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Endangered Species - a cause for concern

India is a bio-diverse country, with nearly 6.5% of the world's known wildlife species. Approximately, 7.6% of the world's mammals and 12.6% of the world's birds are found in India. The illicit demand, globally, for wildlife and its products has seen the rise of wildlife crime across the subcontinent.

What it means to be a ‘vulnerable’, ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’ species


As defined by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), wildlife crime refers to acts committed contrary to national laws and regulations intended to protect natural resources and to administer their management and use. This includes the illicit exploitation of natural resources, such as poaching of animals and unauthorized logging of trees. It may also include subsequent acts, such as the processing of fauna and flora into products, their transportation, sale and possession.

In India, wildlife crime is a pervasive problem damaging ecosystems, impacting food security and affecting livelihoods of rural communities. In many cases, cross-border smuggling of live animals and plants can result in the spread of disease through carrier animals and plants.

The United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC) is mandated to support its member states fight wildlife crime. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) is an important instrument providing the necessary legal framework for international cooperation in combating wildlife crime.


Major wildlife crime in India includes poaching of tigers, rhinos and the sale of Star tortoises. Tigers are an endangered species, poached for their skin and bones to cater to an illegal market. Their body parts are used in Asian medicines and tiger claws are used in jewellery. Tiger whiskers are considered a dreadful poison in Malaysia and a powerful aphrodisiac in Indonesia.

Bengal Tiger

Ancient trade routes for salt, spices and wool are being used to smuggle tiger skins and bones. These illegal goods are sent to buyers based largely in northern India and are then smuggled out of the country through couriers. The main route is via Nepal, with whom India has a porous border, or directly across the border to China. More recently, routes through Myanmar have also been used.

Apart from tigers, India is also witnessing a rise in wildlife crime against Rhinoceros. Driven by a soaring demand for their horn, hundreds of rhinos are being killed, illegally. According to a report by TRAFFIC and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), sophisticated poachers are using veterinary drugs, poison, cross bows and high calibre weapons to kill rhinos.

The Indian rhino could once be found from Pakistan, all the way through India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. However, the current population of this species is dwindling and today only about 2500 survive in India and Nepal.

Indian Rhino

It is not only large mammals, but also smaller species that are under threat. Star tortoises from South India are illegally traded in huge numbers. Due to their popularity in Feng Shui, they are kept as pets, believed to bring prosperity and can cost as much as $500 in the illegal market. Many protected marine species such as sea cucumbers, molluscs, sea horses and coral are also illegally harvested in Indian waters for export.


Star tortoise

In India, the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is a strong legislation that covers wildlife crime. However, the implementation and enforcement needs to be strengthened in order to curb this transnational crime.


Three endangered species from India – the Great Indian Bustard, the Asiatic elephant and the Bengal Florican – were included in a special global list for protection under the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species.

It was done at the 13th conference of parties that was held from February 15th-22nd, 2020 at Gandhinagar, Gujarat. The theme of COP13 was ‘Migratory species connect the planet and we welcome them home’ and its mascot was the Great Indian Bustard. These birds are dying at the rate of 15 per cent annually due to collision with high-voltage power lines. In the last 30 years, their population has reduced drastically by nearly 75 percent. Their inclusion in the list of species for protection under the CMS will enable range countries to protect and conserve these migratory birds. Besides, seven other species have also been proposed by different countries to be included in the global protection list.


CMS

  • As an environmental treaty of the United Nations, CMS provides a global platform for the conservation and sustainable use of migratory animals and their habitats. CMS brings together the States through which migratory animals pass, the Range States, and lays the legal foundation for internationally coordinated conservation measures throughout a migratory range.

  • As the only global convention specializing in the conservation of migratory species, their habitats and migration routes, CMS complements and co-operates with a number of other international organizations, NGOs and partners in the media as well as in the corporate sector.

  • Migratory species threatened with extinction are listed on Appendix I of the Convention. CMS Parties strive towards strictly protecting these animals, conserving or restoring the places where they live, mitigating obstacles to migration and controlling other factors that might endanger them. Besides establishing obligations for each State joining the Convention, CMS promotes concerted action among the Range States of many of these species.

  • Migratory species that need or would significantly benefit from international co-operation are listed in Appendix II of the Convention. For this reason, the Convention encourages the Range States to conclude global or regional agreements.

  • In this respect, CMS acts as a framework Convention. The agreements may range from legally binding treaties (called Agreements) to less formal instruments, such as Memoranda of Understanding, and can be adapted to the requirements of particular regions. The development of models tailored according to the conservation needs throughout the migratory range is a unique capacity to CMS.

Man Biggest Enemy of Wildlife:

Living planet report:

  • It is published every 2 years by WWF.

