Four species that are one step away from becoming extinct in the wild have been included in the Centre’s Recovery Programme for Critically Endangered Species.
They are Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska), Clouded Leopard, Arabian Sea Humpback Whale and Red Panda.
Under the International Union for Conservation of Species (IUCN), Critically Endangered Species are those facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, and the centre’s recovery programme charts out species-specific plan to salvage the animals’ numbers. The programme, which already covers 17 species across the country, includes legal sanction against hunting, financial assistance to states to protect the species, creation of sanctuaries, and even the CBI’s assistance in prosecuting the poachers.
The four species were recommended to be included by the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), and was approved recently by the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) last month. The recommendations were made from chief wildlife wardens of east and northeast regions of India.
Norther River Terrapin, which is a species of riverine turtle found in the rivers that flow in Eastern India, is hunted for its meat and carapace. It is a native of Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Clouded Leopard, found in the Himalayan foothills, is threatened due to habitat loss, poaching for its skin and is also as a live pet trade. “The IUCN has categorized the species as ‘Vulnerable’ and indicates a ‘declining trend in its population, as per its Red List assessment of 2016,” noted the minutes of the meeting.
Arabian Sea Humpback Whale is a species found in all of major oceans but ship strikes, unforgiving fishing gear and siesmic exploarations pose grave threat to it.
“International studies on the whales have indicated that the species migrates from the Oman coast through the Arabian sea, along the Indian coasts till the Sri Lankan coast,” notes the minutes of the meeting.
Red Panda which is closely associated with montane forests with dense bamboo-thicket, is found Sikkim, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh. It is poached for its meat, and for use in medicines, and as a pet. “The IUCN has categorized Red Panda as ‘Endangered’ and as per their Red List assessment of 2015, the population of the species is ‘decreasing,” the minutes note.
NBWL standing committee member Dr H S Singh told The Indian Express that recovery of a species cannot be achieved in the last stage when the population dwindles to critical levels. “The recovery then becomes almost difficult or impossible. When the species starts to decline, it takes time to put measures in place…there is a gestation period which means at least two to three years before the recovery plan is rolled out.”
Singh said in the meeting that though the recovery plan for the Great Indian Bustard and lesser florican was discussed two years ago and plan was also sanctioned with financial allocation however the recovery plan is yet to take off.
“Chief ministers have to agree, states have to agree to actually be able to roll out a programme. Preparing a plan, deliberate over it, figure out where breeding centres can be set up…it is a gestation period of at least two years.”
Former NBWL member Prerna Bindra said while India has nearly 20 species on the critically endangered list, there is a lack of urgency to address the threats they face.
“While I welcome such focussed programmes and inclusion of four new species to secure, protect and revive them, it cannot be a cosmetic exercise, even as we continue to sign away their habitats.”
“Take the Great Indian Bustard for example, just about a 100 remain and we have lost five since June 2017 to electrocution. Yet GIB habitats continue to be decimated,” she said.
Bindra also pointed out the larger policies pushed forth by the government does not factor in conservation. Citing the proposed forest policy and the coastal regulation zone notification, she said: “Such policies weaken laws that secure habitats.”
At present, the following species fall under the recovery programme: Snow Leopard, Bustard (including Floricans), Dolphin, Hangul, Nilgiri Tahr, Marine Turtles, Dugongs, Edible Nest Swiftlet, Asian Wild Buffalo, Nicobar Megapode, Manipur Brow-antlered Deer, Vultures, Malabar Civet, Indian Rhinoceros, Asiatic Lion, Swamp Deer and Jerdon’s Courser.