Increasing vulnerability of our wildlife heritage
Neeraj Kumar Pande
Wildlife tourism has always been an integral element of the travel industry of almost all the countries whether developed or developing ones. The richness of the natural heritage of any destination is defined by the variety and uniqueness of flora and fauna which it is bestowed with. Indian wildlife tourism has experienced a rapid and dramatic surge in recent years both internationally as well as domestically. The state of Uttarakhand especially enthralling for visitors has been home to an innumerable wild species of birds and animals. Several national parks and bird sanctuaries are an integral part of the tourism repertoire of the state, which boasts of many endangered and rare species of wild animals. In the last few years wildlife resorts which provide opportunities of interaction with wild animals like observation and photography as well as tourist lodges nestled in close proximity of forest territories, have become major revenue earners for the state. Among its six national parks, Corbett, Rajaji and Nanda Devi national parks are well known across the globe. However, with the burgeoning tourism and consequential expansion of infrastructures like highways and tourist accommodations, natural habitats of most wild animals have been facing a tremendous threat. A considerable segment of forest cover on the outskirts of most important towns like Dehradun, Haridwar, Mussoorie among others has been deforested to make better connecting roads and vehicular load has risen. This has completely overwhelmed the wild animals which had been peacefully inhabiting these forest areas. Not only has their direct and routine interaction with humans caused problems for them but also the incessant flow of heavy vehicles on the highways which criss-cross the jungles, leads to injuries and deaths of the animals. A study conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2017, highlighted how more than 200 wild animals had been killed in road accidents in just a span of eight months on the Haridwar- Dehradun highway that year. It also emphasized how vulnerable these animals become as they end up staying in the way of speeding traffic, while in search of food and water. The dwindling area of forests has majorly shrunk the resources on which the animals have depended. Spotting elephants rampaging and chasing vehicles on the Rishikesh – Dehradun road stretch in anger is not such a rare sight. Several incidents of elephant herds navigating the train tracks and being injured or run over by trains are not unheard of. Similarly, wild monkeys also inhabit the same highways which have become a death trap for their population.
While the ossification of wild habitats may be the most detrimental to the survival of wildlife in these regions, other faulty practices by people are equally to be held responsible for these tragedies. Pressures from tourists to photograph the wild animals be it in the protected areas of national parks or while crossing the forests causes behavioral disturbances in the animals. Most of the sought after safaris are designed to be specifically intrusive into the immediate habitats of big cats, elephants, and other local species. It not only triggers fear in the animals but is scientifically proven to negatively impact their breeding patterns. The avid commercialization and publicizing of the local fauna makes them even more vulnerable to predators. Another major issue to be addressed is the problem of artificial feeding of these animals by tourists. Territories are usually abandoned by animals in search of sites where food can be obtained from tourists. This not only affects their reproductive cycles but also makes them come on to the roads and highways. Most of the accidents take place due to this reckless and irresponsible animal feeding behavior of the tourists. Further, the government has been incapable of strictly enforcing highway speed limits for vehicles. This is sadly true even in the areas which have been demarcated as wildlife corridors.
Given the increasing incidents of wildlife abuse at the hands of a few local communities and largely by visitors, a much more sensitive approach for their protection and regeneration is required. The government must tighten enforcement of the laws which prohibit any unhealthy human intervention into their habitats. More voluntary organizations must be involved in the process of providing medical emergency services to the injured animals on highways and forest areas. Further, tourists must be sensitized about the safety of wild animals before entering the parks and forests reserved for them. Heavy fines and legal action must be initiated against those found violating the rules. Only when we realise that how prized the animal community is to our natural heritage, can we learn to respect its interests. True ecological balance cannot be achieved unless all the species are able to exist in harmony. read more posts…
(The author is a retired civil servant)
Monday, 26 November 2018 |Dehradun—
Author: Neeraj Kumar Pandey
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