An Indian wolf in Blackbuck National Park, Gujarat, June 2017. Photo: Dhaval Vargiya/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
- The authors recently reviewed the scholarly literature on carnivores in post-independent India and found that one species dominates our attention: the tiger.
- His charisma has led to the establishment of Project Tiger and more than 50 tiger sanctuaries across India; and its presence has been used to strengthen protection of key forest habitats.
- But the tiger’s other, less charismatic counterparts have not been as strong through conservation politics and research or conservation focus.
India just overtook Britain to become the fifth largest economy in the world. In the same year the country celebrates its 75th anniversary of British rule.
At this crucial juncture, we also must not lose sight of the challenges ahead, particularly the climate crisis and the sixth mass extinction caused by our way of life. It’s time for India to radically align its policies with the principle of ecological nutrition and to ensure a future worth living for its people. In this way, the country can set a strong example as an emerging global leader.
The fact that India is home to almost a quarter of the world’s carnivores will support such initiatives. After all, few other wild animals inspire the general public to care for nature in the way that carnivores do with their charisma, skill and appeal. Carnivores may well be the strongest guardians of biodiversity conservation.
As apex predators, their conservation has the ability to sustain the food webs of entire ecosystems. But not all of our native carnivores get the support they deserve. The numerous ecosystems and ecological communities they represent are not immune from destruction. Only the tiger research and conservation efforts led by the Indian government will benefit Rs 220 crore per year, while most other carnivores don’t get nearly the same kind of attention or resources.
Social scientists have often asked whether existing development policies benefit marginalized sections of society. Likewise, it’s time to ask if all carnivores are getting the attention they deserve. We and our fellow human beings recently checked the scholarly literature on carnivores in post-independent India and found that one species has dominated our attention: the tiger. His charisma has led to the establishment of Project Tiger and more than 50 tiger sanctuaries across India; and its presence has been used to strengthen litigation against the destruction and fragmentation of prime forest habitats. But the tiger’s other, less charismatic counterparts were not as empowered by conservation policies.
Many of India’s unique and fascinating carnivore species remain on the sidelines, with little research or conservation focus. For example the caracal (caracal caracal), an elusive medium-sized cat Only 5% from its earlier reach in the country. Once used as extensively as the cheetah to hunt wild game, the caracal is falling into obscurity as we discover the species’ basic ecological needs.
To make matters worse, the Indian government has designated the caracal’s grasslands and open savannah habitat as “badlands” in its land use policy. As such, they are often diverted for commercial use, including building large “green” solar energy farms. Other sympatric carnivores such as the desert fox, desert cat, striped hyena and Indian wolf can also benefit from recognizing these landscapes as unique ecosystems worthy of protection.
Our narrow vision, which only sees “forest areas” as centers of biodiversity, is a major area of concern. For example, India is to protect its wetland ecosystems from destruction and degradation under the wetlands (conservation and management). Rules 2017. However, according to the country’s land use policy, certain types of wetlands are also referred to as “badlands”.
Law should replace policy – but wetlands across India are being rapidly degraded because most of them are not part of government wetland inventories, a mandate established by the Supreme Court. Wetland-sensitive species like fishing cats and otters bear the brunt of this political contradiction within the country’s legal infrastructure. As a result, we are losing our wetlands – they are natural inland fisheries, water reservoirs and carbon sinks.
We actually know very little about the status of many carnivore species in India, and even less about their functional roles. studies have shown how otters maintain aquatic forests and natural fish populations by keeping aquatic herbivores in check. wolves Conservation of forest ecosystems through regulation of herbivore populations. India has an incredible diversity of carnivores, but research on these aspects is lacking. This is particularly staggering as 2022 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.
Several hurdles hamper the expansion of carnivore research in India, many of which can be changed with proactive government funding. For example, funds for wildlife research flow mainly into national parks and tiger reserves. Overcoming bureaucratic hurdles and procedural delays to obtain research permits to work in such protected areas often discourages independent research.
In addition, philanthropists in India and corporate institutions (through CSR programs) should consider increasing their contributions to predator research and conservation. Most of our carnivores also live outside of protected areas and share space with humans. India needs to encourage collaborative, constructive, interdisciplinary and socio-ecologically sensitive scientific efforts and conservation approaches in such landscapes.
Expanding the frontiers of carnivore research could potentially set a precedent to expand biodiversity and conservation research in India. As a result, alongside the advances we are making in terms of our economic strength, the country should strive to achieve the global gold standard in conservation research.
Soumya Banerjee is a project collaborator at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. Arjun Srivathsa is Associate of Wildlife Conservation Society-India, Bengaluru and National Center for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru.