Unfortunately, many misconceptions still persist. Some believe
that wildlife primarily means tigers and lions; then there are
those who think a national park is like a zoo or a public
garden, or that it is surrounded by a high wall or a fence
designed to control the movements of wild animals. You will also
meet people who labour under the illusion that wild animals can
survive on their own in these wilderness areas as indeed they
have done since time immemorial and that, therefore, such areas
need no systematic, scientific management inputs. Only a few
know that wildlife management is a specialized field with
intricacies of its own, and fewer still can appreciate even the
basic hard work that goes into making a success of wildlife
conservation in a national park or wildlife sanctuary.
There are several reasons for this state of affairs, but the two
most important are: first, the lack of awareness about wildlife
conservation at the school level, which is primarily due to the
lack of opportunities for students to visit wilderness areas;
and second, the maddening pace of life with our unflinching
single-mindedness in pursuing materialistic goals, all of which
has dulled our ability for quiet musings and appreciation of
What Is Wildlife
What exactly is wildlife? There is no precise and universally
accepted definition of the term. Its meaning varies from country
to country, depending upon the legal framework that exists in
each country for nature conservation in any given period of
time. Generally, however, the term implies all living beings
outside direct human control; in other words, all those plants
and animals that are usually not cultivated or domesticated. In
its widest connotation wildlife includes insects, fungi, frogs
and wild flowers, as well as wild shrubs and trees, reptiles,
birds and mammals.
Wildlife management is the art as well as the science of
changing the characteristics of, and interactions among
habitats, wild animal populations and human beings so as to
achieve specific human goals by means of the wildlife resources.
In the context of our country, these goals may be ecological,
economic or aesthetic, or their combinations. Wildlife
management is not a basic science, nor is it pure technology. It
draws upon several disciplines including zoology, botany,
ecology and even mathematics. Despite its clear links with the
natural sciences, wildlife management also employs principles of
the arts. In other words, it integrates a wide range of
disciplines in logical, imaginative and pragmatic ways and,
therefore, can be regarded as both a science and an art, whose
practice is not very different from that of medicine or law.
Each is a profession requiring rigorous application of skill,
knowledge and imagination.
India has a rich natural heritage
and a long tradition of conservation. The
(hermitages) of the great sages,
which were the seats of learning in ancient times, was almost
always located in sylvan surroundings that symbolized the
conservation ethics of the day. Indian mythology is replete with
references to people's regard and love for wild animals.
Different animals and birds were associated with different gods
as their servants and vehicles. These animals and birds,
therefore, were held sacred by various communities, which
ensured their protection. Kautilya in his Arthashastra
promulgated the first recorded game laws in the third century
the year 252
passed laws for the protection of many types of animals and
forests. These laws created what may well be the earliest
instances of protected areas as we call them today.
Though love and respect for nature is an integral part of
India's culture, the country today confronts the sad paradox of
fast disappearing wildlife. A typical developing country, modern
India struggles with the stiff challenge of finding solutions to
development problems. But some solutions that have been worked
out pose serious threats to the country's wildlife. Human
population pressure, widespread industrialization, hunger for
land and the crushing pressure exerted on the forests by
livestock and by people's needs for firewood and small timber
are the main causes of the present plight of wildlife. The
result is there for everyone to see: our prime forests and
wildlife reduced to a shadow of their former self. India has
already lost several species of mammals, reptiles, birds, and
other life forms. As so little is known about the actual
biological diversity of the country, we may not even be fully
cognizant of the true extent of the loss and can only mourn the
few well-known examples of the tragic extinction of wild animals
and birds such as the Indian Cheetah, the Mountain Quail, or the
The population of the tiger which was believed to be around
40,000 by some experts only a century ago was down to only 1,827
animals by 1972! The Asiatic lion, which adorns the country's
national emblem, is today confined to a small pocket in the Gir
forests of Gujarat. A number of deer species like the hangul of
Kashmir, the barasingha of Madhya Pradesh, the brow-antlered
deer of Manipur, and antelope like the Himalayan - all adorn the
list of endangered species. In fact, the brow-antlered deer
whose number in the wild was estimated to be only 18 in 1977 has
the dubious distinction of being the most endangered deer in the
world. Blackbuck, the graceful antelope of the Indian plains,
was found in its thousands barely 50 years ago. It is now
confined to small pockets where it survives only under strict
protection. The Great Indian Bustard and the White-winged Wood
Duck have dwindled to precarious numbers. The beautiful Siberian
Crane is a winter visitor to the Bharatpur Sanctuary in
Rajasthan. Its visit to this sanctuary dwindled to just 41
birds, as reported, in the winter of 1978-79. The Gangetic
gharial, the marsh mugger and the estuarine crocodile have all
been hunted down to near extinction. These are only a few
examples; there are many more species of wild animals and birds
that are on the verge of extinction. If we are complacent
towards conservation many of these beautiful creatures will be
wiped out in the near future.
