Bikrant Tiwary, environmental expert and CEO of Grow-Trees.com, puts things into perspective when he says, "The connection between thriving wildlife, rich biodiversity, balanced ecology and the well-being of humanity is rarely, if ever understood. Respect for wildlife is not an esoteric concept. It concerns all of us because these animals inhabit forests, mountains, rivers, oceans, and deserts. And how they are treated, directly and indirectly, impacts our ecosystem. When animal species are threatened, distressed or they become extinct, entire food chains are altered, biodiversity, food security, nutrition and dietary quality get impaired and our supply of diverse nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and medicines also gets affected very severely."
Animals, explains Bikrant, play a big role in stabilising ecosystems, pollinating crops and increasing the fertility of soil etc and if forests continue to make way for industries, countless species of birds, mammals and invertebrates will be displaced and endangered. He says, "The pandemic has made the interconnectedness between us and wildlife very clear. Deforestation is one of the biggest reasons to endanger ecosystems and scientists have been issuing urgent warnings about the far-reaching impact of tree extinctions on people and wildlife as well. The State of the World's Trees report published last year by Botanic Gardens Conservation (BGCI) stated that about 60,000 tree species globally are at risk of extinction."
Bikrant says we would be mistaken to think that this catastrophe will only endanger animal species and not affect the way we live and work. He adds, "The World Economic Forum states that $44 trillion is tied to Nature and this year, a new paper by BGCI and the Global Tree Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's species survival commission (IUCN SSC), has stated that the world's forests contribute $1.3tn (£1.1tn) to the global economy. So it is not just our wildlife that is under threat."
Human-animal conflicts are the highest in the fringe areas of the parks across the country. Over the last decade, Grow-Trees.com has planted millions of trees in the areas surrounding wildlife sanctuaries to not just protect these habitats but to prevent animal-human conflicts that endanger the livelihoods, economy and quality of life of local communities.
Bikrant says, "In developing countries like India, forests add to the household income of rural and tribal communities. When we plant trees to expand wildlife corridors, we also support local communities that are dependent on timber and forest produce. Trees not only augment the green cover essential for wildlife movement but also serve the purpose of carbon storage, stabilize soil and counter the adverse effects of storms and extreme weather events. "
The environmentalist believes that unless we sensitise ourselves to the harmful consequences of intensive animal farming and industrial livestock production, we will not feel motivated to seek green solutions and ask for better environmental and climate policies as well as laws protecting wildlife.
The Wildlife Protection Act passed in 1972, offers protection to wild animals, birds and plants while Article 48-A of the Constitution, exhorts the State to safeguard the wildlife and forests of the country. Article 51-A confers a fundamental duty upon all citizens to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to possess compassion for living creatures yet the ground reality is unsettling. Animal abuse in tourist spots, for religious and social purposes, in farms and labs continues.
Bikrant adds, "Over the years, many laws have been passed to ban the ivory trade, prohibit poaching and one such positive step was the State's decision to outlaw dolphinariums in 2013 and ban cosmetics testing on animals in 2014 but we as citizens must also be mindful about our consumption patterns. We must understand that sustainable practices do not just preserve wildlife but also make better economic and environmental sense. To all those who love animals, I would say, plant more trees and join us in our mission to give back healthy and healed forests to their original inhabitants."
In the context of India, a large population is dependent on the forests for their day-to-day life for many generations. Some of the tribes even have the right to reside inside these protected areas. But over the ages, they have learned to cohabit with nature and animals. As a community, they have very small negative impacts on the ecology, if any. This is way less compared to the damage and destruction caused by the tourist amenities created nearby. Even mindless guests can cause very severe damage to forest areas.
The fringe areas of the reserve forests are amongst the most vulnerable of the forest regions of the country. Since protection laws are partially or completely ignored in these regions, people are often seen cutting trees for a variety of purposes. The building of tourist amenities and farming are the main reasons for environmental degradation in these areas, which gradually leads to further damage to the green cover. The creation or expansion of roads and highways through these regions also causes significant damage.
A study revealed that the Northeastern region of the country has been at the top of the list of regions that lost their forest cover. A recent action plan of the Assam government mentioned that it will try to prevent any further damage to the environment because of any developmental project. The way to mitigate the problem is actually very simple. For each tree that has been cut or damaged during any construction, the state will plant ten trees in non-forest areas across the state. But the success of this initiative is yet to be seen.
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