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In 2022, India mourned the loss of two iconic wild denizens—Collarwali, the famous felid of Pench National Park and Mr Kabini, the elephant from Kabini known for his long tusks. We mourn their loss against the backdrop of the alarming rise of illegal wildlife trade in the country and the reality of how Indian Wolves—apex predators of the grasslands—are as endangered as the Bengal Tiger, yet almost entirely forgotten from a conservation point of view.

From the impacts of the controversial Mekedatu Project to ten more wetlands gaining Ramsar recognition and an Indian court declaring Mother Nature a living entity—here are 2022's impactful environmental headlines from India.

Legendary ‘Collarwali’ Tigress Bids Farewell


The tigress who earned the moniker of ‘super mum’, died due to old age at the Pench Tiger Reserve last Saturday. One of the most famous tigers in the country, the felid gave birth to 29 cubs in eight litters during her lifetime.

Named 'Collarwali' because of the radio collar she wore, she first gave birth to three cubs in 2008; unfortunately, they did not survive. In 2010, she successfully raised a litter of five cubs (four females and one male). Dr Aniruddha Majumdar, a scientist with the State Forest Research Institute, told the Indian Express, "There is hardly any record of a tigress giving birth to five cubs at one go. She raised all of them. Over the years, she gave birth to 29 cubs…25 survived.”

Read more: Collarwali: Remembering India’s ‘super mum’ tigress | BBC News

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A crowd gathers near Pench Tiger Reserve as the locals bid farewell to the legendary tigress Collarwali, who gave birth to 29 cubs in her lifetime. Photograph: Arpit Monu Dubey

More Than 500 Media Reported Cases Of Illegal Wildlife Trade In India In 2020


In their latest report, WCS-India's Counter Wildlife Trafficking (CWT) Programme collated a total of 522 unique instances of poaching and illegal trade using exhaustive keyword searches through Google and GDELT (Global Database of Events, Languages and Tone) between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020.

The maximum number of reported incidents belonged to the group ungulates (89 incidents), closely followed by tigers and leopards categorised as big cats (82 incidents). Other species reported in wildlife crimes were pangolins (72 incidents), tortoises and freshwater turtles (61 incidents), elephants (57 incidents) and red sandalwood (52 incidents).

Read more: Media-Reported Wildlife Poaching and Illegal Trade in India: 2020 | WCS-India

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Endangered species in a market in Myanmar. Photograph for representation purposes only, courtesy of Dan Bennett via Wikimedia Commons under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license

India’s Continued ‘Forest Cover Increase’ Is Not The Whole Truth


Ever since 2001, the India State of Forest Reports (ISFRs), which are released every two years, have been claiming how the country's forest cover has been going up—by an eye-popping 80,000 But it has come to light that the same reports have also been lumping tea estates, coconut plantations and homestead gardens of suburban housing developments as 'forests'. Ecologists M.D. Madhusudhan and T.R. Shankar Raman explain this "sleight of hand" in this detailed breakdown for The Hindu. "It is critical that the ISFRs start tracking the well-being of our natural forests separately from other ‘green’ areas that humans are continuing to create by destroying natural habitats," they write.

Read more: Is India’s forest cover really increasing? Official maps don’t tell you the whole truth | The Hindu

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"About 92 per cent of India’s so-called ‘forest cover increase’ between 1990 and 2020 has thus been via plantations." Photograph: Kalyan Varma

Mekedatu Project is a ‘myopic decision’ that ‘will create a disaster’


Deccan Herald's Bangalore 2040 Summit brought together some of India’s most influential policymakers, entrepreneurs and activists. "The Mekedatu [project] will create a disaster," said T V Ramachandra, a professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES) at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), referring to the proposed Mekedatu project within the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary to fulfil Bangalore’s burgeoning water demands. While talking at a panel discussion about protecting and restoring the biodiversity of Bangalore, he called the decision to replace 5000 hectares of forest that has a catchment capacity of 100 TMC with a dam that has a storage capacity of 65-67 TMC as myopic. The other panellists opined that large projects like Mekedatu need to be approached with a participatory lens.

Read more: Mekedatu project will create a disaster, says ecologist | Deccan Herald

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The proposed Mekedatu project within the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary is set to wipe out 5000 hectares of forest that has a catchment capacity of 100 TMC. Photograph of River Cauvery flowing through the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary by Chinmayisk via Wikimedia Commons under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Kangaroos in the forests of West Bengal! Three rescued, one dead


Yes, you read that right. Imagine the shock when forest officials in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district ran into two kangaroos while patrolling the forests near Gajoldoba, a popular tourist destination. A third kangaroo was rescued on the same day from Farabari, around 40km away. Locals came across a kangaroo carcass the following day, on April 2. As per media reports, traffickers probably smuggled these mammals found only in Australia and New Guinea and abandoned them in the forest. A state government probe is on to find out more. According to wildlife experts, there are increasing incidents of exotic animals being smuggled into India.

Read more: Bad News: There Are Kangaroos in West Bengal Forests | The Wire Science

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Photograph of a kangaroo from Flinders Ranges, Australia, for representation purposes only, by Brian McMahon via Unsplash

Mother Nature is a living entity with all corresponding rights


Adding a new term to our conservation lingo, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court declared Mother Nature as a living entity, conferring legal and constitutional rights for her safety and survival. The court highlighted the fact that acts of sustainable development sometimes cause more harm and therefore lead to 'sustainable destruction'. By making such acts legally punishable, the court aims to establish checks to protect the natural resources and prevent developmental destruction.

