‘Lack of political will behind conservation woes’ (With Image)

May 19th, 2012 - 7:14 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, May 19 (IANS) Lack of political will is adding to the survival woes of large Asiatic mammals, including rhinoceros, one of the most intriguing beasts in nature’s life chain that faces extinction in its habitat in South Asia, says conservationist Hemanta Mishra.

“Based on my experience in Nepal, I believe the lack of political will has been responsible for conservation woes not only of rhinos, but also of other large mammals throughout Asia. There is a specific direct link between politics and rhinos,” Mishra told IANS.

The conservationist, honoured with the J. Paul Getty Wildlife Award for saving the rhinoceros and tigers in Nepal, his homeland, has co-authored a new book, “The Soul of the Rhino” (Penguin Books India) with Jim Ottway jr, an American wildlife enthusiast working to save Himalayan fauna.

Mishra said, “It may not be factual to say that conservation of rhinoceros in its habitats, including the northeast India, has not been successful”.

“Though their range is limited, the species is holding steadily, particularly in the Kaziranga National Park. However, they are extremely vulnerable to poaching, habitat destruction and encroachments over their ranges,” Mishra said.

The conservationist said that apathy by political leaders and decision makers “often retards the process of main-streaming wildlife conservation as a key priority in the development processes”.

“This also means that nature and wildlife conservation is often sidetracked when it comes to budgetary allocation and support for administrative and legal instrument in the fight against wildlife crimes,” Mishra said.

Great Asian one-horned rhino could once be found from Pakistan all the way through India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. However, currently the pachyderm is restricted to small habitats in the foothills of the Himalayas, north Bengal and Assam.

Citing figures for March 2012, Mishra said according to the Rhino Resource Centre (RRC) - an UK-based information and knowledge centre, Kaziranga had 2,290 rhinoceros, the Pobitara sanctuary 93, the Orang National Park 100, while the Manas Tiger Reserve had 22 rhinoceros which were translocated from Pobitara and Kaziranga since 2006.

“I don’t know how the RRC got this data and when and how was the census conducted. But in Nepal, based on a robust and systematic three-week rhino count in April last year, the number was estimated to be just over 530 with six in Suklaphanta and the rest in the Chitwan National Park,” Mishra said.

He said more than “a hundred rhinos in Nepal’s Bardia National Park died when insurgency was at its peak in the country between 1995 and 2005″.

The conservation expert said that poaching of rhinoceros and other endangered animals is an organised crime.

“It is not easy for the government alone to stop poaching. It needs support of the local communities living in and around rhino sanctuaries,” Mishra said.

Tourism and expansion of human habitats also affect the animal in various ways. “The rhino is a resilient animal. Depending on how tourism is conducted - and without empirical data - it is difficult to say if tourism curbs its freedom in its habitats,” Mishra said.

Human habitats, on the other hand, can impact rhinos severely “particularly if humans depend on firewood, fodder and other products found in the rhino habitats,” he said.

Mishra in his book explains his successful rhino conservation model adopted in the Chitwan National Park in Nepal, where he worked for 30 years with prestigious institutions, such as the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Smithsonian Institute.

The rhino is a mass of contradictions, Mishra says in his book.

Slaughtered by poachers for its psychotherapeutic powers, the pachyderm survives in largest numbers in the Terai region of southern Himalayas.

“It was here that I trained in the Western (conservation) sciences and Eastern Shamanism and learned lessons from mahouts, peasants, poets, holy men and hunters, soldiers, moguls, monarchs and mindless bureaucrats…,” Mishra says in his book.

He treats the animal, often been referred to as the “unicorn” in mythology, as a spiritual and wild symbol of mystification.

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