India has long conservation history which started from ancient times. Though this long conservation history helped us to save many of our wild animals, plants and ecosystems through the ages, the last 120 years were considerably very important. Industrial revolution & population explosion has impacted our environment and natural ecosystems on a great scale and we lost many species during this period. Various conservation oriented work has also be done during last 120 years which helped us to revive the lost ecosystems and also helped to stop the human induced species extinction.
1904: Kaziranga visit by Mary Curzon, the wife of Lord Curzon, the then viceroy of India
The history of conservation was started in Kaziranga when Mary Curzon, the wife of then viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, has paid a visit to this area. The Kaziranga was quite famous for the population of Indian One Horned Rhinoceros but to her surprise the Lady Curzon does not find any during her visit. This has made her to think about the conservation of rhinos. She immediately urged Lord Curzon to take effective steps so that the population of the rhinos can recover. Her effort and effective action taken by Lord Curzon led to recover the population of rhinos and establishment of Kaziranga National Park, a highest degree of protection to the wild land.
1905: Conservation of Asiatic lions in Gir
Asiatic Lion is a subspecies of African Lion and they were once distributed in larger parts of Asia, North Africa and perhaps a part of Europe. Their area had been shrunk and the small population were confined to a small area in the state of Gujarat in Western India at the end of the 19th century. This area known as Gir, was under the jurisdiction of Nawab of Junagarh. Worried about the dwindling population of the lion in Gir due to large scale hunting & poaching Nawab of Junagarh has taken a strong decision to stop the hunting of the lions. He completely banned all types of hunting of lions in Gir and refused any hunting permit. In the year 1905 there were only 60-70 lions left in the wild, then after this ban, in the year 1936 when first census was conducted by Nawab has given the figure of 287 lions in Gir landscape. After independence when this state merged with India, the government taken effective steps to give the area highest degree of protection so that lion could survive in their natural habitat.
1935: First National park of India has been declared
This year is remarkable in the history of wildlife conservation in India, as India’s first National Park ‘Hailey National Park’ was declared in this year. Major part of Kumaon hills and some part of Garhwal hills in present day Uttarakhand was given protection to conserve the unique wildlife of the region. The park was named after the then Governor of United Province, (Uttarakhand was part of United Province during that time) Sir Malcom Hailey, to recognize his work for the wildlife conservation and local community. The park was later renamed after the river Ramaganga, which flows through the park. The name again changed in year 1956 as Corbett National Park, after Jim Corbett who has done lots of conservation work in this area. He was known to kill many man-eating tigers and leopard and simultaneously have created awareness on wildlife conservation which ultimately led to a positive attitude of local people towards wildlife.
1952: First Indian Board for wildlife (IBWL) was constituted
Indian Board for Wildlife was created to advise the central government on various nature & wildlife conservation related issues. After independence it was felt by the conservation community that due to uncontrolled hunting of wildlife and large scale deforestation during British period many species are on the verge of extinction and if immediate attention is not paid, they will go forever. The need of a committee with representative from all stakeholders in wildlife conservation was strongly felt and then in 1952 such of the committee was formed. The role of the committee was advisory and they advise the central government on various matters related with wildlife conservation. Once the committee was constituted, many state governments took initiative and formed a similar kind of committee which can advise state government on wildlife conservation.
The IBWL under the section 5 of Wildlife Protection Act was replaced by a statutory board renamed as National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).
The committee is chaired by Prime Minister while the minister of environment and forests is vice chairman.
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1957: First big Mammal reintroduction project within India
At the inaugural session, Indian Board for wildlife in year 1952 has discussed about the conservation of Asiatic Lions in Gir forests. They were worried about the last surviving population of Asiatic Lion, which was on high risk of extinction. They have discussed the issue at in the meeting and came out with the conclusion that a second home is urgently needed for them.
The experts have agreed upon the name of the forests situated south from Varanasi in Vindhyan ranges of Central Indian Highlands. The forest was declared as a wildlife sanctuary and named Chandrprabha, after the river flows through it. Few individuals from Gir forests then shifted to Chandraprabha, initially they did well and their population have multiplied but due to lack of strong laws and patrolling, they fell to poachers when they crossed the border towards a bigger forested area in Bihar state.
Though this project failed but it was a great step taken by the policy makers which further helped to take decision on matters related with similar issues.
1963-65: First wildlife research in India was conducted by Dr. George Schaller in Kanha National Park
Dr. George Schaller, a world renowned wildlife biologist who has done many pioneer studies on endangered animals was invited by Indian government to do the similar study on tigers. He was shifted to Kanha National Park in a forest bungalow with his family for the study. He made a hide in Kanha meadow to observe wildlife at close quarter. His study was the first scientific study on wildlife in India. He has published a book ‘the Deer and the Tiger’ on his findings during the research work, which is still a ready reference for those who are doing research on tigers in central India.
