" Trees are Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Biodiversity, the Spice of Life

Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary and Cub magazines says: "What is alarming is that the loss of one plant in a wilderness such as Borivli's national park could easily result in the extinction of up to 30 animals that may depend on the plant for their survival."

With news of genome projects coming out of our ears, some people mistakenly believe that biologists and scientists may be able to resurrect ancient species in laboratories and that this therefore spells good news for wildlife conservation. This is at best a mistaken notion. Nothing can take away from the importance of protecting wild habitats without which, even if someone were to restore a Bengal tiger or cheetah or gaur today from a test tube, it would be condemned to live a lonely and possibly sterile prisoner in a world gone wrong.

By some estimates a wildlife holocaust is already unfolding and extinctions may already be taking place at a rate over 10,000 times the natural rate of extinctions prevalent on Earth before man. At this rate in short order we could lose almost 25 per cent of the 1.4 million species of plants and animals known to science. Some scientists believe that the loss of biodiversity is a greater threat even than thermonuclear war. Apart from the loss of wild species, the issue also revolves around our food security as we depend, for instance, on just three species -- wheat, rice and maize for over half the world's food! Without their wild relatives, disease could wipe out our food stock before we have time to react. The result would be mass starvation.

Chemical Warfare
Dhauli Ganga Valley
Last of Asiatic Lions
Batty About Bhimgad


Book Reviews
Ayurvedic Healing
The Tiger is a Gent

Forgotten Rainforests

What is alarming is that the loss of one plant in a wilderness such as Borivli's national park could easily result in the extinction of up to 30 animals that may depend on the plant for their survival. For all our concern, however, no one even knows how many plant and animal species inhabit the Earth (between 10 and 80 million?). After more than a century of cataloguing, most new species are now likely to be found only in the remotest places such as the rainforests, deserts and the ocean depths. Many extinctions are therefore taking place without our knowledge. By some estimates, deforestation causes the extinction of around 140 species per day in rainforests alone. Brazil with 6.3 per cent of the Earth's land area possesses around 22 per cent of all flowering plants, yet it is estimated that 13,820 sq. km. of Brazilian forests are lost each year. India, with 2.2 per cent of the Earth's land area, harbours around six per cent of all known flowering plants. But mines such as Singrauli, dams such as the Narmada and habitat degradation in the name of the Green Revolution and by World Bank sponsored social forestry schemes lead to the annual degradation of perhaps over 10,000 sq. km. of natural habitats every year today.

Apart from the dinosaurs, the dodo is perhaps the best known creature to have become extinct. It was over-hunted. Islands are particularly vulnerable to extinction. Of the 94 birds known to have become extinct since 1600, 85 have been island species. The cheetah is now extinct in India, though it was common in the age of the Moghuls. The Gir lion is on the brink of extinction, as is the Indian elephant. In Manas, Assam, more than 19 animal species are threatened with extinction.

Each species has a specific role to play in its chosen niche. In Kuala Lumpur, for instance, limestone mining in caves badly damaged the roosting sites and feeding grounds of a bat, Eonycteris spelaea. What was not realised then, however, was that the bats pollinated the durian tree, one of Southeast Asia's most valued fruits. Now the $120 million crop is at risk. The World Bank routinely finances projects that destroy the biodiversity of nations such as a road, BR-364, which cut through Brazil's Amazon forest in Rondonia uprooting tribals and destroying the fabric of the rain forest. In India the World Bank is currently financing scores of projects that will take a terrible toll of our biodiversity. Mangrove forests, sandy beaches that attract millions of nesting turtles and some of the most fragile ecosystems of the seaward Eastern Ghats will be devastated. No one can predict how many species will be pushed towards extinction as a result of this road.

Normally when one species vanishes, another gradually takes its place. The domino effect of mass-extinctions could affect the biological viability of the planet. Though extinction has been a part of nature's scheme from time immemorial, man has rendered the globe's self-defence mechanisms against extinction impotent by speeding up the process of extinction.

By causing extinctions and by altering natural habitats so radically and so fast we are affecting the very course of evolution... literally eating into the spice of life. This can only bode ill for our own chances of survival, which depend on the ability of nature's self-defence mechanisms to come to our assistance in times of crisis.

Long before our current orgy of destruction was set into motion, one of the world's greatest thinkers left behind a thought that is particularly apt for our times:
"Species generally become rare before they become extinct - to feel no surprise at the rarity of a species and yet to marvel greatly when the species ceases to exist, is much the same as to feel no surprise at sickness, but, when the sick man dies, to wonder and to suspect that he dies by some deed of violence."

~ Charles Darwin.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.