Are we, Homo sapiens, the only creation in isolation dominating alone the mother planet? The sane reply is: definitely not. We share it with numerous other organisms, creatures or life forms in our earnest attempt to sustain our own life. We coexist with an estimated 100 million species. The harmonious balance in sharing with all other creatures is what makes a healthy and sustainable environment.
In recent history of mankind probably there may not have been a more apt or compelling time other than the one through which we are passing currently prompting us to ponder much thoughtfully than ever over the realisation as how a healthy and harmonious environment is pivotal to sustain life on Earth. The whole humanity, reeling under self imposed lockdown, has introspected over the vulnerability and fragility of our species to doom as a result of self created environmental aberrations.
Nature teaches us lessons to respect all life forms, live harmoniously and use the natural resources judiciously for sustainability. The numerous life forms: plants, animals, insects, birds and other organism may be terrestrial, aquatic or marine, along with ecosystems and ecological services in immense natural variety and genetically diversity is what collectively is referred to as biological diversity or biodiversity. This biological diversity is the index of health of our ecosystem or environment.
Planet Earth has experienced five big mass extinctions since 444 million years ago as the experts believe and they further suspect that the planet is passing through the sixth major mass extinction. Science and our traditional wisdom have vehemently been alarming us about the disproportionate loss of our biodiversity in recent times. Disproportionate, in a sense that the rate of loss of species has, of late, exponentially accelerated due to anthropogenic activities and over indulgence. It is now believed that species are disappearing at a rate 1000 times faster than the natural rate. The biological diversity loss is leading to unhealthy environment and spread of pandemics like the one we are facing today. The solutions are nowhere else, they are in nature.
Dodo, a pigeon like bird, Passenger pigeon, Pink-headed duck, Himalayan or mountain Quail, Sumatran rhinoceros are a few amongst the hundreds of species who bore the brunt of human negligence and callousness and have gone extinct in recent past: thanks to poaching, habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution and many other lethal activities inflicted by us.
While reflecting closely on instances of our indigenous species we horribly realise the magnitude of depletion of a large number of them. Asiatic cheetah, Pink-headed duck, Himalayan or Mountain quail, Sunderban dwarf rhinoceros have gone extinct in our country. Asiatic lion, now just a few hundred confined to Gir forest in Gujarat, Royal Bengal tiger, although reported to have shown bounced back slightly in latest census, Kashmir stag or hangul, Manipur dancing deer, pigmy hog , Lion-tailed macaque, Golden langur, great Indian bustard, Jerdon’s courser, Ganges shark, Ganges river dolphin, bush frogs, white-rumped vulture, Sociable lapwing are glaring example of species advancing on the way to oblivion unless some charismatic efforts could reverse the trend.
In Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh landscapes many species have been drawing attention towards our minding the business more seriously. 20 species of plants and 10 species of animals & birds have been notified as species on the verge of extinction in erstwhile J&K state in 2018 under the Biological Diversity Act 2002. Hangul or Kashmir stag, for instance, a deer species with relic population, now almost confined to a small patch of Himalayan forest in and around Dachigam National park in Kashmir, is alarmingly approaching towards decimation and is notified in 2018 as species on the verge of extinction under the Biological Diversity Act 2002. This cousin of European red deer, now considered as a separate species, is currently confined to a limited distribution in Kashmir only. Many anthropogenic activities detrimental to the survival of this species including unabated mushrooming of cement factories and stone queries in the close vicinity of it’s habitat have been nullifying the conservation efforts being put in for more than half a century resulting in a cumulative sharp decline.
Unabated tourism influx in recent years and other anthropogenic disturbance in sensitive habitats of Ladakh landscape have posed threats to breeding and survival of black-necked cranes, marmots, migratory waterfowl, and snow leopard. Species like lynx, Tibetan antelope, Tibetan gazelle, Tibetan wolf, Tibetan wild ass and many more are to be watched out in this cold desert plateau.
Countries rich in biological diversity are known as mega biodiversity countries and there are seventeen of them recognized so far and India, with 10 bio geographic regions, is one of them. Further, of the 35 Global Biodiversity Hot spots 4 are located in India in addition to seven Natural Heritage Sites. Our country is privileged to have been host to 7.6 percent of world’s mammalian species, 12.6 percent of all avian species, 6.2 percent of Earth’s reptilian species, 4.4 percent of world’s amphibians, 11.7 percent of all fishes and 11.5 percent of all floral species of the world thereby gaining mega biodiversity status.
National Wildlife Action Plan 2017-2031 lays emphasis on biodiversity and habitat conservation. Biodiversity conservation in India owes a great deal to wildlife Protected Area network covering about 4.93 percent of total geographical, terrestrial, area in the form of about 544 wildlife sanctuaries, 104 National Parks 77 Conservation Reserves and 46 Community Reserves in addition to about 465 IBAs (Important Bird Areas), 18 Biodiversity Reserves, and landscape level conservation outside Protected Areas.
An estimated rural population of 275 million in India draws its resources like food, livelihood, and water from forests and depends upon them for many eco services. Loss of biodiversity, among other factors, is mainly attributed to habitat fragmentation, spread of invasive species, illegal wildlife trade, over harvesting poaching, conversion of forest land, over grazing, shifting cultivation, infrastructure development, mining and forest fires. This loss results in to catastrophic consequences including climate change, global warming, bringing disease and pandemic situations
Realizing the concerns of safeguarding biological diversity the nations of world signed the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, India being one of the signatories. To enforce and implement the objectives of this convention India enacted Biological Diversity Act 2002. The Act provides for the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of utilization of genetic resources. The Act lays emphasis on documentation of traditional and contemporary knowledge about our natural resources and their use in our culture. Strengthening Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) and preparation of Peoples Biodiversity Registers (PBRs) at grass root level, involving gram Panchayats and local bodies, will help a great deal in conservation, documentation and sustainable benefit sharing of biological resources.
The author is recipient of Sanctuary Wildlife Service Award and writes on conservation issues. He is presently Joint Director, Jammu & Kashmir Forest Research Institute (JKSFRI).