When India underwent a national lockdown due to the pandemic, frequent sightings of wild animals in urban areas led to the misleading assumption that our natural biodiversity had begun to reclaim lost ground and getting restored due to reduced human interference
When India underwent a national lockdown due to the pandemic, frequent sightings of wild animals in urban areas led to the misleading assumption that our natural biodiversity had begun to reclaim lost ground and getting restored due to reduced human interference. The reality, however, is markedly the opposite, says Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Chairperson, HCL Technologies and Founder, The Habitats Trust.
"The pandemic induced closure catapulted the natural world into a free fall as it ended up reducing vigilance efforts by the government. TRAFFIC India's report noted an alarming 151 per cent increase in poaching during the pandemic. It has not only endangered efforts towards controlling wildlife trafficking, but also imperiled conservation efforts across the country who work in tandem with the government. This also underlines the need for conservation organisations to be supported in these unprecedented times," Nadar Malhotra, who has topped the list of India's wealthiest women, told IANSlife in an email interview.
A passionate conservationist, Nadar Malhotra, and her husband, set up The Habitats Trust (THT) in 2018 based on the realisation that there are innumerable organisations and individuals doing phenomenal work in wildlife conservation but lack the financial support.
Sharing more about her passion and work in conservation, she wrote: "I discovered a deep connection with animals as a young girl and that went on to develop into a lifelong passion for wildlife and conservation. Even while taking family vacations, our choice of destinations is invariably dictated by our love for nature. We love going to wildlife safaris, exploring and learning about new habitats. There are many lessons we stand to learn from nature, especially considering how much we have separated ourselves from the natural world. There are invaluable lessons that one can learn by simply observing the natural rhythms of the planet and what is equally important is the realisation that we are all connected to and part of the same biodiversity. And therefore, as humans, who're on the very top of the so-called food chain, our responsibility to this biodiversity is also the greatest."
On the setting up of The Habitats Trust, she said: "We realised that while there was extensive research and conservation attention for charismatic species such as the tigers, rhinoceroses and elephants, there remained an urgent need to support conservation for species and habitats that were not as well-known, such as, for example, the pygmy hog or the Indian pangolin. Because its also important to realise that if the pygmy hog or the pangolin go extinct, it affects the natural food chain which in turn detrimentally affects every other species both above and below.
"Over the last three years, The Habitats Trust has supported conservation efforts for India's natural habitats and its indigenous species. We instituted an annual awards programme - 'THT Grants' that funds conservation organisations who are protecting critical habitats or conserving lesser known species. We have in this regard, partnered with organisations focused on saving endangered frogs in the Western Ghats, the critically endangered pangolin, to those focused on reviving remote mountainous habitats, neglected grasslands marine ecosystems, and many more."
The Habitats Trust also partnered with filmmakers, 'The Gaia People' to create an produce a TV series 'On the Brink', to drive awareness around species that are now literally 'On the Brink' through an unprecedented portrayal of India's natural world exploring species and habitats rarely seen on Indian television.
The Trust on Monday announced its 2020 Grants, which are an annual initiative aimed at securing India's biodiversity by bolstering efforts of conservationists on-ground by bridging the resource gap and providing critical support to make their work more sustainable. It gave out grants amounting to Rs 84 lakhs across four categories awarded to protectors of India's natural habitats and indigenous species.
The winners are: For the Lesser-known Species Grant (Rs 15 lakhs), the recipient is Bat Conservation India Trust, working towards conservation of the critically endangered Kolar leaf-nosed bat. Bats are a species that have been falsely assumed to carry and transmit the coronavirus. Under the Lesser-known Habitats Grant (Rs 20 lakhs), SEEDS Trust will work on restoring the degraded Ayyalur forests in the Eastern Ghats, a region that is biologically rich and diverse but is also a neglected ecosystem.
Strategic Partnership Grant (Rs 25 lakhs) has been given to The Corbett Foundation that works on conserving the critically Great Indian Bustard in the grasslands of the Rann of Kutch. Only around 100 of these beautiful birds remain worldwide. Conservation Hero Grant (Rs 10 lakh) this year has been awarded to M Suraj, who aims to work on anti-snare walks in Chhattisgarh's Protected Areas to curb hunting and poaching.
What's the need of the hour in conservation?
"Covid-19 definitely caught us on the wrong foot with regards to conservation and, in a way, is getting us to re-think our relationship with nature. I believe this is a crucial time to support organisations and individuals who work tirelessly and often invisibly in the conservation domain. Our grant recipients bring so much to table - they are among the best people and organisations working on biodiversity conservation - specifically those that are otherwise neglected and in need of conservation attention. Each of them is working towards tackling an important conservation issue, and we are excited to see how their work contributes to conservation of various species and habitats."
She added: "The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the need that natural ecosystem and wildlife conservation is urgent, especially in India. With only 2.5% of the world's landmass, India is home to 8% of the world's recorded biodiversity which is under serious threat due to indiscriminate deforestation, poaching and lack of institutional support to strengthen conservationists and organisations and help them drive meaningful and significant impact."
Concluding, Nadar Malhotra encouraged Indians to acquaint themselves with the country's natural ecosystems and biodiversity. "India is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, known not just for it's mega mammals but innumerable species. With travel and lockdown restrictions lifting, and our sanctuaries now opening up to human visitation, I would urge all of us to get more familiar with our natural ecosystems and the countless species that depend on them. As human beings it is our duty to both, raise awareness for and support conservation efforts that protect our natural biodiversity," she signed off.