Saturday, July 6, 2013

From Kerala to Uttarakhand, trampling on nature

There are two States that have constantly opposed wildlife and environment protection laws —Uttarakhand and Kerala. These States also rely heavily on nature tourism that brings in the much-needed economic support for them as well as to the people who depend on this industry.

Though they face the wrath of nature quite often — floods in Uttarakhand and sea erosion in Kerala are becoming a common feature — they generally look at the natural world with very different priorities. They determinedly and effectively market their natural world but their strategic views are at odds with nature conservation. They regularly bring in plebiscite, heavily opposing any move towards the protection of nature, be it the implementation of existing laws such as identification and notification of eco-sensitive zones or accepting the opinions of experts who have toiled for ages in the field of environment conservation.

Political reasons
What makes these two States heavily opposed to save nature and wildlife despite accruing direct economic benefits from nature? One of the political reasons for poor implementation of conservation laws was the fractured election results which bring in different ruling players at the Centre and the State making implementation of certain regulations that are on the concurrent list of the Constitution difficult.

However, the examples of these two States give a different picture as both are ruled by the same political party that holds power in New Delhi. Key conservation laws in the country including the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 and Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 are all contributions of the Nehru family, the principal icon of the Congress party. Surprisingly, their own parties oppose implementation of these laws.

Let us take for instance, stoppage of vehicular traffic at night through the core of Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka in affirmation of the Wildlife Protection Act. This has been challenged by the Kerala Government at three different platforms — the High Court, the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal. Though an alternative exists and the government of Karnataka has even provided funding to the tune of Rs.48 crore to improve the alternative road, the neighbours are not content. Similarly, all forest conservation laws have been severely violated to facilitate boulder mining and building power projects in Uttarakhand.

If States show disrespect and neglect towards laws, are we proceeding in the right direction in this federal system? Now, States even question the scientific basis of nature conservation. Till date, nature preservation was largely based on aesthetics, and to a less extent on ethical values that resulted in conservation success stories. In future, battling for nature based on these values will be challenged. This highlights a basic lacuna in wildlife science.

On management
Wildlife science rarely addresses questions that are relevant to management or to elected representatives. These are: How to reduce human-wildlife conflict? What is the value of ecosystem services of a wildlife habitat? What is the scientific basis of habitat management that is the pretext of developing fodder and water for wildlife?

Unfortunately, we have no quantitative evidence in the Indian context to answer these questions that are very important for managing wildlife habitats or that have been causes of erosion of public support for wildlife conservation.

Though we boast of high quality wildlife science that has been carried out for decades, we have failed to provide answers to problems that are pertinent to real world conservation. Increasingly, scientists hide behind court orders or disasters such as the recent elephant conflict near Bangalore, that claimed five lives in a short span of three days, to claim that science is being used for management. They fail to actively market their research findings. If wildlife science continues to pursue subjects that is based only on individual’s interests, it will have less and less value for nature preservation. Nor will it be of any use for the betterment of society that is one of the key selling points of nature conservation.

I can expect an eloquent response to this article about the responsibility of science culminating with publications, but the real world aspects of conservation in a country like India are often beyond the ambit of peer-reviewed science.

If wildlife science continues to show apathy towards real-world conservation problems like the States do towards conservation laws, there could soon be an end to the support of those who have been key to preserve our ecologically important areas. There could be a day when they will learn their lessons through costly mistakes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chasing the elephant's tail

Every time elephants come in proximity to Bangalore or any other large city, the issue gets immense media attention bringing the topic of human-elephant conflict to the forefront. Everyone looks for short-term solutions to the problem and the issue loses momentum as soon as the immediate challenge is solved. Without a comprehensive evaluation of the primary question as to why elephants are increasingly leaving natural habitats and entering human-dominated landscapes, the solutions can only be superficial.

If one would analyze this question, the problems can be categorized into local and landscape level problems. Similarly solutions are for short-term and the long-term time scales.

Local level problems include degradation of elephant habitats due to forest fires, competition to palatable food sources by livestock and other similar threats. Similarly non-maintenance of physical barriers such as elephant-proof trench and electric fences are prime causes of conflict. Wherever such barriers do not exist they need to be immediately installed based on ecological criterion.

