There is increasing reluctance on the part of industrialists to undertake afforestation as it is perceived to be a drain on their resources. This is a pity and a wasted opportunity. Not only is it essential for socio-economic reasons, but also to achieve carbon neutrality in their schemes and projects.
The Indian government has set up a Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) as a National Advisory Council for technical assistance and evaluation of compensatory afforestation activities.
It is advisable that rather than monitoring and giving financial assistance to such projects, afforestation should be made attractive and lucrative for those industries so that they are positively inclined to implement such schemes.
Several industries have shown interest in setting up zoos to boost afforestation but they appear unaware of the high maintenance costs and other ethical issues involved in the running of a zoo.
Many environmentalists now see zoos housing animals in cloistered surroundings or cages as little better than a prison. They consider this is cruelty to the animals as well as damaging to the environment.
Animals are kept under severe stress in cages and pens, leading to high mortality rates. Most zoos across the world are attracting fewer tourists now-a-days. A menagerie of wild animals trapped in cages is looked upon with pity instead of amusement. A visit to a zoo leaves the impression of cruelty towards these hapless animals.
Increasingly, many animal rights activists are extremely vocal and seek to protect wildlife from harm and mistreatment.
A zoo may have served its purpose at one point in time but today it has lost its relevance. The Alipore Zoo in Kolkata is in total disarray and has more than 70 per cent of its cages empty. Similarly, zoos in Manali, Mumbai, Vadodara, Bangaluru, and Hyderabad are all struggling.
There has been a rapid shift globally to close down zoos in favour of eco-parks. An eco-park is a well-planned and spacious area where animals can live in a natural environment. They are not enclosed in cages or in highly restricted areas.
In fact, they are so well adapted to these surroundings that they even multiply freely without any artificial means. This is something that most wild animals cannot do in captivity.
A barren rocky hillock, neither fit for any industry, farming or residential purposes could become an ideal site for an eco-park. Its minimum area is anywhere over 200 acres or more. It can also house a variety of species many of which are endangered, primarily for the sake of trying to save them from extinction.
Eco-parks are well designed and provide tourists with a panoramic view of wildlife, in a planned setting where the animals scarcely feel as though they are in restricted or confined surroundings. The National Park is thus left undisturbed and it is the Eco- Park that the tourists enjoy.
Despite eco-parks being a great tourist attraction, very few exist in India. Meanwhile, overseas, eco-parks reap profits from tourism that in turn can be used to not only preserve wildlife sanctuaries but also become a valuable source of income for sustainability.
An eco-park can provide huge climate benefits as we tackle global warming. Bushes and trees can be grown with a plan for landscaping the areas by planting the right trees to suit birds and animals, and with a design to create a carbon sink.
Industries could grow trees to offset their carbon emissions and also gain lucratively in the process. Also, industries could also adopt these parks for afforestation.
Eco-parks serve to preserve and foster wild animals especially those that are endangered, and need special care lest they become extinct. They also serve to help animals breed in greater numbers. For example, a leopard may give birth to two or four cubs but the chance of the cub’s survival in the wild is less than one out of four.
In an eco-park, they breed more freely, they are maintained in insular areas and under remote supervision which results in much better survival rates. In the present scenario where many animals are on the verge of extinction, such drastic measures are a must to ensure the survival of endangered species.
Most members of the wild cat family such as the tiger, cheetah, civet cat, and other smaller wild cats are close to extinction. The Indian cheetah which once was so common all over the subcontinent is now extinct.
As with the Felidae family, the Indian bear (both Himalayan and peninsular), the Indian ungulates, the Indian wolf, the rhino and the hippo, the gibbon, the great Indian bustard, the Indian vulture, and almost all members of the pheasant family have either been made extinct or are at great risk of becoming extinct in the near future.
At the same time, there are several water species such as the blind freshwater dolphin (once a beautiful sight in the river Ganges), the gharial, the sea otter, and several sea species of whales, dolphins, dugongs, sea turtles, and so on which are in danger.
There are also many species which are not endangered today but need protection like the nilgai, the wild boar, and the peacock due to heavy deforestation and poaching. Eco-parks act like a bulwark protecting wildlife, enabling them to breed, and then letting the adolescent animals into other national parks in a planned way.
For the tiger, for example, an eco-park of 10sq km would suffice. Adult females are reared with one or two males and as they breed, the cubs are looked after by the females and monitored by the park authorities from a distance to ensure they are healthy, well provided for, and are not victims of other carnivores or other male tigers.
There is little or no direct contact with humans except remote monitoring, food provisions – live animals for hunting, medical supervision, and creating a natural ecosystem.
Many animals rearing activities in eco-parks, like those in the Scandinavian Eco Park and Resort, have been so successful that they have been able to send surplus animals to other eco-parks or even back into the wild. They also have a gene pool which will be of immense help in preserving highly endangered species.
Singapore’s River Themed Wildlife Park, Japan’s Amphibian Park, the Madras Snake Park, and Australia’s World Famous Marine Crocodile Park are biological storehouses.
Many of these parks also take up the onerous task of tending to old, abused, and decrepit circus animals and other such unfortunate creatures who have been victims of man’s cruelty and avarice – Kartick Satyanarayan’s Bear Rescue Park in New Delhi is a classic example.
These parks could serve as part of veterinary colleges and research centres, and contribute to biomedicine in areas such as the investigation of snake venom, and developing antidotes, or for the study of animal senses such as a centre devoted to the study of Heat Sensors in Snakes or the Infrasound Sensors of Bats. This information can be useful to help us understand them better.
Eco-parks are evolving institutions in respect to be conversation of biological diversity. From past functions in recreation as menageries and in education as living museums, they are coming to discharge these functions, plus other meaningful ones in research and conservation, as internationally oriented conservation centres.
The zoo is now being transformed into a modern, interactive eco-park that aims to raise awareness of environmental issues and the importance of protecting animals’ natural habitats.
Let all of us do a kind act to fight for animal rights and give them freedom from zoos. Animals are also a part of the ecosystem which we all belong to.
J P Gupta is chairman of the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change’s Expert Appraisal Committee (Industry-II)
THE STATESMAN (INDIA)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK