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Major Threats to Himalayan Biodiversity - UPSC IAS Main GS Paper I

Oct 16, 2015 16:31 IST

    Extending for more than 3000 Kms from northern Pakistan to Nepal, Bhutan and the north-eastern states of India, Himalayan biodiversity exist at the transition zone between the Palearctic and Indo-Malayan realms and hence species from both realms are represented.

    Montane temperate, Dry temperate, sub alpine and alpine forests make up the Himalayan biodiversity representing plethora of diversification in terms of species and genetics. Oak, Rhododendron, Walnut, Juniper, Snow Leopard, Himalayan wild Oak, Musk deer etc. are some flora and fauna representing the diversity of Himalayas. The vitality of Himalayan diversity can be understood by some portions of Himalayas to be a part of Eastern Himalayas and Indo-Burman Hot Spot.

    However, off lately, these diversities have been threatened. Inclusion of Himalayan regions in the Hot Spot regions is the most important indicator of the same. Himalayan Flora and Fauna are moving up the ladder in the IUCN red list towards extinct category. Anthropogenic factors ranging from agriculture to modern infrastructural development and from climate change to illegal poaching are the biggest contributor to the threats of Himalayan Biodiversity. We can discuss the various threats emanating from human deeds in the following way:

    Climate Change

    It is a well accepted fact that climate change is the main factor contributing to the accelerated glacier retreat observed in the Himalayas. The Eastern Himalayas have the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar region, and is a huge source of fresh water. Continued climate change is predicted to lead to major changes in freshwater flows, with dramatic impacts on the various flora and fauna of the region. Moreover, the gradual average increase in the temperature of the earth is disturbing the thermal balance of the Himalayan region as well. Tree-line is being pushed up, alpine and sub-alpine areas are heavily threatened and intolerant to such temperature changes, various species are making it to ‘critically endangered’ and ‘extinct in wild’ category of IUCN red list.

    There is no need however to emphasise on the cause of climate change and the global warming. Anthropogenic factors like burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, massive agriculture etc. are the biggest contributor to such climate change.

    Encroachment

    The increasing population pressure and intensified greed of human beings push them to usurp the forests, mountain regions and even ecological sensitive areas. These are the major factors contributing to the habitat loss of various flora and fauna. Following are some of the ways such usurpations are carried on and threaten the Himalayan Biodiversity:

    •    Huge population pressure coerces men to look for the extension of agricultural land. Forests and biodiversities are cleared to make space for farmland. Shifting, nomadic and slash & burn agriculture intensifies such forests clearances to make way for the agriculture.

    •     The exploitation of forests for timber, fodder and fuel wood are some of the other main threats to biodiversity in this region. Forests are extensively cleared unsustainably for medicines, paper and many other industrial purposes.

    •    Other threats include wood-charcoal production from cutting woods from mountainous areas. Charcoals are used for metallurgical fuels.

    •    Intensive grazing interferes irreparably with the Himalayan ecosystem. Many rural people depend on cattle for their livelihoods but do not have sufficient land holdings. It is not uncommon to see cows, water buffalo, sheep and goats grazing in forests, which can cause significant damage to the natural ecosystems.

    Poaching

    Various species of fauna are being hunted for commercial purpose, illegal trade, smuggling, man-animal hunting and even retaliation. Poaching is a major threat to wildlife in the region, especially endangered species like tigers, elephants and rhinos are hunted for their body parts for traditional Chinese medicine, while snow leopards and red pandas are sought for their beautiful pelts, which have a high commercial value on the black market.
    Killing wildlife also takes place as a result of human-wildlife conflict. Retaliation against tigers and snow leopards for killing livestock, and against elephants and rhinoceros for raiding crops, is prevalent and continues to intensify as humans and wildlife compete for land and other resources.

    Infrastructure Development

    The competition to develop economy, increasing urbanisation, attaining energy security, connecting remote areas intrudes massively in the natural ecosystem of the Himalayan region.

    With increasing development comes a growing demand for energy. The Himalayas re considered a boon to produce hydroelectric power, and the nations of the region are looking to take further advantage of this resource in the coming years. The creation of numerous dams without due environmental impact assessment could lead to the submergence of arable lands and biodiversity hotspots. Not only would valley habitats be inundated by the creation of reservoirs, but villagers would be displaced and left uninhabited. The effect of dams on fisheries and fish ecology is a matter of grave concern. Construction of roads, bridges, hotels industries etc on the ecological sensitive river banks go unnoticed but have perilous impact on the biodiversity.

    Waste Disposal

    Human populations, their habitat, discharge from the industries in Himalayan regions give rise to unimaginable non-biodegradable wastes and toxics. These foreign substances enter in the local food chain and through bioaccumulation and biomagnifications completely alter the natural ecosystems. Unplanned and poorly managed tourism in the form of mountainous expeditions, Himalayan trekking take such wastes even to the remote areas threatening the biodiversity even at the topmost and remotest regions of Himalayas.

    Political reasons

    Political unrest, often in the form of insurgencies, also threatens the integrity of some protected areas. Illegal training camps, hideouts of terrorists etc hardly care of biodiversities of eastern Himalayan regions. Immigration from disturbed areas and neighbouring countries also exacerbates the biodiversity threats. Moreover, increasing militarisation from India and China, development of defence infrastructure, mock drills are equally threatening the Himalayan biodiversity all across its length.

    Such threats endangering the ecosystems of the earth will only be intensified in coming years and coming decades unless revolutionary measures are taken to soothe down the situations. Upholding the concept of protected and conservation areas in true spirit hold the prominent key in this regard. Allegiance to UN Sustainable Development Goals, sensitisation of people, seriousness of environmental NGOs and an optimum balance between development and environmental protection are some of the means to attain the goal of maintaining the Himalayan ecosystem intact.

    Important Topics for IAS Main Exam

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