  • It is based on the ‘Living Planet Index’ and ‘Ecological footprint calculations’.

  • The ‘Living Planet Index’ is an indicator of the state of global biological diversity managed by Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and WWF.

  • Ecological footprint is the biologically productive area needed to provide for everything used by people: fruits and vegetables, fish, wood, fibres, absorption of CO2 from fossil fuels use, and space for buildings and roads. It is currently developed by Global Footprint Network (an independent think-tank). The GHG footprint and carbon footprint are a component of Ecological Footprint.

  • Humanity’s Ecological Footprint for 2014 was 1.7 planet Earth’s. This meant that humanity’s demands were 1.7 times faster than what the Earth’s ecosystems renewed.

  • It is a science-based analysis on the health of Earth and the impact of human activity.

  • The 2018 report has found a decline of 60% in population sizes of vertebrate species from 1970 to 2014. The tropics of South and Central America had an 89% loss compared to 1970.

  • Issues like Ocean acidification, loss of corals, increasing Carbon in the atmosphere, species disappearance due to habitat loss and degradation, etc are highlighted in the 2018 report.

  • Increasing use of plastics that ultimately reaches the oceans and seas via rivers is also a cause for deaths of marine organisms.

  • The latest report calls for new goals post-2020 alongside Convention on Biological Diversity, the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 :

  • The act provides for the protection of wild animals, birds and plants and matters connected with them, with a view to ensure the ecological and environmental security of India.

  • It provides for prohibition on use of animal traps except under certain circumstances

  • It provides for protection of hunting rights of the Scheduled Tribes in Andaman and Nicobar Islands

  • Has provisions for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

  • It has six schedules which give varying degrees of protection

  • Species listed in Schedule I and part II of Schedule II get absolute protection — offences under these are prescribed the highest penalties

  • Species listed in Schedule III and Schedule IV are also protected, but the penalties are much lower

  • Schedule V includes the animals which may be hunted

  • The plants in Schedule VI are prohibited from cultivation and planting

The act constitutes a National Board for Wildlife that

  • provides guidelines for framing policies and advising Central and State Government on promotion of wildlife conservation and controlling poaching and illegal trade of wildlife and its products;

  • Making recommendations for setting up and managing national parks, sanctuaries and other protected areas; and

  • Suggesting measures for improvement of wildlife conservation.

  • It also sets up National Tiger Conservation Authority.

The acts sets up various provisions related to trade and penalties for hunting the animals in wild.

  • Five kinds of protected areas can be notified in the Act. These are:

  • Sanctuaries: The State or Central Government may by notification declare its intention to constitute any area as a sanctuary for protecting wildlife and the environment. The government determines the nature and extent of rights of persons in or over the land within the sanctuary.

  • National Parks:

  • The State or Central Government may declare an area, whether inside a sanctuary or not, as a national park for the purpose of protecting and developing wildlife and its environment.

  • The State Government cannot alter the boundaries of a national park except on the recommendation of the National Board for Wildlife.

  • No grazing is allowed inside a national park.

  • All provisions applicable to a sanctuary are also applicable to a national park.

  • Conservation Reserves: The State Government after consultations with local communities can declare any area owned by the Government, particularly areas adjacent to national parks or sanctuaries, as conservation reserves. The government constitutes a Conservation Reserve Management Committee to manage and conserve the conservation reserve.

  • Community Reserves: The State Government can, in consultation with the community or an individual who have volunteered to conserve wildlife, declare any private or community land as community reserve. A Community Reserve Management Committee shall be constituted by State Government for conserving and managing the reserve.

  • Tiger Reserve: These areas were reserved for protection tiger in the country. The State Government on the recommendation of the Tiger Conservation Authority may notify an area as a tiger reserve, for which it has to prepare a Tiger Conservation Plan.


National Wildlife Action Plan:

  • The NWAP 2017-31, under which there are 250 projects, is India’s road map to conserve wildlife for the next 15 years. The plan is woven around the agenda of the United Nations’ 15th Sustainable Developmental Goal — “Life on Land”.

  • The key strategic changes in the new plan is adopting a “landscape approach” in conservation of all the wildlife — uncultivated flora (plants) and undomesticated fauna (animals) — rather than the areas where they occur.

  • This means that while till now programmes and plans related to wildlife were focused on and around national parks and sanctuaries, now the strategies would be based on the landscape of the region that may not be limited to a reserve forest system alone.

  • The plan has been divided into five components, which are further divided into 17 themes carrying 103 conservation actions. Each theme has a set of conservation actions and projects — 250, in all.

  • Man-animal conflict mitigation, adapting to the climate change, managing eco-tourism, ensuring public participation in the conservation, developing human resources, strengthening research and monitoring through modern technology like radio collars and drones and ensuring funds for the wildlife sector have been given special thrust in the planning.

