No matter how big or how small an organism is, we are all interconnected by the web of life. In this web, wildlife has an extremely crucial role to play. Wildlife is the key to a perfectly functioning ecosystem which has been achieved after constant and relentless evolution of our planet for millions of years. World Wildlife Day is like that alarm bell which tells us to not forget about the role of wildlife in this world.
On 20 December 2013, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 3 March, the international day for the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as World Wildlife Day. This was done to celebrate and raise awareness about the world’s wild flora and fauna. In keeping with the tradition of celebrating a particular theme every year, the theme for World Wildlife Day 2022 is ‘Recovering Key Species for Ecosystem Restoration’.
But why is there a need to recover? That is because since 1970, populations of mammals, birds, fishes, amphibians and reptiles have dropped unimaginably by an average of 70%. At the same time, natural environments are constantly degraded and annihilated. These two trends have a causal relationship in the sense that degradation and loss of habitat can lead to population decline and eventually, extinctions. Of course it is important to focus on individual species conservation because of the violence and cruelty few specific species have experienced such as tigers, rhinos, pangolins, elephants and bears, due to the demand for body parts of these animals.
On the other hand, it also should not weaken our focus on protecting, conserving and possibly preserving overall habitats and their ecosystems. We cannot exclude forests and oceans when we talk about recovering key species of these ecosystems. But we should also bring to light habitats which do not get as much attention, such as wetlands. We are losing wetlands at an alarming rate but these primordial habitats, despite covering only 6% of the Earth’s surface, provide immense ecological value and ecosystem services. They are a major source of freshwater, sequester greenhouse gases and support biodiversity. When we talk about safeguarding key wetlands, we end up saving the associated wildlife which are dependent on these ecosystems.
Wildlife SOS participates in the annual Asian Waterbird Census to keep a count of the bird population and monitor the overall health of important wetlands in Kashmir. For this year, we surveyed the Hokersar wetland, which is the largest bird reserve in the Kashmir Valley. Designated as a conservation reserve, one can find aquatic plants (known as hydrophytes), in addition to water caltrop and common reed (Phragmites australis), which is a wetland grass growing up to 20ft tall, in this wetland.
It is also an important habitat for medium and long-distance migratory shorebirds, cranes, ducks and geese, and Hokersar is said to have reported 500,000 of them. Some of the species which can be spotted here in large numbers during winters include the northern pintail, common pochard, greylag goose, mallard, ruddy shellduck and red-crested pochard. Hence, there is no doubt that conservation of Hokersar will automatically lead to the protection of this biodiversity.
In this context, few regions should definitely receive more focus than others, solely due to the human pressures they face, such as the Leatherback sea turtles (IUCN status Vulnerable) in Great Nicobar island’s Galathea Bay, gharials (IUCN status Critically Endangered) in the Ken Gharial Sanctuary of Madhya Pradesh and Royal Bengal tigers (IUCN status Endangered) in West Bengal’s Sundarban mangroves, to name a few.
There is no doubt about the fact that a thriving ecosystem will support a flourishing biodiversity, and with it the key species of that particular habitat will also prosper. Therefore, it is imperative to note that habitat protection and conservation is the most crucial step to recovering key species for the purpose of ecosystem restoration. For us, at Wildlife SOS, everyday is World Wildlife Day but we would ideally want everyone to feel that way because only by inculcating an innate respect for wildlife, can we protect and save them.