The term wild life includes both animals and plants which form part of any habitat in nature. The animals and plants included in the wild life are non-domesticated and are found wild in nature.
In the words of the late Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, “wild life refers to the magnificent animals and the beautiful birds of our jungles that brighten our lives. But life would become dull and colorless if we did not have these animals and birds to look at and to play with. We must try to preserve the wild life and their habitats.”
Some wild animals are so characteristic that they become the symbols of their home countries. For example, tiger is associated with India, white bear with Russia, giant panda with China, kangaroo with Australia, Kiwi with New Zealand.
History of Wildlife in India
Man has been interested in the wild animals since the dawn of civilization. He hunted them for food and clothing, observed them for joy, heard the sweet notes of the birds for pleasure. In India, the idea of preservation of wild life has been an integral idea of Indian culture and religion since ancient times.
The Vedas include hymns in praise of animals and plants. Indian mythology includes references to animal-like gods such as monkey-headed Hanuman, elephant-headed Ganesh, boar-headed Varahavatar, lion-headed Narsimhavathar, fish-headed Matshyavathar, turtle-headed koormavathar, snake-like sheshnag etc. In ancient India, the hermitages of holy sages were the environments in which hunting was fully prohibited, and if this was not followed there used to be severe punishments.
The condition of our wild life started deteriorating under Mughal rulers and then under British Empire, when the mad slaughter of wild animals became the fashion.
- Babar killed thousands of rhinoceros which were abundant in northern India,
- Colonel Pollock shot a Rhino or a buffalo almost every day for breakfast,
- Madhya Pradesh raja held the world record for killing highest number of tigers.
The vanishing wild life
The animals were subject to extinction due to natural causes before the arrival of man about 2 million years ago for example extinction of dinosaurs, large cephalopods and brachiopods. The tempo of extinction of wild life is at its peak since last 2 to 3 centuries due to the thoughtless action of man.
With the growing human population, agriculture and urbanization man has thoroughly exploited wild life and their habitats. Man has cut down forests, polluted water as a result of which many species of animals and plants have vanished and the others which are living today are on the border of extinction.
According to one estimate, the number of wild life species disappeared during last 4 centuries is as follows,
Seventeenth century- 7 species extinct
Eighteenth century- 11 species extinct
Nineteenth century- 27 species extinct
Twentieth century- 67 species extinct
Causes of destruction
The ways and means of extinction of wild life by man fall into two categories: direct destruction and indirect destruction.
Direct destruction: the main causes of direct destruction by man include hunting, capturing. Man kills the wild animals indiscriminately for amusement, meat, fur, feathers etc.
In North America, 60 million heads of bison were hunted to feed Trans-American railways. Only the tongue of the animal was consumed and the rest of the body was left to rot.
Predators like lion (Panthera leo), tiger (Panthera tigris), Leopard (Panthera pardus), white bear (Ursus) etc are hunted down, trapped or poisoned because they occasionally eat livestock.
60,000 to 70,000 blue whales (Balaenopterus musculus) and many other whale species are killed every year for fat used in cosmetic and soap industry.
Millions of fur bearing animals are killed every for the use of their fur in industry.
Man is responsible for the extinction of hunting leopard (Acinonyx), migrating dove (Ectopistus migratorius), Dodo (Rephus) and many others.
Other direct causes for the reduction of many animal species are for medicines, superstitions, supply of live animals for zoos and laboratories, trophies and stuffed animals.
Indirect destruction: Though the indirect causes for the destruction of wild life by man are numerous the important ones are deforestation, destruction of habitats, Spread of deserts, pollution, insecticides etc.
Importance of wild life
Wild life is a danger to the human life, they are a nuisance to the farmers because they destroy crops, the domestic livestock is denied grazing in the wild life reserves and the hunters are denied shooting for recreation. Even then the conservation of the wild life becomes necessary and is of great importance due to many values to mankind.
Ecological value: For millions of years the humans and the wild life have evolved together on the planet earth. All the life on earth is interlinked through food chains and forms the ecosystem. Destruction of wild life may upset the ecological balance resulting in severe consequences. Thus, protection of every species of animal is of great importance to maintain the quality of life and the survival of man himself. By rendering the planet uninhabitable for animals, we will not be able to avoid extension of ourselves.
Commercial value: Wild life forma an important natural resource. Like coal and petroleum even wild life is nonrenewable resource.
- Wild life may attract tourists from other countries and earn foreign currency.
- The fresh water fish and other aquatic life forms provide large amount of food for people.
- The wild life of dry land mainly contributes to the food of primitive people.
