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Wildlife Conservation

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  • Category: Wildlife

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Favoured with a unique geographical location and varied landforms, India is home to about one third of known life forms in the world. There are over 500 species of mammals and 2060 species of birds that are truly Indian.

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.

The second part of the project deals with the problems facing the tiger and the elephant in our country, the conflicts opposing man and wild animals, and the conservation measures taken by the government and non government organisations (NGOs).

Questionnaire and Interviews Study of selected species Tigers The Tiger, one of the most majestic and Indian national animal, is again highly endangered.

Biology and ecology Tigers are solitary and highly territorial animals, who prefer thick cover, dense jungle and the night to hunt.

They are the biggest felines, the males weighing between 180 and 230 kg and the females around 100 kg. As champion hunters, they are at the top of the food chain. The tiger needs to kill every 2-3 days and for every 20 attempts to kill 19 end in failure. His preferred prey is the sambar deer, but he also hunts chital, barking deer, wild boar, and occasionally an elephant calf.

A tiger?s territory needs certain important things; it must have sufficient prey animals throughout the year, access to water, and the proximity to territory of a tiger of the opposite sex. A male will hold a much larger territory than a female, encompassing the territory of several females.

Past threats At the beginning of the 20th century, 8 sub-species of tigers were found in Asia, from the Caspian Sea in the West to Eastern Siberia, China and Bali in the East. Today and the eve of the new millennium, the Caspian, the Javanese and the Balinese tigers are extinct and the situation of the Siberian and South Chinese tigers has reached a critical stage as their population is too small for survival. In fact the Bengal tiger (Panthera Tigris) is in the best position, having the largest population distributed over India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. India is estimated to hold 60% of the world?s tiger population.

At the beginning of the century, 40?000 tigers were roaming Indian jungles. The global population was evaluated at 100?000. In the end of the 1960?s, when the director of Delhi zoo and the Bombay Natural Society carried separate surveys, they both reached the same alarming conclusion: the number of tigers in India was around 2?500 and was declining fast. In 1969 the Bengal tiger was included in the Red Data Book of endangered animals produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

During the past centuries, Indian princes took great pride in hunting down the tigers as trophies and for their skins. British dignitaries also took part in these shikari parties organised by the maharajas. As late as 1961, Prince Philip, who accompanied Queen Elizabeth II on a visit to India, shot two tigers. These hunting prowess pretty much succeeded in wiping away the Indian tiger?s population from the jungle.

More recently large-scale loss of forests and tiger habitat has also contributed to the decline of tiger?s population. With the rapidly growing human population, more and more forests were felled to make space for agricultural land and in the name of development projects such as dams, mines, power projects. In Madhya Pradesh, the Indiara Sagar irrigation project has destroyed 42?000 ha of pristine forest; similarly the two mega dams of Sardar Sasarovar and Narmada are expected to submerge another 57?000 ha of forest. Everywhere there are pressures to denotify protected areas to accommodate these modern development projects. On the other hand, Indian human population has increased by 50% in the last 25 years, putting an ever-increasing pressure on natural resources.

Add something about conflicts with man : cattle lifting, poisoning, Conflicts with man Project Tiger In response to the gravity of the situation, in 1973 the Indian Government launched Project Tiger with the full and dedicated support of the late Prime Minister Ms Indira Gandhi. That year the estimated tiger population of India was just 1827, and in the whole of Asia, 2900.

During the first year of Project Tiger, 9 reserves were constituted, together holding 268 tigers. The battle to save the tiger is primarily a battle to save its habitat: that is why the project strategy was to create reserves, which would serve as breeding nuclei. As numbers increased, tigers would migrate to adjacent areas and spread. For this a sufficient number of reserves and a network of corridors were needed. Each reserve had to have a core area of 300 km2 totally free from human disturbances. Around the core area buffer zones were developed where wildlife was strictly protected, but some controlled forestry operations were allowed. The number of reserves increased progressively and in 1989, there were 18 reserves with a population of 1327 tigers and the total Indian population was estimated at more than 4000. Thus initially the project was a great success.

