Wild life includes all wild animals, birds, plants and micro-organisms in their original natural habitat. It does not include cultivated plants and domesticated animals. In a broad sense, the wild life refers to any living organism in its natural habitat. India is rich in wild life. The majestic elephant, the great one horned rhinoceros, the lion, the tiger and panthers are pride of our forest. During the recent past, there has been sudden decline in the number of wild life population. In our country the hunting leopard or cheetah is now extinct. The lion, tiger, panther, leopard, rhinoceros and musk dear are facing extinction. Some birds like the Indian bustard, pink headed duck and white winged wood stuck are becoming rare. Crocodiles which were once abundant in our rivers have drastically declined in number. Coming to the world scenario, Dodo a unique bird of Mauritius has become extinct. A species once lost cannot be replaced. It is estimated that about 25,000 plant species and 1000 vertebrate species of the world are threatened with extinction.


Importance of wild life

1.    Ecological value: The wild life balances the population in nature and maintains food chain and natural cycles. An equilibrium is thus maintained in nature between different organisms. This is knows as balance of nature. Once this equilibrium is disturbed, it creates many problems. For instance, if the tigers are killed, the deer population would increase to such an extinct that they would be problem for the crops. On the other hand, if the deer population is reduced the tigers without getting food in the forest would attack the domestic cattle and even the man. When tigers become man-eaters, the hyenas become child lifters.
2.    Scientific value: The wild life is of immense value as it provides gene banks for breeding programmes in agriculture, animal husbandry and fishery. Animal and plant breeders have been able to produce high yielding and disease resistant varieties from wild species, which form the pivot of modern agriculture. Thus, they have an immense value as gene banks in breeding programmes.
3.    Economic values: Wild life is renewable source of food. Fishes from our water resources form an important item of food. Fur from fur bearing animals, ivory from elephants, musk from musk deer, antlers of common deer and skin of crocodiles have high commercial value. The supplies of live specimens for zoos fetch good money. A captured rhinoceros may cost about Rs. 25000 or more in the foreign market. Our wild life attracts foreign tourists and provides us foreign exchange.
4.    Medicinal value: A large number of drugs are obtained from wild plants and wild animal which alleviate many of the human sufferings.
5.    Aesthetic value: The beautiful birds, animals and plants have great aesthetic value. It is a thrilling experience to see the wild animals in their natural abode. Our beautiful birds and their songs area source of immense joy for us. Bird watching is popular hobby amongst the bird lovers.
6.    Cultural value: The wild life of India has been interlinked with our culture. Our mythology and literature are full of accounts of birds and beasts. The main characters in Panchatantra are mostly animals.
7.    Religious value: An important place has been given to the animals in Hindu religion. Almost every deity has an animal as his carrier. Our Vedas contain the description of nearly thirty different mammals.
8.    Protection of civilization: One of the causes of the fall of Indus Valley civilization was the absence of protection to wild life. People of those days were good hunters and mercilessly killed the carnivores. This resulted in an enormous increase in the number of herbivores. They finished the forest and grass lands causing advance of deserts and end of civilization.

Causes of extinction of wild animals:

1.    Natural process: Creation of new species and elimination of a few others are the result of organic evolution. Therefore extinction of a species is a natural process. But this process has been accelerated due to human greed in the past few centuries.
2.    Hunting: Large scale destruction of wildlife for food, security and pleasure are the prime causes of extinction of several species in the past. Disappearance of Dodo, a unique bird of Mauritius, and Cheetah from India are the recent events of extinction.
3.    Habitat destruction: The most serious threat to wildlife comes from habitat destruction and reduction in the area of shelter. Habitats which provide protection and shelter to wildlife are being converted to human settlements, crop lands, reservoirs, plantations and mining sites. Environmental pollution and deforestation have also degraded important wildlife habitats. Dams constructed over rivers are blocking the migration and spawning of some fishes.
4.    Introduction of exotic species: The introduction of exotic species has affected many native species by imposing new factors in competition for food and space, predation, habitat destruction and degradation, transmission of diseases and parasites. The native species of fish in fresh water are affected by the introduction of exotic species.
5.    Overexploitation: Over-exploitation is a serious threat to the wildlife. Over fishing is seriously depleting the marine living resources and also affecting the fresh-water ones. Many species of fish and mollusa, whales, sea cows and sea turtles are facing extinction as they are caught through mechanical devices for sea food industry.
6.    International trade: International trade in hides, skins, fur, leather and animals has increased in recent years. This has resulted in the depletion of many species. The use of a wide range of animal and plant products for pharmaceuticals, perfumes, cosmetics, decoration, specimens for museum and the trade in live plants and animals are some other dangers for wild life.
7.    Human nature: Common man is ignorant regarding the value of the wild life and his indifference makes them to face extinction. Man should change his nature and develop a positive attitude towards wild animals.

