Conservation challenges of wet-tropical nature reserves in north-east India

Velho, Nandini (2015) Conservation challenges of wet-tropical nature reserves in north-east India. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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[Extract from Introduction] Protected areas in the tropics account for a quarter of the world's nature reserves and collectively support over half of Earth's terrestrial biodiversity (Nelson and Chomitz, 2011). As such, they are enormously important for the future of native flora and fauna.

Despite the large extent of tropical protected areas, there is substantial overlap between human-use areas (for instance, for extractive and agricultural purposes) and landscapes vital to the conservation of globally significant biodiversity (Araujo and Rahbek, 2007). Human activities in such areas of overlap have more often than not resulted in deleterious impacts on populations of wild flora and fauna. Importantly, massive deforestation in and around the buffers of protected areas (DeFries et al., 2005), coupled with the overhunting of wildlife across the tropics, have been major causes for drastic population declines of numerous species. In some cases, over-hunting has even led to outright local extirpations (Milner- Gulland and Bennett, 2003; Bennett et al., 2006).

In such situations, protected areas are often considered the cornerstone of conservation strategies (Hockings, 2003) and the first line of defense to contain poaching and other forms of encroachment (Bruner et al., 2001; Nelson and Chomitz, 2011). Protected areas are also known to reduce deforestation rates in the surrounding and wider landscape (Gaveau et al., 2009), improve biodiversity conservation and community well-being (Levrington et al., 2010). However, one of the greatest challenges protected areas face, and one that undermines their potential for effective wildlife conservation, is continuing anthropogenic pressure arising from habitat loss, fragmentation (DeFries et al., 2005), and hunting (Wright, 2005; Laurance et al., 2012). Yet one of the broad themes when evaluating management effectiveness of protected areas is to understand whether the conservation values of protected areas are safeguarded (Hockings et al., 2006). But as protected areas continue to suffer degradation, and adjacent unprotected areas are converted to agriculture and other human uses (Kramer et al., 1997), a crucial knowledge gap is to understand how the existing habitats that remain within and outside of protected areas impact and sustain biodiversity.

The decisions related to protected areas and their adjacent lands (which are often managed by resident communities) suffer from a lack of data-driven evidence. For instance, 60% of conservation-management decisions related to protected areas have had to rely on experience-based information given the absence of evidence (Cook et al., 2010), but it is equally important to note that managers value empirical evidence as the most valuable source to implement management actions (Cook et al., 2012). Further, the paucity of data and rigorous studies (in terms of the biodiversity value) in community-managed land is a similar shortcoming (Bowler et al., 2011).

An understanding of the relative merits of protected areas versus communitymanaged lands is especially important in the context of tropical developing countries that harbour many threatened wildlife species (Schipper et al., 2008) and experience socio-economic and cultural pressures that can imperil wildlife populations. More importantly, such research provides an opportunity to identify strategies that might allow facilitate human well-being while achieving big gains for wildlife conservation (DeFries et al., 2007).

In this context, deliberations about Indian nature conservation must be embedded in the existing biological and sociological contexts. It would almost be proverbial (and a subject of many essays, a few of which are included in the Appendices of this thesis) to say that conservation in India is complex. Most striking is the sheer size of India's population, which is set to overtake China as the world's most populous country by 2028, and is expected to continue growing at least until the 2060s (United Nations report, 2013). Meeting the needs of a growing economy and improving the standard of living for the estimated 363 million Indians currently living in poverty is an inescapable imperative (estimate of poverty derived in 2011- 2012 by C. Rangarajan). At the same time, India is biodiversity rich — one whose environmental demise would be a global tragedy.

India harbours four global biodiversity hotspots, and its forests sustain half of the world's tigers, 60% of all Asian elephants, and 70% of all one-horned rhinoceros (Madhusudan, 2003; Amin et al., 2006). Approximately 270 million people use forest resources as primary and supplementary income sources (Fisher et al., 1997).

The tolerance for wildlife that many residents display is remarkable, to say the least. A study of three national parks in India indicates that 89% of the surveyed households reportedly received no compensation for crop-raiding and livestock predation. Such losses were non-trivial with modeled estimates of crop loss being as high as 82% and livestock losses up to 27% (Karanth et al., 2013). Despite this, substantial tolerance for wildlife-induced crop and livestock losses still prevails in many parts of India, although its degree varies by area and the species in question.