However, from the beginning the Project Tiger had some drawbacks: the most important was its failure to involve local people, who had been living out of the forest for generations, collecting food, honey, thatch, fuel and even grazing their cattle. Under the implementation of Project Tiger, up to 100?000 people were relocated with promises of better healthcare, new wells and better houses. Most of the time, when these promises failed to materialise, people felt alienated. To educate people and obtain their co-operation is one of the biggest challenges facing the conservation movement. Another weakness was the absence of research and lack of direction in data collection.

In spite of these problems, the number of tigers increased steadily during the ?70s and ?80s. However, the 1993 census showed that in 23 reserves, the tiger population was only 1?366 and the Indian population around 3?750, indicating that it had declined during 1989-1993.

New threats Unfortunately from the early ?90s, tigers had to face a new and more lethal threat to their survival. A spur of elephant, rhino and tiger poaching occurred all over the country and a few people were arrested carrying tiger bones. While two decades ago, conservationists thought that loss of habitat would be the most serious threat, they soon had to realise that the demand for tiger bones and other parts was an even more serious threat.

Tiger parts are used to manufacture traditional Chinese medicines used not only in China but in all Far Eastern countries, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Laos and Vietnam. An illegal trade towards China was established using as main route the high Himalayan passes in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Now a recent study done by Mr Bittu Sahgal, editor of the magazine Sanctuary, indicates that this spur of poaching is directly linked to a global wildlife trade, which is second only to the illegal drug trade. The various groups dealing in arms and drugs like heroin also deal now in tiger bones, ivory, bear gall bladder, etc. The economic liberalisation policy introduced in 1991 had an unwanted and little known consequence: heroin and wildlife contraband have replaced gold as the prime mean of exchange for international smugglers. There is a definite nexus between international trade in arms, narcotics and wildlife. There is also a definite link between the timber and poaching mafia and various insurrection movements. The role of arm insurrection and militancy in the illegal poaching and trade of wild animals looks to be a known and well documented fact. The ULFA, Bodo, Naga have all at some time used wildlife contraband money to fund their activities [Menon et al, 1996]. In Palamau Tiger Reserve (Bihar), a robbery of 136 kg of ivory in 1995 revealed the involvement of the Marxist Communist Centre, a group linked with the People War Group of Andhra Pradesh.

The money earned thorough this contraband flows through black market channels to different parts of the country and abroad to purchase sophisticated weapons, high tech communication equipment and transport. Unfortunately forest guards, officers and anti-poaching squads lack all this modern equipment. They have neither good riffles nor wireless sets to defend wildlife and themselves against heavily armed gangs. India has given itself a very good legislation to protect its forest and wildlife but he enforcement has much to be desired. For example, 75% of the tiger reserves do not have an effective armed strike force for anti-poaching activities, neither sufficient legal aid to deal with offences and counter-offences.

Elephants Biology and ecology The Asian elephant is with the tiger the most majestic symbol of India?s rich wildlife. It is found in 13 South and South Eastern Asian countries, i.e. India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia. The estimate elephant population in Asia amounts to 35?000 to 50?000 animals in the wild and about 15?000 in captivity. India accounts for about ?? Their distribution is represented on the adjoining map.

Elephants live in small matriarchal herds of 5 to 10 individuals consisting of one or several adult related cows and their immature children. The male adolescent leaves his natal family at the age of 12 to 15 years and moves to live a solitary existence.

The gestation period last about 22 months and an interval of 4 to 5 years is normal between calving. Thus the reproduction rate is low. Elephant have a life span of 60 to 70 years.

Elephants spend more than 12 hours a day feeding, as they need to consume 250 to 300 kg of fresh fodder daily. Their food consists of grasses, leaves, the stem and leaves of bamboo and the bark of certain trees.

They show distinct seasonal movements and have an annual home range varying from 100 to 1000 km2 for family herds and up to 400 km2 for adult bulls.

Unlike the African elephant, only male Asian elephants have tusks.

Elephants in Southern India In South India, elephants are found in the Western Ghats and some adjoining hill ranges of the Eastern Ghats, in the 4 Southern states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and more recently Andhra Pradesh. The largest known population estimated at between 6?300 and 10?400 animals is spread over a large area covering the Bhramagiri, Nilgiris, and some parts of Eastern Ghats, and comprises several protected areas. The different protected areas are as follows: – Karnataka: Bandipur, Bannerghatta, Nagarhole National Parks Billigiri Rangaswamy Temple, Nugu, Bhramagiri and Cauvery sanctuaries – Tamil Nadu: Mudumalai Sanctuary – Kerala: Waynad Sanctuary – Andhra Pradesh: Kaudinya Sanctuary This large population probably holds the key to the long-term survival of Asian elephants.

