India’s wildlife is once again caught in the crosshairs.
This was borne out by two reports that appeared in the media last week.
According to the National Tiger Protection Authority and Traffic India, an NGO that works globally on trade in wild animals and plants, India has lost 41 tigers in the first seven months of this year and only seven of those died of natural causes.
Another report stated that investigators in Kerala have found that poachers had killed more than 20 elephants in the last 10 months, and the toll in the southern region of the country in the past two years could be 100. The main reason for deaths in both cases is poaching.
According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), until now, habitat loss was thought to be the largest single threat to the future of tigers.
But now it has been established that the trade in tiger bones, destined for use in oriental medicine outside India’s borders, is posing an even larger threat.
After decimating their own sources, Far Eastern traditional medicine manufacturers are now targeting India for their supply of tiger bones.
But poaching cannot happen without the help of the ‘chinks’ in the forests department’s armour or without the connivance of people who stay in and around the forests, who are often not integrated into the conservation efforts.
As far as elephants are concerned, the WPSI has recorded the loss of over 121 elephants due to poaching between 2008 and 2011.
During this same period, a further 50 wild elephants died in road and train accidents and a shocking 111 elephants died from electrocution.
But in the case of elephants too poaching remains the major cause of death for wild elephants.
If poaching is one aspect of the conservation challenge, the other side of the story is the government’s aggressive focus on growth that threatens endangered animals and the environment.
This is apparent in the way it is razing forests, giving green signals to dams and pushing industrialisation.
In fact, funding for the environment ministry in the 2015 budget has been cut by 25% and support for tiger protection by 15%.
Those who believe growth is the final target of civilisation must remember that by promoting conservation, we not only ensure our own survival, but also the diversity of the ecosystem.