Dr Akhilesh Kumar and Dr Sonika Kushwaha
When we use the term “conservation” it includes numerous moral movements that ultimately lead to saving the species in nature through sustainable measures. Conservation is therefore a noble responsibility that requires serious dedication and hard work. Modern technologies, rapid development, and changing lifestyles make it all the more difficult for conservationists to protect the fast-declining species. We are unsuccessful to protect the critically endangered species in spite of spending millions of funds on long-lasting major projects. What is the cause of this? Probably we have forgotten the childhood phrase that taught us "United we stand, divided we fall", mostly used to inspire unity and collaboration. Conservation and coordination are two sides of a coin. They go hand in hand. For the unsurpassed results of the various conservational methods, we need to ponder on all the possible collaborators. The collaborators may have a major or minor role in the conservational measures nevertheless their role cannot be ignored. It must be actually an amalgamation of about 20 departments, fields, and professions.
Educational institutes play a major role in the conservation of flora and fauna- be it government schools, private schools, colleges, or universities. The involvement of students is one of the important inputs for biodiversity conservation. They have sufficient potential and enthusiasm that need to be mobilized for conservation and sustainable livelihood. Education helps to recognize that ecosystems are dynamic, that humans are an integral part of ecosystems, and that human activity has both positive and negative consequences.
“…conservation education focused on youth is imperative to developing a stewardship ethic, an understanding and connection to natural resources, and, ultimately, to conservation of the Nation’s natural resources.” — Dale Bosworth, 2005
Many schools have eco-clubs that organize various activities all over the year that are related to the environment and its protection. Educational institutes serve as important green spaces with the majority of native species. The flora provides a much-needed natural habitat to a diverse range of insects, birds, reptiles as well as small mammals. On the campus of BITS, Pilani there is a promising population of Indian peafowl. So, BITS Alumni Association proposed the conservation of peacocks as part of the Rauf Ali Memorial Project initiated to “Bring Back the Peacocks”. The management is done by the BITS peacock restoration team which involves the students and also experts so that the centre achieves its objectives. Others include the IIT Bombay which is surrounded by hills, Vihar, and Powai lakes on either side. The campus prides itself on serving as a sanctuary with enchanting wildlife. There are resident and migratory birds (such as ducks, terns, and sandpipers), monitor lizards, about 40 marsh crocodiles, rhesus macaques, blue bulls, and leopards keep visiting the campus from the national park.
Interdisciplinary scientist Kaberi Kar Gupta, founder-director at the Urban Slender Loris Project appreciates the IISc campus: “Slender lorises love tree canopies and the IISc campus offers canopy cover despite an increase in infrastructure. They are significantly abundant on campus. The institute also allows us to conduct ‘loris walks’ with citizens that help us build stronger engagement with the community.” Leading the trend is actually the Rishi Valley Education Centre run by the Krishnamurti Foundation of India in rural Andhra Pradesh which has a history of harmony with the natural world. The authorities worked, shared their data and recommended collaboration with the forest department. Stray dogs and cattle, infrastructure, and vehicles are an emerging threat to the rich biodiversity on this campus.
The forest department needs to have a well-maintained link with the researchers, NGOs, Press Media as well as other departments depending on the biodiversity in their areas. Like in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, coordination between the archaeological and the forest department is needed for the long-term conservation of the critically endangered Indian vultures that breed in the monuments in Orchha. These monuments are also a natural habitat for more than 55 bird species including owls, sparrows, swifts, parakeets, mynas, and many more. There should also be coordination between the forest, archaeological and tourism department. When the sites are rich in biodiversity, tourism should be managed with least disturbance to the species. There should be boards with the strict instructions to be followed by the tourists.
The development authorities of the concerned districts can take several decisions together with the conservationists. The development authorities of several states have decided not to approve maps of houses that do not have a provision for rainwater harvesting. Without it, house map will not be passed. Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh have already passed the laws for this. The development authorities in the metro cities where there are green spaces only in the form of public parks can also make a provision for the bird, butterfly and tree species boards. These help in awareness amongst the public and also ensure the conservation of urban species.
The department of mines and geology plays an important role where rock and sand mining are regularly done. They have made the provision of environmental impact assessment committee to give the environment its due place in the decision-making process by clearly evaluating the environmental consequences of the proposed activity before action is taken. This committee includes members from various departments such as the Pollution Control Board, professors, environmentalists, and NGO heads. The cliffs in Bundelkhand are not just lifeless rocky habitats. They are full of life and natural habitats for various species including owls and critically endangered vultures. The mining department should take responsibility to prohibit mining at such cliffs. Most of the time the contractors overlook the rules and regulations while sand mining. They create large deep holes in the river bed thereby creating serious threats to the aquatic biodiversity. The department is also a very sensitive one as illegal and uncontrolled mining is very common in several regions of India.
