- The State of Wildlife and Protected Areas in Maharashtra is a compilation of 20 years of news reports on protected areas of India.
- The book also has analytical papers on media coverage of protected areas, Marathi print media coverage of conservation and wildlife, species-rich areas outside protected areas and tribal rights and community conserved areas.
- The origins of the book are from a newsletter started by Pune-based NGO Kalpavriksh in 1994. The book highlights the importance of media in showcasing the problems of conservation, explains Asad R. Rahmani in his book review.
Conservation of nature, natural resources and wildlife is a mission. To accomplish this mission, good information, data and people’s support are needed. Indian media, both print and digital, is playing a very important role in highlighting the problems of conservation.
Kalpavriksh, a respected NGO based in Pune, has been compiling much of this news and bringing out Joint Protected Area Management Update, a newsletter that features news from protected areas of India, published in English media. , The newsletter was released six times a year since 1994.
In 1999, it was changed to Protected Area Update “in response to the kind of news that was being received and also based on feedback from readers” and has accumulated a mine of information on how protected areas, wildlife and forest issues are reported during the last 25 years.
The rich compilation of news and information is now part of a book, The State of Wildlife and Protected Areas in Maharashtra: News and Information from the Protected Area Update 1996-2015. The book is edited by Pankaj Sekhsaria, a devoted conservationist, humanist, social activist, traveller and a fine writer who has been the editor of Protected Area Update from the beginning. He has done a commendable service by first bringing out The State of Wildlife in North-East India: 1996-2011, and now this wonderful book.
The cover shows, through symbols, the problems and issues of our protected areas: windmills, gender injustice, delay in social justice, time running out for forest-dependent communities, wildlife, threatened species such as the wild buffalo, and a railway line with animal bones as sleepers, symbolizing the threats of infrastructure developments inside PAs. All the symbols surround the map of Maharashtra. It could be the map of India because the problems are the same throughout the country.
The book is divided into three unequal parts. The first section covers protected area-wise news items, from Bhimashankar to Yawal wildlife sanctuaries. Tiger reserves are taken separately but form a part of this section. This news section covers 150 pages out of total 235 pages.
It will be difficult for me to mention interesting news, and how they have changed or not changed in many cases as the issues remain unresolved in the last 25 years, for all the PAs. But I must add I find it exciting to read as I have visited or worked in some areas. To give you a flavour, I will quote some news headlines: Blame leopard deaths on liquor mafia, DNA news of April 10, 2008 about Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai; Two new species of spiders discovered at Mumbai’s Aarey Milk Colony, The Times of India, July 29, 2019; and, Rs. 800 crore plan to save flamingo habitat, The Hindu, November 26, 2011.
The second section Analysis and Perspective is perhaps the most important part of the book for researchers and thinkers. It starts with a scholarly article Media Reporting on Protected Areas in Maharashtra: A Thematic Analysis, by Trupthi Narayan and Pankaj Sekhsaria. As the authors rightly say in the introduction “Very few systematic analyses of conservation reporting in India have been carried out to understand media portrayal of wildlife issues and their impacts.”
This paper fulfills the lacunae, albeit only for Maharashtra. We need more similar analyses of other states and of different subjects as a model is already present in the form of this paper. In future such analyses, we have to include non-English newspapers and internet news which now dominates in the life of net-savvy citizens.
Analysing 269 news items from Maharashtra, Trupthi and Sekhsaria in their paper found out that out of 33 PAs in the state, some PAs get greater media attention while most others are ignored by the press, tourists and policy-makers. For me, this is not surprising as I have always been advocating the cause of neglected species, neglected habitats and neglected protected areas. Displacement of local people from PAs also emerged as a common theme. The impact of development projects was also reported very often, particularly in tiger reserves.
Overall the paper is very interesting and I would urge readers to read it. My only complaint is that the captions and index of illustrations are too small to read – I had to use my magnifying glass!
The other four papers in this section cover thematic subjects that add value to this book. All are good but I liked Reshma Jathar’s paper “Coverage of Conservation and Wildlife in the Marathi Print Media: A Practitioner’s Perspective’. She is a well-known Marathi journalist and writes regularly on wildlife and environmental issues.
Another rising scientist-conservationist is Aparna Watve of Pune who did her Ph.D. on the plant ecology of rocky plateaus of Western Maharashtra. Her paper highlights the importance of neglected habitats that do not fall in any protected area or tiger reserves but hold habitat-restricted endemic species. Like the famous Kaas plateau, there are many such wonderlands in Maharashtra as Watve’s work has highlighted.
The articles on tribal rights and tiger reserves by Shiba Desor, and community conserved areas by Neena Pathak-Broome et al. are also worth reading. Such articles broaden our vision and perspective that wildlife conservation is just not species protection but the protection of the whole environment that includes tribal, rivers, forests, agriculture, and traditional rights over land and resources.
The last section is actually a copy of the Protected Area Update No. 140, August 2019. It is like any other PA Update newsletter except the font size is small to fit the book format.
The back cover has three symbols: an owl indicating wisdom, tiger pugmark indicating Indians resolve to protect wildlife whatever may be the cost, and water tap tied around a tree symbolizing the connection between water (life) and forests. What divine symbols in this lovely book.
Asad Rahmani was the former director of the Bombay Natural History Society, and is a well-known ecological scientist.
Banner image: Long-tailed shrike at Bhimashankar, Maharashtra. Photo by Sajeev Thomas.