The year 2015 ushered in a new age of hope for the Indian wildlife when, in January, our Union Environment Minister Sri Prakash Javadekar made the historic announcement that 2,226 Royal Bengal Tigers now roared freely across the Indian wilds under the protective umbrella of passionate and dedicated forest officials and guards.
Gross hunting episodes, during the British Raj, and the human population boom after Independence, had led to a dramatic decline in the tiger population in India from around 1,00,000 in the beginning of the 20th century to 1,411 in 2008. After much hue and cry by wildlife conservationists and lovers across the country and increased global attention, India finally managed to make a 30% recovery in tiger numbers within a span of just seven years. In a world facing the sixth mass extinction, India’s tiger success was nothing short of a miracle.
Just when the scenario looked bright, a new wildlife conservation policy drafted by the Indian Government appears as a bolt from the blue. Under constant and harrowing pressures from the people’s representative of various states of India, the Indian Government is thinking of relaxing the ban on wildlife hunting implemented by the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. As per the new policy, wild animals, labelled as ‘vermin’ such as the wild boar and the Nilgai, may be hunted down by the farmers who are suffering economic losses due to these animals, for a limited time.
A government official said, “The wildlife protection act was enacted to ban hunting. A lot has changed in the past 35 years and we want to tune the law with present-day conservation challenges”. Ironically, the method proposed to ‘tune the law’ to meet the present day conservation challenges, as proposed by the new policy, seems identical to the reason that brought our tigers to the brink of extinction.
Man-animal conflict cases are rapidly increasing with our bludgeoning population. Sadly, in a country populated with 1.21 billion humans, animals have to bear the brunt of this conflict with loss of their lives.
The conservationists of India are fearing the worst. They are proposing the following potential pitfalls in the new policy:
In a nutshell, this new policy will spell disaster on our severely reduced wild species population. Combine this with the pressure that human population puts on forests, rapid expansion of agricultural land into wild habitats, deforestation, mining, damming, etc, and you will get a terrifying picture of future India, depleted of its wildlife.
Hope our Government will act sensibly and not give in to vote-bank pressures and listen to the ‘Call of the Wild’.