“It’s very difficult to get people to understand what is coming. The impending doom can be averted, it’s coming to us, and climate change is a major factor. Do you remember which flood or cyclone or hurricane struck four years ago? You don’t, because it has been overrun by the latest tragedies we face,” said Ravi Singh, Secretary General, and CEO, WWF (World Wildlife Fund) India at the launch of Wildlife India @ 50: Saving the Wild, Securing the Future (Rupa Books, Rs 995), at WWF India auditorium, Lodhi Estate on Friday. The book has been edited by Manoj Kumar Misra, former Indian Forest Service officer at WWF India.
Also present at the launch were former chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India, Dr MK Ranjitsinh, and various writers who contributed to the publication, including veteran journalist Usha Rai, conservationist Hemendra Singh Panwar, and writer Prerna Bindra. They read excerpts from the book and recounted stories of their career in conservation and wildlife preservation.
Ranjitsinh, who contributed to the drafting of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, said that he considered environmental conservationists to be true patriots. “There are conservationists who have laid down their lives for the cause over the years. They are shaheed (martyr),” he said.
Rai, who began working as a journalist in the ’60s, recalled how she only had the option to cover the environment at her first job because all other beats were taken up by male colleagues in the newsroom. She narrated her famed story about an elephant rider named Subedar Ali who was attacked by a tiger at Corbett National Park in 1984.
“Ali was taken to AIIMS and underwent nine operations over nine months. Returning to the jungle was not easy. But an award from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and kudos from far and near, helped him,” she said.
Panwar, former founder director of Kanha Tiger Preserve, director of Project Tiger, and founder director of the Wildlife Institute of India, said that the years 1967 to 1969 were “epochal” years in the conservation story of India, mentioning how this book was being launched on the fiftieth anniversary of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. He recounted episodes of his career when the Kanha National Park was expanded keeping into consideration the lives and rehabilitation of locals.
Bindra, who was a board member and standing committee member at the National Board for
Wildlife (NBWL) from 2010 to 2013, said that her time at the organisation was disappointing and the process of environmental clearances for industrial projects was flawed.
“Proposals were shoved in at the eleventh hour. The accompanying information was incomplete or shoddy. Even the Environment Impact Assessment reports and maps were usually not provided,” she said. “The NBWL can be a force for good and effect change. We were able to stop some destructive projects, like the missile firing testing system in the Tillanchong Wildlife Sanctuary,” she said.
Misra, who presently convenes Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan for the rejuvenation of India’s rivers, emphasised that the book was not meant for an academic audience but for the general public due to its storytelling bent. He later said that he focused on ensuring that the 35 writers in the compilation were diverse – by region, age, and gender – because he wanted to present a wildlife story that was holistically India in every sense.
“I wanted it to be a good mix of vintage and fresh. These writers are pioneers, professionals, and knowledgeable non-professionals,” he said, adding, “I asked the writers to share their lives, to write about their own wildlife conservation story.”
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