THE EXTINCTION OF SPECIES – PART II

Manmade extinctions in India

The better-known examples of recorded extinctions in India are the pink-headed duck, mountain quill and the cheetah. Numerous varieties of crop plants and breeds of livestock have become extinct in India due to over-dependence on high-yielding and hybrid varieties. In India, 10% of flowering plants, 20% of mammals and 10% of birds are under heavy threat due to human exploitation and pollution.

In animal husbandry, more than 50% of domestic animals are estimated to be threatened. There are only 600 Asiatic lions in a single protected area, Gir National park in Gujarat. India’s tiger population is estimated to be about 2967 and that of one-horned rhinoceros is about 3700. Despite our conservation efforts in the past four decades, we are able to achieve very little in conserving biological diversity.

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Strengthening biodiversity management

Our knowledge about extinction is sadly incomplete due to bias in research by taxonomy (vertebrate groups are better studied), geography (northern areas have received more attention), habitat (terrestrial habitats are better known than marine ones), biological reasons (certain groups do not fossilize) and methodological problems (method of excavation and identification). These drawbacks should be rectified immediately.

Protected areas may be allowed for human use at levels that do not result in significant ecological degradation. Zoos should play a new role in protecting the Biosphere reserves and National Parks by providing necessary training and equipment to the officials responsible for protecting biodiversity. At the international level, Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) should be strengthened.

Over the years it has become the practice to give priority to protecting the rarest and most unique organisms as against the preservation of ecosystems that support a wide range of diverse species. By focusing on a few species we spend most of our time and resources for breeding plants and animals in captivity that have no natural habitat where they can be released. The ecosystems of rare animals have largely disappeared.

Valuable genetic traits are preserved in botanical gardens and research stations. Plants with unique cultural or ecological significance may be reintroduced into native habitats after being cultivated for decades in these gardens. To halt the manmade species extinction, far greater action is needed. These issues will only be tackled if there is much greater support for lifestyle changes and this involves the political will of governments. As human beings, we have the responsibility to safeguard and protect each and every species by way of offering every support to make life sustainable on earth.

J. Murali
C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre

 

Source: Eco News, Vol.7, No.3 (October – December), 2001.

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