The sheer cultural diversity that exists by region within India indicates that there might be varying degrees of anthropogenic pressure, and thus differing outcomes for protected areas and their surrounding forests. Although the influences that jeopardise biodiversity within India vary widely by species and region, habitat loss and degradation and hunting are clearly the most predominant threats (Pandit et al., 2007; Datta et al., 2008; Karanth et al., 2010). This doctoral thesis is relatively eclectic and wide-ranging in nature. It is, however, unified by a clear focus on the relative fate of wildlife in protected and community-managed lands in the biologically rich lands of Arunachal Pradesh in north-east India, and on the factors that influence conservation outcomes in these contexts.

In Chapter 1, I review the literature examining hunting across India, seeking to highlight vital knowledge gaps, which can be the basis for future investigation. Specifically, I provide a synthesis of all hunting-related studies within India and examine the importance of various influences on hunting across multiple species and geographical locations.

Arunachal Pradesh has suffered local extinctions of several important mammal and bird species from hunting and habitat loss (Datta et al., 2008; Karanth et al., 2010). The complex backdrop of socio-economic change and institutional inadequacies impinge on the effectiveness of habitat protection and wildlife conservation efforts there. In Chapter 2, I attempt to understand how disease in forest staff and residents living around a protected area can compromise wildlife conservation—a very real phenomenon that is typically overlooked by higher-level park managers and administrators. Specifically, I try to assess the burden of human malaria on front-line anti-poaching staff in the Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, and how this could impact on wildlife management outcomes.

The north-east region of India has a socio-cultural landscape that is distinct from the rest of the country. Amongst the cultures of most tribal groups in Arunachal Pradesh, the hunting of wildlife has deep roots, and wild game is often preferred to domestic meat (Aiyadurai et al., 2010). Here, gun ownership is common and cultural norms and prevailing beliefs are strongly associated with the practice of hunting, even in Buddhist communities. In Chapter 3, I seek to obtain a refined understanding of how community-managed lands abutting Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh compare with the sanctuary itself, in terms of the species richness and abundance of larger native mammals and of prevailing community practices and meat preferences. I also seek to understand the nature of hunting practices and taboos, and cultural and social forms of residential governance in the lands surrounding Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary.

In addition to studying a single reserve and its adjoining community-managed lands in detail, there are also important lessons to be learnt from examining multiple protected areas and their adjacent community-managed lands in this region. In Chapter 4, I discuss the results of lower-intensity but larger-scale transect-based surveys and comparisons between protected areas and communitymanaged lands across four sites in the Kameng Protected Area Complex in western Arunachal Pradesh. This landscape, of which Eaglenest is the centerpiece, is the largest contiguous forest tract in the Eastern Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, with an area of 3,500 km2, and is a globally vital conservation region. This complex is especially important in Arunachal Pradesh, which accounts for two-thirds of all the remaining primary forest in India, with almost 62% of these forests under decentralised community management rather than state administration (Menon et al., 2001).

Finally, in Chapter 5, I attempt to provide an integrated understanding of the social, cultural, economic and biological factors affecting hunting and the obstacles preventing the implementation of data-driven conservation on multiple levels, broadly including centralised forest management and community-based conservation initiatives.

Item ID: 46583
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Arunachal Pradesh, biodiversity hotspot, bushmeat, community lands, cultural taboos, Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Himalayas, hotspot, hunting, India, Kameng Protected Area Complex, malaria, mammals, natural areas, nature reserves, Pakke Tiger Reserve, park management, poaching, protected areas, Shertukpens, tribal governance, Tropics, Western Ghats, wet tropics, wildlife
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Additional Information:

For this thesis, Nandini Velho received the Dean's Award for Excellence 2016.

Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 1: Velho, Nandini, Karanth, Krithi K., and Laurance, William F. (2012) Hunting: a serious and understudied threat in India, a globally significant conservation region. Biological Conservation, 148 (1). pp. 210-215.

Chapter 2: Velho, Nandini, Srinivasan, Umesh, Prashanth, N.S, and Laurance, William F. (2011) Human disease hinders anti-poaching efforts in Indian nature reserves. Biological Conservation, 144 (9). pp. 2382-2385.

Chapter 3: Velho, Nandini, and Laurance, William F. (2013) Hunting practices of an Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tribe in Arunachal Pradesh, north-east India. Oryx, 47 (3). pp. 389-392.

Chapter 3: Velho, N., Srinivasan, U., Singh, P., and Laurance, W.F. (2016) Large mammal use of protected and community-managed lands in a biodiversity hotspot. Animal Conservation, 19 (2). pp. 199-208.

Date Deposited: 06 Dec 2016 05:14
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960806 Forest and Woodlands Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960599 Ecosystem Assessment and Management not elsewhere classified @ 50%
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