The drastic changes in environmental conditions would surely lead to extinction of a large number of species in a short course of time. Extinction of species is not something new. It has been happening since species came into being. The extinction of old species paves way for new species, a process called Speciation. The new species occupies the niche which earlier belonged to the old species. Normally, species go extinct at a low rate called background extinction. Biologists estimate that the background extinction rate is one to five species per million species per year. The extinction rates up and above the background extinction rates are called mass extinctions. In such events, 25% to 70% of the existing species are wiped out in a geological period lasting up to 5 million years. As of now, earth’s species have witnessed five mass extinctions.
The balance between the process of speciation and extinction would determine the biodiversity of the earth. The existence of millions of species today indicates that the speciation rate has been ahead of the extinction rate.
All species live in a habitat. Habitat provides the species all requirements of life, like food, shelter, water, mate, etc. Habitat is part of the ecosystem. In ecosystem, the species perform specific functions which help in the proper functioning of the ecosystem. In absence of the species, the functioning of the ecosystem is affected.
Human beings are just one species among billions of species created by nature. Humans, though, have altered the ecosystem created by nature as per their needs. This changing of the major characteristics of the ecosystem has proven harmful in the long run. Man has changed aquatic ecosystems to terrestrial, terrestrial to aquatic, grasslands to croplands and forests. Fragile mountain ecosystems have been made more fragile by changing the land use pattern in the name of developmental projects.
Every species has the right to live, as humans have. Unfortunately, this works only for humans in practice. In some cases, even humans who are powerless are denied this right. Have you wondered why some animals are called game animals? Man has been hunting down these animals for sport. Sadistic man derives pleasure from killing animals. In earlier days, hunting of game animals used to be the favourite sport among the aristocracy.
A lot of video clips showing cruelty to animals keep coming up. Animals are seen as being teased, injured and even killed by humans. One such horrific incident happened in Kerala where a pregnant elephant was fed firecrackers, which burst in her mouth. The elephant wasn’t able to eat and starved to death. This is one example of extreme cruelty.
News of man-animal confrontation has become routine now. Animals, in turn, have been mauling humans. Only a few days back a heart-wrenching clip of a kid who was killed by a leopard at her home in Ompora, Budgam, was seen everywhere on the internet. The district administration declared the leopard as a man-eater/rogue, rightly so. Wildlife officials were assigned the job of eliminating the rogue leopard. Another such incident took place a few days after it, wherein a bear seriously injured a nomadic man. The sightings of wild animals in and around human habitations and has increased tremendously and people of these areas live in constant fear.
Man-wildlife conflict occurs when wild animals pose a direct and recurrent threat to the life or livelihood of people. Man-wildlife conflict has increased very much now. Let’s pause for a while and try to figure out why these man-wildlife confrontations have increased. Ways have to be devised which would lead to the coexistence of all species. Humans and wildlife have been living together for millennia. Some of the factors which have led to increase in man-wildlife conflicts are:
1. Habitat destruction and degradation: Habitat provides besides other things food for the organisms to sustain and for the organisms to perform their ecological function. The destruction of the habitat would mean that wild animals would have to move out of their habitats in search of food. In case of habitat degradation, the prey species are lesser in number and are not able to sustain the top predators. So the predators move into human habitations in search of prey, which has become deficient in the natural habitat due to its degradation.
2. Introduction of alien/non-native species: The native species have evolved in their habitat over a long period of time and have well adapted there. There are checks to keep the population of the species from increasing beyond the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. There are top carnivores which limit their population growth, while in case of the top carnivores it is availability of food (prey) which keeps their population in check. The non-native species don’t have natural predators in the new area, which results in their population boom and they often become invasive species, driving out the native ones from the area. These invasive species could move into human habitations owing to tremendous increase in their number, leading to man-animal conflicts.
3. Competition: Domestic livestock are now grazing in the natural habitats of wildlife species. These domestic animals overgraze these areas and leave very less grass for the wild grazers. These domestic animals thus outcompete the wild animals in grazing. The lesser food for the wild grazers ultimately leads to lesser population of these animals, which are the prey for the carnivores. Hence carnivores do not find enough food in their habitats and roam into human residential areas.
4. Encroachment: Man has moved into the territory of the wild animals. Many a time, it is not the wild animals who have come into human habitations but humans who have set up their homes in their territory. Besides, human encroachments into animal habitats increase the chances of zoonotic diseases, which may cause pandemics like Covid-19.
5. Habitat fragmentation: Roads, rail-lines, electric lines, etc, pass through the habitat of wild animals, breaking it into smaller parts. Wild animals find it difficult to roam through these parts. Many times these wild animals get run over by vehicles, resulting in their injury or death. Wild animals at times also get agitated by human presence and start attacking them.
The writer is a Lecturer of EVS at GDC Kupwara. [email protected]