The book’s title in itself is an indication of the approach of its contents to the fact of Nature not being confined to specified protected areas alone. It is to be found way beyond and the issue really is how the growth of human needs be reconciled within the given static natural space.
The editors of the book, in their lengthy and critical overview of the issues note that Nature’s array of life forms and diverse eco systems is under intense pressure in a country where most of the population is still largely rural. The National parks and sanctuaries themselves are only 2,00,000 sq. kms in area and account for less than 5% of India’s land mass. Small as they are, they have succeeded in some measure in protecting flora and fauna.
The editors point out that on closer examination they have failed in some cases, most notably, tiger extinction in Sariska or the Great Indian Bustard extinction in Karera.
The editors rightly ask how can one advance nature-friendly agendas on a wider social and ecological canvas on which borders are continuously being redrawn, erased and redrawn? They point out that three paths suggest themselves. Firstly, protected areas succeed to a point. Secondly, therefore, community cooperation and participation is necessary inspite of all its shortcomings. Thirdly, the corporate drive for nature, primarily tourism which is touted as a panacea, though most of the income goes to the corporate entities and not to the local population. They note that the approach for conservation has to be diverse, but deeply conscious of people and practices, ecologies and economies and shifting mosaics. The book brings together a selection of working approaches with different and often more effective ways. It consists of eight papers of diverse areas with broadly the approach suggested by the editors and its title.
The Indian fisheries sector grew with the first Five Year Plan. Aaron Lobo and Rohan Arthur point out that with trawlers coming in, the local fishing communities were the first to suffer. This new mode of catching fish brought new problems. For example one kilo of shrimp caught on the Tamil Nadu coast, 10 kilos of bycatch came along. Along the Coromandel Coast, each trawl rakes up a ‘taxanomi cornucopia’ including sponges, starfish, sea cucumbers, corals, a large diversity of fish species, marine reptiles and an occasional dolphin. The damage done to the ecosystem is incalculable. The fisheries crisis is imminent as has been obvious for some time. The authors call for a ‘Sea Ethic’ including Marine Protected Areas (MPA) managed flexibly enough to be case specific and adaptive especially in the developing world context, use of ‘Bycatch Reduction Devices’ ‘Turtle Exclusion Devices’ and so on. These and the PAs have met with scant success so far though they would greatly elevate the problem. The authors lament that today the marine resources are managed by the fisheries department which focuses on maximizing production and the forest department which is still largely influenced by the terrestrial paradigm of conservation. Yet between the two they feel lies the best hope for ocean management.
The Gangetic dolphin hangs on by a thread and one hopes it does not go the way of its Yangtze cousin. Nachiket Kelkar and Jagdish Krishaswamy concentrate on Vikramaditya Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in Bhagalpur, Bihar. It is the only sanctuary for this species which has been recently declared as the national aquatic animal. The authors point out that terrestrial protected areas get the lion’s share of the state’s resources and the forest department officials protecting it are at ease with terrestrial issues rather than aquatic ones. They note that the abolition of the feudal ‘panidari’ (jalkar) system of river fishing have created problems for this animal. Moreover, water usage upstream and the Farraka Barrage downstream, have not helped the aquatic fauna either. For example commercial fishing for the hilsa has all but gone. They point out that Bihar which has three large fertile flood plains, has to import fish from Andhra Pradesh! They suggest that strict enforcement of ban on destructive fishing, ecological restoration of rivers and cooperative alternative livelihood from common pool resources hold promise to achieve the twin ends of river dolphins and commercial gains for fishers. They also suggest pragmatic application of MNREGS to lessen the pressure on the Ganga.
Gopi Sunder’s chapter on the Sarus is a striking example of large birds adjusting to human dominated landscapes. Sauj lake in Mainpuri district, U.P., is home to the largest concentration of the cranes—some 300 in numbers—in the world. He asks two basic questions: Is conservation of birds in intensely farmed areas possible in India and are our conservation policies and paradigms sufficiently developed to include these species and areas? Regrettably, the answer is not encouraging.
