India is one of the 18 mega diversity zones in the world. The fact that it is shelter to 7.6% of all mammal species, 12.6% of bird varieties, 6.2% of all reptiles and 6% of all flowering plant varieties explains why. These 18 mega diverse countries make up about 60-70% of the world’s total biodiversity.

But a pristine haven of natural beauty and variety is not the only truth of India’s existence. We are also the second most populous nation and a growing economy that relies heavily on its industries. The sustenance demands of the large population and its economic interests take a heavy toll on the ecosystem.

Consequently, wildlife population has been dwindling steadily. At the turn of 20th century, India is estimated to have had a count of 40,000 tigers across its geography. By 2008, the numbers had fallen to an astonishing 1,411 only.

Major cause of Wildlife Depletion in India

Several factors contribute towards the depletion of wildlife population.

  • Over exploitation: It is the overuse of plants and animals by humans for their own needs. Human civilization has depended upon forest produce for their livelihood needs since the beginning of civilization itself. But human consumption has risen way beyond nature’s capacity to replenish. Continued extraction of resources is destroying habitats and ecosystems.
  • Population explosion: India has seen a steady growth of population post-1980s. More people means more demands for food, water, fuel, more waste generation and more interference with wildlife activities.
  • Climate Change: Collective human ignorance has pushed our planet to more extreme weather conditions. While we hide behind air-conditioned rooms in hotter weather and under blankets in colder winters, the animals have no such defense. Their habitats are gravely affected by these extremities and animals with seasonal habit patterns are most affected.
  • Hunting and Poaching: Body parts of several Indian animal species are in huge demand. Elephant tusks, Tiger skins, snake skins are extremely valuable commodities in black markets. Hence, these animals are at constant risk from poachers.
  • Deforestation: The efforts to expand habitable lands are always at work, leading to massive deforestation. Large areas of wildlife habitats are destroyed in a single stroke. The rise in population has hastened this process further.

Constitutional responsibility of Wildlife Conservation

When looked at from an economic perspective, wildlife conservation efforts seem futile to many. The argument here is that the Govt. wastes considerable amount of financial resources in trying to protect animals when its own people live in abject poverty and without basic facilities of food, water and shelter.

However, to counter precisely such concerns, the founding fathers of the country made provisions in the Constitution mandating all governments and people of the country to look after the precious flora and fauna.

Article 48 of the Constitution of India states that “The state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.” Article 51A clearly says “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures.

Article 48 of the Constitution of India states that “The state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.” Article 51A clearly says “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures.

In keeping with the constitutionally mandated responsibility of conserving the wildlife of the country, the Govt. of India has made several provisions and efforts to protect its precious biodiversity.

Wildlife protection projects in India

Project Tiger in India

Project Tiger is arguably the most successful conservation venture of the Govt. of India. Initiated in 1972, the project contributed not only to the protection of tigers but of the whole ecosystem.

Project Tiger is spearheaded by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. About 50 Tiger Reserves in more than 17 states are part of this project that seeks to support and maintain tiger habitats, their prey base and their population.

Project Elephant in India

Project Elephant was launched in 1992 with the aim of conserving elephant population and their habitats. It also seeks to develop safe elephant migratory routes through planned and scientific management.

The project takes into consideration not only forest elephants but also domestic elephants. Mitigation of human-elephant conflict, eliminating causes of unnatural elephant deaths and protection against poaching are major goals of Project Elephant.

Crocodile Conservation Project

Crocodile Conservation Project was launched by the Indian Govt. specifically to rescue Indian Crocodiles from their near extinction stage. The immediate objective of the Crocodile Conservation Project was to save the remaining numbers of crocodiles. To do this, sanctuaries were established, strong emphasis was laid on captive breeding and involvement of locals in the conservation attempts.

Since the initiation of this project, 4000 alligators (also known as ghariyals), 1800 muggers (or crocodiles) and 1500 saltwater crocodiles were saved.

Sea Turtle Project

UNDP Sea Turtle Project was kick started by Wildlife Institute of India in November 1999. The goal was to conserve the Olive Ridley Turtles in the Indian coastal areas. The project is spread across 10 coastal states.

The Sea Turtle Project in India has come up with a map of breeding sites of sea turtles through which it identifies the breeding habitats and migratory routes of these turtles. It has also framed a set of guidelines to manage the turtle mortality rate and to encourage tourism in Sea Turtle area.

Project Hangul in India

Project Hangul was commenced with the aid of World Wildlife Fund to conserve population of Kashmiri stag. Their numbers dwindled from 5000 in late 1800s to 900 in early 1900s. The project displayed initial success in raising the stag population but soon failed to attain its objectives due to combination of several political, geographical and social factors. The onset of militancy in Kashmir dealt a death blow to conservation efforts of Project Hangul.

In 2009 the project was renamed as ‘Save Kashmir’s Red Deer Hangul’. The renewed Project works towards increasing stag population through captive breeding.

Project Snow Leopard in India

Project Snow Leopard was kick started in 2009 to retrieve Snow Leopards from their ‘endangered’ status as listed by IUCN. The project runs in high altitude areas of the country, namely states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

Project Snow Leopard aims at conservation of high-altitude wildlife population with special thrust on Snow Leopards.  In April 2018, conservation status of this big cat was downgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’.

Other major wildlife conservation measures in India

Apart from these targeted conservation projects, the GOI undertakes several other schemes and mechanisms to safeguard interest of wildlife. Special attention is paid towards conservation of threatened, endangered and critically endangered species.

Under Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the Govt. creates National Parks, Sanctuaries and Reserves for biodiversity protection. Human activity in these areas is closely monitored and any attempts of hunting/poaching are punished by law.

Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has been established to track and counter illegal trade of animal body parts and products thereof. It also keeps a close watch on commercial exchange of endangered species’ members. A Special Tiger protection Force (STPF) is deployed in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Odisha to counter the threat of tiger poaching.

Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 were drafted for protection of Indian wetlands. The goal is further supported through the National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems which provides assistance to state governments in their wetland management efforts.

The dwindling population of Gyps vultures attracted elaborate research into the causes of their deaths. The common drug diclofenac was found to be the reason. Its residue found in animals reached the vultures, when they fed upon carcasses, and killed them. Upon such findings, GOI banned veterinary use of diclofenac.

Several other legislations have been passed with sole intent of wildlife conservation. Some of these are:

  • Indian Forests Act 1927
  • Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974
  • Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 1960
  • Forest Conservation Act 1980
  • Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981
  • Environment Protection Act 1986
  • Biological Diversity Act 2002
  • Wildlife Protection Act 1972

Such legislative and directive measures are clear reflection of India’s sincere intent of conserving its wildlife heritage. However, the implementation of these measures are lacking in quality and effectiveness. One can easily observe this through a mere glance at the input into conservation efforts and output thereof.

Bestowed with unimaginable beauty and diversity of flora and fauna, India has yet a long way to go on the road of safeguarding the heritage it received from nature.