Though an impressive proportion of surface of our grobe has been ear-marked as protected areas, there exist great anomalies in the system.
Many of these parks and sanctuaries simply exist on paper and in majority of cases where some efforts are undertaken to manage and protect the wildlife they are hardly adequate. Major draw backs in the existing system can be summarized as follows:
(1) In a number of countries though a large proportion of land has been set aside as protected area for wild life, little wild life actually occurs in these places. Most of Bhutan’s protected areas, for example, are high up in the Himalayas where little wild life occurs. About one fifth of the total land area of Bhutan has been classified as protected area. The protected habitats of Chile are largely concentrated high up in Andes – a mountain range – and much of the country’s unique vegetation types are not protected at all. Only less than 2 kms of Belize’s 220 kms long barrier reef – the longest in the western hemisphere and known to possess exceedingly rich variety of marine forms is covered as a protected habitat.
Though there are about 7,000 protected areas spread over about 5% of earth’s surface much of the biologically significant localities which are rich in rare and endemic species and high biodiversity are not covered in the existing system. All over the world high altitudes areas have received a greater share of protection efforts whereas areas of greater biotic significance, low land forests, wetlands and aquatic system with enormous diversity of forms still remain unprotected.
Moreover, the size of the protected area set aside for many habitat types is entirely inadequate to conserve the entire biotic spectrum of the locality in most of the cases. Of about 178 biogeographic regions represented in the current system of conservation areas only thirty or so have area nearing 1,000 sq. kms.
Thus even if we have marked nearly 5% of worlds total land surface for wild life, the current system of conservation in protected areas may not forestall the extinction of many species which need large habitats and are susceptible to chance variations in climate and environmental factors.
Many of the existing protected areas are simply on paper as they lack adequate staff or budget for their maintenance. They are simply carved out as protected areas on maps and many even lack a proper boundary so that it is difficult to demarkate them in field.
A survey in 1988 found, that only sixteen out of a hundred Carribean marine parks outside USA has some management plans, staff and funds to carry out the conservation work (OAS-NPS Inventory 1988). Even in wealthy nations, like Japan, similar problems exist – Shiratoka National Park, Japan, a biologically rich protected area has never had more than a single wild-life ranger for more than 37,000 hectares (Brazil 1991).
A number of parks and sanctuaries encourage profitable activities which are injurious to the wild life. Logging operations are carried out with Government permission in many parks of Canada, Czechoslovakia, Indonesia etc. In many developing countries, the inefficient and corrupt administration allows logging and fuelwood collection surreptitiously, causing extensive damage to the wild life.
Many of the wild life reserves in Europe and Canada are oriented primarily for tourism and recreation. Conservation of biodiversity has assumed secondary position or is often absent altogether in these areas. As tourists pay readily than many cash stripped Governments a number of parks and sanctuaries have to rely more and more on the recreational activities for the expenses incurred on account of maintenance and salaries of the staff. This results in serious degradation of natural habitats causing much damage to the wild life (Ryan 1992).
Human settlements present around or within the protected areas are often detrimental to the cause of wild life conservation. It is very difficult to find such large areas of wilderness devoid of human settlements or interference as required for proper and adequate wild life protection efforts.
Even those parts of wilderness, where modern societies, agriculture, rails and roads have not reached, are usually frequented by natives and indigenous people who largely depend on wild plants and animals for their subsistence. Wild life conservation efforts tend to rob these people of the vital resources on which they have been living since times immemorial. This is resented. The local people do not co-operate and at times develop hostile attitude which defeats the very purpose of the conservation efforts.
Although local people and natives are fully capable of abusing land and hunting wild life extermination, it is interesting to note that many of the world’s healthiest and richest ecosystems of today occur in regions under their control. These people have an intimate knowledge of nature and wild life which is usually ignored by planner and policy makers. Indegenous people are rarely asked to participate in wild life conservation efforts.
Most of the protected areas, parks and sanctuaries have been established during the past four or five decades. However, many of the native societies have been consciously protecting natural habitats for centuries past. Farmers of south East Asia traditionally honour sacred groves – patches of wilderness amidst agricultural fields and rural landscape – as abodes of powerful duties. Indigenous Indians of Panama leave patches of forests as super natural parks for the refuse of wild life and spirits.
Tukano Indians of Brazil guard forests and water ways. Their traditions and taboos have protected as much as 60% of the streams of the locality as sanctuaries for fishes and other aquatic life. Taboos and traditions have preserved the only orange-utang population, lift in upper reaches of Batang-Ai River in southern Sarawak (James Rush 1991, Ryan 1992).
The taboos and traditions have undoubtedly preserved a significant share of biodiversity fin wasteful destruction. However, these customs and traditions are disappearing at fast rate and the indigenous people are being modernized. There is no harm in adopting modem scientific ways and methods but in the process healthy customs and traditions which represent the accumulated wisdom of past generations are also being forgotton.
The knowledge of intricate details about wild life, of uses of plants and animals as therapeutic agents, of traditional management systems which has helped the mankind to preserve in excellent condition up to now the land, the soils, forests and wild life, is a very important asset for us, the loss of which shall be an irreparable loss for our natural resources.