Gaon Connection has started a new series to make people more aware of the conservation and protection of the wildlife and to discuss all the issues related to the preservation of the wildlife. In this weekly series, we would bring you extracts from, "The Vanishing", written by India's eminent wildlife reporter Prerna Bindra and published by Penguin Random House India in the year of 2017.
Critically Endangered Wildlife
Like the hangul, a species of red deer, of which fewer than 200 survive in the 141 sq km Dachigam National Park in Kashmir. We can give them a future, but only if we call the crisis, and place its conservation on priority. A sheep breeding farm flourishes—illegally—occupying prime hangul habitat inside its only sanctuary, Dachigam. A state that prioritizes sheep (a species that could just as easily breed anywhere else) over critically endangered wildlife within a Protected Zone, leaves little scope for its revival. The Vanishing chronicles a few such species living on the edge—telling their histories, what is pushing them to the brink of extinction, the possible solutions on which their survival rests, and why their loss should worry us all.
I find a seeming indifference to this wave of vanishings that we are witnessing, but the loss of a species is more than a statistic, a name on the list of the dead. Its extermination alters the planet, irreversibly, taking with it the ecological role it played, and the plants,insects and microorganisms whose survival is linked to it. Humans are not disassociated with extinction—we are connected to and dependent on other species. As pollinators, bees are a fundamental part of food production.
Along with other animal pollinators like butterflies, beetles, bats, they are believed to service two-thirds of crop plants from apples to almonds to coffee. Collectively animal pollination has been calculated to have an annual output worth between $235 bn and $577 bn. Without such pollinators, our diet would be deprived of nutrients, besides being pretty boring. And that which is killing the bees—pesticides—is slow poison for us as well. Extinction matters.
Forest & Economy
The near-extinction of vultures has meant the loss of an efficient garbage–carcass disposable system and a vital health-care service, which I discuss in the book. It is not 'only' about the animals, the annihilation of forests cuts at the root of our survival. About 75 per cent of the world's accessible freshwater we use—be it for domestic purpose or Saving the forest is crucial for the economy too—India's forests serve as a carbon sink tank, neutralizing over 11 per cent of India's total greenhouse gas emissions.
If we were to put a monetary value, this 'ecosystem service' would amount to Rs 6,00,000 crores. Yet, we continue to clear—at a conservative estimate—no less than 135 hectares of forests a day,8 diverting it for various projects such as highways, mines and cement factories. And we pitch their protection, and that of a healthy environment, against development. It is these issues and ideas that this book dwells and expands on, with the colossal loss of wild habitats at its core. As you will read in The Vanishing even the last—and tiny—refuges of the wild Protected Areas are not really 'protected'; they are being siphoned off to appease our insatiable demand for finite natural resources.
This book does not mean to undermine other threats. Its intent is not to ignore the struggle to protect a park with no funds, caused by long-drawn delays, and a skeletal manpower. Or to brush aside the corruption that has seeped into the behemoth bureaucracy which is the guardian of India's largest 'unexploited' land bank— 20 per cent of forests in India. Nor is it shying away from the fact that poaching is a key cause of extinction.
The relentless, horrifying slaughter of wild animals is emptying our forests. One main reason I chose to focus on habitat destruction is that it burns the planet. Deforestation is a key—and often ignored—driver of climate change, which is transforming the world in rapid, epic, horrific ways. It's heating the planet, melting glaciers, warming the seas, causing extreme weather conditions, droughts, storms, driving extinctions; as Naomi Klien's book title puts it: It Changes Everything. We now have to conceive a future where our planet will be inhospitable.
Forests, and other wildlife habitats like mangroves, wetlands, grasslands, buffer the damage. Biodiversity strengthens ecosystems that store and sequester carbon. For instance, mangroves have the potential to store about 2.5 times as much CO2 as humans produce globally each year! Globally, at 25 to 30 per cent10—deforestation is responsible for more emissions than the transport sector, the traditional culprit of climate change. Simply put, if we lose the forests, we lose the fight against climate change.
Yet, rules, regulations, policies and laws that protect wildlife and forests are being diluted to accommodate industry, infrastructure, and what is deemed as 'development'. The Vanishing makes a case that far from being a 'hurdle', nature is the bedrock on which the country's development, and the welfare of its people, rests.
It briefly studies the schizophrenic nature of the Indian economy—which is growing in leaps and bounds, but leaving behind a large chunk of its citizens in penury and distress—and a devastated environment.The ecological holocaust has engulfed our forests, rivers, deserts, mountains, seas. It threatens to obliterate even the most celebrated of species—the tiger. While their populations have stabilized, even increased in the past few years, tigers face mounting threats as their reserves and corridors are disembowelled and fragmented.
Read the real tiger story that takes you beyond the numbers. The tiger is the collateral damage of what we call progress. Rather unbridled progress.The conservation vs development debate has polarized society: if you are not with development—in the way it is currently defined, then you are against the nation. That if you defend a forest, or would rather have tigers than a wider road, than you are antinational.
There is little attempt to factor in ecological considerations in the development agenda, or balance both imperatives. More than anything else, it is this dangerous notion that conservation or a clean environment is not for the national good that compelled me to highlight the wildlife crisis. The idea of India embraces not only the diversity of its cultures and people but also of its flora and fauna.
India's culture, land, people are grounded in its ecology. A country's geography is defined by its natural features. The seas shape India's 7,500 coastline, the Himalayas provide a natural barrier to its northern and north-eastern borders and rivers are the veins that pulse across this vast land. Rivers are embedded in Indian culture and spirituality. We worship rivers—they are intrinsic to our religious rituals, so much so that even as we leave the earth our ashes are immersed in them to gain salvation. Each river has its own entity, personality, legend.
The Ganga is the holiest of them all. When the Goddess Ganga descended on the earth, it was astride the gharial but our rapacity has rendered this ancient crocodilian species extinct in the river. The Gandak that flows in the north is said be produced off the sweat of Lord Vishnu, while the river Tapi spread across Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat is the daughter of Surya, the sun god.