The cranes have adapted themselves to live and breed in rice fields and there is a sentiment of protection among the people because of their believed lifelong pairing etc. However, the challenge of ever changing human dominated landscape is daunting. The author also points out that our conservation paradigm rarely includes common lands and water bodies, which are considered wastelands, face the threats to convert them to farmlands. Such landscapes and their inhabitants require multidisciplinary research to understand the intricacies of cropland wildlife systems. This is the correct solution. The question is: Are our authorities charged with conservation aware, willing and able to follow the path.
The two chapters on the fight to preserve the lakes of Bengaluru and the Ridge in Delhi have a lot in common. In the earlier piece, Harini Nagendra et.al. point out that in 1830 as many as 19,800 lakes were recorded around Mysore. This network lies disrupted and destroyed with highly adverse impact on the landscape of the region. In Bengaluru itself there are 210 lakes in the administrative area most of which are in an abysmal condition. Now the authorities have involved plan to restore them. The authors give a detailed account of the restoration of Koikondanahallie Lake which is illustrative of multiplicity of government authorities and equally diverse social needs of the city’s citizens which had to be brought on board to preserve the water body. The question is can this current success replicate itself with site specific modifications, over and over again through citizens’ actions? The effort is on, only time will tell.
The case of the Delhi Ridge is somewhat different on the face of it in so far it is land in the middle of the National Capital Regions with a population of 27 million people. Ravi Agarwal gives us a fine exposition of how the Ridge has been vandalized and saved over the last 150 years or so. Once home to lions, leopards, antelopes apart from rich avifauna, today it is a fragmented habitat and only the nilgai survives among the large mammals though smaller mammals are very much around. The question is how to keep the forest going? Agarwal points out that citizens’ groups, the Supreme Court’s hawk eye and government policy have secured what survives. Yet most Delhites have not visited the Ridge. Educational and other institutions which have come up on the Ridge must have a special responsibility towards it e.g., classroom projects in schools, projects of creative work by artists etc., must be encouraged to make the citizens aware that the Ridge is a green lung of the city. Agarwal mentions the presence and growth of Prosopis chilensis which is overtaking the landscape at the expense of its natural vegetation. He, however, does not mention that unless this invasive species is eradicated, it will destroy considerably the biodiversity of the Ridge. We know the solution to the question is: Will the government agencies who have the ultimate authority and responsibility, act? Or will the Ridge be reduced to a few islands?
In ‘Black Sheep Grey Wolves’ Nitya Ghotge and Sagari Ramdas have given a fine overview of the changing landscape of the Deccan through state intervention over the years. The pastoralists such as the Dhangars and Ramoshis have been impacted to the extent that the traditional black breed of sheep has been replaced by others which can subsist on less nutrant grains. The shrinking grasslands and grazing have impacted both wildlife and livestock. Coming specifically to the wolves, their survival ironically is linked to the existing sheep and goat population. The authors point out that unlike in the western tradition, the wolves are more than tolerated since some pastoralists consider them as ‘Laxmi’ whereas some others consider their passing through a herd as a good omen. An occasional predation is considered to be the wolf’s right—one is reminded of the maldhari’s attitude to livestock predation by lions in the Gir.
The protected areas of the Deccan are home to some 190 wolves whereas the total population is believed to be between 2000 and 3000. The authors make the point that this is indicative of their presence in a far wider landscape. Here is yet another instance of borderlessness of wildlife and nature itself. The authors make a strong case for sheep rearing in grassland and for prompt compensation for wolf predation. The wolves themselves have also adapted to changes they have learnt more and more to live on the periphery of human settlements and that in some areas they have shifted to domestic herbivores as a source of sustenance. With the disappearance of the cheetah from the landscape, the wolf is the apex predator. Both their survival and that of the pastoralists is dependent on large tracts of land which are not fragmented. The authors emphasize the fact that both have coexisted in the past and can do so in future if human predation in the guise of development does not lay waste their lands for ever. How true but will we have such tracts left with constant pressures of ‘development’?