1969: WWF India office started
World Wide Fund for Nature, is an international non-profit organization working in the field of wildlife conservation and climate change. Being one of the largest organization in the world in their respective field, the need was felt to have an office in India also. The Prime Minister of India Smt. Indira Gandhi has taken the initiative and an office of WWF was opened in Delhi on Lodhi Road. The space for the office was donated by Pirojsha Godrej, an Indian businessman.
1972: The Wildlife Protection Act is enacted, providing legal provisions for wildlife conservation and protection
In the year 1969 India hosted the 10th General Assembly of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) the issues related with the conservation of wildlife was discussed at large. As an outcome, our Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi has formed a task force to work on a dedicated law for wildlife conservation in India. The law was formulated and was enforced from 1972. The wildlife protection act 1972 was later amended several times but the foundation stone laid by Smt. Indira Gandhi helped to protect our keystone species. The act is one of the strongest act for wildlife protection in the world.
1973: Launch of Project Tiger, a major conservation effort aimed at protecting the Bengal tiger
Project tiger, one of the largest wildlife conservation project was launched in India on first April 1973. Initially only nine tiger reserves were declared but now the number has reached to more than 53. This was the one of the most ambitious project started by our conservation minded Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi.
A census of tiger was conducted in late sixties which showed a disappointing figure of 1800 individuals left in the wild. The Prime Minister acted swiftly and a draft report was prepared by Mr. Kailash Sankhala, who has been made the first director of Project Tiger. As per the latest census India holds around 3682, which is more than 75% of the global population. We could achieve this figure because of the project tiger only.
1985: Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park and Keoladeo Ghana National Park was awarded World Heritage Site of UNESCO
A remarkable year, as three of our National Parks got the international recognition in this year. UNESCO has awarded Kaziranga, Manas and Keoladeo Ghana National Park as the natural world heritage sites of importance. Later few more protected areas has also been added and at present the list has eight natural world heritage site and there are many more in the tentative list.
2005: Indian Rhino Vision 2020 Established
Indian one horned rhinos are one of the highly endangered species of rhinos, they are found only in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Indian state of Assam is one of the stronghold of this species. Kaziranga and Manas National Parks have suitable habitat to increase their population but there were cases of poaching where rhinos shot by poachers for their horn. Indian Rhino vision 2020 is an ambitious program established to increase the rhino population to 3000 in seven protected areas of Assam by the year 2020. These seven protected areas are, Kaziranga, Pobitora, Orang, Manas, Laokhowa, Burachapori and dibru Saikhowa. The target population of rhinos was almost achieved and the project was closed in April 2021.
2009: Project Snow leopard was launched
Snow leopard is a keystone species of high Himalayas. Being a top predator of high altitude Trans Himalayan landscape, their survival is essential for the health of the ecosystem. Worried about the dwindling population of Snow Leopard, government of India has launched Project Snow leopard in 2009. The aim of the project is to safeguard and conserve India’s unique natural heritage of high altitude wildlife populations and their habitats by promoting conservation through participatory policies and actions. The project covered all the high altitude Himalayan region of India. You too can help us conserve this majestic wild cat by contributing to our motto of “conservation through tourism”, book snow leopard tour in India.
2008: First all India tiger census by Camera trap conducted
In the early years of 21st century we have lost all tigers from two of our reserves. This local extinction has been caused by large scale poaching by organized poaching gangs. Reacting to the grievous situation the central government have formed a task force to work on the cause and remedial measures. An all India tiger estimation to know the situation and performance of other tiger reserves was suggested and then Wildlife Institute of India and ministry of environment, forest and climate change joins hands to conduct a this exercise. This was decided to do it by camera trap method so that the data obtained is more correct as compared to the earlier pugmark method. The census came out with a shocking no. of 1411 tigers left in all our tiger reserves, much lesser than the no. of tigers when project tiger was started. The government acted swiftly and several measures have been implemented and decided to conduct this tiger estimation exercise to know how the reserves are doing.
2023: Tiger estimation report out for the year 2022
On the occasion of Global Tiger Day, our prime minister Mr. Narendra Modi have launched the ‘Status of tigers, co-predators and prey in India-2022’. The good news for the conservationists, scientists and tiger lovers that India has achieved a remarkable tiger figure within the span of 16 years. The tiger numbers according to new report is 3682, which accounts for more than 75% of tigers in the world. This is the increase of 2271 tigers from the first camera trap census which was conducted in the year 2006.
The above list of conservation milestone is very brief and there are so many more achievement on conservation in India which we will discuss in our coming blogs.