- The entire fur industry is supported by fur-bearing animals.
- The trade of live or dead animals earns foreign currency. For example, an Indian Rhino may fetch some lakhs of Indian rupees.
- Similarly, the ivory of elephant, glands of musk deer, horns of Rhinos, antlers of deer fetch good price in international market.
Game value: Wild life has its worth even as games. In Australian and European countries millions of people hunt or fish for recreation and spend billions of dollors on the animal sports.
Scientific value: Scientific studies of various wild animals are of direct value to humans.
- The study of sea urchins helped in understanding the human embryology.
- The study of desert toad has helped in the early determination of pregnancy.
- The study of Rhesus monkey helped in the knowledge of blood groups.
- The study of Antlers of deer helped in determining the degree of radioactive contamination of natural environments.
- The study of Armadillos helped in development of vaccine for leprosy.
Aesthetic value: There is a great worldwide aesthetic value of wild life because of their sheer beauty and appeal to human spirit. A world without melodious birds, graceful beasts and rapturous forests would be a poor place for humans to live in.
Without wild life the country side looks dead, monotonous, static like a picture on the postcard. People feel pleasure, satisfaction and happiness in the presence of wild life.
Ethical value: Generally, people think that they do not have the right to kill animals rather it is the duty of the people to protect and conserve the wild life. In fact, every religion preaches respect and reverence for life.
Important wild animals of India
- Indian Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)
- Indian Lion (Panthera leo)
- Indian Tiger (Panthera tigris)
- Indian Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis)
- Bison (Bison bonasus)
- Indian elephant (Elephas maximus)
- Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps)
- Hornbill (Ocyceros griseus)
- Common peafowl (Pavo cristatus)
- Wild buffalo (Babalus bubalis)
- Musk deer (Moschus moschiferous)
- Bear (Ursus americanus)
Wild life organizations
In recent years man has interfered with nature as never before. He has destroyed forests, drained swamps, polluted water which ultimately led to the extinction of many animals and plants. In the beginning of this century, there was a realization about importance environment for the quality of life and survival of human.
- IUCN (International Union for Conservation of nature and Resources)
- WWF (World Wild life Fund)
- IBWL (Indian board of Wild Life)
- BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society)
- WPSI (Wild Life Preservation society)
Wild life institute of India
To train people and expand the activities in wild life, government of India has established wild life institute of India at Dehradun. The institute is engaged in management and extension of wild life.
It runs several courses at post graduate level along with diploma and other short term courses in specialised fields. As a result of training by this institute a number of trained persons are now engaged in conservation and extension of wild life in India.
Methods of wild life conservation
The most commonly adopted methods for conservation of wild life are as follows,
Habitat management: This includes ecological study of habits and habitats of wild life species, protection, preservation and improvement of habitats. Census and statistical data regarding the species which are conservation are done.
Establishment of parks, reserves and sanctuaries: the establishment of national parks, wild life reserves and wild life sanctuaries may serve many purposes like,
- Conserve species in wild state
- Provide scientific, educational and recreational opportunities
- To earn revenue by attracting tourists
Breeding in captivity: The animals are bred in captivity to overcome the danger of predation or to save the wild life from natural disasters. Tree species like Ginko have survived only in captivity. Mountain Gorilla is protected in the national park. It is evident that many other species of wild life are protected in the national parks.
Reintroduction: Several animal species and plant species which were almost extinct in certain areas were allowed to reproduce and flourish in suitable places similar to original ones. Later these were reintroduced in several parks and saved.
Mass education: for any conservation programme to be successful there is a need for education to people to achieve their participation. The methods adopted to educate people are,
- Celebration of wild life week every year
- Publicity through media
- Holding essay competitions, lectures and seminars
- Setting up clubs in educational institutes
- Publication of wild life books and journals
- Establishment of natural history museum
Promulgation of laws: All countries have promulgated laws for protection and conservation of wild life. In India, central legislation act was enacted in 1972 called as Wild life protection act. Killing, hunting and capturing of wild life without prior permission from suitable authority is punishable under this law. In 1976, 42nd amendment of Indian constitution, protection of wild life has been included in the concurrent list.
Problems of protection of wild life India
The management of wild life is beset with several problems in India. The most important of the problems are the people living near the forest area who do not know the value of conservation of wild life. Government is hard pressed with increasing human population, superstitions and illiteracy among people.
Due to these reasons the government is bound to take up projects to educate these people. In addition to these, cultivation of cash crops like tea, coffee, rubber, eucalyptus has disturbed the normal ecological set up of wild life.
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