Bengal Tiger, Ganges River Dolphin Struggle For Existence: Is It Too Late?

Posted on February 24, 2012 in Environment

By Tanima Banerjee:

India is one of the most populated countries in the world, not just in terms of 1 billion human beings, but in terms of richness of flora and fauna. Its beautiful and diverse landscape is inhabited by a rich wildlife that comprises of birds, mammals, reptiles etc. across the ages. Yet it is indeed very sad and alarming at the same time to note the dwindling population of the Indian fauna, because of the loss of habitat and poaching, for which no one but we, the supposed intelligent and superior beings of the planet are responsible. The numerous species of the animal kingdom are depreciating in numbers due to environmental and predatory reasons. The changing climatic conditions, the perpetually expanding human population, the hunting and poaching of these species has brought man in conflict with India’s natural resource of wildlife, something that we prided in once upon a time. Large varieties of species of wild animals, birds, aquatic animals and even insects have now been pushed into the category of ‘Endangered species’ in our country. Some of the animals who lie in this critical state of getting extinct because of the threats man and environment pose on it are the One-horned rhinoceros, the Asian Elephant, Leopard, Jenkins Shrew, Asiatic lion, Asiatic black beer, Kashmir Stag, Lion-Tailed Macaque, Blue whale, Snow Leopard, Andaman Shrew, and the list goes on. India’s beautiful and diverse landscape is inhabited by a rich wildlife that comprises of birds, mammals, reptiles etc. across the ages. I would examine the causes behind the tragic thinning of the population of the Bengal Tiger and the Ganges River Dolphins, what are the methods that are being adopted by certain organizations to deal with the situation, and what we, as promising future of the country and the care-takers of the ecology at heart can do to salvage the crisis.

Reports by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and the Wildlife Institute of India (WWI) have deemed the Royal Bengal Tiger and the Ganges River Dolphin as two of the many endangered species in India whose numbers are decreasing every passing minute. Both these species are victims of man’s ruthless destruction of environment in order to expand their civilizing areas by destroying forests, and the population that domestic and industrial waste is causing in the Ganges River, which runs along vast areas of India. They are bearing the consequences of man’s unceasing exploitation of natural resources to serve their selfish needs, and even entertaining themselves through hunting, or poaching for commercial gains. All this takes place without anyone giving a second thought to the threat that they pose to these innocent beings and in the long run to themselves by creating an imbalance in the food web and the ecology at large. The case is deteriorating with time, and now all we are left with is a sorry state of things when it comes to our country’s wildlife, that was once a defining element for our country’s natural heritage.

It is no hidden fact that the Bengal Tiger, once the symbol of the pride and glory of Bengal, is now Bengal’s shame. This fabulous feline (largest member of the cat family) is India’s national animal, as we all know, and a marvelous and delightful sight to spot in the dense and marshy Sunder bans jungle. But the abode of this exquisite being is now writing the death sentence for its own inhabitants. The jungles have now opened themselves up to poachers, who exploit the majestic tiger to make medicines. The growing human population has totally contracted and fragmented the former range of tigers. The loss of habitat is because of the increasing interference of man, like clearing forests for development works like road construction, extending agricultural lands, construction projects etc. This has led to decimation in the food supply of these creatures, who need a minimum of 50 deer-size animals to survive for a year. The numbers have dwindled from 40,000 at the turn of the century to a current state of “1411 Tigers left” as the popular project “Save the Tiger” surveyed. Another project, Project Tiger was launched in 1972 to address this very concern and aims to save the precious species by opening 27 reserves across large acres of land and striving to prevent hunting of tigers for decorative items like wall and floor coverings, as souvenirs and for exports, and other commercial and entertainment-based interests have threatened the existence of tigers and brought them at the brink of extension. Other conservation projects by national and international organizations are driven by similar concerns and intentions. A lot of efforts (at least on paper) are being undertaken to help increase the tiger population and curtail poaching and hunting for game. What we can do at our level, is by spreading awareness regarding the grave issue and mobilize people to connect with conservationists and work with the organizations for those who want to be a part of these projects and work more closely with it. There is a special need of awareness in those regions around the forested areas, especially among the tribal population who settle around these jungles. We need to make them understand the ways by which they can help conserve the green forests and form communities that keep a check on the hunting and poaching in these places by collaborating with these organizations. With these initiatives, we can help the tiger population to flourish along with the jungles and other forest inhabitants.

Similarly, though for different reasons, one of the world’s rarest mammals, the Ganges River Dolphins (one of the five river dolphins in India) has its existence threatened. These highly intelligent species (who might have special legal rights issued for them soon because of their intelligence being the most superior and close to humans, according to researchers) are not being taken care of by our densely populated country. The IUCN listed the Ganges River Dolphin as ‘endangered’ and placed them in Schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and provides high levels of legal protection to it. Pollution, accidental captures in fishing nets, hunting for meat, oil and traditional medicine are some of the basic reasons of the present scenario of their dwindled population. Excessive use of chemicals like pesticides and other toxics entering the river system through agricultural run-off, domestic sewage and industrial effluents, and the construction of dams have depreciated the number of the national aquatic animal, with only about 2000 left. Until recently, when the Ganga River Watch programme was executed with full force in order to prevent disposal of untreated sewage, carcasses, industrial effluents and even immersion of idols and other kinds of dirt, the Ganges River Dolphin was seriously threatened. The lack of awareness, the absence of coordinated conservation plan, and continuing anthropogenic pressure, are posing an incessant threat to the existing dolphin population, according to reports by the WWF. They adopted the Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Programme in 1997 to study the population status of the species from a scientific platform and understand and rehabilitate them in their proper habitats. They are working with number of NGOs, Forest Departments, scientists, researches and even universities to conduct a coordinated programme in order to implement the action plan through capacity building and by carrying out awareness about conservation and educating people about it. As students, and part of the “aware” groups, we can assist these programmes by making sure that we keep the river clean, and also prevent anyone else to pollute the river water. We must spread awareness regarding the same and mobilize the people to keep a check on it at personal and community levels.

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