It is depressing but true that campaigns to protect wildlife in India haven’t produced the desired results. Yet it would be erroneous to claim that conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts are insincere in their efforts. Whatever little has been achieved till date is largely due to their crusading zeal. However, what could have made their battles easier was a government resolute in protecting the country’s biodiversity.
Even after years of awareness drives, the twin crises facing the wildlife population — shrinking habitat and poaching — continue to assert their presence. Unable to counter the threats of poachers who killed 88 rhinos between 2008 and 2013, Assam’s forest department is contemplating a proposal to dehorn 2,552 rhinos. The department has taken a cue from African countries where such a measure had been successful. The horn of the rhino, considered as an aphrodisiac for both men and women, is a prized possession, fetching as much as Rs1 crore in the black markets of South-east Asian countries.
The big cats too are in grave danger from poaching. What has worsened matters is constant encroachment of humans into whatever little space the tigers and leopards consider their home. Man-animal conflicts have made it easier for poachers as they try to exploit the fear and poverty of the people residing on the fringes of the forests. There are now only 4,000 tigers surviving in the wild, compared to the 40,000 that roamed the forests at the beginning of the 20th century. Even 4,000 seems to be an inflated number with regular reports of deaths, mostly due to poaching, surfacing in the media. The tiger has many champions, most notable among them is the National Tiger Conservation Authority, a Government of India project launched in 1973 to save the regal predator. But like all government efforts, its success doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006, with the intention of giving more teeth to Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, was a step in the right direction, if only its implementation had been effective. The daunting ground reality shows how poaching has become an insurmountable problem. In Melghat, a tiger reserve in the northern part of Amravati district in Maharashtra, four tigers fell prey to poachers last year. Unconfirmed reports say 20 cats have been killed in the state, in spite of the state tiger census claiming a rise in tiger population.
Though the annual plan outlay for the Environment ministry for 2013-14 was Rs2,430 crore, it is estimated that only Rs340.06 out of that amount was allocated for wildlife conservation. Most of Rs340 crore was spent on tigers, which leaves little for the 132 critically endangered species in the country.
Uncontrolled expansion of cities and towns have already done untold damage to the flora and fauna. Mumbai’s growth at the cost of wildlife symbolises human aggression. As a result leopard attacks have become a routine affair in Aarey Milk Colony and Borivali. In UP, a tigress had ventured 150 kms through densely populated towns and killed six people. What’s most unfortunate is that such incidents fail to serve as a wake-up call. Humans cannot afford to be blind to the havoc they are creating.