By Akash Vashishtha
Insisting that the Government should move beyond its conventional conservation of tigers, elephants and rhinos, wildlife groups have asked authorities to introduce urgent measures to protect lesser-known endangered species like pangolins, birds, tortoises, reptiles and sharks, whose illegal trade is not known to many.
According to wildlife conservationists, hundreds of pangolins, lizards and tortoises are poached every year in India.
An estimated seven lakh birds are illegally trapped while about 70,000 tonnes of sharks are caught. However, the levels of exploitation and most of the poaching go unreported.
"While the threat posed by illegal wildlife trade to some of India's most iconic wild animals like tiger and rhinoceros are well publicised, many of the country's well-known species are rapidly vanishing due to massive poaching," said Dr Shekhar Niraj, Head of TRAFFIC India, an NGO working globally for conservation of plants and animals.
"Pangolins are highly threatened because of their colossal illegal trade internationally, yet their plight is rarely highlighted. Others like monitor lizards, mongoose, star tortoises, spiny-tailed lizards and fresh-water and marine turtles also require urgent attention," he said.
"Monitor lizards, especially, the Bengal Monitor, were once seen commonly across the country but have now declined alarmingly after massive poaching and illegal trade," said Niraj.
Similarly, sea horses, sea-cucumbers, barking deer, hog deer and the red sand boa, a double-headed snake, have been reportedly in great demand in the international and domestic markets because of new age superstitions attached to them.
According to wildlife experts, burgeoning demand for birds has become a major concern for conservation, with several indigenous birds protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 still being traded freely.
A recent survey by TRAFFIC revealed thousands of birds of at least 20 species were being illegally traded. Illegal trade of avians is prominent in metros like Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore.
Wildlife protectionists have asked the NDA Government to adopt an integrated ministerial approach.
Given the nature of illegal trans-boundary trade in wildlife and trade within Indian territory, it becomes imperative for the Government to function in an integrated manner with ministries like Environment and Forests, External Affairs, Home Affairs (for security issues), Finance (customs), Tribal Affairs and Rural Development working very closely with each other on conservation issues, experts suggested.
Tito Joseph, programme manager with the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), said: "Isolated efforts for conservation (like Project Tiger and Elephant) by Government will not yield anything. There has to be a consolidated, long term approach for conservation of all species alike.
"The conservation of wildlife existing outside legally protected areas needs equal attention. The country needs to have an urgent task force for species."
Amid vociferous calls for conservation of the wide biodiversity, the Government, however, seems little inclined to act. India has nearly 670 protected areas (PAs) of which 46 are tiger reserves and 32 elephant reserves.
The Project Tiger approach is adopted in 75 PAs, officials said.
The NDA Government, in its first budget, allocated just Rs 78.5 crores for conserving over 600 PAs and 15 identified species.