India – An Environmental Enigma

Posted on April 16, 2010 in unEarthed

Ashwin Menon:

India is a country with amazing biodiversity. We play host to a large number of plants and animals, all of which add to the scenic beauty of the country. From the Tibetan Yak in the north to the Asian Elephants that populate the south, India truly displays its wildlife in exuberant fashion. With just under a hundred national parks and over five hundred wildlife sanctuaries, it is clear that India is prospering as a home for many, many animals.

A closer look though, reveals that there is a lot of disturbing happenings beneath the comparatively smooth surface. A lot of the animals that live in India are threatened (as defined by the IUCN), with some being critically endangered as well. Two animals that have been symbols of India — the Bengal Tiger and the Indian elephant — are both endangered. Other big mammals like the Indian rhinoceros are endangered too and smaller creatures like the Olive Ridley turtles are classified “vulnerable” in the threatened zone as well. The aquatic mammals are plagued as well, with the Ganges dolphin (endangered) falling prey to increasing pollution in the Ganga. True, our country has been suffering from a lot of bad elements but the government has to seriously take the issue up. Poachers are still rampant, ignorance is aplenty among the people and there is no shortage of industries trying to establish themselves (while the population continues to rise) leading to pollution and deforestation.

Conservation efforts – for instance the setting up of a sanctuary in 1970 for the protection of the Indian Gharial – has failed to stem the flow with the Gharial still being “critically endangered” — 30 years on. Even the royal Bengal tiger has faced some disastrous management with both the Sariska tiger reserve and the Panna tiger reserve having lost all their tigers to poaching. Not only were these reserves unaware that they had lost all their tigers (journalists had to point it out to them!), but representatives casually remarked that there were other, better reserves that were doing the job in India. With only another 1,411 tigers to gamble on, it is pretty clear where the blame lies. This slack attitude is the reason why poachers still continue to get away with what they do best, it is the reason why industries can pollute rivers and devour habitats without any hassle. But, all is not lost. It is heartening to see that students have taken the initiative. With a mission to protect the Olive Ridley turtles, students in Madras have been organizing turtle walks for the past 14 years. These walks involve relocating the eggs to a temporary hatchery to avoid the menace of predators and then keeping the eggs safe till they hatch. After all, who can change the world other than us?

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