<%-- Page Title--%> Environment <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 137 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 9, 2004

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Humans and wildlife A growing conflict

Enayetullah Khan

Global environment today is characterized by the conflict between wildlife and humans. It is possible to reverse the situation only when we would be able to share this planet with other species. There are 10 to 30 million species who have equal rights to survive on this earth. Some species like elephants need a lot of space. But the ever-expanding agriculture and urbanisation have had devastating impacts on their habitats. At the same time today can we afford to set aside large landscapes for them!

If we leave no space for wildlife and encroach further into their homeland, the conflict will only increase. People grow crops right inside the forests and these crops are not only nutritious to animals but also easily available. So instead of eating forest plants they eat the more palatable crops, which provide more protein and minerals. Humans are unhappy with this and often use force to drive some of the animals such as elephants away. The elephants in turn become aggressive and start injuring people.

In the old days local people knew how to deal with wild animals but today the old rules have broken down. With the present rise in the human population and the subsequent increase of urbanisation one has to think whether Homo sapiens have a prospect of survival in this planet.

According to UN median population estimates the human population will reach 9 billion by 2050 and the earth's biodiversity rich countries in the tropics will have to cater to this ever growing population. This means more conversion of wildland into cropland. Today the earth is losing one species every year and if the recent predictions for population and climate change come true, we will lose more tropical forests, oceans will be without large predators, many more species will go extinct.

Humans are not only responsible for the disappearance of most life forms and very many ecological units, but are responsible for many of the catastrophes that we are experiencing today including climate change. How long will humans be able to manipulate and abuse the biosphere!

With the increase of human population and with our the present attitude towards wildlife issues, by 2050 a considerable number of species will go extinct and many ecosystems will either disappear or be severely reduced. This in turn will threaten the survival of humans as a species.

Habitat conversion, exploitation and wild resources, and the impacts of invasive and alien species will exert major influences on smaller countries like ours. But this will ensure continuing global biodiversity loss. Other risks are uncertainties and our inability and ignorance and difficulty in assessing the rate of extinction. We even don't know how to reverse the situation. The current prediction is that about 3.5% (about 350 species) of world's bird fauna will go extinct by 2050. In Bangladesh we may well imagine how much we are going to lose. By now more than 50% of our 1600 vertebrate fauna (fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) are facing different categories of threats to extinction.

In Bangladesh we have failed to explore our marine resources and others are using our share. We depend heavily on our terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems to support 140 million people. So inland fauna is under heavy pressure.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations notes that at least an extra 120 million ha of agricultural land will still be needed in developing countries by 2030. Large-scale conversion has already been made and is on the increase in the country. Moreover, our land is getting fragmented every day. This has a serious impact on both wild flora and fauna. If this trend continues words like JUNGLE and WILDLIFE will be the things of the past in country in less than 25 years.

If we look at our marine ecosystems, particularly at the coasts, it has a wide range of anthropogenic and other pressures, including siltation and eutrophication from land runoff, coastal development, conversion for aquaculture, and impacts of climate change. The country's only coral island, St Martin's Island, has already been heavily degraded.

Global freshwater biodiversity has declined faster than either terrestrial or marine biodiversity over the past 30 years. This is all the more true in our country. In addition to population pressures, pollution, siltation, canalisation, water abstraction, dam construction, overfishing, and introduced species have played a role in the process of this decline. Such changes in our ecosystem may invite catastrophes like abrupt climate shifts.

We must also think why we have deviated from our original practice of living in harmony with nature. It's because we no longer live in conditions natural for us. Today the human species is living in captivity. So they are behaving unnaturally. Other wild animals also behave unnaturally in captive condition. Without any wild flora and fauna the whole country some day might become a human zoo.

The author is the Chief Editor UNB, Dhaka Courier and the Chairman, Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh.



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