By: Saikat Kumar Basu
Lethbridge AB Canada
The situations of forest, wildlife and biodiversity conservation across South and Southeast Asia are deplorable and reaching alarming heights due to a number of natural as well as anthropogenic factors. It is indeed sad to note that we are losing the majestic tigers in the Chitwan National Park in Nepal due to over population, mismanagement and shortage of suitable prey bases. Similar conditions of Asiatic lions in the Gir Sanctuary in western India in the state of Gujarat is being neglected for decades due to political reasons of having the unique lion habitat tag for the state, jeopardizing future security of a vulnerable lion population that is getting alarmingly over crowded in the Gir. We are possibly waiting for natural catastrophes or disease outbreaks in these wild populations prior to deciding to take any credible actions to protect and conserve these rare endangered species before it is too late.
The death of a helpless tiger by marauding group of tribal hunters in neighboring West Bengal (WB) stare in India is sending a very depressive and negative image of the state towards the global communities. Violence has been the lifeblood of the state. The lack of credibility of the forest department, its unskilled and untrained ground staff and more importantly incapable, irresponsible and useless higher authorities whose only responsibility is enjoying fat government salary, perks and a hefty pension post retirement is disturbing! The obnoxious behavior of the chief wildlife warden of WB who never once visited the site where the tiger presence was being investigated speaks volume of the level of under preparedness, lack of initiates and enthusiasm; and the trend of the higher authorities under the support of their political masters to fire guns keeping the barrel on the shoulder of low level staff members is atrocious and open to stir criticism.
The role of WB state government is highly questionable, too; in the sense that no arrest or proper investigation of the brutal gang murder of a helpless endangered species is being seriously conducted in the name of voter or tribal appeasement. The prejudiced socio-cultural custom of the so-called tribal communities of the land to kill helpless wildlife in the name of tradition and custom is pathetic and totally unacceptable. People who committed this heinous crime should be tried under the law of the land. Failing to do this will only demonstrate the poor human and animal rights legacy of the state. If foreign investors do not think WB to be an investment destination, they have reasons for that. Violence only begets violence, and sweeping problems under the carpet only makes them come back time and again, haunting those who like keeping their eyes shut to violence and injustice ! Appeasement politics, political gimmicks, misguided and short-term political planning, allowing such unacceptable and destructive activities in the forested areas across various countries is absolutely alarming. Blind superstition and cultural traditions with no connection to truth and factual figures are also turning out to be detrimental for forest, wildlife and biodiversity conservation across South and Southeast Asia.
Poaching pressures in large parts of Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives are on the rise. The poaching and hunting pressures on the local wildlife and biodiversity in Bangladesh across all its premier wildlife habitats and ecosystems, including the Sunderbans, are extremely pathetic. A new threat to wild herds of Asiatic elephants across Southeast Asia, including Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and Malaysia, has been reaching monumental proportions for harvesting elephant skins that have huge demands in neighboring China for use in traditional medicinal practices as well as in manufacturing natural body jewellery. Furthermore, various species and sub species of fishes (freshwater, brackish water, estuarine and marine), amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders and newts), reptiles (turtles, tortoises, fresh water crocodiles, salt water crocodiles, gharials, snakes, geckos and other lizards), birds (resident and migratory), and endangered and critically endangered mammalian species, like elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards, smaller wild cats, deer and antelopes, wild goats and sheep, bears, primates (apes and monkeys), pangolins, etc. are being virtually pushed towards extinction due to over harvesting, trafficking, poaching and illegal export to wildlife and wildlife body parts market operating in China and designated pockets of Southeast Asia.
Some of the factors contributing towards such widespread crisis are over population of humans and encroachment of the forested areas by poor rural inhabitants, illegal immigrants and insurgents for their daily sustenance; over and above the local tribals, forest fringe residents and forest dwellers and remote rural residents. This over arching mounting pressures on the local forest and on major and minor forest resources for food, fodder, forage, fertilizer and fuel is destroying natural forests. Furthermore, natural and anthropogenic unrestricted and unmonitored forest fires, poaching, wildlife and human trafficking in forest belts with poor economic developments and destabilized political systems is further deteriorating forest habitats indiscriminately across South and Southeast Asia. The high demand for forest and wildlife products, live wildlife as well as wildlife body parts from China is putting unprecedented anthropogenic pressures on local wildlife, biodiversity and forest conservation efforts across all the countries in South and Southeast Asia.
Extreme poverty, political disability, lack of economic empowerment and economic opportunities, lack of education, awareness and health care, lack of proper monitoring and surveillance as well as lack of credible buildup of intelligence network and rise of insurgent activities across South and Southeast Asia are some of the mostly important anthropogenic factors that are threatening the forests, wildlife and biodiversity of the region as well as the long term socio-economic, socio-cultural and socio-ecological future of the region. Lack of coordination and cooperation between adjacent countries are helping criminals, poachers, wildlife, drug and human traffickers to move freely through dense forests and challenging topography separating international borders. Unless a comprehensive plan is designed soon, the region could face serious irreparable damages to the local forests, wildlife and biodiversity in the not so distant future.