In the recent years, in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, through improved and innovative methods of maintenance of its physical barriers, it is proven that conflict can be reduced to a great extent. During 2008-2011 the number of conflict incidences for which compensation was paid in Bandipur was a mammoth 18,972 incidences with loss of four human lives. However during 2012 it was reduced to less than 500 incidences with no human casualties.

Since elephants are capable of moving long distances, the area required for their survival is vast necessitating a landscape approach for protecting the species.

Documenting the distribution and extent of human-elephant conflict will help in identifying hot spots of the problem. From our analysis, for the period 2008-2011, nearly 9.5% of the state’s geographical area covering 1,078 villages was affected by elephant conflict, though the severity varies. 

Importantly, halting loss and fragmentation of elephant habitats needs precedence as part of the long-term solution. Careful planning of siting of highways, dams, mini-hydel projects, pipelines will help both development and elephant conservation. Certain areas have to be avoided for implementation of such projects. For some elephant ranges such as Bannerghatta, Cauvery and MM Hills, solutions should include the neighboring state of Tamilnadu where similar protection activities have to be initiated in Tali, Hosur, Baragur and other reserved forests.

Similarly harmonizing landuse in key elephant ranges with conservation objectives taking priority is a necessity. Declaration of eco-sensitive zones that helps in making land around protected areas more wildlife compatible needs immediate implementation.

It is high time that we develop and implement a comprehensive Karnataka Elephant Conservation Plan that is based on ecological needs of elephants. If not, the problem will continue with severe repercussions to elephants and humans.  

This article has been published in Times of India on 25-06-2013

ಬೆಂಗಳೂರಿನ ಆನೆ ಸಮಸ್ಯೆ

ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು ಅಥವಾ ದೊಡ್ಡ ನಗರಗಳಿಗೆ ಆನೆಗಳ ಹಿಂಡು ದಾಳಿ ಇಟ್ಟ ಪ್ರತಿ ಸಮಯದಲ್ಲೂ ಆನೆ- ಮಾನವ ಸಂಘರ್ಷದ ವಿಷಯ ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಹಿನಿಗೆ ಬಂದು ಮಾಧ್ಯಮಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ವ್ಯಾಪಕ ಚರ್ಚೆ ಆಗುತ್ತದೆ. ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಬ್ಬರು ಸಮಸ್ಯೆಗೆ ತಾತ್ಕಾಲಿಕ ಪರಿಹಾರ ಕಂಡುಹಿಡಿಯುವತ್ತಲೇ ಗಮನ ಹರಿಸುತ್ತಾರೆ. ತಕ್ಷಣದ ಸವಾಲುಗಳಿಗೆ ಪರಿಹಾರ ಸಿಕ್ಕ ತಕ್ಷಣ ಈ ವಿಷಯ ಮಹತ್ವ ಕಳೆದುಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತದೆ.

