This book gives adequate information on the wildlife and its habitat in general and national parks in particular. As the forests play an inalienable role in maintaining environmental balance, it elaborately stresses the need for protection of forests and wildlife.
Shri R.S. Bisht is an ardent nature lover and freelance writer and worked as a senior officer in CSIR.
In my early childhood in the hills I, along with my schoolmates had to walk through the thick forests to reach our school. The majestic hills clad with pine, oak and other trees, shrubs and creepers looked so charming and beautiful. The fragrance of flowers of different colours and cool breeze passing through lush green trees was so exhilarating and refreshing. While going to and returning from my school, I would sit at the edge of the hill and watch for long moments the spellbinding beauty of the surrounding hills and dales and listen to the chirping and singing of a variety of birds. Our parents often asked us to beware of wild beasts—tigers, bears and leopards—one of which would be lurking behind a bush and attack us. We did hear of cattle or horse being killed by tigers or leopards either in the forest where these domestic animals would be driven for grazing or within the village boundary where these wild animals would stray at night in search of food. However none of these wild animals ever crossed our path or harmed us. Yet a feeling of dread or even hatred had been instilled in us by our elders which persisted for long.
When I went to the plains for prosecuting higher studies I returned to my village once or twice a year during vacation. With each year passing I found more and more trees being cut and tarraced agricultural fields moving right up to the boundary of the forest. The hills were becoming barren and lifeless. The soil erosion and land slides spoiled the face of the hills once covered with beautiful and luxuriant trees. With the depletion of forests the so-called dangerous wild animals disappeared. The awe and grandeur of the wild was gone. The forests and wildlife elsewhere in the country met the same fate during the forties and fifties.
In the post-independence period, the Government recognised the importance of forests and wildlife but the harm done to them could not be prevented in the face of “grow more food campaign. It was only around 1970 that the serious consequences of deforestation and destruction of wildlife were fully realised and hard measures taken to reverse the trend. By this time public awareness about saving forests and wildlife also grew. The movement like “Chipko” emerged. Nature conservationists and the enlightened public voiced the demand for protecting forests from reckless exploitation and saving wildlife from senseless killing. In the wake of this new awakening, the Government made positive moves for preserving the forests and wildlife, Enactment of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 by the Central Government went a long way in this direction. The subject of “Forests and Wildlife” was placed in the concurrent list of the Constitution in 1976 to enable the Central Government to legislate on the subject. New Wildlife Sanctuaries, National Parks, Tiger Projects and Biosphere Reserves were set up to restore ecological balance.
National Parks play a vital role in preserving wildlife and the eco-system. They are also a source of recreation and education. It is, therefore, necessary to disseminate information about them. In this small book I have attempted to give essential information on wildlife in general and National Parks in particular. In preparing this book I have drawn information from various publications and brochures which I had collected over the years. There is nothing technical or pedantic about the book. It, however, covers all inter-related issues and will be useful for those ho may not be experts in the field but have interest in Nature Conservation and National Parks. No matter how much we love wildlife, we cannot justify protection of an animal in the National Park when human beings are starving on its periphery. National Parks are therefore to be related not only to wildlife but also to human beings, their welfare and education. The book not only argues for the protection of forests and wildlife but also makes a plea for taking measures for the welfare of the people who live in close proximity of these Parks.
The Publications Division gave me an opportunity to write this book. Due to official preoccupation I had more than once felt like abandoning the work. It was due to persuasion and encouragement of Shri S.C. Pant, Editor Publications Division and his colleagues Shri Kapil Kumar, Shri G. Sudheer and Shri Krishan Bhagwan who handled this work in succession that I was able to accomplish it. I am indebted to them and to the Publications Division for extending the time to complete the Project. My wife had been constantly reminding me to honour the commitment made to the Publications Division. She in her own way helped thr a great deal. My colleagues Sunita Rani and Suraj Kant gave me valuable support in preparing the typescript of the book. I shall always remain indebted to them.
Nature is indeed mysterious and fascinating. Each constituent performs definite functions useful to others and keeps the universe in order. Man is one of the most precious creations of nature. He has mastered nature for his comforts, unfortunately he has also acquired the notion that he is at the centre-stage of the universe and all other forms of life are ordained to subserve his interests. He has assumed that the whole universe exists for him and his happiness is the ultimate objective of the creator of the universe. This vain attitude has led to unlimited exploitation of nature by him for his pleasure and comforts. He is responsible for upsetting the ecological balance. It is due to his recklessness that large forest areas have been destroyed and as a result wildlife has been gravely endangered.
In the nature of things, man is as insignificant a part of the universe as any other single form of life. He has to depend for his life and progress on hosts of gifts of nature which are not within his power to create. Interrelationship of various forms of life is complex and inextricable and yet their relationship of interdependence is so obvious. Harmonious existence of diverse forms of life in nature is, therefore, in the interest of mankind. A view and an approach contrary to this, would be fatal to human progress and happiness.