When there are reservoirs that support the winter migratory water birds together with the residential species, there needs to be efficient co-ordination between the irrigation department, tourism and forest department. The contracts given for fish culture should be regulated in accordance to the other species that depend on the fishes, like birds, crocodiles, and turtle species. Here also sustainable tourism should be a priority. These sites should also be a priority for researchers who can suggest various measures to the concerned departments regarding conservation. With the increasing number of hotels, resorts, home stays around the protected areas; it is of utmost importance to maintain at least some synchronization between the departments so as to reduce the pressure on forests and wildlife.
The majority of people are unaware of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. When there are cases of trafficking of various animals, particularly of birds and turtles, the staff of police department fails to even identify the species; the IUCN category is just bewildering for them. The solution lies in having interactive sessions with the police by the academicians, researchers, NGOs or the forest department. There is barely any communication between the conservationists and police department except at some sensitive places. The pessimistic outcome of this is the thriving trade of peacock feathers resulting in the speedy decline in the population of our National Bird. Poachers kill the peafowl for meat and feathers. The Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 prohibits killing of the bird, violation of which is punishable under section 51 (1-A) with imprisonment that may extend to seven years and a financial penalty. The offenders are rarely caught and punished. There is no seriousness regarding the emerging threats to this beautiful, majestic bird. The vendors sell the peacock feathers, and the products made from these feathers, openly on the roads. Only experts can identify that the feathers have been plucked from the peacock or if they are the feathers shed naturally by the bird. The conservation of National Bird therefore needs a well-connected network.
The detrimental effects of intensification of agriculture are now known to all. To ensure food security for the growing population, the unhealthy methods with involvement of all types of chemicals have destroyed the entire food chain starting from the beneficial insects, bird species, amphibians as well as reptiles. The birds and bats can be used as proficient biocontrol. They are natural predators. The raptors are well apt to control the rodents in agricultural fields. The insectivorous birds like swifts, swallows, robins, sparrows feed on huge number of insects that are harmful for crops. A historical incidence to understand the importance is the famous Four Pest Campaign from 1958 to 1962 in China by Mao Zedong. The goal of the Four Pests Campaign was to get rid of rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows. Sparrows were considered pests because they ate grain seeds. The public killed sparrows wherever they saw them. As a result of these efforts, the sparrow became nearly extinct in China. Later China’s authorities discovered that sparrows actually preferred to eat insects rather than grain seed and served an important function in the farm ecology by eating locusts. Soon the countryside became infested with locusts. Mao called the plan off, but it was too late. Swarming locusts coupled with bad weather led to the Great Chinese Famine, which killed 30 million people between 1958 and 1961. The authorities need to understand that such drastic decision shouldn’t be taken without consulting the other relevant organizations.
Research work should always be shared with the public so that it is not only beneficial to them but also those who are related to them directly or indirectly. It is not only the researchers that have beneficial knowledge, the people living close to the nature, particularly the elderly ones have rich experiences to share that may not be available in any book or internet. For example, the Irulas are the primitive forests dwelling community inhabiting predominantly in the northern and partly in the western districts of Tamil Nadu. They were traditional hunter-gatherer and depended of the forest resources for their livelihood. According to Whitaker: “Until the late 60s-early 70s, more than 5,000 from the Irula community were full-time snake catchers who provided the snake skin to tanneries. The illegal trend stopped after the ban on trade and export of snake skin under the Wildlife Act 1972. Now they use their skills to collect the venom of poisonous snakes to be used as anti-venom. The Irulas also help in rescue of snakes that enter human habitations, and reduce human-snake conflict, for which they receive payment. They have tremendous knowledge of handling these creatures. Only the experienced Irulas can handle, feed and track animals like rats for the snakes.”
NGOs are involved in the whole spectrum of activities. The dedicated NGOs play an important role in framing the environmental policy, mobilising public support for environmental conservation, and protecting the endangered species of forests and animals. Environmental policies will achieve positive results only when they are addressed to local issues and solve the problems of local people. The policymakers should keep in mind the needs of the people while framing the policies and implementing environment-friendly projects. Effective collaboration between the international, national, and local NGOs is essential for promoting conservation policies, creating knowledgeable citizens, changing public behaviours, garnering funds, and recruiting volunteers. The data collection is best possible with the involvement of local NGOs and researchers. The initial yearly vulture count in Madhya Pradesh started with the involvement of experts from various institutions, NGOs, and experienced field workers as observers. This helped in covering all the vulture sites located within and outside the protected areas.
