The Western Ghats, situated on the western end of the Deccan Plateau in India, is one of the world’s glaring biodiversity hotspots. Though, the Western Ghats is under 6% of the land area of India, it contributes about 30% of regional biodiversity. It is self-explanatory why this region is being regarded as one of the most important biodiversity hotspots of the world. Moreover, it harbours several endangered species like the Purple frog, Rufous-breasted laughingthrush, Salim Ali’s fruit bat and Malabar large spotted civet and endemic species such as Nilgiri Wood-pigeon, Malabar Grey hornbill, shortwings and Nilgiri tahr, making the conservation of this region inevitable.
India’s population is growing rapidly with no sign of a healthy (i.e. downward) trend. This growth has led to constant invasion of human settlements into the kingdom of plants and animals (as is the general case in the rest of the world experiencing population growth). As a result, we happened to disturb the natural wildlife and their habitat and often the wild animals take their turn too and get into conflict with humans, by entering into human settlements for food, water and sometimes as for shelter as well. Earlier, such intrusion was being encountered rarely, then occasionally, and now it is being seen frequently. There is a reason too: the wild animals first learn to enjoy the resources in human habitations and then develop it as a habit. This often leads to the loss of human life in several areas. The affected people then take their revenge on wildlife and this becomes a vicious cycle. Consequently, human-wildlife conflict is increasing in areas closer to Indian forests in general and in the vicinity of Western Ghats in particular.
On the one hand, considering the burgeoning population, we cannot completely escape from human development in the region for one reason or the other (including industrialization). But at the same time, we cannot compromise conservation of wildlife as well. Here we encounter the conflicting needs: development vs conservation. Of course, the two needs do not favor each other. So, at some point, we happen to have some compromises. The issue is that on which side should the trajectory of compromises have to be biased; ‘Development or Conservation’. The persisting dilemma for policymakers face is that they find it hard to figure out which side to favor. A good example is the debate between Dr. Kasturirangan and Dr. Madav Gadhgil.
The aforesaid issue is just the tip of the iceberg: we have to face several such issues in the offing. The policy makers would have a tough time in deciding their inclination in the ‘Development or Conservation’ dilemma. In my opinion, it depends on the context/scenario; if industrialization is indeed inevitable in the vicinity of wildlife habitats for the common good, then the concerned authorities must ensure to lessen the pollution to the levels that might not affect surrounding wildlife in the long-run. They can then allow such ‘development’ (with proper appraisals and annual research). But we have to admit that this is often unlikely to turn into a reality. If Industrial pollution affects wildlife and when the pollution levels are a sure threat to the natural fauna/flora, then they must favor ‘conservation’ here.
The upshot from this dilemma is that we cannot take risks hereafter in the Western Ghats (in the name of industrialization), one of the world’s hottest biodiversity hotspots to preserve both its biodiversity and its pride.
Natarajan Singaravelan is a zoologist and field naturalist from Bommanampalayam Bharathiyar University,Tamil Nadu, India and is the editor of the intriguing e-book on Indian wildlife titled ‘Rare Animals of India’.