice the existing reserves that are meant to be a refugee for wild life. The building of infrastructure projects like roads and rail lines across the protected areas is one of the major threats for smooth movement of wildlife in the country. These infrastructure projects lead to fragmentation of the habitats of wildlife, hindering the migratory paths of animals like elephants.
The selfish human being is so obsessed that he does not want to give space to animals to move during the night time. The ban of traffic in some parts of wild life areas in Karnataka has had positive impact on the movement of wild life. But the transport and tourist lobby is very keen that this ban is lifted in order to allow free movement of people and goods at the cost of sacrificing the wild animals that get killed due to heavy movement of vehicles. Blessed with greater ability to think, the human beings have a role and responsibility to allow wild life to survive and move in the forests. Instead of abiding by this responsibility, most of us seem to absolve ourselves and show our brute strength of superiority to destroy the wild animals. The mowing down of elephants by the running train is the clear manifestation of this brute violence.
In the midst of this gloomy situation, we have unique examples of communities showing rare courage and compassion to conserve wildlife. The Bishnoi sect in Rajasthan and Haryana has shown that it is possible to live in harmony with wild life as well as continue farming activities. We can still see chinkaras roaming in their agricultural fields. Their commitment to protect the wild animals is legendary, as they have stood their grounds against powerful bollywood actors like Salman Khan and Saif Ali Khan for their involvement in the poaching case. Similarly, the villagers in Kokre Bellur in Karnataka have shown that they can conserve the rare birds through community initiatives.
Ignoring the traditions of community conserved wild life initiatives spread over different landscapes in the country, the Government of India adopted the elite model of Protected Areas, a borrowed concept from United States. Under this initiative, the divide between “wild nature” and human beings was forced upon the people living around the National Parks and Wild life sanctuaries. These protected areas are the tourist spots for the elite to watch wild life. The increased conflicts between these protected areas and communities living around this region are a clear indicator of the failure of the ongoing wild life conservation policy in India.
The existing policies to address the issue of decreasing wildlife as well as the increasing threats to their survival have miserably failed. The tiger and elephant projects have not been able to provide the basic security for their survival. We need to review these failed initiatives and formulate a practical wildlife policy that can meet the conservation goals as well as protect their existing habitat.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are
personal and do not necessarily reflect the
views of d-sector editorial team.
Pandurang Hegde is a farmer, environmentalist and writer based in Sirsi town in Karnataka. He is well known for launching the Appiko movement which played a key role in protecting many forests from the axe in the Western Ghats region.
Sustained pollution of major rivers; continuous decline in groundwater reserves; priority allocation to non-consumptive sectors; and, growing disparity in water distribution only indicates that the worst is still to come!..