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National Biodiversity Authority
(An Autonomous and Statutory Body of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India)

Wildlife Biodiversity Conservation-Chairman's Speech


Prof S.Kannaiyan

India is very rich in terms of biological diversity due to its unique biogeographic location, diversified climatic conditions and enormous ecodiversity and geodiversity. India embraces three major biological realms, viz., Indo-Malayan, Eurasian and Afro-tropical and is adorned with 10 biogeographic zones and 26 biotic provinces. This country possesses diversified ecosystems from snow clad high mountain ranges to sea coasts of all categories (sandy, muddy, rocky, shingle, coralline) including deserts and semi-arid regions, almost all "types" of forests, grass lands, lakes, and rivers, estuaries, lagoons, islands and the ocean. The climate ranges from arctic in the Himalayas to very hot in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan while annual rainfall varies from 100 mm in the deserts to 5000 mm in the Cherrapunji hills. It is, therefore, quite inevitable that India having only 2.5 per cent of the total land mass of the world could harbour little over 7.8 per cent of the world's known plant and animal species.

Based on data currently collected from the experts of different animal groups total number of species reported from India is 89,451. From the literature it is quite evident that India possesses little more than 7 per cent of the total animal species of the world and the percentage is higher than that of the plant species. Several invertebrate phyla are yet to be reported from India. Out of total 86,874 animal species of this country Insects alone comprise 68.32 per cent and Chordates only 5.70 per cent. Among vertebrates highest degree of endemism at species level is seen in Amphibia followed by Reptiles, Aves, Mammals and Fishes.

In the years 2000, 2001 and 2003, IUCN made major changes in the IUCN criteria for the threatened species listed under the Red List. The changes were major like inclusion of criteria like Critically Endangered, Near Threatened and Least Concern, while exclusion of Criteria like Rare, Lower risk-least concern, Lower risk-Near threatened and insufficiently known. Similarly, there has been a remarkable change in the IUCN 2000 guidelines as well. Taking into consideration the major changes occurred in the IUCN Red List Criteria and IUCN guidelines in the year 2000, it was felt absolutely necessary to revise the Red Data book of 1994 published by Zoological Survey of India.

The updated list of mammal species/subspecies reflects a shocking picture of extinction of three species/subspecies from the entire territory of India. One-third of the total is on the threshold of extinction (Critically Endangered + Endangered : 42 out of 144) and further another set of about 42 (30%) species/subspecies figuring in Near Threatened/Lower Risk-Near Threatened IUCN category, which are knocking on the door of threatened species. Interestingly, there is a noticeable number of species, which could not be assessed due to poor quality of data (Data Deficient + Not Evaluated: 10+12=22 out of 144). Data Deficient or Not Evaluated species are equally important, since they also fall under the category of conservation status at either National level Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act Schedule I or International level CITES Appendices I. Attention must be given to such species to gather maximum input to formulate appropriate corrective measures for the protection of these species. There are about 34 species/subspecies which were not included in the previous Red Data Book. But as on today they have been brought under higher conservation status of IUCN and as well as on the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act as amended up to December 2002.

Species-wise account, when studied carefully, reveals that almost half of the wildlife biodiversity is known to occur in Himalayan and North-Eastern part of India. This clearly shows enriched wildlife diversity in the region stretching from Himalaya to North-Eastern regions of India. However, overall picture of endemicity within mammalian species with higher conservation status is not very noteworthy. Only 22 species out of 144 are Indian Endemic forms. Although mammalian diversity is very rich in Himalayan and North-Eastern Indian belt, the Indian endemicity presents poor representation of mammals in this region. Western Ghats, in that case, projects encouraging picture. It shows highest Indian endemicity when compared to other Indian regions.

Indian mammal species/subspecies with higher conservation status listed under Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 Schedules (about 88%) out of 144 listed species have been offered full protection under Schedule I Part I and Schedule II, Part II of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act and any kind of offense carries capital punishment. However, there are 14 species (about 10%) not featuring in the Wildlife Act Schedules, but they do carry higher conservation status of IUCN and/or CITES. Efforts should be made to assess these species critically in light of the provisions under the Act, which has been amended from time to time.

It needs to be mentioned here in this gathering that the number of scientists engaged in wildlife studies in India is significantly minimum to deal with such a large number of species reported. There are no experts in several groups and there are only a few experts in most of the groups. This is also alarming that while large number of animal species is yet to be explored and identified, the number of experts is gradually declining. Many Taxonomists have retired from service. On the other hand there is no replacement for them since taxonomic studies in the universities are discouraged. There is also scarcity of standard taxonomic collections and institutional facilities to develop taxonomic experts.

