COVID-19: Biodiversity Conservation– Our Solutions are in Nature

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‘There’s a sufficiency in this world for the man’s need,
Not for the man’s greed’
-M K Gandhi

These lines were stated by the Father of our Nation, almost three quarter of the century before, is still ubiquitous for a major reason of the increasing greed for space, comfort, and luxury among people around the globe. Gandhiji had brooded over this issue, which still has not caught the required attention and met with the appropriate action. Before the arrival of the deadly COVID-19, there were tons of warning signs, such as, emergence of Ebola virus from the bats, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome related Coronavirus discovered in 2003 etc. but it’s our partial failure, if not entirely, that we carelessly continue to exploit the wildlife habitat at the individual as well as institutional levels. COVID-19, which is hypothesized to be originated and transmitted through bats (or pangolins although the research is still going on) stresses a very important issue of biodiversity conservation.

Viruses do not have all the cell organelles like human or other animal cells; they do contain their own genetic material in a protective coating. One can see it in a way that they have raw data but no information; hence they do not make anything on their own. They attack a particular species and make use of the host cells by penetrating inside them and affecting the host cell’s normal behavior. They use the host cells to multiply themselves and unlike parasites they cannot be destroyed by antibiotics. Interestingly, viruses do not easily jump from one species to another unless they evolve and develop resistance by the prolong exposure around new species.

Humans come across millions of viruses in their day to day
lives because of the diversity we live in. Earth has approximately 8.7 million different species (and still counting) according to the scientific initiative ‘Census of Marine Life’. So in a nut shell, it couldn’t be an overnight event, that the novel corona virus 2019 jumped inside the human species through animals, likely to be pangolins or bats in this case. It is most likely a result of the prolonged animal trafficking and hunting, wildlife trade, wildlife habitat exploitation etc, and all of these together results in biodiversity destruction.

Emergence of the COVID-19 presents us a significant opportunity to redirect our attention towards biodiversity conservation. There were steps being taken before too at the global, country, and the state level as well, such as, the famous CBD opened for the signature and ratification by the states at the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro on 5th June, 1992.As a result, India enacted Biological Diversity Act, 2002.The act aimed to conserve biodiversity, make sustainable use of biological resources, and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of use of biological resources. The act in India is being implemented with the help of three tier structures, National Biodiversity Board at the apex level, State Biodiversity Board at the state levels and BMCs at the local levels.

Efforts made by various state biodiversity boards are quite visible. One such state is ‘The Tiger State’, Madhya Pradesh with 10 National Parks and 25 Wildlife Sanctuaries has one of the richest floral and faunal diversity. MPSBB has taken several steps towards the biodiversity conservation and making CBD, a reality. These efforts usually include research and documentation of the ongoing and planned projects, and education and awareness regarding the importance of biodiversity through various workshops in remote areas, documentaries like ‘Jaivividhata: Hamari Dharohar’, ‘Ek anoothi pehel’ by MPSBB. In addition, awareness is also created by various newsletters across the states by the respective state biodiversity boards like ‘Amulya Jaibabaichitra’ by KSBB, ‘Jaivividhata’ by MPSBB.

Along with spreading awareness, state boards across the country are taking steps like constituting Biodiversity Management Committees at the local level to carry out the plans and policies at village and block level. This includes carrying out surveys with the recognized institutions and therefore, taking steps to conserve the endangered and threatened species of flora and fauna. For example, a survey of ‘sacred groves’ had been
organized with the help of SFRI, Jabalpur in various places of Mandla, Dindori, Hoshangabad and Chhindwara districts. State boards are playing a major role in training forest officials to look after the ex-situ and in-situ conservation process, include the forest tribes, and use their traditional knowledge as well.

Need of the hour

Is not to look back and celebrate what we have achieved
But to look forward
And understand what the biodiversity still needs
Despite the various steps being taken at all the levels, there is something which went wrong at the level of planning and implementation. The present and the future consequences could be devastating if we still ignore to act upon. Not just the strong political and institutional will is required, but the individuals are requested to understand their responsibilities towards the nature too.

COVID-19 has taught us that despite the various steps and laws against wildlife trade and hunting, these laws needed to be implemented at a more stringent level. There should be heavy and immediate punitive actions to be taken on the people involved in these illegal businesses. Institutional development and smart city missions are needed but not at the cost of deforestation and exploitation of the natural habitats of the wildlife. Wildlife conservation in their natural habitats are important to keep the viruses contained within the particular species and if we continue disturbing and stressing the wildlife, viruses will evolve and keep on jumping into another species. Another suggestion is to ponder over the benefits of the lockdown we have so far due to the pervasive pandemic and declare one day in a week as a lockdown day in the name of the ‘nature rejuvenation day’.

According to WHO, so far we have
4,761,559 Confirmed cases
317,529 Confirmed deaths
216 Countries, areas, or territories with cases
On 20th May, 2020, 10:21 AM CEST
And these frightening numbers are increasing by several thousand numbers on a daily basis. Only collaborative and multidimensional efforts can help becoming the world, a better place for everyone to live.
It is believed that an area with multiple numbers and varieties of species has a more stable environment in comparison to an area with lower species abundance. We can further stress the necessity of biodiversity by realizing our degree of dependency on the environment. We depend directly or indirectly on various species of plant for our various needs. Similarly, we depend on various species of microbes and animals for different reasons.

To conclude, at this point, nothing seems to be more relevant than the famous quote, ‘Remember, the life’s greatest lessons are usually learned at the worst times and from the worst mistakes.’ The prevalent pandemic cannot stress more - need of the biodiversity conservation and that the solution to the misbalance lies in the balance of the nature and the ecosystem.

 

-Shivani Singh Sengar