Monday, August 6, 2007

India says "gravely endangered" wildlife need help

Mon Aug 6, 2007 12:49PM BST

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Snow leopards, Asiatic lions, Gangetic dolphins and wild buffaloes are among Indian wildlife species that are "gravely endangered," the government has warned.

Existing conservation measures for 14 rare species were inadequate, the Environment Ministry said in the agenda for a forthcoming meeting of the National Board for Wildlife, a copy of which was seen by Reuters on Monday.

"With mounting demographic pressures, there are today a number of species which are gravely endangered, whose long-term survival can only be ensured if a determined effort is undertaken to initiate specific recovery plans," it said.

Other threatened species include the great Indian bustard, Malabar civet, pigmy hog, white winged wood duck, Andaman teal and the hangul, also know as the Kashmir stag.

Experts say increasing human interference such as development, encroachment and destruction of habitat, as well as poaching, are the main threats to the animals, which populate areas from the Himalayas to the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

The animals now often exist in isolated populations and authorities say its difficult to employ general conservation measures used on high profile species such as tigers and elephants as the needs and habitats of the animals are different.

"The isolation of animal species due to fragmentation of habitats reduces relict populations to unviable levels, leading to local extinctions," said the ministry.

India is the last bastion of the Asiatic lion, yet the big cats are now only found in the Gir landscape in the western state of Gujarat.

Considering the serious threats from epidemics or other natural disasters that could lead to extinction, the ministry says measures such as relocation of some of the lions to another sanctuary should be employed.

Likewise, the snow leopard, which inhabits the Himalayan mountains, should be given extra protection from poachers who hunt the cat for its pelt, which commands a high price on the international market, say experts.

Conservationists say measures to protect the Ganges river dolphins -- whose numbers have halved over the last 25 years as they are hunted for oil, trapped in fishing nets and hit by pollution from dams -- should include keeping pollution levels in check.

"This is a welcome measure as we have always assumed that measures to protect the tiger and elephant would automatically cover smaller species," said Sujoy Banerjee, WWF India's director for species conservation.

"But there are certain animals whose needs should be dealt with separately."


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