In view of above there is an urgent need to take measures to alleviate this situations in India. The National Biodiversity Authority and Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, have already taken initiatives on this aspect and has conducted brain storming sessions to encourage taxonomists by increasing job opportunities in different departments. In addition, it is felt that in strengthening the taxonomic base, consideration must be given to the information needs for bioprospecting, habitat conservation, and the sustainable utilization of biological resources. For taxonomic studies to be encouraged there is a need to provide employment opportunities to the taxonomists and this should integrate into the programme of capacity building. The importance of establishing regional and subregional training programmes in taxonomy should be recognized. Attention should also be given to the training of specialists, para taxonomists and technicians in this field.

The following activities related to capacity building in taxonomy are to be initiated:

  1. Developing national, regional and subregional training programmes.

  2. Strengthening of reference collections and modern facilities for preservation.

  3. Preparing, publishing and distributing national and regional faunal guides.

  4. Development of information: Compilation and organisation of basic data from biological collections into data-bases, regional check lists, maps, etc.

  5. Development of knowledge: synthesis of data into monographs, maps, keys, field guides, etc.

All these could be achieved by the existing networks of active taxonomists which form a national and regional base upon which a more comprehensive effort would be built into.

The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 intended to provide a comprehensive National Legal Framework for wildlife protection, with conservation of species as the main criteria. The strategy includes total environmental protection and conservation with the assumption that all such areas should be free from human activities. The act prohibits counting of wildlife, protects their habitats, and restrains trade in wild animals, trophies etc. The two-pronged approaches of this act are:

  • Specified endangered species are protected regardless of its location and

  • All species are protected in specified areas

The scope of this act was slightly ambiguous in the initial stages, as the definition of wildlife included only selected wild animals and birds. However, the scope was broadened in Wildlife Protection Amendment Act 1991 to include flora as well as fauna.

Today, the protection of environment is a global concern, as evinced by the numerous International Conventions in this area. The objectives of these International Conventions are:

  • Establish uniform conservation rules;

  • Express the commitment of the contracting parties to conserve species and their habitats; and

  • Organise effective international cooperation

The most important convention on the preservation of wildlife is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES (also known as Washington Convention) signed in 1973, which was subsequently amended at Bonn in 1979. The Convention's goals are to monitor and stop commercial international trade in endangered species, maintain those species under international commercial exploitation as an ecological balance and assist countries enabling a sustainable use of the species through international trade. The draft policy of the CITES includes 25 articles, highlighting definitions, fundamental principles, regulation of trade of animals in Appendix I - III, international measures, legislation, amendments and resolution of disputes.

CITES parties regulate wildlife trade through controls, regulations and certifications on the species listed in three appendices. The Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India adopts a national legislation to provide official designation of a Management Authority for issuing the permits and certificates based on the advice of a designated Scientific Authority (Zoological Survey of India for. faunal matters).

The first Red Data Book on Indian Animals containing data in the 1993 IUCN format on vertebrate species (except fishes) threatened with extinction was published by Zoological Survey of India in 1994. The categorization in this book was according to 1993 IUCN Criteria. They were Extinct, Critical, Endangered, Vulnerable, Rare and Insufficiently Known. It was based generally on the updated information on population size and degree of threat to the population and habitat.

Biological diversity is the central principle of nature, one of its key defining features. Evolution has produced an amazing variety of plants, animals, and micro-organisms, and the ecosystems of which they are a part, all intricately linked. Humans are one amongst these millions of species. The survival of human societies and cultures is dependent on biological diversity. It provides the essential ecosystem services including hydrological and geochemical cycles and climatic regulation that form the basis for human survival and sustainability. Most importantly biodiversity is the basis for the continuous evolution of species and ecosystems.

  • Ecological security is the maintenance of: the diversity of ecosystems and habitats; the diversity of species, subspecies/varieties, populations and communities; the interactions between species, populations, communities and their habitats and ecosystem; their integrity including biological productivity of ecosystems and taxa; the evolutionary potential of natural and agricultural systems; and critical ecosystem services. This refers to both wild and domesticated biodiversity.

  • Livelihood security is the security of human communities and individuals critically dependent on biological resources, including guaranteed access to, and control over such biological resources and related knowledge.
    Both ecological and livelihood security have been severely eroded, and continue to be threatened. Therefore, there is a need to take urgent and comprehensive measures to reverse this trend. Two basic goals need to be achieved to reverse this trend:

  • Conservation of biodiversity, including the integrity and diversity of genes, species and ecosystems and their evolutionary potential;

  • Sustainable use of biological resources, referring to the use of components of biological diversity in such a manner and at such rates that does not lead to the long-term decline of the biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations.

Wildlife is a multi-disciplinary subject involving diverse sectoral activities and actions and has a large number of stakeholders. For addressing the entire gamut of issues involved in conservation a mix of interventions is required including programmes, policies, action plans and legal framework. I think India has all the required prerequisites except the required awareness which is the main job of the scientists, NGO's, Media persons and public.

Thank you.

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