ಆನೆಗಳು ಯಾಕೆ ಅಧಿಕ ಸಂಖ್ಯೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ನೈಸರ್ಗಿಕ ಆವಾಸಸ್ಥಾನವನ್ನು ಬಿಟ್ಟು ನಾಡಿನೊಳಗೆ ದಾಳಿ ಇಡುತ್ತಿದೆ ಎಂಬ ಪ್ರಾಥಮಿಕ ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಗೆ ಸಮಗ್ರ ಪರಾಮರ್ಶೆ ನಡೆಸಿ ಪರಿಹಾರ ಕಂಡುಕೊಳ್ಳಬೇಕು. ಇಲ್ಲದಿದ್ದರೆ ತಳಸ್ಪರ್ಶಿಯಾದ ಪರಿಹಾರ ಸಿಗುವುದಿಲ್ಲ. ಈ ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಯನ್ನು ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆಗೆ ಒಳಪಡಿಸಿದಾಗ ಸ್ಥಳೀಯ ಹಾಗೂ ಭೂದೃಶ್ಯ (ಲ್ಯಾಂಡ್ ಸ್ಕೇಪ್) ಮಟ್ಟದ ಸಮಸ್ಯೆಗಳು ಹೊರಹೊಮ್ಮುತ್ತವೆ. ಈ ಸಮಸ್ಯೆಗಳಿಗೆ ಅಲ್ಪಾವಧಿ ಹಾಗೂ ದೀರ್ಘಾವಧಿ ಪರಿಹಾರಗಳು ಇವೆ.
ಕಾಳ್ಗಿಚ್ಚು, ಜಾನುವಾರು ಹಾಗೂ ಮತ್ತಿತರ ಪ್ರಾಣಿಗಳಿಂದ ಆಹಾರಕ್ಕಾಗಿ ಎದುರಾಗುವ ಸ್ಪರ್ಧೆ ಮಾತ್ರವಲ್ಲದೆ ಇತರ ತೊಂದರೆಗಳ ಕಾರಣದಿಂದ ಆನೆಗಳ ಆವಾಸಸ್ಥಾನ ಹಾಳಾಗುತ್ತಿದೆ. ಇದು ಸ್ಥಳೀಯ ಮಟ್ಟದ ಸಮಸ್ಯೆ. ಹಾಗೆಯೇ ಆನೆ ತಡೆಗೆ ಆನೆ ಕಂದಕ ಸೇರಿದಂತೆ ವಿದ್ಯುತ್ ತಂತಿ ಬೇಲಿಗಳ ಅಸಮರ್ಪಕ ನಿರ್ವಹಣೆಯೂ ಸಂಘರ್ಷಕ್ಕೆ ಮೂಲ ಕಾರಣವಾಗುತ್ತಿದೆ. ಹಾಳಾದಲ್ಲಿ ಮತ್ತೆ ಅಂತಹ ಬೇಲಿಗಳು ತಕ್ಷಣ ನಿರ್ಮಾಣವಾಗುವಂತೆ ನೋಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಬೇಕು.

ಬಂಡಿಪುರ ಹುಲಿ ಅಭಯಾರಣ್ಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಇತ್ತೀಚಿನ ವರ್ಷಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಉತ್ತಮ ನಿರ್ವಹಣೆಯಿಂದಾಗಿ ಸಂಘರ್ಷಕ್ಕೆ ದೊಡ್ಡ ಪ್ರಮಾಣದಲ್ಲಿ ಕಡಿವಾಣ ಹಾಕಲು ಸಾಧ್ಯವಾಗಿದೆ. 2008-2011ರ ಅವಧಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಬಂಡಿಪುರದಲ್ಲಿ ನಡೆದ ಸಂಘರ್ಷದ ಕಾರಣದಿಂದಾಗಿ 18,972 ಪ್ರಕರಣಗಳು ದಾಖಲಾಗಿದ್ದವು. ಈ ಪ್ರಕರಣಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ನಾಲ್ಕು ಜೀವಗಳಿಗೆ ಹಾನಿಯೂ ಆಗಿತ್ತು. ಆದರೆ, 2012ರ ಅವಧಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಪ್ರಕರಣಗಳ ಸಂಖ್ಯೆ 500ಕ್ಕಿಂತಲೂ ಕಡಿವೆು ಆಗಿತ್ತು. ಮಾನವ ಮೃತಪಟ್ಟ ಯಾವುದೇ ಘಟನೆಗಳು ಸಂಭವಿಸಿಲ್ಲ.
ದೊಡ್ಡ ಪ್ರಾಣಿಗಳಾಗಿರುವ ಆನೆಗಳು ಬಹುದೂರದವರೆಗೆ ಓಡಾಡುವ ಸಾಮರ್ಥ್ಯ ಹೊಂದಿವೆ. ಅವುಗಳ ಸಂಚಾರಕ್ಕೆ ವಿಸ್ತಾರದ ಸ್ಥಳ ಅಗತ್ಯ ಇದೆ. ಆನೆಗಳ ಉಳಿವಿಗಾಗಿ ಹೆಚ್ಚಿನ ಕಾಡನ್ನು ಉಳಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳ ಕೊಳ್ಳುವುದು ಅವಶ್ಯಕ.