In simple terms, a herder means a person who is responsible for the care and management of a herd of animals be it goats, sheep, horses, or cattle. Herders take the herd into open grounds for grazing, at times near water bodies or outskirts of forests. All these places have diverse biodiversity that may be affected by overgrazing. We often talk and write about the biodiversity loss due to overgrazing but seldom do we include the herders in the conservational measures. To elaborate on their importance, let us take the example of vultures. The herders, often ignorant about the nesting behaviour of vulture species, destroy the nesting trees. They are not aware of the consequences of cutting the tree branches for their herds. The chopped branches are not suitable for the massive nests constructed by the vultures. Vultures do not nest on all types of trees. So, if the herders are made to understand the protection of trees for vultures, they will switch to other trees to feed their herds. Various researchers conclude that livestock grazing affects over 60% of the world's agricultural lands and can influence rangeland ecosystem services and the quantity and quality of wildlife habitat, resulting in changes in biodiversity. Therefore, the role of herders is crucial.
With the increasing pressure of the growing population on natural resources, it is of utmost importance to maintain the productivity of soil and the diversity of microorganisms. After seeing the detrimental health issues with the consumption of food products grown by using chemical pesticides and other chemicals, people have realized the importance of organic farming. The cattle owners are now responsible for the promotion of organic farming. The cow dung and urine of the native species not only enhance soil productivity but also ensures the conservation of the species. A number of native cow species are near the verge of getting extinct due to the commercial demand for fat-rich milk and milk products. The crossbreeds are more in demand but it is equally important to conserve the native species. The conservation of the Vechur cow in Kerala is the collective efforts of Prof Sosamma Iype, recipient of Padam Shri, 2022, her students, the traditional cattle owners, farmers, farm owners and the government.
India is well known for its cultural and religious diversity. There are many common things in the different religions and one of those is biodiversity conservation. Ecology and religions synchronize in India. Ancient civilizations in India have venerated nature in all its aspects. The worship of flora and fauna in human history began very early. The religions in India such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Islam all mention the importance of ecology through diverse traditions, history, theories, and cosmology. The Indian Biodiversity Conservation Society used the temple patios for the conservation of house sparrows in the Bundelkhand Region and it proved to be a sentimental inventiveness for the conservation and management of the diminishing house sparrow population. Faith functioned as both a source and justification for moral values, which raised the duties, joys, and responsibilities of people with the natural world. The conservation initiatives in the temples played a central role in providing meaning, influencing values and motivations, regulating peoples’ actions, and mobilizing lifestyle changes in supporting house sparrow conservation. The development of effective partnerships between house sparrow conservation and religious duties had a significant long-lasting potential influence on human behaviour to support the conservation outcomes.
Some of the local and tribal communities in India are dedicated to the conservation of nature. India is a country of various world-known incidences related to conservation such as the Khejarli massacre in Rajasthan and Chipko Movement in Uttarakhand. At times, the animals are unable to get help from the concerned department, the local people then come to the timely rescue. In fact, no conservation is possible without involving the local people- be it Buguns from Arunachal Pradesh, the Lemsachenlok organization in Nagaland, the Sahariyas of Bundelkhand Region or the local people of Sareli village of Kheri in Uttar Pradesh.
Tom Stoppard, a play writer and screenwriter highlights the importance of Press Media: "I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon." Write and share your experiences, your research outcomes and the solutions that are there for conserving the environment. People from all backgrounds read the newspaper. It is part of a daily routine for a large portion of the public. The beneficial side is that a whole range of newspapers are available, from international to local and from print to online. Writing research articles in journals to monthly magazines connects you with like-minded people and those who actually want to do their bit for nature but don’t know how to do it. The coverage of the positive results in the form of news also boosts the confidence and enthusiasm of the people involved in the conservation initiatives and at the same time motivates others.
The road to achieving conservational measures is paved with much collaboration that is concerned with the research of conservation programmes, providing information, exploring the motivation, designing a supportive environment, people gaining information and learning skills to become responsible citizens, while others explore ways to orchestrate changes in specific behaviours. All types of collaborations have important roles to play in the development of conservation and completion of targets.