Another important factor to be considered in elephant population study is the ratio male / female. Studies done from 1980 onwards show that this ratio become more and more skewed due to increasing poaching of male elephants for their tusks. In 1981 ? 1983, the ratio for an adult population was one male for 5 females in that region. By 1987 it had become 1:9 and by 1996 it had become even more unequal with a ratio of 1:12 to 1:15. The situation in Periyar (Kerala) is even much worse with regard to the impact of ivory poaching. While in the early 70?s the sex ratio was 1:7 , by the late 80?s it had dwindled to 1:120 ! with not more than 5 adult bulls remaining in the Periyar reserve in 1994-1995.

Past and present threats As a majority of populations are small, less than 100 individuals, they are prone to extinction due to some factors linked to human intervention, such as poaching and loss of habitat, and some chance factors like drought, demographic factors etc.

One of the most serious threat facing Asian elephants throughout their range is the loss and fragmentation of habitat and the consequent isolation of populations. During their seasonal migratory movements, elephants use year after year the same ?corridors? in the jungle. Whenever the land is deforested by farmers or planters or fenced by tourist resorts, like in the surroundings of Masinagudi village, which adjoins Mudumalai, the movements of elephants is greatly hampered. This often leads to open conflicts with humans, as elephants trespass these newly imposed boundaries.

Hunting of elephants in India is a centuries old tradition despite the many religious connotations that these animals have and the love inspired by Ganesha. Despite the fact that elephant capture was prevalent throughout its range, the hunting of elephants for sport came into fashion only during the 17th and 18th century during British rule. In Waynad one man is supposed to have killed more than 300 elephants. Capturing elephants by driving them into a stockade was a well-used method known as Khedda. It led to many casualties. The last Khedda took place as late as 1971 in Karnataka. It is estimated that between 1886 and 1986, more than 40?000 elephants were either captures or killed in India.

Poaching of elephants for ivory had been historically sporadic or of low intensity in most part of the country. However in the late 70?s and the 80?s a poaching wave of some intensity swept across South India. Prof. Sukumar, in 1989, estimated that poaching for ivory had reached alarming levels with about 100 to 150 tuskers being lost annually to poaching. In the 80?s 65% of the elephant mortality in South India was due to poaching.

We can?t write about illegal poaching for ivory without mentioning about the most infamous brigand of our South Indian forests., Veerapan. Since the 70?s he has operated for sandalwood an ivory in the region stretching from Bandipur to Coimbatore. Veerapan is supposed to have killed some 500 elephants during the 80?s and then switched to sandalwood smuggling. He also masterminded the killing of several police and forest officers, and also a special task force was constituted in 1987 to catch him, he is still eluding capture. His ill-begotten wealth has helped him procure high velocity rifles and allegedly to buy off politicians, high up police officers and tribal leaders.

Conflicts with man A number of elephants are killed every year following conflicts with humans. Following the shrinking of their habitat the conflicts are bound to increase in the future. Solitary male elephants are often driven towards cultivated land, showing a partiality for ragi fields. Less frequently, small herds are also found entering fields and harvesting the crops. Crop raiding elephants are sometime shots by farmers trying to protect their harvest. Crackers are often used to drive away the animals, but some of them get accustomed to them. In a number of cases the conflict reaches such proportions that farmers do not hesitate to use their guns. A large number of elephants captured in Koddagu district of Karnataka showed multiple bullet wounds. In Wynad, a large tusker, almost 11 feet tall, was captured because of his crop raiding habits: he had 25 bullet wounds on his body. Electric fencing is another mean used by farmers to protect their fields, often leading to the death of animals by electrocution.

Rogue elephants, which repeatedly resort to manslaughter, have to be shot by the forest department.

Conservation measures (to be developped0 Conclusion 9to be developped) Habitat conservation Need for local communities? involvement

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