By Sharad Raghavan
Proportion of Threatened Species across Countries
India has among the highest proportions of threatened species (threatened species as a percentage of total species) in the world. Each chart features the top 10 countries in terms of the number of species in that category.
Recently, the United Nations added 31 species to its protected list in an agreement signed by 120 countries. This is of particular interest to India because it has one of the highest proportions of threatened species in the world. The definition of threatened varies across global databases, but by any definition, India stands out as a country with an extraordinarily high proportion of threatened species. The Red List of threatened species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shows that India has at least 974 species that are threatened as of July. Only six other countries in the world have greater numbers of threatened species than India. India is home to more species than most other countries, and that means India is also more likely to have more threatened species than other countries. But even as a proportion of the total number of species, India ranks high in the global league tables. The accompanying chart features countries with the highest number of species in each category—mammals, birds and reptiles. Across categories, India has among the highest proportion of threatened species. Over 22% of the mammals, 6% of the birds and 10% of the reptiles in India are threatened. The data on the total number of species is based on the United Nations Environment Programme’s last global census in 2004. India is one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots and had a decent record in conservation in the past but has failed to maintain that record in the past few years. Growing and haphazard urbanization and the lack of political will to tackle the problem have seen India lose its natural wealth rapidly, according to Prerna Bindra, former member of the National Board for Wildlife. “Our wildlife is more threatened now than ever,” said Bindra. “We are seeing an unprecedented pressure on wildlife habitats, which are being lost and fragmented due to infrastructure projects, industry, mining, expanding urbanization, etc. Compounding this problem is the fact that we have not taken the gravity of wildlife crime on board, and have failed to sufficiently empower frontline forest staff, or agencies to tackle wildlife crime.” Wildlife crime is becoming a key threat mainly due to the increased demand for wildlife derivatives ranging from tiger and leopard bones to pangolin scales and bear bile. While there is no data for the animal trade in India, global trends indeed show a sharp rise in the trade of animal derivatives. Rhino poaching incidences in South Africa, for example, grew a shocking 7,700% from 13 in 2007 to 1,004 in 2013, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Another area where India is lacking is in the amount of land it devotes to the protection of biodiversity. Data from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) confirms the trends in the IUCN Red List, and also shows that India has one of the lowest protected areas in the world as a percentage of total terrestrial area—only 5%. And this hasn’t changed much over the 20 years from 1990 to 2010. Making matters worse, even within the existing protected areas, only a few areas receive adequate protection. Canals and roads crisscross many protected areas, which result in forests getting fragmented. Unless the political class intervenes now to save India’s threatened species, the situation will only become grimmer, warns Bindra.