The interdependence of various forms of life is manifest in everyday experience. Plants and trees provide food for the Herbivora which in turn are the source of food for the Carnivora. In animal environment there is energy transfer of food-chains. From plants, energy is transferred to plant-eating animals and from the latter to the flesh eaters and the predators. For the harmonious and balanced continuance of nature, this food chain has to remain uninterrupted. Otherwise there are bound to be disastrous consequences to living things including human beings. And who else but man is responsible for creating this dangerous situation?
The interdependence in nature may be invisible to or difficult to be perceived by the common man who is more interested in his immediate survival—his requirement of food, physical needs and security. He has perhaps no time to ponder over the subtle balance among the various forms of life in nature and the necessity of its continuance. Lack of awareness of this interdependence in nature leads to needless fear and wildlife is often considered a threat to life. Snakes invite instantaneous wrath and deer and pig are considered fit for uninhibited killing. The thought that if tigers and leopards are killed indiscriminately, monkeys, deer and pigs would multiply to such an extent that they would pose a serious threat to crops does not cross our minds, Without snakes, rats and mice would ravage the fields and if deer, monkeys and pigs are destroyed, their predators would become cattle-lifters and maneaters. Extermination or even reduction in the number of birds may lead to multiplication of insect-pests resulting in destruction of crops and stored grain. What will happen to our crops if grasshoppers, caterpillars and beetles are not controlled by birds? And how will pollination take place if we kill bees and hornets? Numerous examples can be cited to show how thoughtless destruction of animals and birds causes problems of far-reaching consequences for mankind. Every species thus plays an intransigent and invisible role in the maintenance of balance of nature. During the long period of five billion years of earth’s existence species have evolved and adapted to a particular ecological niche. Every species has adapted habitat and developed taste for particular food. These habitats and food preferences were evolved through natural evolution, If the essential characteristics of the environment are changed, the species are bound to be affected adversely leading to depletion in their number and ultimate extinction. Man has unfortunately created ecological problems on this planet by destroying forests indiscriminately and killing wildlife ruthlessly pushing himself on the brink of ecological disaster.
Wildlife is an essential part of nature and deserves an honourable place on earth. India was abundantly rich in wildlife at the turn of the last century. However, with the beginning of the twentieth century there has been fierce competition for land for wildlife use on the one hand and for human use on the other. With rapid increase in the population of the country and the ever growing demand for food, agriculture made inroads into the areas once covered with green and dense forests. In the post Independence period, forests were reclaimed for agriculture to meet the food requirements of a rapidly growing population. The “Grow More Food” campaign for record production of food left behind the movement for “Plant More Trees”. Though a National Forest Policy, which aimed at bringing 33.3 percent land surface of the country under forests and emphasised the need to protect wildlife, was formulated, in effect, vast forest lands were diverted for agricultural purposes and wildlife robbed of its natural habitat. The pressure on forests for fuel, fodder and timber for domestic and industrial consumption continued to mount resulting in reckless felling of trees. This resulted in the depletion of forests which now occupy only 19 percent of the country’s land surface. The depletion of forests and hunting pressure on wildlife led to dwindling and in some cases extinction of wild animals. As the habitat of the wildlife shrank due to diversion of forests for agricultural purposes, indiscriminate felling of trees and unchecked grazing, the prey for the carnivora became scarce and they turned into cattle-lifters or man-eaters. Villagers in turn took revenge on the carnivora and killed them by poisoning or other methods resulting in serious threat to several rare wild species. The balance in nature had thus been upset threatening the very survival of mankind. Concern has been expressed on this crisis by national and international organisations engaged in the conservation of nature. An urgent need for conserving and protecting the wildlife and its habitat is now felt to restore balance in the natural ecosystem.
India is a vast country with varied geographical and climatic conditions capable of sustaining different kinds of wild animals. Nature has endowed her with about 350 different species of mammals, 1224 species of birds and more than 30,000 forms of insects besides many kinds of fish, reptiles and amphibia. However, over-exploitation of forests, thanks to grazing, urbanisation, agricultural activities, developmental projects such as dams, industrial plants, mining, and die network of roads through forests, has drastically reduced the habitat of wildlife. This led to progressive decline in the number of various species. The situation was further worsened by illegal and senseless hunting and poaching. The use of fast-moving vehicles and modem firearms in hunting hastened the process of extermination of wildlife. Animals have been killed by various means for meat, fir or feather, horn, ivory, etc. for making a fast buck by unscrupulous traders. The very survival of wildlife has been threatened and a number of rare species are on the verge of extinction.
