Long renowned for its wild places and remarkably rich natural history, the Indian subcontinent remains one of the world's greatest wildlife destinations. A valuable current record of India and Nepal's wild places and wilderness areas is presented in Wild India. The late Guy Mountfort was an authority on all aspects of species preservation. His discerning account of the ecological and human history of the region, which focuses on the pressures facing India's irreplaceable natural heritage, has been updated by leading Indian naturalist and conservationist Hashim Tyabji.
Wild India surveys the great diversity of plant and animal life from the remote Karakoram range in Ladakh to the rainforests of the Western Ghats, and from the deserts of the far west of Rajasthan to the jungles and swamps of Assam and Manipur. Here, among numerous other species, are the magnificent Kashmir Stag and the shy Musk Deer, the rare Lion tailed Macaque and the Nilgiri Tahr, and the Asiatic Lion - in its last bastion in the Gir Forest - along with the Golden Leaf Monkey, the one horned Rhinoceros, and herds of elephant and buffalo.
Guy Mountfort helped to created national parks and wildlife reserves in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. As a founder of the World Wide Fund For Nature, he led the international campaign to save the tiger from extinction. Gerald Cubitt, one of the world's leading natural history photographers, has provided the majority of the photographs for Wild India.
About the Author
Gerald Cubitt is one of the world's leading natural history photographers and his outstanding portrayals of the wildlife and wilderness areas of Asia and Africa have been justly acclaimed. Specially commissioned to provide the photographs for Wild India, he and his wife, Janet, travelled widely throughout India to capture the stunning images seen in this book.
The last Guy Mountfort was a founder of the World Wide Fund For Nature and was a leader in launching a worldwide campaign to save the tiger from extinction. An authority on species preservation, he was involved in the creation of many wildlife reserves and national parks in Asia. He died in 2003 aged 97.
Hashim Tyabji is a leading Indian naturalist and conservationist and includes tiger conservation and ornithology among his special interests. He has updated Guy Mountfort's text and written a new preface that reflects the conservation issues facing the subcontinent today.
Back of the Book
From lush rainforests in the south to the ice-caps of the Himalayas in the north, the varied landscapes of the Indian subcontinent are home to a great diversity of wildlife. Wild India includes:
§ Exciting mammals such as tiger, elephant and leopard, along with a host of other equally fascinating species of animals, birds, insects and plants.
§ A guide to different types of landscape and each of India's primary habitats and the flora and fauna they support, alongside an examination of contemporary conservation issues.
§ More than 200 spectacular colour photographs that celebrate the natural heritage of India and Nepal.
Forewordby HRH The Duke of Edinburgh KT, KG
Anyone concerned with the conservation of nature tends to be obsessed with the disasters. There are plenty of conservation disaster stories in India but, as this splendid book demonstrates so beautifully, there are many success stories and much of her superb natural heritage still survives.
I am sure that Wild India will give a great deal of pleasure for its own sake but if ever a case had to be made for the conservation of the world's natural heritage, it will be found most persuasively in the pictures and text of this book.
It is now almost ten years since the last edition of this book was published, and several more since Guy Mountfort wrote his original introduction, which is retained in this new edition (with selected updates given in square brackets within to look back over the intervening period, particularly in view of the great changes currently underway in India in terms of economic growth and development. One aspect clearly stands out: the shocking transformation in the fortunes of India's most iconic animal, the tiger. A decade ago this was an animal whose future had apparently been secured by one of the world's most celebrated and successful conservation programmes in the shape of Project Tiger. Today the tiger in India (and, indeed, elsewhere) stands on the very brink of extinction in the wild, the victim of habitat destruction, poaching and incompetence in terms of conservation management.
