World Wildlife Conservation Day on December the 4th raises awareness of the troubles many well-loved endangered species face in their fight for survival. Many issues are due to human conflicts and this is just as true in Asia as in the rest of the world.
As the largest, most populated and fastest growing continent on Earth, Asia may be the region of the world where the most animal species face extinction. Having said that there is improved awareness when it comes to the protection of many iconic species like tigers, but many other animals are also threatened, and they don't always get the attention they need to ensure their continued survival. Many of these are found in the subcontinent.
The World Wildlife Fund has been working to engage people in conservation and get people involved in this global challenge. So, what are the most endangered species in Asia and what is being done to help them?
Unlike their larger cousin, the tiger, Snow Leopards are offered little protection in their native habitats. Sadly there are various threats to this species that include human conflict. Their native habitat is closely tied to grazing grounds of their preferred prey, which is also the same land that farmers wish to use for their livestock. They are also hunted to be used in traditional Chinese medicine, and are poached for use in circuses and zoos.
To complicate things, over the past decade, much of the snow leopard’s native range in the Near East has been an area of major military conflict that has had a significant impact on the animals' habitat.
Another fine example is of the Indian rhinoceros whose preferred habitat is alluvial flood plains and areas containing tall grasslands along the foothills of the Himalayas. Formerly extensively distributed in the Gangetic plains, today the species is restricted to small habitats in the Indo-Nepal terai, North Bengal and Assam.
For years, rhinos have faced with conservation challenges as they have been widely slaughtered for their horn, a prized ingredient in traditional Asian medicines. These animals are among the worlds' most endangered species.
The great one-horned rhino could once be found from Pakistan all the way through India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. By the turn of the century, this species had vanished from much of its range, and today only about 2000 remain in India and Nepal.
Throughout their range, their habitat continues to dwindle rapidly due to conversion of grassland habitats into agricultural fields and other human resources. The threat of poaching continues to be ever-present.
The WWF has been involved in conserving the rhinos for about four decades, and to increase their population some have been translocated from Kaziranga into the target Protected Areas. However, the lack of equipment, finance, political will and shortage of staff makes it difficult to implement conservation work at the grass-roots level.
Asiatic Wild Dog
Asiatic Wild Dog, popularly known as the Dhole is one of the top predators of wild forest, living in packs, hunting cooperatively and highly social animals. They are also known as the whistling hunter because of their extraordinary vocal call. Dhole are found in national parks of Assam, Bengal, Gujarat, Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, and Nilgiri Biosphere reserve of south India, but it is estimated that only 2500 Dholes are left in the wild.
Threats to the dhole species include habitat destruction which results in loss of its main food supply. Dholes have been known to nibble on everything from berries and turtles to rodents and deer.
The Dhole has been an animal hated by people for a long time. It doesn't only attack livestock, but it also eats its prey before it is dead. For this reason, it is considered by some people to be a cruel animal. This is why many Dholes have been killed with guns, traps or poison though since 1970 one can face stiffer penalties for such acts.
The government is introducing economic benefits to the villagers to incentivize them to avoid such practices and the forest department is also working on a dhole breeding program.
And how can one forget, the mighty Bengal tiger. This magnificent creature was once found all across the subcontinent, but before the international ban on tiger trade in 1993 the populations were being decimated by poaching and trade.
The current estimates suggest that there are less than 2000 of them left, mainly in India. Excessive wood removal for fires has led to prey loss and they are increasingly coming into conflict with humans as they attack domestic animals—and sometimes people. In retaliation, tigers are often killed by angry villagers.
The WWF is doing extensive work mainly in villages that are located in and around wildlife corridors and have supported them with innovative solutions like bio-gas technology in order to save tiger forests, improve community health and mitigate climate change impacts. I was fortunate to see their efforts in close quarters on a walk through the wildlife corridor that connects the tiger parks of Kanha and Pench.
With the help of their sister organization TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, they are working to stop trafficking of tigers by funding anti-poaching patrols. They also support intelligence networks in strategic locations to stop tiger parts and products from being channeled into black markets in Asia.
Asia is still home to some of the most beautiful creatures in the world. There are hundreds of wildlife sanctuaries and National parks which give shelter to the wide range of wild and Endangered Wild Animals. Let’s hope that the various efforts made not only by the bigger organizations like WWF but even the more local community projects and awareness programs make it a better place for these amazing creatures.