Today, March 3, 2020, is World Wildlife Day, with the theme of “sustaining all life on Earth.”

dholePerhaps it is a more pressing issue now than ever before, considering the steep rise in the global human population and the progressive shrinking of wild spaces. Add to that the growing need for agriculture to sustain human life and mismanagement by ineffective governance, and it is no wonder that we are well on our way to the sixth mass extinction.

But why does biodiversity matter? Why does it matter that species may be undergoing silent extinctions even as I type this post?

In order to understand the importance of biodiversity, it is critical that we understand the three types of biodiversity commonly studied by scientists: species diversity, ecosystem diversity, and genetic diversity.

  1. Species diversity is the number of and relative abundance of species in a given area.
  2. Ecosystem diversity is the number of different ecosystems found within a region. For example, India has high ecosystem diversity with grasslands, high mountains, deserts, tropical rainforests, plantations, mangroves, swamps, lakes, and rivers, to name a few.
  3. Genetic diversity is the relative breadth of genes or traits found within a given population or a single species. The more genetically diverse a species is, the better it is able to outlast adverse situations such as disease or inbreeding depression.
The snow-capped Himalayas 

Tropical regions, such as India, have high endemic biodiversity, making it crucial that these places have strong conservation ethic and management policies. India is home to four global biodiversity hotspots – the Himalayas, the Western Ghats, the Indo-Burma region (Northeast India), and the Sundaland (including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands). It is also one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, hosting 7.6% of all mammalian, 12.6% of all avian, 6.2% of all reptilian, 4.4% of all amphibian, 11.7% of all fish, and 6% of all flowering plant species in the world. However, despite its prolific species richness and diversity, only five percent of India’s landmass falls into protected areas, pockets of wilderness that are set aside specifically for wildlife and plant life.

Overlooking Bhadra TR, Karnataka

Having worked in the field of wildlife and conservation in India for over two years now, I have experienced the various sides of conservation and protected area management first-hand. For one, I have incredible respect for the unsung heroes of wildlife conservation – our forest department staff, especially our ground patrols and forest guards. They tirelessly work to protect the denizens of their respective protected parks from human hazards and threats, and receive very little credit for their efforts. Strong wildlife officers can make or break the effectiveness of a protected area. I have worked and interacted with forest officials in Ranthambhore TR, Nagarahole TR, Bandipur TR, Rajaji NP, and Biligiriranganathaswamy Temple (BRT) TR over the years and have seen the conditions in which they work. Yet they are always positive and their love for their job and the wildlife under their protection is evident. Another thing that has struck me is the tolerance of people in villages surrounding and inside protected areas towards wildlife.

Farming woman near Nagarahole TR, Karnataka (P.C. Nagachandan HN 2018)

Two specific opportunities strengthened my faith that humans and wildlife can and do coexist in India. The first was my research work on human-wildlife conflict in and around a few protected areas of South India, where I assessed the ways people viewed neighbouring wildlife (i.e. tigers, leopards, elephants, gaur, spotted deer, wild boar) given instances of wildlife conflict (livestock depredation, crop raiding, human injury or death) faced in their village(s). The results showed that people, despite facing high rates of interaction with wildlife, were still respectful and understanding of animals’ needs. Many blamed shrinking forest areas for the increased incidences of animals coming into contact with human settlements, even stating that with decreased forest resources, animals were bound to look for food elsewhere and could not be blamed for this natural reaction. These results highlight one of our gravest mistakes in designating protected areas – designating out of human convenience rather than looking for sensible ecological boundaries to demarcate these wild spaces. Ecological research, not human convenience, must drive the designation of protected areas. And all too often, regions of protected areas that are highly sought-after for mining or industrial purposes are cut out of the protected area to allow for industries to bypass wildlife laws in the country, an easy fix for shortsighted people who cannot see the future repercussions of losing more forested land.

IMG_4580The second experience that shaped my understanding of human-wildlife interactions in India was through a programme called Wild Shaale started by the Centre for Wildlife Studies Bangalore. Wild Shaale (‘wild school,’ in Kannada) is a conservation education initiative that strives to inform village children living in and around national parks in India about coexisting with wildlife and the ecology of the species that they see regularly. IMG-20180919-WA0008The idea: to raise a future generation of conservation stewards. I was a part of the team that piloted and began running Wild Shaale in Nagarahole and Bandipur Tiger Reserves in Karnataka, and the one thing that will always remain with me was the openness and willingness of these village children to empathize with and learn about wildlife that they might have previously known in a negative context. Many children grew up seeing elephants raiding agricultural fields, hearing about friends and family injured by a big cat or an elephant, or losing livestock to leopards or tigers, yet they were wide-eyed and eager to learn more about the behaviour and needs of these same species. This open-mindedness, this curiosity, this empathy – these are the reasons that India has still retained its place as one of the world’s most biodiverse nations and continues to speak for its wildlife.

DSC_0001Preserving biodiversity in all its forms is not only crucial for ecosystem integrity and function, but also provides tangible and intangible benefits to people. Intact forests provide freshwater resources to nearby settlements as well as timber and non-timber forest products. They also, importantly, create the oxygen that we require to survive. Additionally, forests clean polluted air and shelter native tribal settlements as well as bountiful wildlife.


Diverse ecosystems give us various goods and services; grasslands are often highly-productive agricultural zones, swamps provide us with carbon sequestration and fisheries, waterbodies provide potable water to cities and towns, while mountains regulate climate and smaller weather patterns. Wildlife also provides economic benefits in terms of ecotourism, where patrons pay large sums of money to view animals in their natural habitats in our protected areas and national parks.

So why not, then, invest more money, resources, and thought into the protection of our wildlife and wild spaces? Why heedlessly slash forests, poach animals, and pollute our environment when, in many ways, the repercussions will come back to haunt us, the perpetrators of ecosystem disruption and collapse? With a little foresight and better planning, both by governmental and non-governmental organizations, we could ensure a better future for our children and our planet alike, one with cleaner air, cleaner water, and stunning wildlife.

Instead, we often choose the easier route – complacency.

In 2020, let us all try to be a little more conscious of our decisions, our votes, and our ideologies. After all, our thoughts and actions today will shape the world that our children and their children will one day inherit. And, more importantly, the benefits of wildlife and nature should not just be measured in terms of economics, but also must be appreciated for their intrinsic wondrous beauty.

A Nilgiri langur takes a flying leap from an exposed tree branch down to the safety of the dense underbrush


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