A nationwide census conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India and provisionally declared at the end of May 2007 was predictably gloomy. Across Northern and Central India, the tiger population has fallen by over 60% since 2002, and the message is loud and clear- the tiger has disappeared from vast swathes of its former habitat, which meanwhile has been degraded and diminished by intensifying human pressure. The only meaningful numbers of tigers appear to be confined to tiger reserves and a few other protected areas, and the long term viability of these populations is under threat as habitat degradation isolates them from other populations. For the first time since Project Tiger was launched in 1973, poaching seems to be taking a deadlier toll of tigers than habitat loss, and we are confronted by the once unthinkable prospect of losing the tiger ahead of its forest home. As we reflect upon this unfolding tragedy, a stark question presents itself, "If India cannot safeguard the tiger- the national animal and the main focus of its conservation efforts - what indeed can it hope to protect?"
Despite this disaster, it would be wrong to conclude that Indian wildlife conservation overall has lurched back thirty years. In many important respects the gains of the past three decades have become so deeply entrenched as to be virtually ineradicable. Chief amongst these is the widespread acceptance of the need for the conservation of wildlife and wilderness as an important priority of government. This is one of Indira Gandhi's most enduring legacies and was formulated at a time when most politicians across the developing world - including India - dismissed the whole conservation game as an unaffordable and eccentric luxury promoted by dilettante Westerners. In concrete terms this led to the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA) of 1972, the formidable legal guarantor of India's biodiversity and the progenitor of Project Tiger (which by a 2006 amendment has been replaced by a potentially more effective National Tiger Conservation Authority).
Indeed, it is under the overarching shelter of the WLPA that the fascinating and diverse flora and fauna that constitute wild India have survived and enjoyed a tenuous prosperity in one of the world's most overcrowded countries. On the negative side however, the differences between 1972 and 2007 are profoundly sobering. Foremost is the doubling of the population from just over 500 million to over a billion in a country less than half the size of the United States of America- making India one of the most crowded places on land and resources- especially in a poor country - are self-evident.
Most significantly, the rural poor, who have hitherto borne the brunt of the cost of conservation - essentially subsidizing the national effort by surrendering lands and resources for parks and protected areas while suffering loss of crops, livestock and on occasion, their own lives, to wildlife- have found increasing political voice to secure their own well-being. As India's economy roars ahead, the aspirations of the forest-dwelling segment of the population rise in line with those of everyone else. And the present generation will no longer acquiesce to the bare subsistence levels that were the lot of their fathers. Aggravating the problems of land and resource hunger are significant failures of land use and agrarian policies that have locked people into a cycle of poverty, along with massive infrastructure projects that displace tens of thousands of people, either crowding them into decreasing parcels of open land or forcing them to illegally occupy forest land. It is, of course, an untenable situation. Tragically, the corrective measure, in the shape of the Tribal Forest Rights Act of 2006 (which gives forest dwellers far-reaching rights over forest lands and resources), is so extreme as to represent a grave long-term threat to the very survival of the Indian wilderness. One of its central premises is that traditional forest dwellers use forest resources sustainable, and have always been the best guardians of the forest. Perhaps this was true at a time when small human population inhabited great swathes of forest, but with the situation now completely reversed it is a hopelessly unrealistic expectation.
For years wildlife managers in India and Nepal struggled to forge a formula of development that would reconcile the needs of wildlife with those of neighbouring human populations. This is the eco-development model that Guy Mountfort mentions in his original introduction. But over the years it has become abundantly clear that humans and wildlife-especially tigers - compete too closely for identical resources of land and protein to ever co-exist in a densely populated landscape. And with a population that is increasingly active politically any Indian government - invariably constructed as a delicate coalition - needs to tread cautiously. Political will is therefore considerably compromised.
The situation is not totally bleak, however. While the era of top-down conservation is clearly over, the possibility has opened for a more durable and participatory conservation policy, to be fashioned from harnessing the great economic potential of wildlife tourism to the purpose of local development. India is well placed to tap this resource, with a large and prosperous middle class providing the bulk of visitors to the country's national parks. Together with International visitors, this constituency represents a rapidly growing potential asset for conservation, for as soon as wildlife becomes more valuable alive than dead, its long-term security is assured. Meanwhile, urgent action is required to save the tiger and the wilderness over which it presides. If India is to save the day it must not only enforce protection and prosecution, but also find the resolve to set aside enough of its land area exclusively for wildlife. Nothing else will suffice.
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