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Urgent action needed to protect India's shrinking wildlife

Jun 26, 2012

Despite India's Wildlife Protection Act now entering its 40th year, wildlife in the country continues to decline due to poaching and trading. This was the unanimous voice of delegates at a book launch organised by the Delhi-based research organisation, TERI.

Member of Parliament Maneka Gandhi wants the Wildlife Protection Act to be changed and better protection for the nation’s wildlife. Giving an example, she said that people are given licenses for guns to protect their fields but invariably these guns are used to kill animals, particularly in Punjab and the North-East. Citing a court case, she said that the Gujarat High Court ordered the release of birds saying that even birds have a fundamental right to live freely in the open sky.

Gandhi was speaking at the release of a book, Protected Animals of India, by Sanjay Sondhi, Founder Trustee, TITLI TRUST, Dehradun and published by the Delhi-based research organisation TERI. In her keynote address Gandhi said, “Wildlife is the punished part of the Forest Department and we should act now before more animals fall in the protected category. As with everything in life, the time is to act now”.

"There is not enough space for wildlife in the hearts and minds of people. We have to go back to our heritage and find ways forward within these problems.”

At a panel discussion, India’s Wildlife Scenario: Issues and Impacts, Gandhi laid stress on the fact that only government orders work and added that it will take a long time for teaching and similar efforts to save our environment. Contesting her views, TERI Director General RK Pachauri said that one cannot ignore teaching and just rely on the government. He added: “I am deeply anguished by the way our wildlife is treated and one must value each species.”

The panel discussion highlighted the importance of India’s rich wildlife and the urgent need to come to grips with issues concerning it. The discussion further focused on that, while it is true that animals are constantly adapting themselves to the changes in their ecosystems and habitat, there is very little they can do when the native forests of a country, like India, are on the wane.

Author Sanjay Sondhi said that it is important to involve communities in the conservation process and to make it an abiding interest to people, rather than convert it into just a project. His Book Protected Animals of India covers the known, as well as a few less-familiar mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and other animals that are now “protected” in India, as the author believes that the it is not just about the large mammals.

Speaking at the launch, Ravi Singh, Secretary General and CEO, WWF India, said that there is not enough space for wildlife in the hearts and minds of people. “We have to go back to our heritage and find ways forward within these problems.”

Belinda Wright, Executive Director, Wildlife Protection Society of India, agreed with Gandhi that there is a huge difference between what we can and what we are currently doing. She added that the laws have to be used effectively and the civil society also needs to be a lot more pro-active.

The panel also discussed human-induced issues, climate change and poaching which are threatening the diverse wildlife India was once synonymous with. As one of the first steps towards protecting our rapidly dwindling wildlife, several animals have been brought under the ambit of protected species. However, protecting our wildlife calls for actions on a number of fronts and not just talk. It was clear from the discussion that it is a fight on many fronts—understanding the dangers posed to these animals is important; to learn about their habits and habitats and making the curricular far more alive to nature is equally vital because without nature, nothing exists.

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