On Bhar Dutt’s Rewilding
— By Manoj V. Nair, IFS
‘Rewilding’ by environmental journalist Bahar Dutt, is an extremely heartening book depicting notable examples in India attempting to bring back endangered species from the brink of extinction. In ten crisp chapters, the book tells us all this and more – and most importantly, the importance of restoring natural habitats in our country wherever they are depleted – wetlands, forests oceans, and our cities.
Starting off by giving a theoretical framework towards understanding the concept of rewilding based on three Cs – Cores, Corridors and Carnivores -, the author goes on to give a historical outline of rewilding efforts in India till date. This section is peppered with interesting and little-known historical anecdotes such as the country’s first initiative in translocating tigers in 1928, when the ruler of Dungarpur convinced the British authorities to bring in tigers from Gwalior to revive the extinct tiger population in his principality!
The book celebrates initiatives in rewilding – tigers of Panna, pygmy hogs of Assam (also acclaimed as the top ten rewilding projects across the world by the Jersey Wildlife Conservation Trust), red-crowned roof turtle and the gharials of the Chambal, the near-extinct Gyps vultures of India and the one-horned rhinoceros of Manas. Two urban rewilding projects – the Aravali Biodiversity Park in Gurugram and the Kaikondrahalli lake in Bangalore – have also been profiled. The privately-funded effort of rewilding riverscapes by using Mahseer fish as the flagship species and the critique around it also makes interesting reading. Small-scale interventions which has targeted the seascapes and marine species of India – from Seagrass in Gulf of Mannar, Finger Coral in the Gulf of Kutch and the Olive Ridley turtle in the Odisha coast, also finds a place.
While describing the trials and tribulations associated with these projects, the narrative also celebrates the dedicated work of behind-the-scene individuals connected to each of them. The writer is frank and forthright while highlighting the ham-handedness of the government in dealing with emerging threats to some of these projects including the upcoming dam in Panna and the huge environmental cost of the Ganga Waterway project.
The book can do with some improvement, though. The Assamese name of Pygmy Hog being given as Takuri Bora is an old one (the name prevalent is Nal Gahori), and the mention of the ‘lesser Bengal Florican’ is a mistake (a curious combination of two distinct species – the Lesser Florican Sypheotides indicus and the Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis). Better copy-editing also could have prevented numerous inconsistencies in italicizing scientific names.
Very little has been written on India about ex-situ conservation in general and successful case-studies in particular, and in that sense, this book is an important contribution towards nurturing a much-needed awareness among laypeople that ‘rewilding as a conservation tool has endless possibilites’. Definitely a book worth reading for those interested in nature and wildlife conservation in India.
Manoj Nair in his own words —