There are two ways of conserving biodiversity. One is called in-situ (on-site) conservation, the other ex-situ (off-the-site) conservation. In-situ conservation means protecting wildlife in its natural habitat. Ex-situ conservation, on the other hand, means conserving plants and animals outside their natural surroundings, as in zoological parks and botanical gardens.
Conservation has become a cause for concern all over the world. The governments of various countries, NGOs, communities, research institutions and many others are working to conserve biodiversity.
Some major international organisations involved in this work are the IUCN, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
In 1971, the UNESCO began the Man and the Biosphere Programme to establish at least one biosphere reserve in each of the earth’s 193 bio-geographical zones. The idea is to protect the plants and animals that characterise each bio-geographical zone in their natural setting. India has three biosphere reserves under this programme—the Nilgiris, the Gulf of Mannar and the Sunderbans.
International agreements made by different countries to tackle the problem of conservation globally are listed below.
Some international agreements:
i. The Convention on Biological Diversity
ii. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (flora: plants, fauna: animals)
iii. The World Heritage Convention, a UNESCO mission to protect cultural and natural heritage. India has five natural world heritage sites—Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan), Manas and Kaziranga National Parks (Assam), Nanda Devi National Park (Uttarakhand) and the Sunderbans (West Bengal)
iv. The Convention on Wetlands—India has 19 wetlands protected under this convention.
Conservation in India:
India has several laws aimed at protecting the environment, including plants and animals. It has also launched several plans and programmes to conserve biodiversity. Let us take a brief look at some programmes and organisations related to conservation in India.
Indian laws on conservation:
i. The Forest Act, under which reserved, protected and village forests are managed
ii. The Forest (Conservation) Act, which regulates non-forest use (e.g., mining) of forest land
iii. The Wildlife (Protection) Act
iv. The Environment Protection Act, under which industries cannot be set up near areas protected for conservation. Besides, all development projects have to get an environment clearance from the government.
v. The Fisheries Act, which bans the use of explosives and poisons for fishing.
National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan:
This has the broad aim of conserving biodiversity with the cooperation of the people and the organisations working for conservation and the rights of the people. It seeks to ensure sustainable utilisation of natural resources. Sustainable utilisation means making use of natural resources to meet the needs of the present generation, while ensuring that future generations are not deprived of the use of natural resources for their needs.
The National Wildlife Action Plan:
This is a comprehensive programme for the conservation of wildlife. The 500 sanctuaries and 89 national parks established under this plan are an effort towards in-situ conservation. The national parks are highly protected areas where traditional activities like firewood collection and grazing are prohibited. The sanctuaries, on the other hand, are areas where traditional activities are allowed to go on in a regulated manner. Some parks aim primarily at protecting a particular species, e.g., the Gir Park aims to save lions.
Other than these there are 13 biosphere reserves, three of which are recognised by UNESCO. Some special projects have also been launched to protect endangered species in their natural habitat. Project Tiger, Project Elephant and Project Crocodile are among these.
Parks and gardens:
Almost every large city has a zoological park/garden. Many have botanical gardens. Some of these parks and gardens are centres for the ex-situ conservation of wildlife. For example, five parks have been set up across the country for the cultivation of medicinal plants, and several orchid sanctuaries have been set up in the Himalayas and the Western Ghats. The Madras Crocodile Bank is a special park for the breeding of crocodiles.
Wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs:
In all, 24 wetlands are protected under the Wetlands Conservation Programme. The government also maintains a directory on 183 important wetlands. Mangroves are coastal forests of salt-tolerant trees. They offer natural protection against encroachments of the sea into the shore. The Conservation and Management of Mangroves Scheme protects 33 of our mangroves.
Coral reefs are one of the habitats richest in biodiversity. The coral reefs of the Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kachchh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep Islands are under the special management of state-level committees.
India has had a long tradition of protecting trees and animals. Many plants and animals Eire considered sacred and pockets of forests are preserved as sacred groves where deities reside. There are ancient tales of people laying down their lives to save trees and modern people’s movements to save forests.
The Chipko Andolan:
This movement to save trees is believed to have started in 1973, in the village of Gopeshwar in Chamoli district (Uttarakhand). The villagers rebuffed the attempt of a contractor to cut down trees for a sports goods factory by hugging the trees. Some weeks later, the same contractor was turned away by the people of another village in the same region.
The most dramatic encounter between the contractor and villagers took place in Rani Village in the Garhwal district. The contractor purposely arrived there when the men were away protesting against the auction of a forest. However, the women of the village, led by the 50-year-old Gauri Devi, forced the contractor and his men to leave.
The resistance offered by the villagers to stop deforestation of their land inspired environmentalists all over the world. And the Chipko Andolan spread rapidly across the Himalayan region under the leadership of activists like Sunderlal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhat.
Long before the modern Chipko Andolan, a similar incident took place in Jodhpur, in 1731. The king of Jodhpur, Abhay Singh, sent his mem to cut trees from forests near the Bishnoi villages. The Bishnois are a community with a tradition of caring for animals and trees. When the king’s men arrived, Amritadevi, a Bishnoi woman, and her daughters hugged the trees and pleaded with the men not to cut them down.
The king’s men, however, killed the women and cut down the trees. Soon, more villagers joined the protest. But the cutting and killing continued until 363 people had died. Then the king heard the news and he was overwhelmed. He prohibited the cutting of trees in the Bishnoi forests forever.
Form groups and find out about the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the protest over Silent Valley and the Save the Nilgiris Campaign. Also collect information for class discussions on ‘conservation versus development’ and ‘conservation versus people’. The protest over silent valley is an example of the first. The protest in 1982 over the rights of the people to carry on their traditional activities at the Keoladeo National Park is an example of the second.
Another example is the help given to poachers (illegal hunters) by tribal hunters at the Ranthambore National Park. The tribals were deprived of their livelihood by the setting up of the park. Do you feel that people’s involvement, as in the Joint Forest Management explained next, is the best way to make conservation efforts successful?
Joint Forest Management:
This programme launched by the government aims at involving villagers in developing and protecting degraded forests. Under this programme, the forest department and the people share the responsibility and the benefits of managing forests. At present, more than 14 million hectares of forest land are being managed by such joint managements.