It was only
in the early 1970s that the first actions were taken to arrest
the declining trend in wildlife, and concern for nature
conservation was reflected to a certain extent in the planning
and development processes. Many significant initiatives in
wildlife conservation have been taken since then. These include:
The enactment of the Wildlife
(Protection) Act, 1972 and, subsequently, the Forest
(Conservation) Act, 1980 ,the inclusion of wildlife conservation
in the Concurrent List of the Constitution, the enlargement of
the network of national parks and sanctuaries.
The launch of Project Tiger
The Crocodile Breeding Project, 1975;
Elephant, early 1991;
Brow-antlered Deer Conservation Project, 1973, regulation of
wildlife trade and commerce, the strengthening of education and
training facilities, which culminated in the establishment of
the Wildlife Institute of India; and various efforts to increase
general awareness about nature conservation.
Protected Area Network
Under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 state governments are
empowered to declare any area of their states as a sanctuary or
a national park to protect, propagate or develop the wildlife in
it or the environment of the area. Today the network of wildlife
protected areas such as national parks, sanctuaries, biosphere
reserves and community reserves covers representative samples of
most of the wildlife ecosystems of the country, with good
geographical distribution. All these areas are endowed with
remarkable ecological, floral, faunal or geomorphologic
significance. At present, there are around 90 national parks and
500 sanctuaries in India. The area under national parks and
sanctuaries is around 1.561akh (.156 million) sq km. Despite
this, out of the 10 identified bio-geographic zones of the
country, some are still deficient in protected area coverage. An
expert committee constituted by the Government of India had
recommended that a minimum of 4% of the country's geographical
area should be set apart as national parks or sanctuaries.
All national parks and sanctuaries, however, are not alike. Some
have been created specifically to protect rare and endangered
species, while some are famous for the richness and variety of
their wildlife. The inestimable value of these protected areas -
in safeguarding varied ecosystems and, in the process,
protecting the soil from erosion, recycling wastes and
preserving genetic material which is vital for sustaining
agricultural crops - has been universally recognized.
The famous naturalist E P Gee once opined that there were around
40,000 tigers in India in the beginning of the 20th century.
Though many wildlife conservationists and naturalists disagree
with him on this figure no one can deny that the population of
the tiger had dwindled alarmingly by late 1960s. This perilous
decline was attributed to a combination of factors including
poaching, degradation of tiger habitats and loss of its prey
Against this backdrop, sincere efforts as well as emotional
pleas were made by many people at the national and international
levels. In its 10th General Assembly held at New Delhi in
December 1969, the International Union for Conservation of
Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) called for a moratorium on
the hunting of the Indian tiger and several other wildlife
species. Taking cognizance of these recommendations, the Indian
Board for Wildlife (IBWL) instructed all the states to ban the
hunting of tigers for at least five years. In July 1970, tiger
hunting was permanently banned throughout India.
In April 1972 a Task Force was constituted by the IBWL to study
the problems relating to tiger conservation in the country and
to prepare a plan to save the super predator from extinction.
An all-India tiger census was conducted in May, 1972 that
estimated the total tiger population of the country at a mere
1,827. There was now no room for any doubt that the chances of
the Indian tiger's survival were bleak - unless some urgent and
positive conservation initiatives were taken. The same year, the
Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 was promulgated, which
provided additional, legal impetus to the protection of wildlife
and habitats, particularly of endangered species, in special
The Task Force comprising stalwarts of conservation made
concerted efforts and, by November 1972, formulated a plan that
was suitable for Indian conditions. This novel venture was named
"Project Tiger". It was formally launched in 1973 when 9 tiger
reserves were set up in the country. Today there are 28 tiger
reserves which cover all the important tiger habitats of the
Why Preserve Wildlife
The following are some of the
reasons why wildlife should be protected.
has a right to exist on this planet.
Wildlife has been accorded a significant place in every
Wildlife is an important constituent of biological diversity
which supports the most important human activities such as
agriculture, industry, rural livelihood and so on.
Wild areas stabilize the hydrological cycle.
Wild areas moderate the climate in the surrounding areas.
Wild areas help in soil and water conservation.
Wild areas protect our genetic resources.
Wild areas maintain environmental balance.
areas provide recreational facilities.
Wildlife promotes tourism.
Wildlife provides employment opportunities.
Wildlife reinforces regional identities and has immense heritage
Wildlife is important for preserving cultural values.
provides scope for scientific research