- India’s Protected Area network covers around 5 percent of the country’s area.
- But a large percentage of India’s wildlife lives outside protected boundaries.
- This overlap in spaces gives rise to situations spanning between coexistence and conflict between wildlife and humans.
When we think of wildlife, we might picture tigers moving among tall sal trees, crocodiles swimming in rivers, elephants gathered around waterholes. We often only think of pristine forests; we think of national parks or sanctuaries, legally known as Protected Areas (PA). But wildlife doesn’t restrict itself to administrative and political boundaries.
India is home to a diverse set of habitats – rainforests, deserts, mangroves, grasslands, etc. – sheltering even various wildlife species. It roughly accounts for 7-8 percent of the world’s recorded species. The country’s PA network comprising Wildlife Sanctuaries, National Parks, Conservation Reserves, Community Reserves, and Marine Protected Areas, occupies just 5.02 percent of the total area. Consequently, a large percentage of India’s wildlife live outside protected boundaries. They inhabit or move through farms, gardens, lakes, coasts, and so on in villages, towns, and cities.
For example, approximately 80 percent of India’s Asian elephant range falls outside the country’s protected area network. Farmers share spaces with rare toads, sarus cranes, and numerous other species. One of the world’s most endangered primates, the golden langur clings to unprotected areas in rural Assam while the hills of its rapidly urbanising city, Guwahati, is the abode for leopards. India’s educational campuses provide shelter to animals big and small. Gharial, a critically endangered animal, traverses between India and Nepal through unprotected riverine habitats. Animals from PAs are found to occupy fringes and also step out of the protected boundaries. Recently, tigers have been found to adopt a thermal power station as home due to natural and induced reasons.
This overlap in spaces gives rise to situations spanning between coexistence and conflict between wildlife and humans. As natural habitats are increasingly under threat due to human pressure, space and resources struggle. To safeguard lives – both animal and human – requires awareness and acknowledgment of wildlife beyond protected areas.
Read all stories from our Beyond Protected Areas series.
Banner image: Indian wolves inhabit unprotected grasslands in the outskirts of Pune city. Photo by Ramaswamy Ramachandran.