Read more: ‘Mother Nature’ is a ‘living being’ with legal entity: HC I The Hindu

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"The court observed that ‘Mother Nature’ was accorded the rights akin to fundamental rights, legal rights, constitutional rights for its survival, safety, sustenance and resurgence in order to maintain its status and also to promote its health and well-being." Quote courtesy of The Hindu | Photograph by Kalyan Varma for representation purposes only

Almost half of the world's bird species are undergoing population decline


Global populations have steadily declined over the last three decades, according to the latest State of World's Birds report. The new review found that 48 per cent of the world's bird species are known or suspected to be undergoing population decline, with 39 per cent believed to be stable and just 7 per cent showing increasing trends. The degradation and loss of natural bird habitats and the direct overexploitation of many species are seen as the primary threats to the world's avian biodiversity. In the report led by Manchester Metropolitan University, climate change is also identified as an emerging driver of bird population decline. Results of the State of India’s Birds (SoIB) report released in February 2020 directly fed into this global assessment.

Read more: Nearly 48 percent of existing bird species worldwide undergoing population decline | The New Indian Express

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The State of World's Birds report identifies climate change as an emerging driver of bird population decline. Photograph of a Great Indian Bustard by Kesavamurthy N, via Wikimedia Commons under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license

India’s wolves are as endangered as tigers!


A new study estimates that there may be just 3,100 wolves in India, putting them in the same bracket as tigers. Habitat loss is the primary threat, with diseases such as canine distemper one of the many problems this enigmatic predator faces. According to the government of India’s Wasteland Atlas of India, much of the wolf’s native habitat is barren wastelands that are actively prioritised for development activities. "Only by granting the savanna grasslands of India their legitimacy as a natural we have a chance of saving the wolves," write Abi T. Vanak and Mihir Godbole.

Read more: India’s missing wolves | The Hindu

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"Habitat loss is the primary threat, with diseases such as canine distemper one of the many problems this enigmatic predator faces." Photograph of an Indian Wolf by Rudraksha Chodankar, via Wikimedia Commons under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license 

Wildlife lovers mourn the death of ‘Mr Kabini’


Bogeshwara, a 70-year-old elephant with the longest tusks in Asia, was found dead near the Kabini reservoir in the Bandipur-Nagarahole Reserve Forest on June 11. Social media became flooded with obituaries for the majestic pachyderm, also known as Mr Kabini. One of his tusks was 2.54 metres long, and the other measured 2.34 metres. The forest department is contemplating whether to obtain permission to preserve its tusk at the local exhibition centre. There are also plans to make Bhogeswara an icon of the protection and preservation of elephants in India.

Read more: 70-yr-old elephant with longest tusks in Asia passes away in Karnataka | The News Minute

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Bogeshwara aka Mr Kabini, a 70-year-old elephant with the longest tusks in Asia, was found dead near the Kabini reservoir in the Bandipur-Nagarahole Reserve Forest on June 11. Photograph: Rohit Varma

State government empowers local bodies to cull wild boars


After the central government turned down a suggestion by the Kerala government to declare wild boar as ‘vermin’, the state has moved to empower local bodies to cull them as they raid crops and leave farmers in debt traps. The exponential rise in local wild boar populations has led to increasing incidents between humans and these animals. “Of all the larger animals, none reproduces as quickly and abundantly as the wild boar. It’s an infestation machine,” says Fr. Sebastian Kochupurakkal, general convener of the High Range Samrakshana Samithi. The decision, though largely popular, has not gone well with everybody. “The order may be beneficial to the farmers, at the same time, the local bodies are required to be extra cautious to make sure that it’s not misused. Since the crop raids happen at night, there is no system in place to differentiate between hunting for meat and that for preventing crop raids,” points out the president of a local body, an affiliate of the ruling Left Democratic Front.

Read more: The wild boar challenge: To kill or not to kill | The Hindu

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The Indian Boar (Sus scrofa cristatus) is twice the size of a dog and can charge hard. Encounters between humans and wild boars are on the rise. Photograph by JP Bennett, via Wikimedia Commons under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Ramsar recognition for 10 more Indian wetlands


Six wetlands from Tamil Nadu and one each from Goa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have been added to the list of Ramsar sites in the country, increasing the tally to 64. These are the Koothankulam Bird Sanctuary, Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve, Vembannur Wetland Complex, Vellode Bird Sanctuary, Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary and Udhayamarthandapuram Bird Sanctuary, all in Tamil Nadu, Nanda Lake in Goa, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary in Karnataka, Sirpur Wetland in Madhya Pradesh, and Satkosia Gorge in Odisha. India’s Ramsar wetlands now comprie around 10 per cent of the total wetland area in the country. While no other South Asian country has as many sites, smaller nations like the United Kingdom and Mexico have 175 and 145 Ramsar sites each. Being designated a Ramsar site ensures that these wetlands are conserved and protected from encroachment in the name of development.

Read more: 10 more Indian wetlands sites get Ramsar tag, number rises to 64 | The Hindu

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A flock of Greater Flamingos in the Pallikaranai Marsh Wetland, close to a residential and industrial area in the city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Photograph by Timothy A. Gonsalves via Wikimedia Commons under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license

Great Nicobar Project: Clearance granted to divert 8.5L trees and of forest land


The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has, in principle, granted permission for the clearance of nearly of forest cover in the Great Nicobar island for a mega development project which includes a transshipment port, an airport, a power plant and a greenfield township. The project by Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation is estimated to cost ₹72,000 crore. It will be the largest diversion of forest land in recent history, potentially felling 8.5 lakh trees. According to the official documents of the ministry, Great Nicobar is one of the best-preserved tropical forests in the world and home to about 650 species of flora and 330 species of fauna.

Read more: Over 130 Sq Km Forest Land to Be Diverted for Great Nicobar Island Megaproject | The Wire

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"Great Nicobar is one of the best-preserved tropical forests in the world and home to about 650 species of flora and 330 species of fauna." Photograph by Nabil Naidu, courtesy of Pexels