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Indian tradition and culture help us conserve wildlife.
Dr HS Singh | Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Despite high human population - about one sixth humans of the world packed in an area which is one third of China or America - Indians have unique position in the world in the field of wildlife conservation.
In Asia, no country is near India in richness of wildlife and its preservation, although they were equally rich in wildlife before the Second World War.
Status of wild mega mammals is indicator of degree of wildlife management. At present, out of 48,000 Asiatic elephant in Asia, 28,000-30,000 elephants are in the Indian forests; of 20,000 leopards in Asia, 13,000-14,000 leopards are in India; despite present crisis of tiger, about half of the total tigers are in Indian forests. Similar stories can be mentioned for other species also.
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In 1890s, LL Fenton wrote that the Asiatic lion was very common in Iran and Iraq but was on verge of extinction in the Gir forest of India. After a few decades since then, the lion disappeared from Asia Minor.
But the story of the Asiatic lion in the Gir forest turned one of the best conservation stories in the world. Number of lion improved from few dozen at the beginning of twentieth century to over 410 in 2010 in the Gir forest of Gujarat. Now number is a problem as lions move in the villages in new areas to reclaim their territories.
Gujarat has few other successful wildlife management stories which may be enlisted among the best conservation stories in the world.
The number of Indian wild ass, locally called Ghudkhar increased from about 400 individuals in 1960s to over 4,000 individuals in and around the Rann of Kutch at present. As per the report of the Forest Survey of India, the mangrove cover in the state has improved from less than 400 sq. km. in 1993 to about 1,050 sq. km. in 2009. The tree cover in the non-forest area has also improved due to intense social forestry activities.
Now villages in Gujarat are greener than their green covers in 1970s. This was achieved despite tremendous development pressure because the character and behavior of the Indian society have deep root in cultural and religious strength that evolved and persisted over a period.
India is a land of Lord Gautam Buddha, Lord Mahavir and Mahatma Gandhi, the leaders who have advocated non-violence and respect to the living organisms. Unlike other countries, especially the developed world, wildlife conservation is deep rooted in the Indian culture.
Our mythology, ancient art, literature, folk lore, religion, the rock edicts and scriptures, all provide ample proof that wildlife enjoyed a privileged position in India's ancient past - Kautilya's Arthashastra reveals the attention focused on wildlife in the Mauryan period: certain forests were declared protected and called Abhayaranya like the present day 'sanctuary'. Heavy penalties, including capital punishment, were prescribed for offenders who entrapped, killed or otherwise molested elephants, deer, bison, birds, or fish, amongst other animals.
Currently, all is not well in the conservation field. Present Indian society has global interaction. The world of consumerism has influenced the new generation. A different kind of war, waged between conservation and development, and between the forest and the tribal is already being fought.
Like people of the western world, the present Indians have less tolerance to wildlife. Old Maharajas are gone but they are now replaced by another set of Neo-Maharajas - industrialists - a biggest land grabber who form a nexus with corrupt politicians and bureaucrats to establish their empire at the cost of natural ecosystems and livelihood of poor people. It is weakening our basis of sustainable development; there is a need to counter the forces responsible for loss of nature and natural resources by creating awakening in the society.
Despite these problems, there is small positive change in certain areas where wildlife disappeared or got depleted. Within tribal society, there has been change in attitude of people.
A large number of tribal in villages in Sabarkantha, Panchmahals and Dahod have left consuming liquor and eating meat and they have become Bhagat. Sighting of animals including peacock, python etc were rare a few decades ago in these areas but now it is very common, as people have stopped killing wild animals.
How we transform our society in the forested region is a challenge, but future of wildlife conservation depends how we enrich our tradition and culture as it is happening in several villages in Gujarat. But this may not happen in isolation because the offence or onslaught of elite groups or neo maharajas on nature and environment cause unrest and tension in the society - a bigger challenge for wildlife conservation.
(The author is additional principal chief conservator of forests, social forestry, Gujarat)