Indian national parks protect and preserve incredible biodiversity. India is internationally recognized as an ecologically very diverse nation with habitats ranging from alpine ecosystems to tropical and marine ecosystems. These wild habitats also exhibit high levels of endemicity. India’s rich flora and fauna supports its huge human population. It is also of global importance in maintaining stable populations of species like Bengal tigers, Asiatic lions, one-horned rhinos, etc., which are almost absent in other parts of their historical range. So the national parks of india, protected areas with the strictest regulations in the country, are immense importance for India and the rest of the world. Maintaining the sanctity of these vital habitats is no small task and requires the participation of multiple parties and massive funding. There are a multitude of threats and their mitigation measures require innovative thinking and effective policies.
To learn more about the management of Indian national parks, World Atlas speaks with an expert in the field.
Sachikanta K. Chakrabarti, a retired Indian Forest Service officer who was the former Senior Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Custodian, Karnataka, answers some of the questions related to the vital issues facing India’s protected habitats today and explains how human population management is vital to saving wildlife.
What are the objectives of creating a national park?
Image: A herd of elephants in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India.
National parks were primarily designed to meet the cardinal need for subsistence of the astonishing complex ecosystems of the universe, made up of individual genes from a wide range of diverse species. There is a constant interaction of biological diversity with the physical environment of the specific area. It is a conservatory of a biome, a complex biotic community of plants and animals predominant in the region under varying climatic conditions. A large gene pool consists of greater genetic variability with a greater possibility of sustenance.
National parks are therefore set aside in order to ensure the protection of ecological integrity of the specific ecosystem with their gene pools, total exclusion of human interference of the inviolable privacy of the sanctum sanctorum of all life forms in nature, and allowing only scientifically and ecologically compatible tours at the parks. Thus, maintaining the sanctity of parks will require a substantial amount of financial resources if they are to be reserved for conservation in their primitive forms.
Marginal inhabitants of national parks: what are the dynamics and issues involved?
Image: Sheep and goats grazing along Masinagudi forest area, Mudumalai National Park, Tamil Nadu – Karnataka state border, India
Forests, and in particular national parks, almost always have to consider manage the population residing in outlying areas for generations. This population invariably consists of the poorest of the poor in society and of the tribes who depend heavily on forests and the water resources they contain. Thus, while the need to limit human interference in these protected areas is a primary consideration, the livelihood of these poorer sections of society should also be duly recognized. A very large percentage of farmers are small and marginal and a significant proportion of them are landless and reside near these national parks and forests. We must also take into account the forage needs of the huge cattle herd of these farmers which is essential to their livelihood. Although the demand is mainly met by low-quality buffer forests, the pressure on national parks remains.
There have been many projects all over India with joint forest management to generate enough forest products to meet the needs of society, such as kindling, firewood and fodder from areas outside the regions. regular reserve forests to increase availability. Social forestry has played a huge role in ameliorating these minor forest product scarcity problems, but the end results fall far short of the ever-growing demand. About 400 million people living in peripheral forests and a huge proportion of the 450 million head of cattle exert intense pressure on reserve forests as well as on national parks.
National park management plans must therefore take into account the economy of the marginalized also. Unfortunately, budget allocations on the forestry sector in all five-year plans have been a dismal 1% of the total budget, a very small proportion of which is allocated to 104 national parks and 551 wildlife sanctuaries in India. The 50 tiger reserves and areas under elephant reserves, however, receive separate funding for their special treatment. This situation of insufficient funding resulted in improved tourism activities in national parks to increase the resources available for scientific management. So there is in fact a dichotomy of management principles. On the one hand, we want gene pools to be free from interference while on the other hand, we are obliged to allow tourism to overcome our financial constraints, inviting more frequentation and consequent disturbances of biodiversity.
Tourism: what role does it play in the management of national parks?
Image: Tourists watching the Indian rhino on an elephant back safari in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India.
Tourism, mainly ecotourism, pump huge sums of money spent by visitors supporting management needs such as fire protection, combating threatening weed invasions, safeguarding populations of endangered species, and addressing threats from climate change. In addition, it increases monetary resources by creating hundreds and thousands of job opportunities across the country.
The other positive feature of ecotourism is the pleasure to watch and think on the serenity of rolling hills and mountains and streams cascading down through valleys, which also elevates the understanding of the need for water conservation in watersheds. The environmental needs of the world are significantly embedded in the mindset of visitors as they experience nature in its original form. A tour gives a hands-on demonstration of the ambiance of nature and the astonishing variety of floral and wildlife assemblages.
Tourism has practically become a cash cow under the circumstances and seaside resorts and facilities are popping up everywhere with increasing challenges of uncontrolled visits. But the scarcity of financial investments to support pollution control measures requires looking for additional resources. But the integration of tourism into the management of the park not only generates a renewable source of this essential fund, but always constitutes a best alternative to destructive industries near parks, which poses a significant threat to biodiversity. The local economy also benefits considerably from tourism.
What are the main issues facing Indian national parks today?
Image: Two rhinos facing each other in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India.
Agricultural land and forests have been the obvious choice for land of massive industries such as mining, factories and machinery, communications and infrastructure as important development projects and sources of employment. Unfortunately, most of our mineral resources are concentrated in areas with remarkable flora and fauna diversity. We have nearly 40,000 species of plants and about 90,000 species of birds and animals. If we consider all forms of flora and fauna, the number will be staggering. And all of these forests are the main source of water and oxygen recycling.
Studies indicate that the forests of India, with the sole exception of evergreen trees forests are getting drier which negatively affects the hydrological cycle of the nation. Any instability in our Himalayan ecosystems and the Western Ghats will have serious consequences. deleterious effects on several hydrological cycles in the Indo-Gangetic plain and peninsular India. There is therefore the additional need to ensure that our national parks and forests are not disturbed and that their integrity remains intact.
So what strategies need to be adopted to resolve these issues?
Image: A male leopard in Nagarhole National Park, Karnataka, India.
The conservation of national parks is approached either in a conservative / prohibitive form or in a protective form. While in the first mode all human activities are essentially unacceptable except responsible ecotourism, the second considers inclusive management with people in the immediate vicinity of the park. There is a growing tendency to accept the latter in principle as an important link between the environment and the economic well-being of the population of the periphery. An extremely cautious approach with a balanced mix of conservation and development is the wisest solution so that we don’t find ourselves in a position of failure either. Unfortunately, over the years, a lack of confidence in management on the part of the inhabitants of the outskirts has crept in to such an extent that they generally believe that even in times of natural calamities, nature is the only savior: in times of distress, look upward to nature. Park management may not assist them adequately in times of distress. Our strategies for conserving biodiversity in national parks must take due account of the socio-economic and cultural factors of local communities neighbors of the Parks as well as the scientific study of the plants and animals inside the Park. Extensive studies on biodiversity conservation in national parks have indicated that successful conservation is largely linked to community-based conservation approaches. Protecting the environment is essential for sustainable development. Quality air, water and soil must be made available to the citizens of tomorrow.