Concept of threatened species:

The rare species of plants and animals have been categorized for purpose of conservation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). The classification is based on the present and past distribution, decline in the number of population in course of time, abundance and quality of natural habitat and the biology and potential value of the species.
The following 3 categories of species have been identified.

1)    Endangered (E) – These species are on the verge of extinction due to incessant killing and destruction of their habitats. Their numbers have been reduced to a critical level. Lion, tiger and one horned rhinoceros are endangered species in India.
2)    Vulnerable (V) – The species whose populations are gradually dwindling and facing the risk of entering into endangered category.
3)    Rare (R) – The species whose populations are originally small and scattered. Hence these can at any time enter into the categories of vulnerable and endangered species.

The term Threatened (T) is used in the context of conservation of thhe species which are in any one of the above three categories.

Conservation of wildlife:

Conservation is defined as preservation of nature or biosphere for continuous derivation of maximum benefit from them for human welfare, generation after generation. Conservation of living resources has three specific objectives:
1.    To maintain essential ecological processes and life supporting systems.
2.    To preserve the diversity of species or the range of genetic material found in the world’s organisms. 
3.    To ensure sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems which support millions of rural communities as well as major industries.
Thus conservation of living resources is a complex operation which is specifically concerned with plants, animals and micro organisms and with those nonliving elements of the environment on which they depend.

Mode of Conservation:

1.    Protection by Law: It is necessary that laws are passed by every country for protection of wild life and enforced very strictly. There should also be effective measures, against poaching at all times. International laws are also necessary for protecting migrating birds, fish and animals. The international Union for conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has been set up in 1948 and has been sponsored by UNESCO. Indian Board of Wild Life is the main advisory body to the government of India. It was first constituted in 1952 and reconstituted in 1991 under the chairmanship of prime Minister. The Indian Wildlife Protection Act came into existence in 1972.
2.    Establishment of protected areas: It is essential to establish wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and biosphere reserves to protect wildlife. These places provide ideal condition for the animals to live. In India large number of sanctuaries and national parks has been set up after the establishment of Indian Board for Wildlife.
3.    Restoration of original habitat: This is a case of rectifying the earlier blunders committed by man. Deforested areas can be restored by reformation. Trees removed can be replaced by planting new trees. In India Vanamahostsav is observed every year for this purpose.
4.    Better living condition: The animals can be encouraged to live under the cover of thick grass or brushes and trees. It is essential to grow plants which provide food for animals.  
5.    Raising fur and game animals: Animals which provide hide, fur and meat can be reared in protected areas. This would also protect them from epidemics that thin out the population. Breeding in captivity can be undertaken for this purpose.
6.    Educating the common man: All efforts by Government and other agencies will fail if the common man is not educated regarding the preservation of wildlife. Books on wildlife should be available to educate the children. People must be encouraged to visit sanctuaries and spend some time there. This is one of the most effective methods of preserving wildlife. In our country National Wildlife Week is observed in the first week of October every year to create awareness on wildlife protection and Wild environment day is celebrated on the 5th June every year.
7.    Training in wildlife management: It is essential to provide training in management of wildlife to in service forest officers, wildlife ecologists and other professionals. Government of India has already set up Wildlife Institute at Chandrabani near Dehradun.

Conservation Strategies:

A convention of conservationists representing about 100 countries was held in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro of Brazil under the auspices of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. This is popularly known as “Earth Summit”. They adopted a conservation scheme known as Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which is otherwise known as Rio-convention. This strategies evolved by them are known as World Conservation Strategies. The following steps were proposed by them.

1.    All efforts should be made to conserve all threatened species. The species that are sole representative of their respective family or genus should receive special attention. An endangered species should be given priority over a vulnerable one.
2.    The wildlife must be protected in situ or in natural habitats and ex situ or in artificial habitats by establishing Zoological and Botanical gardens or parks.
3.    As many varieties as possible of useful food crops, plants animals and microbes should be conserved. Priority should be given to those varieties which are most needed for national and international breeding programme.
4.    The wild relatives of all economically valuable plants and animals should be conserved because these act as a gene bank for the latter.
5.    The different critical habitats of the species should be safeguarded and preserved.
6.    A network of protected areas should be established to preserve the habitat of migratory or wide ranging animal species.
7.    If a species migrates from one national jurisdiction to another, bilateral or multilateral agreements should be made for conservation of habitats. Exploitation of the species and pollution of the environment along the migratory routes should also be regulated.
8.    Unique ecosystem should be conserved on top priority basis. Only those activities which are compatible with their preservation should be permitted.
9.    The productive capacities of exploited species and ecosystems have to be determined and it has to be ensured that the utilization of those does not exceed capacities.
10.    International trade in wild animals and plant products must be regulated and controlled by appropriate legislature and administrative measures.

The national protection programmes have to be co-ordinated with the international programmes. The object of international network of biosphere reserve programme aims to conserve and use the diversity and integrity of plants and animal communities for the present and the future within natural ecosystems. This would safeguard the genetic diversity of species and their continuing evolution.

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