ಮಾನವ ಹಾಗೂ ಆನೆ ಸಂಘರ್ಷದ ವೈಜ್ಞಾನಿಕ  ದಾಖಲೀಕರಣದಿಂದಾಗಿ ಸಮಸ್ಯೆಯ ಅಪಾಯದ ಸ್ಥಳಗಳನ್ನು ಗುರುತಿಸಲು ಸಾಧ್ಯವಾಗಿದೆ. ನಮ್ಮ ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆಯ ಪ್ರಕಾರ, 2008-11ರ ಅವಧಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ರಾಜ್ಯದ ಭೌಗೋಳಿಕ ವಿಸ್ತೀರ್ಣದ ಶೇ 9.5ರಷ್ಟು ಪ್ರದೇಶದಲ್ಲಿ ಇರುವ 1,078 ಗ್ರಾಮಗಳು ಆನೆ ಸಂಘರ್ಷದಿಂದ ಹಾನಿಗೊಳಗಾಗಿವೆ

ಪ್ರಮುಖವಾಗಿ, ಆನೆಗಳ  ಆವಾಸಸ್ಥಾನಗಳ ಛಿದ್ರವಾಗುತ್ತಿರುವುದನ್ನು ತಡೆಯಲು ದೀರ್ಘಾವಧಿ ಯೋಜನೆಗಳನ್ನು ರೂಪಿಸಬೇಕು. ಹೆದ್ದಾರಿಗಳು, ಆಣೆಕಟ್ಟೆ, ಪೈಪ್‌ಲೈನ್‌ಗಳು ಹಾಗೂ ಕಿರು ಜಲವಿದ್ಯುತ್ ಯೋಜನೆಗಳನ್ನು ಅನುಷ್ಠಾನ ಮಾಡುವಾಗ ಜಾಗರೂಕತೆಯಿಂದ ಯೋಜನೆಗಳನ್ನು ರೂಪಿಸುವುದು ಅಭಿವೃದ್ಧಿ ಹಾಗೂ ಆನೆಗಳ ಸಂರಕ್ಷಣೆಯ ದೃಷ್ಟಿಯಿಂದ ಅಗತ್ಯವಾಗಿದೆ. ಕೆಲವು ಪ್ರದೇಶಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಇಂತಹ ಅಭಿವೃದ್ಧಿ ಚಟುವಟಿಕೆಗಳನ್ನು ಕೈಗೆತ್ತಿಕೊಳ್ಳದೆ ಇರುವುದೇ ಉತ್ತಮ. 
ಆನೆಗಳಿರುವ ಬನ್ನೇರುಘಟ್ಟ, ಕಾವೇರಿ ನದಿ ದಂಡೆ, ಮಹದೇಶ್ವರ ಬೆಟ್ಟ ಹಾಗೂ ಪಕ್ಕದ ತಮಿಳುನಾಡಿನ ತಳಿ,  ಹೊಸೂರು, ಬರಗೂರು ಹಾಗೂ ಇತರ ಮೀಸಲು ಅರಣ್ಯ ಪ್ರದೇಶಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಎರಡೂ ಸರ್ಕಾರಗಳು ಕೂಡಿ ಕ್ರಿಯಾ ಯೋಜನೆಯನ್ನು ರೊಪಿಸಿ ಅನುಷ್ಟನಗೊಳಿಸಬೇಕು. ವನ್ಯಜೀವಿಗಳ ಸಂರಕ್ಷಣೆಗೆ ಪರಿಸರ ಸೂಕ್ಷ್ಮ ಪ್ರದೇಶಗಳನ್ನು ಗುರುತಿಸಿ ಆ ಪ್ರದೇಶಗಳನ್ನು ಸಂರಕ್ಷಣೆ ಮಾಡುವ ಕಾರ್ಯ ತುರ್ತಾಗಿ ಆಗಬೇಕಿದೆ. 

