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OTHER ARTICLES

Problems of identification of camera-trapped tigers
Indian Wildlife - challenges in the new millennium
The greying of India
On the road to extinction
A Tribute to Rumbha - the elephant  
State development project threatens state bird - Sarus
Shahtoosh ban gains momentum worldwide
The road to disaster
Killing nilgais in the name of crop protection
Warring NGO's may spell doom for the tiger
Where have all the sparrows gone?
Cuckoos that fly out of crows' nests
Corbett park woes continue to mount
A question on post mortem examinations in the wild
Is it time to 'cry wolf' again?
Lifting of US sanctions may boost wildlife conservation
Migratory waterfowl may be hit by war in Afghanistan
UP wetlands to provide improved habitat to waterfowl
Anthrax as a potent wildlife killer
Man-elephant conflict takes heavy toll
Demoiselle cranes fly to safety in India
How long lasting are conservation victories
Fake tiger skins : a knotty disguise
Who cares for the wild here anyway?
A tribute to Charger - the long living tiger
Draining of wetlands threatening wildlife
Wildlife management needs rapid response units
Dudhwa loses another tiger
Indian Wildlife Board meets after five years
 
Indian Wildlife - challenges in the new millennium
by
Ashok Kumar
 

A crisis of survival of wild species was caused by India's partition in 1947 and the resultant population exchange. Large areas of forests were cleared to accommodate a  burgeoning population. By the sixties, warning signals had gone up that natural India was under stress. The tiger population in India hit its lowest level of around 1700. Remedial measures taken in the early seventies under the leadership of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, made impressive gains which are relevant even today. 

As the century comes to a close, a renewed crisis is upon us, and this time around, there are no easy solutions. 

The threat to wild species from habitat degradation is set to accelerate in the new millennium.  The prime mover is, of course, population growth which will touch the billion mark at the turn of the century or soon thereafter, with no slackening of birth rate. The bulk of the population growth is in the segment of population at the lowest levels of education and income. These are the very people dependent upon bounties of nature, often at subsistence level, and sadly, the people who are most affected by degradation of natural resources. 

The great majority of Indians cook their food on firewood, using something like 300 million tonnes of it annually, of which less than one third is extracted sustainably. This in itself is a time bomb. Extraction of fuelwood, fodder and other non-timber forest produce including medicinal plants are already documented at unsustainable levels. As there are really no alternatives available to the people dependent upon these resources, any regulation of use can only bring social discord, often militancy in many regions which is eroding the authority of the State. 

The tolerance level of local people for wildlife depredation is taking a beating. Resource scarcity is only one of the reasons. The other is a rise in expectations, fuelled by exposure to the consumer culture of the West and richer Asian countries. These trends give a handle to commercial and industrial interests, aided by government planners to cut up protected areas reserved for wildlife. These are officially stated to be three per cent of India's land mass. In reality, perhaps less than half of that is in pristine condition. 

The population of livestock was last recorded at half that of the human population. The five hundred million mouths grazing the biomass place an unacceptable pressure on shrinking commons, forests, sanctuaries and national parks. When village commons become too sparse for cattle grazing, goats and sheep can still survive. The close cropping by them prevents regeneration and this is followed by desertification. Nomadic herders who had traditionally moved long distances with large herds of livestock find increasing resistance from local people to the influx. In times of drought, millions of cattle are forced into wildlife lands. Livestock is clearly the most intractable problem of all, because in rural India livestock represents wealth, and a monetary return for very little input. A ten year old boy or girl can tend a large herd. The input, of course is degradation of common resources. 

India is blessed with one of the highest water resources of any country. Profligate use in agriculture, increase in both the human and livestock population has already exerted tremendous pressure on water resources in large parts of the country. By the year 2020, the demand for water will match its availability. Regional water shortages are already evident in many parts of the country. Water disputes are set to intensify. The role of natural forests as water catchments and regulators of lean season flow is not understood by many government planners. 

The threat to bio-diversity from unregulated trade is often placed at a level lower than habitat destruction.  This is so in most instances. What is overlooked is that habitat loss is a slow process, imperceptible over a short period, whereas poaching and trade causes rapid decline of many target species. International trade in tiger parts is a prime example in India.  In numerous forest areas outside tiger reserves, populations are declining rapidly in deteriorating but adequate habitats. The 1993 Tiger Census had documented that over half of India's tiger population was located outside the protected areas network. 

Tiger population in India:

Year

Within Tiger Reserves

Outside Tiger Reserves 

Total

1989

1327 (31%) 

3007 (69%)

4334

1993 

1266 (34%) 

 2484 (66%)

3750

 

The few well protected reserves are able to hold on to their tiger numbers but other forests who have traditionally held a larger number of tigers and other wildlife are fast losing out as the following figures of Uttar Pradesh show: 

Tiger population in UP

Year

 1989 

1993

1995

National Parks 

189 

172 

205

Sanctuaries

 83 

28 

  49

Other forests

 463

265 

170

Total 

735 

465 

424

( Ashok Kumar works with the Wildlife Trust of India. He can be contacted at ashok@wildlifetrustofindia.org )