A WWF report published this year examines some glaring gaps in the knowledge of the threatened big cat, and highlights that lack of basic data could be hampering its conservation.
Globally, monitored population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians have declined an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016, according to World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Living Planet Report 2020. The report is a reminder of the destruction on the planet as humanity’s footprint expands into once-wild places. “We’re exacerbating climate change and increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19. We cannot shield humanity from the impacts of environmental destruction. It’s time to restore our broken relationship with nature for the benefit of species and people alike,” says Carter Roberts, CEO of WWF-US.
Wildlife conservation is the need of the hour and organisations have been making special efforts to curb, protect and conserve species. For instance, in July this year, India’s 14 tiger reserves received Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CA|TS) accreditation, a globally accepted conservation tool that sets best practice and standards to manage tigers and encourage assessments to benchmark progress.
CA|TS is being implemented across 125 sites in seven tiger range countries. India has the biggest number with 94 sites, of which assessment was completed for 20 tiger reserves this year.
The accreditation has been granted to 14 reserves in India: Manas, Kaziranga, and Orang (Assam); Sundarbans (West Bengal); Valmiki (Bihar); Dudhwa (Uttar Pradesh); Panna, Kanha, Satpuda and Pench (Madhya Pradesh); Anamalai and Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu); Parambikulam (Kerala) and Bandipur (Karnataka).
The Global Tiger Forum (GTF), an international NGO working on tiger conservation, and WWF-India are the two implementing partners of the National Tiger Conservation Authority for CA|TS assessment in India. The site assessments were carried out using CA|TS-LOG, the software that helps in visualising data and tracking site-based tiger conservation. India is the first country to roll this out nationally.
But trafficking and unsustainable trade in wildlife commodities have caused a record decline in wildlife species. Besides elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, tiger bone, bear bile, owls in India are victims of superstitious beliefs and rituals. About 16 species of owls are commonly trafficked in the illegal wildlife trade in India.
“Poaching and trafficking of owls have become a lucrative illicit trade resting on the wings of superstition. Lack of awareness about owls in the illegal wildlife trade and the limited capacity of enforcement agencies to identify them have made this illegal activity difficult to detect or curb,” says Saket Badola, head of Traffic’s India office, an organisation that works to ensure that wildlife trade is not a threat to the conservation of nature.
Of the approximately 250 owl species found worldwide, about 36 are found in India. All owl species in India are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, making poaching, trade, or any other form of exploitation a punishable offence.
Despite the legal restrictions, hundreds of birds are sacrificed for mystic rituals and practices linked with superstition, totems, and taboos and this usually peaks around the festival of Diwali. Especially in smaller towns and villages, the use of owl parts such as the skull, feathers, ear tufts, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat, and bones are prescribed for rituals. “But owls play a crucial role in balancing our ecosystem and as friends of farmers, keeping rodents in check,” says Ravi Singh, secretary-general and CEO of WWF-India, “Illegal trade needs to be negated through concerted action, strong citizen support and public awareness.”
Meanwhile, a majority of snow leopard habitat, spanning over 12 range countries, remains under-researched. A WWF report published this year examines some glaring gaps in the knowledge of the threatened big cat, and highlights that lack of basic data could be hampering its conservation.
Globally, there could be as few as 4,000 snow leopards left in Asia’s high mountains and this remaining population faces continued and emerging threats. Increased habitat loss and degradation, poaching and conflict with communities have contributed to a decline in their numbers. “The snow leopard lives in rugged terrain, so research poses significant logistical challenges. Serious efforts to learn more about the species began in the 1970s but the snow leopard’s remote and vast range and elusive nature means that most of the habitat is still unexplored and we don’t have a full picture of the status. There is a need to establish baselines and indicators for both snow leopards and their prey species so that range states can better assess future changes and evaluate the impact of conservation actions,” says Rishi Kumar Sharma, WWF Global Snow Leopard Lead, who is the lead author of the report.