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On World Wildlife Day, a look at some of India’s success stories

The theme of the first World Wildlife Day after the Australia and Amazon fires that wiped out millions of animals is 'Sustaining All Life on Earth'.

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New Delhi: In December 2013, the United Nations declared 3 March — the day the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora was signed in 1973 — as World Wildlife Day. The aim was to celebrate and raise awareness about the world’s wild flora and fauna and promote conservation efforts.

World Wildlife Day has now become the most important global annual event dedicated to wildlife. The theme for this year is the rather broadbased ‘Sustaining All Life on Earth’, encompassing all wild animal and plant species as key components of the world’s biodiversity.

What causes extinction? 

Extinction of wildlife can be natural or due to human activity. However, in today’s times, the latter far outweighs the former. It is estimated that we are losing 200 to 2,000 species every year, at the very least. Human activity could be indirect, such as its contribution to climate change, or direct, such as poaching. When the tiger population in India fell from 100,000 to 2,000 in the 20th century, for example, the main reason was poaching. In Australia, the extinction of megafauna occurred 45,000 years ago when humans arrived on the continent.

Prehuman events such as the Ice Age have also caused mass extinctions, but contemporary threats to wildlife are often a combination of human activity and natural factors. Two such examples are the Amazon fires and the Australian bushfires, which occurred last year. They were perhaps natural, but accelerated to unprecedented levels because of human activity, notably deforestation and climate change. It is estimated that 2.3 million animals died in the Amazon, and more than a billion in Australia.

Also read: Planting a trillion trees will not stop climate change

Where does India stand?

India, home to four biodiversity hotspots and a variety of ecosystems and terrains, including mountains, rainforests, coasts, plains and deserts, has about 7.6 per cent of the world’s mammals, 14.7 per cent of all amphibians, 6 per cent of birds, 6.2 per cent of reptiles, and 6 per cent of flowering plant species.

According to reports, four species of fauna and 18 species of flora have gone extinct in India in the past few centuries, including the cheetah, the Sumatran rhinoceros, the Himalayan quail and the pink-headed duck. Protecting tigers, leopards and pangolins (the last is reportedly the most trafficked animal in the world) is difficult, given the huge demand for them from neighbouring China, but this may change as Beijing is reportedly willing to crack down on wildlife trade following the coronavirus outbreak.

India has seen a few conservation successes lately. The population of leopards, tigers and lions fell sharply in the 20th century, but is now seeing a recovery. India’s tiger population has doubled in the past 12 years. Experts give the credit to protection efforts by government and nongovernment organisations. The development of the tourism industry around wildlife has also helped the cause. Several former poachers now protect wildlife and have become safari guides.

Like tigers, India has seen success in many other species. The Gir forest in Gujarat is home to the only surviving population of Asiatic lions in the world. In the late 1960s, there were only about 180 Asiatic lions. As of 2018, there are more than 600. India must continue this effort to fulfil its responsibility and stay true to Article 51A (g) of the Constitution, which says “it is the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures”.

Also read: Population of over 100 species of Indian birds on decline, claims first-of-its-kind report


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