Wednesday, February 15, 2012

India’s wolves struggle for survival

Although outlawed, hunting remains rampant
February 2012: In Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, Mowgli was adopted and raised by a pack of wolves. They helped him survive in the jungles of India and protected him from harm. Now in the same jungles, the wolf struggles for survival.
Indian subcontinent is known to be one of the major centres of canid genetic diversity.
‘There are two sub-species of grey wolves found in the Indian sub-continent. They are represented by geographically isolated broadly non-overlapping or allopatric populations,' says Dr Bilal Habib from the Wildlife Institute of India.
Remaining populations are small‘One of these wolf populations is found in the trans Himalayan terrains of India across the states of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Sikkim and the surviving population is estimated to be fewer than 350 individuals. The second is found in the arid and semi-arid peninsular plains of central India with a population estimate of 2,000 - 3,000 wolves surviving in India.'
Hunting is a major threat
Despite the highest level of protection accorded to the wolves in India, hunting remains rampant and is a major cause of concern. Conflict with humans for livestock depredation, exaggerated public fear regarding their danger, and fragmented habitats that are too small for populations with long-term viability are now threatening their survival.
The situation in West Bengal exemplifies the problem, where the once omnipresent wolf population has become confined to the south-west of the state. Habitat fragmentation there has further pushed the species to the brink by forcing them into direct contact with people resulting in conflicts and retaliatory killings. Moreover, hunting of wolves as well as their prey such as hare, fowl, partridge and mongoose among others for bush-meat has taken a toll.
'We want volunteers to protect dens'Acknowledging the emergency, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) sanctioned a Rapid Action Project (RAP) proposed by the Pugmarks Society for Conservation of Natural Heritage (PSCNH) to work towards the recovery and conservation of the Indian wolf in the state.
‘There are two aspects to this RAP. One is scientific surveys to map distribution and generate baseline information that will help in developing conservation strategies, and the other to spread awareness among locals to prevent poaching and mitigate conflicts,' said Radhika Bhagat, officer-in-charge, RAP.
‘The immediate activity will be to involve interested volunteers in protection of the dens,' said Dr Urmila Ganguli, who is heading up the project. ‘The more difficult part will be to change attitude of people about the wolves - currently perceived as threats to livestock. We will be carrying out campaigns to spread awareness on the protected status of the wolves and legal implications of hunting them, but there will also have to be a system of providing relief to the affected people, possibilities of which are also being explored.'

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