ಆನೆಗಳ ಪರಿಸರ ಅವಶ್ಯಕತೆಗಳನ್ನು ಅರಿತುಕೊಂಡು `ಸಮಗ್ರ ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಆನೆ ಸಂರಕ್ಷಣಾ ಯೋಜನೆ'ಯ ಅನುಷ್ಠಾನ ಹಾಗೂ ಅಭಿವೃದ್ಧಿಪಡಿಸಲು ಈಗ ಸೂಕ್ತ ಸಮಯ. ಇಲ್ಲದಿದ್ದರೆ ಆನೆ ಹಾಗೂ ಮಾನವ ಸಂಘರ್ಷ ಪ್ರಕರಣ ಗಂಭೀರ ಸ್ವರೂಪದಲ್ಲಿಭವಿಷ್ಯದಲ್ಲೂ ಮುಂದುವರಿಯುವುದು ಖಚಿತ.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Exotic Aliens; The lion and the cheetah in India - Book review

Authros: Valmik Thapar, Romila Thapar and Yusuf Ansari
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Year : 2013
Price: Rs.595
Pages: 304

The large carnivores of India do not seem to be out of controversy. Not a single day passes without news about the tigers in the media. Two other issues related to large carnivores that hit headlines recently are the translocation of lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh and reintroduction of cheetahs into India. 

Now in this new book, noted wildlife conservationist Valmik Thapar and historians of repute Romila Thapar and Yusuf Ansari have in their own way, cast doubts upon nativity of the Asiatic lion and the Indian cheetah raising eyebrows of wildlife historians and conservationists. Thapar, who has penned most parts of this volume, has several books and wildlife documentaries to his credit. Romila Thapar, an eminent historian, has authored the first chapter setting the stage for the debate on lions, whereas Ansari who specializes in Moghul history has written two chapters.   

Through this book, that contains nice photographs and produced to high quality, the authors try to fathom the missing links in our understanding of the two predators. The Asiatic lion is currently found only in the state of Gujarat, and the cheetah was extinct from the country during the late 1940s.

The authors believe that the lions came to India just before Alexander’s invasion from Balkh in Turkmenistan and the cheetah was imported as a royal pet. Both these animals are believed to have escaped into the wild and a feral population was created.

Lions, according to the authors, were imported through cargo and diplomatic channels that were linked to North India and further bred for sport before being released into designated hunting grounds.

The authors use evidences such as the conspicuous absence of lions in the relics and ancient artifacts from the Harappan civilization whereas the tiger and the rhinoceros are conspicuously present. They have also referred the vast narrative archives of the pre-Islamic times, through Islamic dynasties, Mughal Empire and the early days of the British Raj which speaks little of the lions unlike the tiger. Lions were rarely encountered in the wild and their numbers were miniscule as part of the hunting bags which is another argument used as a testimony that lions were not indigenous to the country. Even these hunts were organized in carefully managed private hunting parks that were stocked with species such as the lion and the cheetah for the royal families to hunt.

The docile nature of lions in India is due to their habituated upbringing in menageries about which the authors quote experiences of several hunters. 

On ecological grounds, Valmik Thapar, the lead author, highlights the lack of suitable records of encounters of lions and nilgai, the largest Indian antelope, which would have been suitable prey of lions in the Indian grasslands. Thapar also argues that it would have been impossible for the lions to survive in much of the Indian jungles due to the presence of a more powerful and agile predator, the tiger.

Similarly the cheetahs came into the country as gifts or tributes from Africa and Persia. The authors bolster their claim with evidences about the absence of cheetah art until the medieval period, and the mention and visual depiction of cheetahs from twelfth century onwards. They continue that the grasslands of India that is largely uneven and unsuitable for the cheetahs also hosted wolves, hyenas, tigers and leopards making the life of the fragile cheetah impossible.

The third front on which the authors argue is the lack of documentation of these two carnivores by chroniclers and travelers.

Nevertheless, the authors agree to the fact that there is no conclusive genetic evidence to prove or disprove their theory. However geneticists have said that African and Asiatic lions and cheetahs had been separated thousands of years ago.

History has to grapple with science chiefly with biogeography if it has to make its point based on species distribution and historical biogeography. Bio-geographers could pose serious questions about the theories of the authors. India is part of the Ethiopian biogeography where similar species including gazelles, antelopes, small and large carnivores are found across continents. Hence convincing bio-geographers from this perspective would have further enriched this book.  

Similarly, ecologists would also argue that any species at the edge of its range would always be at low densities. Thus the lion which is at the western edge of its range is perhaps at low numbers due to this reason which would contradict the views of the authors.

Overall, this book provides a platform for discussion between wildlife conservationists and historians as other historians have given their own evidences, both historical and ecological about the lion and the cheetah in India. 

An edited version of this book review was published in Deccan Herald on