Thursday, December 25, 2008

Whose wildlife anyway?

I usually maintain a strict silence in the forest, talking only in whispers, when signs and signals are insufficient…as every patch in the forest floor is a treasure trove of biodiversity and there is drama unfolding at every niche, which I for one care not to disturb or miss!
But today was a different trail, as I was walking the forest with two pals, Rajesh from an urban setting in Goa and Siddhu from the village on the periphery of the forest that we were walking through. Both were Goans, and in their late 20’s like me, friends who had shared the wilds and their wonders with me on numerous occasions, and nature lovers as good as can be! The difference today however was that today, we were talking more than listening, thinking more than observing…not the forests in our surrounds, but about the state and the wildlife scenario at large.
Siddu had started the conversation as Gaur had raided his crops yet again, and this time it was a tough situation, as hand loans had been taken. He opined that the Forest Department should take care of its own animals and see to it that they don’t stray into human habitats, and Rajesh vociferously supported his stand, as fresh memories of a leopard sighting in his town brought back certain truths…even though he loved nature and its wild denizens, the thought of a leopard prowling his neighborhood made him more than just uncomfortable! I too was concerned and spoke out my reservations about Bonnet macaques raiding homes in cityscapes. It was a common factor- wildlife of various sorts was coming in conflict with humans in both urban as well as forest dominated landscapes and though the magnitudes were different the problem was the same.
But at the same time it was necessary for us all to understand certain aspects of these problems and the reasons of their occurrence, as we now are aware that such phenomenon was here to stay.
Firstly, the very thought of people considering wildlife as state Government property as and when they feel fit worries me, as this is often done when wildlife is in conflict and not when creatures like the Indian Bull frog are in danger, of being persecuted for the dinner table. We need to understand that wildlife, whether it be large mammals like the Indian Gaur, bonnet macaques, leopard or elephants to snakes, frogs and the flock of egrets in our backyard are protected by various laws that are implemented by the State authorities, and in very simple terms, the Forest Department and its various agencies are custodians of our forests and its denizens, for our sake, for the sake of our country and its people!
And hence these creatures are as good a responsibility for us as they are for the official agencies that try to protect them. We need to be aware that the Indian Constitution confers upon us a duty to protect our countries natural resources, lakes and rivers and wildlife (mentioned specifically) and yet, many individuals I meet somehow seems to think that the Government is solely responsible to curb and control human animal conflicts. Let me tell you it is not an easy task. And without the support of the public, a seemingly impossible task. When I say this, I do not mean to suggest that my brethren in Goa have not risen to the occasion on countless man animal conflict issues in the past, but what I mean to specifically suggest is that the need of the hour is to understand the problem on a larger perspective. We need to understand that mammals like elephants, leopards, Gaur, wild boar, Langur and reptiles like rock pythons King cobras, marsh crocodiles, Russell’s vipers etc besides other wildlife are entering into human dominated landscapes for various reasons and these need to be distinctively looked into not only by wildlife biologists and researchers but also by development planners, politicians and policy makers as most importantly by us common people who need to act proactively and contribute by way of our suggestions and comments to the Draft Regional Plan. We need to remember very clearly that all factors that drive wildlife into conflict with humans are related in one way or the other to issues related to changes and alterations of natural habitats and this we know is the crux of the matter.
So it is time for us all firstly to accept that the problem is not one that is cannot be solved as with sound scientific applications and proper urban and rural landscape planning, monitoring and research issues like human animal conflicts can be surely minimized if not solved completely. We also need to accept the fact that all wildlife, whether urban or in our Protected areas is our natural heritage and is our collective responsibility. For this we need to act strongly on issues related to our land use planning, our river network conservation on our issues related to irreversible destruction of habitats like mining and large scale development projects like the Mhadei diversion scheme across the state. We need to realize that our natural resources and our Protected areas are the green lungs of this state and life support systems of scores of creatures including us. Hence every Goan has an urgent role to play, just like every wild creature plays in the web of life. Keep the faith.

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