The chapter on the ‘Snow Leopard Project’ by Yash Bhatnagar and Charudutt Mishra deals with issues very different from those connected with the rest of our landscape. The mountainscape of the Himalayas are unique to the country. Moreover, the human density of one person per sq. km in most areas is in sharp contrast to 350 persons per sq. km. in India as a whole which ensures survival of wildlife in appreciable numbers outside protected areas which form a minuscule portion of the whole region. This is in stark contrast to such areas in the plains where often the boundary of a protected area is marked by near total denudation of forest cover. The population connectivity of wildlife populations is broken largely by natural features. Thus, the area effectively translates into 2,00,000 sq. kms in comparison with an area 1,10,000 sq. km spread over connected and unconnected habitats of the elephants, a far, far larger mammal requiring far more food supply.
Under these circumstances the solution to the problem had to be very different. In any case, the snow leopard programme is not a species centric programme, but that which takes the snow leopard as a ‘flagship species’ for conservation of the region. Here is a successful programme catalysed by the Wildlife Institute of India with active participation of Himalayan states governments, the Central Government, Nature Conservation Foundation and the Snow Leopard Trust. To take one instance of the success, the village council of Kibber (Spiti) was persuaded to create a ‘village reserve’ which would not be grazed by livestock and the council was compensated by a cash input. The result was that there was a four-fold increase in bharal, two-fold increase in the small population of ibex and a drastic reduction in predation by carnivores of livestock. The programme also had other inputs such as livestock insurance, education, etc. This has resulted in a few villages of Spiti and Ladakh which have established such reserves and that has resulted in the preservation of bharal, ibex, argali, Tibetan Gazelle and also created pockets of high prey density for snow leopards and wolves. These are naturally long term projects.
The push for ‘development’ in general and infrastructure in particular in these regions pose a threat to conservation as elsewhere. One glaring instances is the Chamoli—GMR hydel project. The spread of security establishments and growth of tourism are others which not only cause damage to wildlife habitats but also lead to other problems. The silver lining to the dark cloud, however, is we have a successful model. How far can we replicate it to make a difference to the region as whole is a question the answer to which only time will tell.
The last chapter on wildlife conservation in landscapes fragmented by plantation crops looks at the Western Ghats. Its area of 1,80,000 sq. kms has about thirty percent of India’s plant and vegetation species diversity in an area which is less than six percent of its landmass. This area has lost 40% of its forest cover between 1920 and 1990. The authors, Divya Mudappa et. al. note that in 40,000 sq. ms of the Sothern Western Ghats 25.6 percent of forest cover was lost between 1975 and 1995 that is in a remarkably short period of 20 years. Consequently, this has had a major effect in the avian faunal biodiversity in the region. However, several studies have shown that coffee and cardamom plantations which use native shade tree species, help support many forest species and they act as buffer habitat in the wider landscape context of cultivated areas.
The two animals that have the maximum wildlife-human conflict are elephants and leopards. The authors point that plantations must be involved in conservation effort through habitat restoration, using native shade trees, fostering sustainable land use practices liking with certification and proactively minimizing conflicts. Certification by several agencies is available and the authors themselves have engaged with one such agency. They point out none the less, that the effects of certification of one kind or another on the ground has yet to be seen.
As for wildlife conflict, the authors point out that relocation of food storages and advance warning system of elephant movements would mitigate the conflict, reducing it appreciably. Whereas the leopard requires a different approach such as better corralling of livestock, adequate fencing, safety precautions for people especially children. All this requires multiplicity of authorities and agencies to work in tandem. Again only time will tell if this will happen.
That nature is not confined to man-made boundaries of protected areas is a self evident truth. Actually it is the other way round in so far as human populations exist in nature. Yet, attention to mitigate destruction of nature on a landscape basis is a comparatively later thrust in conversation discourse. Success has smiled in such instances where the state and civil society have joined hands or where there is a local sentiment for conservation. The question is: will such interventions be replicated country wide to save what is left of Nature in the face of still rising human population and its ever increasing demands of ‘development’? You decide.
Divyabhanusinh is Former Vice President of the Bombay Natural History Society, and member of the Cat Specialist Group, Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Natures.