It is believed that at the beginning of 20th century there were at least 40,000 tigers in India. Today the number is less than 4,000. The Asiatic lion once widespread throughout northern India is confined to the Gir forests of Gujarat. Even here because of over-exploitation of its habitat, its number has dwindled. According to 1995 census their number was 304. Concerted are required to protect them. Hunting cheetah, the fastest animal on earth, is now extinct in India. The rhinoceroses and musk deer have been killed for the medicinal value of their horn and musk. The once flourishing swamp deer are now reduced to mere 70 in the Kanha National Park, Other deer species like the hangul of Kashmir and the brow-antlered deer of Manipur have dwindled and are in the endangered list. The blackbuck is surviving under special care. The Pink headed duck, mountain quail and Jordon courser are now extinct. The other threatened birds are the great Indian bustard and white winged wood duck. The gharial, the mugger and the crocodile which were in abundance have been reduced to the point of extinction owing to continuous hunting for their skins. The number of wild asses in Runn of Kutchh, bharal, carcal and sakin found in the Himalayas has greatly declined. All this has created imbalance and lopsided development which need to be corrected for balanced approach to conservation and control. Restoration of balance of nature is normally possible by leaving the wilderness to itself because nature without human interference is capable of maintaining balance between plants, animals, birds and insects.
In the present Indian situation it is not enough to leave the nature to itself to mitigate the destruction and damage done to the forests and wildlife and the resultant ecological imbalance it is imperative to make conscious efforts to delineate and develop lands where wildlife would live and multiply. It is the crying need of the day not only to maintain the existing wildlife reserves but to bring more areas under such reserves and protect them. Such reserves when kept free from human interference and influence can heal the scars of ruthless destruction and decades of painful neglect. National Parks, Sanctuaries and Biospheres are such reserves where wildlife can flourish in its natural surroundings. Their development can reverse the environmental degradation and restore the ecosystem. Only by protecting, propagating and developing wildlife in National Parks and other reserves we can prevent these depleted forests from turning into barren and eroded lands totally unfit for production and habitation. National Parks are the areas in which all commercial exploitation is prohibited and their flora and fauna well protected. They play a pivotal role in ameliorating the environmental and ecological degradation brought about by excessive biotic interference and illicit felling. They are the last refuge and the hope of the threatened and endangered species of wildlife- the “Abhayaranyas” where they can live fearlessly in the natural surroundings.
Though the first bird sanctuary in the country was set up at Vedanthangal (Tamil Nadu) in 1898, the first National Park, the Hailley National Park which is now known as Corbett National Park, was set up much later in 1935 in Uttar Pradesh, Until 1975, there were only 5 National Parks and 128 Wildlife Sanctuaries spread over an area of 24,000 sq. km which barely constituted 3.73 per cent of the country’s forest area of about 6,42,000 sq.km and 0.72 per cent of the geographical area of about 32,87,800 sq. km. The number of National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries has risen to 80 and 441 respectively in 1998. The forest area under these National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries is 34830 sq.krn. and 1,14,164 sq.km. making a total of 1,48994 sq.krn. The area under National Parks now stands roughly 5.44 percent of the forest area and 1.06 percent of the geographical area. The total area under National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries is about 23.2 per cent of the country’s forest area and 4.53 percent of the geographical area. This shows that there has been remarkable improvement in the conservation effort in the country during the last few years and the National Parks have contributed significantly in the conservation effort. Within the overall objective of providing improved habitat for protecting, propagating and developing wildlife in general, some National Parks have been established to undertake schemes and programmes for protecting threatened and rare species. F or instance Gir National Park aims at saving and rehabilitating Asiatic lions, Velavadar saving blackbuck, Desert National Park saving black-buck and bustards, Kanha National Park saving and rehabilitating swamp deer, Dachigam National Park saving Hangul deer, Kaziranga National Park saving rhinoceros and Keibul Lamjao National Park saving and rehabilitating brow antlered deer. The National Parks as a whole have successftilly harboured diverse flora and fauna and some of them such as Kanha, Kaziranga, Sundarbans, Manas, Palamau, Bandipur, Madumalai and Periyar National Park have received wide recognition in this respect.
National Parks are now constituted under the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, which is a Central Act. State Governments can declare by a notification any area which is considered suitable for protection and conservation for its ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological and zoological importance, as a National Park. In a National Park all the private rights are extinguished and it is insulated from human intrusion, commercial forestry and cattle grazing so that conditions are created which are conducive to natural and balanced growth of flora and fauna. These National Parks, not only save the wildlife from human assault but also serve mankind in more than one way. Wildlife in a National Park, with all its diversity, grandeur and charm is a source of education and aesthetic enjoyment. The rich and luxuriant trees and plants of the park conserve soil, retain and regulate the flow of water and enrich the weather regime effecting overall improvement in the environment of the area.
Decades of uninhibited destruction of forests and senseless killing of its inmates have brought the country to the brink of ecological disaster. Restoration of these over-exploited and degraded forests to their natural state by preventing human intrusion, controlling fire, banning grazing and other biotic interference and undertaking afforestation is the immediate task to undo the harm done to the ecosystem. National Parks aim at achieving this objective They are the legally constituted areas of biological importance where efforts are now going on for preserving the flora and fauna for the benefit of the people for all times to come. Though they are not the only areas engaged in this task, they undoubtedly play a prominent and leading role in this task of environmental reconstruction and restoration.
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