Why conserving wildlife?

Dr Rahul Kait
Wildlife includes all non domesticated animals and uncultivated plants whereas conservation is protection, preservation and perpetuation (3 Ps) of rare species of plants and animals in their natural habitat.
Man is dependent on wildlife in a number of ways. Wildlife has constantly been exploited by man since times immemorial. There used to exist a balance between man and nature including wildlife prior to the human population explosion, advancement in technology and urbanisation when man was very much a part of natural food chain, but presently the exploitation rate of natural resource including wildlife has increased to the extent that consumption has exceeded its renewal rate and has led to the extinction of many species such as Indian cheetah, pink headed duck, the Sikkim stag, mountain quail and dodo etc. and endangerment of many others viz; partridges, various pigeons, hornbills, Kashmir stag, snow leopard, black beer, brown bear, blacknecked crane, bustard, thars and lions etc.
The need of conserving wildlife can be understood only when we know its importance. If we view the wildlife from close quarters, we simply can’t believe how important wildlife is for us; it preserves our environment as a self sustaining system, it balances population and maintains food chains and natural cycles through regulation of population of different species by self regulation and feedback. Think of herbivore population, if all carnivores such as leopards, lions and tigers would get extinct; these herbivores would prove more harmful to human beings than the carnivores are. Similarly if all snakes would be killed, population of rats would explode and they would play havoc.
Few facts which must be clear to us are; pests and pathogens continuously evolve new strains, climates change, soils vary and consumer’s demand changes with time and for all above said reasons cultivated varieties continuously need to be improved through various breeding programmes for which the wildlife serves as a gene bank.
Plant and animal breeders have been able to produce high yielding, disease and stress resistant varieties. For getting success in this field, a large number of organisms have to be screened and selected hence gene bank maintenance is very essential e.g., some old varieties of rice from Keralasaved rice cultivation when brown plant hopper affected all modern rice varieties; wild rice Oryzanivara provided the resistance to grassy stunt virus which had threatened the rice cultivation in 1970s. The production of better crops, livestock and fishes can’t continue without their wild relatives.
We can’t predict as to which species would become useful to us in future, any wild species could turn out to be a life saviour. Who could have imagined that the fungus, Penicilliumcould revolutionize the field of disease and medicine, before the discovery of penicillin; the first antibiotics to be discovered, had Penicillium got extinct before discovery of its antibiotic properties, the man could still have been suffering from some of the severest infectious diseases.
Many wild species of birds, insects and mammals help in pollination and seed dispersal therefore the extinction of these species may also lead to the extinction of those plants as are dependent on wild pollinators.
Can we imagine the fate of our environment without scavangers; such as vultures, eagles, jackals and hyaenasetc and decomposers, which play a great role in maintaining clean environment? Extinction of scavengers and decomposers from biosphere would mean spread of diseases, foul smell and unhygienic surrounding.
Wild organisms are used for experimental purposes in the fields of anatomy, physiology, ecology and evolutionary biology. Biological studies seem impossible without wildlife. Besides, forests play an important role in collecting suspended particulate matter; they also absorb CO2 and hence playan important role in pollution control. A glimpse of wild animals like tiger, elephant, stag and peacock gives us a soothing feeling; thus the aesthetic and recreational values of the wildlife can never be ignored.
Wildlife has been a source of livelihood for many since ages, we get so many products directly from wildlife such as honey, silk, lac, hair, feathers, tusks, musks, ivory, timber, firewood, paper, gum, leather, essential oils, drugs and many others. We earn a lot from wildlife tourism and export, therefore the conservation is very must for the benefits to be reaped by our coming generations.
Wildlife is facing a constant threat from urbanisation, industrialisation, network of roads i.e. habitat fragmentation, overgrazing, intensive agriculture, mining, pesticides, fertilisers, pollution, forestfires, hunting, dams and canals, sewage and town refuse and soil erosion.
Only man knows the fact that the rich wildlife is the outcome of evolutionary process which dates back to 3.5 billion years and it would be impossible for any power including supernatural one in the world to retrieve an extinct species and therefore emphasis must be laid on conserving the existing wildlife rather than waiting for the evolutionary cycle to happen for the retrieval of our extinct wild compatriots.
(The author is Assistant Professor, GDC Akhnoor)