June 30, 2003: The day conservation policy could have changed

Usually, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) does manage to stick to its guns in the face of adversity, or even rationality. But June 30, 2003 has changed all that. In a media statement, the director general of forests declared that the MoEF would soon allow captive breeding of wild animals for medicinal purposes. The statement -- from an official on the verge of retirement -- came literally out of the blue...

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- USUALLY, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) does manage to stick to its guns in the face of adversity, or even rationality. But June 30, 2003 has changed all that. In a media statement, the director general of forests declared that the MoEF would soon allow captive breeding of wild animals for medicinal purposes. The statement -- from an official on the verge of retirement -- came literally out of the blue. It signified a complete U-turn on existing policy. Naturally, the entire forestry establishment was shocked out of its wits. The orthodox conservation lobby, used to the ministry's benign indulgence, turned pink with indignation and -- without verifying media reports -- dashed off a rash of missives and e-mails. The air, and the worldwide web, turned decidedly venomous.

Exactly what was the hot air about? Nothing. Down To Earth found out the statement had no veracity. The ministry doesn't have any such plan. It is true that the Indian system of medicine department under the Union ministry of health and family welfare is carrying out experiments to extract musk from the sac of the male musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster). That's it. There is to be no policy shift.

In other words, there isn't the faintest hope of the MoEF undoing retrogressive regulations that make the sustainable harvest of wild animals a criminal act in India. Conserving biodiversity through captive breeding is to remain, even now, a non-option. Conservation, right now a burden on the poorest of the country, is not to become an economically beneficial option. Forget experimenting with animals like Chiru, which has not as yet been bred in captivity. India has also failed to breed the musk deer, which China breeds each year in thousands, more efficiently and economically than ever before.

In the morally-charged din the statement led to, there were sane voices. In an e-mail, a young wildlife biologist -- responding to the heated debate over the Internet -- hesitatingly suggested that one could look at a conservation option the world has readily and with commendable success adopted. Other responses, too, were heartening. A scientist wished the ethics of conservation science was guided by a rational debate and not sloganeering. An exasperated environment science student pleaded for the mulishness of the ultra-conservationists to make way to the vigour of good science.

Perhaps these voices will not be lost in e-mail folders. Hopefully, they will be heard -- someday, soon -- and valued in the portals of the MoEF.

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