Aug 28, 2020
In an ever-expanding population of over one billion, humans fight for space, and invariably, it’s the wildlife space that is encroached upon. This article throws light on a unique ecosystem, namely grasslands, tropical scrub forest, and stunted semi-evergreen forests, which are facing multiple threats due to land-use change by humans. These forest types are often termed wastelands and are neglected by both policymakers and public citizens, which makes them vulnerable to pressure, from human populations. However, new scientific studies throw light on these forest types as crucial links for people and wildlife to live in harmony.
Grasslands support a variety of wildlife species. There can be up to 350 species or more comprising of mammals and birds, depending on the type of vegetation. One can spot the Indian grey wolf, the striped hyena, the Bengal fox, Indian gazelle or Chinkara, Wild Cats, Rabbits, Indian Pangolin, Porcupine, wild boar, leopard and many other species, yet to be discovered. A dynamic balance exists in wildlife species, in these borderline forests, depending on the season of the year.
These precious grasslands and scrub forests provide habitat for wildlife, in addition to carbon and water storage and watershed protection in improving the water table. (The earth's land area covered by grasslands vary between 20 and 40 percent, yet, only a small percentage, less than 10% is protected due to political and economic reasons.) Threats to natural grasslands, as well as the wildlife, include unsustainable agricultural practices, farming, grazing, and invasive species, illegal hunting, poaching, and climate change.
The shared spaces between human beings and wildlife in such a delicately balanced ecosystem imply that the conservation of all species of wildlife in these sensitive areas has to be socially inclusive. Easier said than done, but strategies need to be worked out, without any bias, such that there’s a high degree of coexistence between Man and wildlife. As you browse through this article, you can understand that this harmonious relationship, indeed works and coexistence is a reality. Thanks to the wisdom of the locals and their deep understanding of wildlife.
Chakan, a small town in India, in Pune District, Maharashtra State is gaining importance as an industrial hub of India. Chakan is about 30 kilometres from the center of Pune, on National Highway 50 between Pune and Nasik cities. It is also on the roads that connect the Mumbai-Pune Highway to the Pune-Nasik Highway. It is about 150 kilometres from Mumbai.
Chakan is now home to a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) promoted by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation. (MIDC). It has since evolved into a major automobile hub. It hosts automobile production plants for the Volkswagen Group, Daimler Benz, Bajaj Auto, Land Rover, General Electric, Hyundai, Mahindra & Mahindra, etc. Over 750 large and small industries, including a number of automobile component manufacturers, are based in the area.
Shiroli Chandus village, located 6 km north of Chakan had been identified as the probable site for the proposed Pune International Airport, but due to the protests by the villagers & uneven topography, the site has been shifted to Purandar.
One interesting fact concerning the area in and around Chakan is that in recent times the forest types are affected by the landscape change due to semi urbanization and agriculture. Human imprint is clearly visible due to the accelerated or unbridled development in terms of habitat loss due to expanding human activities. The land use is changing to housing, Industry, and agriculture. Tens of thousands of acres of grasslands and the scrub forest is giving way to onion and maize cultivation. Industry and housing are literally encroaching on wildlife habitats. The Government has no doubt earmarked thousands of acres towards housing, Industry, and airports are trying to find a balance between sustaining both human development and biodiversity.
Why the need to highlight Chakan! Well, we have been to Chakan every five years for the past two decades, enjoying the hospitality of our Uncle, Late Antony Rasquinha and now that of Ashley Rasquinha.
Chakan is a classic example of a case study, involving a harmonious relationship between beast and man. The topography generally involves scrub forest, grasslands, low lying hills, valleys, rivulets, ponds, dams, and agriculture. The region receives moderate rainfall and the landscape is dotted with farmers’ fields.
How to address Human Animal Conflict
From what we have observed over the years, the habitat around Chakan is subjected to both high human impact zones where the industry is located and low impact zones where villagers border the wilderness zone and grassland habitats. In the past two decades due to housing all along the banks of rivers, thickets which were the favourite haunt of the lesser-known mammals have resulted in the disappearance of the jungle cat. As more and more land is transformed into commercial crops, it has impacted the carrying capacity of the ecosystem and has resulted in habitat degradation and disturbance of wildlife.
One time tested method accepted to address this problem, is to conserve separate areas as a Reserve for wildlife and develop other areas for human habitation and Industrialization. Yet another model, involves the merger of the two areas by developing small pockets of conducive habitats for wildlife within the newly developed zone. However, this model has been a total disaster because its implementation is not scientifically done. The success of this model rests heavily on first understanding the ecological behaviour of wildlife.
Farmers to the rescue of wildlife
Farmers living in these borderline areas, make it a point to leave behind on purpose, their old livestock like bullocks/buffalos/sheep to graze in the transitional or fringe areas of the forest. This has been an age-old practice in the surrounding villages. These old livestock provides prey for leopards and other mammals. The understanding has gone a long way in mitigating human-wildlife conflict because leopards and other carnivores do not come and steal healthy livestock from farmers.
In recent years, a number of scientific studies have revealed that grasslands and scrub forests contain multitudes of wildlife species that are uniquely adapted to live in; only such specialized habitats. Any man-made change can result in the disappearance of many of these species. Another very important aspect that is often overlooked is that these forest types are easy targets for reforestation activities. This will have serious undesirable consequences for grasslands and scrub forests. We urge the Ministry of Environment to conduct more scientific research and use better technology that will help distinguish each habitat before they are converted to Special Economic Zones. The development comes at a huge cost. However, in certain instances it is inevitable, nor are we against development, but it needs to be properly planned and sustainable. Over the years we have witnessed the impact of climate change and global warming because of the destruction of the complex sensitive ecosystems, which are vanishing year by year. The bigger threat is the indirect impact of urbanization on those landscapes. A proper scientific study will help wildlife, coexist with man.
Ashley (Joint MD, Electropneumatics & Hydraulics Pvt Ltd) and his son Aarav are stewards of the environment and have done tremendous work in the conservation of biodiversity. The wildlife pictures are photographed both by Ash and Aarav, within a 10 km radius from their villa, which includes both day and night safari.