Wildlife Recovery in India
In Environmental Feats of the Developing World I planned to include India as an example of environmental progress, but since there's a lot of things to potentially talk about there I wasn't sure how I wanted to approach it. Rather than simply forgetting about it, I decided it would be a good topic to revisit with renewed vigour and focus!
Southern Asia is a region that hosts remarkable biodiversity. It also hosts some of the highest population densities in the world. India is no exception. Its wildlife represents a unique blending of African and Asiatic characteristics. There are lions, rhinoceros, leopards, antelope, bison, bears, wolves, hyenas, and deer to name a few. As for population, India is among the most densely populated countries and is the most densely populated country of its size.
Ahead are various statistics on wildlife populations. It's important to remember that these are estimates rather than absolute numbers
India is now home to at least 55% of the worlds tigers. The species once ranged all the way from Turkey to Eastern Russia to Bali, but it has been extirpated from 93% of that range. In the past century its numbers have dwindled from 100,000 to just 4,000. That number would be drastically lower if not for significant conservation efforts. By fiercely protecting a core selection of tiger habitats, India has actually begun to grow its tiger populations. Census figures show a promising increase from 1,657 to 2,226 since 2006!
The story is similar for the Asian elephant. India is home to upwards of 30,000 elephants, which can be estimated to be around 60% of the global population (50,000). That global population is less than half of what it was 75 years ago, but in India the wild population has been growing steadily since the 1970's.
Something that makes these feats even more impressive, is that elephants and tigers are animals that can cause a lot of trouble for the people who must live alongside them. In India, elephants kill 400 people every year and damage or destroy huge quantities of crops. Thankfully tigers are not as big of a problem, but they certainly have the capacity to harm or kill people and their livestock. A huge amount of effort continues to be invested in optimizing methods for conflict mitigation. Some novel techniques include beehive fences, earthen trenches, and relocation programs. These sorts of developments will be crucial for the continued growth of elephant and tiger populations.
India is certainly not perfect when it comes to ecological stewardship, however it is not by luck that their wildlife is still hanging on. Although tigers and elephants may receive a disproportionate amount of attention, efforts towards their conservation are likely to have cascading benefits for all species. It is my opinion that with stalling human population growth rates and a track record of successful conservation where it matters most, the natural environments of India are exiting a period of decline and entering into a period of recovery and restoration.