  • The plan adopts a “landscape approach” in conservation of all wildlife – uncultivated flora and fauna – that have an ecological value to the ecosystem and to mankind irrespective of where they occur. It gives special emphasis to recovery of threatened species of wildlife while conserving their habitats.

  • The government has also underlined an increased role of private sector in wildlife conservation. The plan lays down that the Centre would ensure that adequate and sustained funding including Corporate Social Responsibility funds are made available for the National Wildlife Action Plan implementation.

The factors responsible for the extinction of flora and fauna across the world are as follows

  • Overexploitation of species: either for human consumption, use, elaboration of by-products, or for sport. Poaching has been a major threat which is going on unabated.

  • Habitat Loss:

  • Habitat destruction: People directly destroy habitat include filling in wetlands, dredging rivers, mowing fields, and cutting down trees. Commercial activities like mining, quarrying has destroyed many eco-sensitive zones. Example: Iron ore mining in the Western Ghats of India.

  • Habitat fragmentation: Much of the remaining terrestrial wildlife habitat has been cut up into fragments by roads and development. Aquatic species’ habitats have been fragmented by dams and water diversions. These fragments of habitat may not be large or connected enough to support species that need a large territory where they can find mates and food. Also, the loss and fragmentation of habitats makes it difficult for migratory species to find places to rest and feed along their migration routes.

  • Habitat degradation: Pollution, invasive species, and disruption of ecosystem processes (such as changing the intensity of fires in an ecosystem) are some of the ways habitats can become so degraded they can no longer support native wildlife.

  • Climate Change:

  • As climate change alters temperature and weather patterns, it also impacts plant and animal life. Scientists expect that the number and range of species, which define biodiversity, will decline greatly as temperatures continue to rise.

  • The burning of fossil fuels for energy and animal agriculture are two of the biggest contributors to global warming, along with deforestation.

  • As people increase their level of income, they consume more meat and dairy products. The populations of industrial countries consume twice as much meat as those in developing countries. Worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades and increased 20 percent in just the last ten years.

  • The spread of non-native species around the world: a single species (us) taking over a significant percentage of the world’s physical space and production; and, human actions increasingly directing evolution.

  • Reduced Diversity: Biological homogenization qualifies as a global environmental catastrophe. The Earth has never witnessed such a broad and complete reorganization of species distribution, in which animals and plants (and other organisms for that matter) have been translocated on a global scale around the planet.

  • Humans are directing evolution in numerous other ways as well, manipulating genomes by artificial selection and molecular techniques, and indirectly by managing ecosystems and populations to conserve them.

  • Other:

  • In countries around the world, policies have been enacted that have led to extinction or near extinction of specific species, such large predators in the US and Europe.

  • Chemical products associated with agriculture or other productive processes have affected many species such as honeybees and other pollinators.

Recently in February, 2021 The National Board for Wildlife and Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change included the caracal, a medium-sized wildcat found in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, in the list of critically endangered species. Though not under grave threat in its other habitats, the animal is on the verge of extinction in India, some experts believe. The recovery programme for critically endangered species in India now includes 22 wildlife species. Besides India, the caracal is found in several dozen countries across Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia. While it flourishes in parts of Africa, its numbers in Asia are declining.

The wildcat has long legs, a short face, long canine teeth, and distinctive ears — long and pointy, with tufts of black hair at their tips. The iconic ears are what give the animal its name — caracal comes from the Turkish karakulak, meaning ‘black ears’. In India, it is called siya gosh, a Persian name that translates as ‘black Ear’. A Sanskrit fable exists about a small wild cat named deergha-karn or ‘long-eared’.


The caracal is a medium-sized wild cat native to Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and arid areas of Pakistan and northwestern India.

The caracal is rarely hunted or killed — in recent years, cases have been detected of the animal being captured to be sold as exotic pets — and the decline of its population is attributable mainly to loss of habitat and increasing urbanisation. Experts point out that the caracal’s natural habitat — for example the Chambal ravines — is often officially notified as wasteland. Land and environment policies are not geared towards the preservation of such wasteland ecology, rather they seek to ‘reclaim’ these areas to make them arable.


Infrastructure projects such as the building of roads lead to the fragmentation of the caracal’s ecology and disruption of its movement. The loss of habitat also affects the animal’s prey which includes small ungulates and rodents.

The listing of the caracal as critically endangered is expected to bring central funding to conservation efforts. It is likely to ensure that the animal is studied comprehensively for the first time, including its home range, population, prey, etc.


Such study will also throw light on the much neglected “wastelands” in the country, which are home to a large number of animal and bird species, including leopards, Asiatic wild cats, rust spotted cats, sloth bears, wolves, wild dogs, civets, etc.



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