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Humanity at crossroads as species bow out at alarming rate

Humanity at crossroads as species bow out at alarming rate

“A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening, little by little the vast orchestra of life, the chorus of the natural world, is in the process of being quietened.

There has been a massive decrease in the density and diversity of key vocal creatures, both large and small. The sense of desolation extends beyond mere silence.” says Bernie Krause, who recorded the sounds of over 15,000 species in the last 60 years. Today, the animal and insect voices of the natural world are slowly extinguishing, never to be heard again and such is the rate of species extinction and the deterioration of pristine habitat that half of Krause's recordings are now part of archives. These are impossible to repeat because the habitats no longer exist or because they have been deeply compromised by human noise. His tapes are possibly the only record of the original diversity of life in these places.

The world has failed to achieve even one of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets signed by 170 countries through the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), says the latest Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 (GBO-5) report released on Tuesday. The report says that one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, and the world’s efforts to curb biodiversity loss aren’t going anywhere. “Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying,” says Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the CBD. "Things have to change. If we take action, the right action – as the report proposes – we can transition to a sustainable planet," says Mrema.

While conservation actions have rescued between 11 and 25 bird and mammal species from extinction over the past decade, the CBD report says, far more have been declared extinct. And, extinction is just the tip of the iceberg. Common species are becoming rarer and sliding into more vulnerable risk categories on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. Last week, the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) 2020 Living Planet Report also estimated that globally, populations of nearly 21,000 species of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians plummeted by an average of 68 percent between 1970 and 2016.

The ghariyal, found only in the Indian subcontinent ndia is a party to CBD, whose signatories have to present national reports to the Conference of Parties (CoP) on a regular basis – to report on measures taken domestically to conserve biodiversity. India submitted its sixth report last year. According to the report, “India is on track to meet most of its national biodiversity targets but the list of animal species from the country under the international ‘red list’ in the critically endangered, endangered and threatened categories has been increasing over the years.” The increase in the Red list species indicates severe stress on biodiversity and wild habitats.

In the 2018 report, India had a total of 683 animal species in the IUCN's critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable categories, as compared to 646 species in 2014 when the fifth national report was submitted, and 413 in these categories in 2009 when the fourth national report was submitted. The report lists habitat fragmentation, overexploitation of resources; shrinking genetic diversity; declining forest resource base; climate change and desertification; impact of development projects; and the impact of pollution as threats to genetic diversity.

The GBO-5, comes out at a crucial time when, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is being forced to rethink its development objectives and its relationship with nature. The bright spot is that the Botanical Survey of India and the Zoological survey of India have discovered new species in the past four years. About 3,655 floral and 1,693 faunal species have been added according to the CBD report 2018 since 2014. The report also states that India’s marine ecosystems host nearly 20,444 faunal species communities. Of these, 1,180 species are threatened and listed for immediate conservation.

The endangered species (birds and animals) in conservation priority include Asian Elephants, Asian wild buffalo, Asiatic lion, Brow-antlered deer or Sangai, Dugong, Bengal florican, Edible Nest swiftlet, Gangetic river dolphin, Great Indian bustard, Hangul, Indian rhino or Great one-horned rhinoceros, Jerdon’s course, Malabar civet, Marine turtles, Nicobar megapode, Niligiri tahr, snow leopard, swamp deer and vultures. The protected Grey Francolins shown in a poor habitat Project Tiger, Project Rhino and Project Crocodile were pioneering Indian initiatives that revived critically endangered species.

In addition to that India has also launched Project Snow Leopard to protect the Snow leopard and its habitat in the upper Himalayas and Project Dolphin for the conservation of the Gangetic Dolphins. For the conservation of birds, India has proposed a 10-year (2020-2030) plan, to help in the conservation of birds and their habitats in the country. At least 1,317 bird species have been recorded in India against around 10,000 species found worldwide. Of the 1,317 species, 72 are endemic to the country. According to the IUCN, "… 100 species of Indian birds are “threatened.” Of these, 17 are critically endangered, 20 endangered, and 63 as vulnerable.” India is also a part of the Central Asian Flyway for migratory birds. It has drafted a ‘National Action Plan for conservation of Migratory Birds along the Central Asian Flyway’ to conserve birds and their habitat along the route.

Addressing the 13th COP on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) at Gandhinagar, in February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined that India has been championing climate action based on values of conservation, sustainable lifestyle and green development model. "My government firmly believes in the path of sustainable development. We are ensuring that development happens without harming the environment," Modi said. India is one of 17 mega-biodiverse countries in the world. With only 2.4 percent of the earth’s land area, it accounts for 7-8 percent of the world’s recorded species.

Home to 96,000 species of animals, 47,000 species of plants and nearly half the world’s aquatic plants, India’s management of its natural resources is crucial to protecting global biodiversity.