*16th National Endangered Species Day: Know why protecting endangered species is the need of the hour*
*“Only when the last of the animals’ horns, tusks, skin, and bones have been sold, will mankind realize that money can never buy back our wildlife”*- Paul Oxton
The National Endangered Species Day is celebrated every year on the third Friday of May.
The day is celebrated to highlight the importance of protecting our endangered species as they are critical for maintaining the delicate balance of our ecosystems.
*What are endangered species?*
Endangered species are those species of animals, plants, birds, or insects whose existence is threatened over a period of time, triggered by mindless human activities that effect their habitat or distort their food cycle, thus pushing them on the verge of extinction
The International Union is the deciding body that decides whether a species is ‘endangered’ or not, based on different criteria.
*Why is it important to protect endangered species?*
The world has lost more than 900 species in the last five centuries owing to the unprecedented human activities that have been encroaching on natural habitats, indiscriminately.
According to the IUCN, at least 40% of the world’s animals, birds, insects, and plants are facing the risk of extinction.
Our ecosystem is very closely interwoven in a delicate balance, where each living organism has a specific meaning and purpose. If any species is pulled out of that ecosystem, the chain gets broken and everything from the food cycle to habitats gets distorted. Thus, it is very critical to save our endangered species.
*Endangered Species Act*:
The Endangered Species Act is a historic act signed for the preservation of endangered species, worldwide. It was signed on December 28, 1973, by US President Richard Nixon.
*India: cradle for the world’s most diverse & exquisite species*
India is a land that inhabits diverse and exquisite species of wildlife. It is home to about 7.6% of the world’s mammals, 14.7% of amphibians, 6% of birds, 6.2% of reptilians, and 6.0% of flowering plant species.
India’s forest lands nurture about 500 species of mammals and more than 2,000 species of birds.
However, there are many truly exquisite species in India that are on the verge of extinction:
1.) *Red Panda*:
The Red Panda is listed among the most endangered species in India, according to the IUCN. Over the last few decades, its population has significantly reduced by about 50%.
This rarely sighted mammal is found in India over high trees in the Indian states of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, and parts of Meghalaya. The animal is also considered the state animal of Sikkim.
The loss of nesting trees, bamboo, and forests is the primary reason why this mammal finds its place in the list of endangered animals.
2.) *Bengal Tiger*:
There are around 2,226 tigers in India. While tiger numbers have increased significantly in the last few years, they are still considered endangered owing to the continued risk looming at the Bengal tigers.
They are largely found in the mangroves of the Sundarbans which are shared between Bangladesh and India. These are one of the most precious ecosystems in India as they are the only mangrove forests where tigers are found.
But, over the past few years, the Sundarbans are increasingly endangered due to the rise in sea levels as a result of climate change.
3.) *The Gangetic Dolphins*:
The Gangetic Dolphin inhabits in one of the holiest rivers in India. Yet, it is constantly threatened by the removal of river water & siltation that arises from deforestation, pollution, and entanglement in fisheries nets.
Further, the altering the natural flow of the river due to the construction of dams and other infrastructure in and around the river puts the exquisite species on the list of endangered animals.
4.) *Asian Elephant*:
Elephants are considered holy and auspicious in India, often seen as a cultural icon not just in India, but throughout Asia.
They are credited to maintaining the integrity of forests and grassland habitats. The elephant that once roamed across India, nonchalantly in states like Punjab and Gujarat, today finds its place in the list of endangered animals. Their populations are currently fragmented owing largely to the loss of habitat, human-wildlife conflict, and poaching for their tusks.
5.) *One-horned Rhino*:
The ‘greater one-horned rhino’ is the largest amongst the rhino species. Once found in large numbers across the entire northern part of the Indian sub-continent, rhino populations dwindled as they were hunted down by humans for their leisure. This has pushed the species on the verge of extinction.
The populations of the one-horned rhino have increased to around 3,500 rhinos in northeast India and the Terai grasslands of Nepal owing to the strict protection & management by the Indian and Nepalese wildlife authorities. Once considered ‘endangered’, these have now moved to the ‘vulnerable species list.