• Neelesh Naik

Gene Pool Conservation and Wildlife Rehabilitation in the Himalayas




NERIL has been associated with Himachal Pradesh Forest Department (HPFD) since the year 2008. During our work of preparation of Basin Level Comprehensive Catchment Area Treat Plans (CCAT) for Rivers Satluj and Beas, we have extensively covered entire north Himachal Pradesh from its highest reaches from Kunjum Pass and Rohtang to the low lying areas in Bilaspur and Mandi districts. This exposure to higher reaches of Himalyas in Himachal Pradesh repeatedly made us acutely aware of the rare and endangered flora and fauna of this area. Many factors including human interference and climate change have resulted in reduction of population of these endemic species.


NERIL Teams and Research Scientists have repeatedly come across occasions when the need of conservation of genes of flora and fauna of high altitude habitats was felt. Earlier in Satluj we recommended that a study be made into propagation of Chilgoza Pine (pinus gerardiana). Later, while making the Comprehensive CAT Plan for Beas, we had intense inter-action with the villagers and Foresters of Kullu, Mandi and GHNP Circles. Even here the need to conduct Food Chain Studies and Breeding Programmes was recommended alongwith establishing a Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre for injured and orphaned animals. In the GHNP Volume in Comprehensive Catchment Area Treatment Plan for Beas Basin, NERIL has recommended that a High Altitude Gene Pool Study Centre be made from the funds available under Research & Development component of CCAT. More recently, NERIL conducted extensive studies in the upper catchment of Parbati River and Tosh Nala to prepare the Catchment Area Treatment Plan for H.P. Power Corporation’s power project at Nakthan. During this study, we re-affirmed our faith in the necessity of establishing a High Altitude Forestry and Habitat Research Centre (HAF & HRC). It is now seen that the components of the Comprehensive CAT Plan and the actions there-under are more of guidance and is not likely to be executed in its entirety in near future. On the other hand, our plan for HAF & HRC under Nakthan Project may not fructify as the project is engulfed in litigation. In view of the above NERIL proposes to conduct long term collaborative Research through establishment of a “Gene Pool Conservation and Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. (GPCWRC)”at High Altitude.



The Need for a Gene Pool Conservation and Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. (GPCWRC)


Conservation of bio diversity has attracted the attention and concern of the Governments, institutions, media and people at large. The genetic diversity and the need to conserve it, is mostly not understood. In 1920 Aleksandr Sergeevich Serebrovskii formulated the concept of genofond. This word was later translated in English as “gene pool.”


Gene pool is the total amount of genetic material within a freely inter breeding population at a given time. In population genetics transfer of genetic variations from one set of population to another set is known is gene flow. This is an important mechanism for continued genetic diversity among the populations. To state very simply, it can be said that the genetic diversity is the bio diversity within a single species which results in defining the genetic characteristics of the individuals of that species. The gene pool of a species describes all the different genetic traits within a population collectively. With the climate and environmental changes, some of these traits will become dangerous for the survival of the species and collectively it will affect the survival of our bio diversity. The process of natural selection allows the population within a species to adapt to the changes in their environment. Thus only the individuals with more desirable traits capable of such changes will have higher chances of survival.

It is well documented that many species of higher Himalayas are at the verge of extinction. Habitat fragmentation, degradation, over exploitation, spread of invasive species and climate change are some of the eminent factors resulting in endangering the existence of many species. The largest single factor driving many species of higher Himalayas towards extinction is human interference. The best known solution to this problem to preserve and maintain the compositions and uniqueness of our eco-system is in-situ and ex-situ gene pool conservation. High altitude of Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh have wide varieties of bio-diversity some of which are vulnerable and at the verge of extinction and, therefore, there is a need to adopt an integrated approach to manage and conserve the gene pool with the objective to protect them from extinction and thereby maintain the ecological balance.


This draws our attention to the difficulties that will be faced in conserving the endangered species. The population within the species becomes smaller and smaller, its gene pool also gets reduced. In addition to this, lack of genetic diversity also causes in-breeding. Breeding in such close relations makes this population even more susceptible and in-capable of withstanding change. This aspect needs focussed attention, meticulous research, documentation and well managed programmes for breeding and propagation in order to ensure maintenance and maximise diversity within the species resulting in success of its conservation programme.


In the upper Himalayas, many species of flora and fauna warrant urgent attention for this specific reason and, therefore, we propose to create a Centre of Excellence for Research in Gene Pool Conservation and well managing propagation of rare and endangered species of Flora and Fauna.


The Objective

The objective of the centre would be as listed below:

  1. To document the rare and endangered flora and fauna of high altitude with details of their genetic diversity and to prepare the ex-situ and in-situ propagation plans with due attention to conservation of genetic diversity;

  2. Creation of Seed Banks with records of crop genetic diversity

  3. To establish Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre for high altitude species;

  4. Propagation of High Altitude Medicinal Plants and developing its harvesting and extraction techniques.



Tasks to be achieved by GPCWRC:


In-situ and Ex-situ Propagation:

The Researchers and staff at GPCWRC will have to achieve these objectives through specific time bound allocation of tasks. Each element of Research will have its application in the field through controlled extension work.. The Research will continue to observe the success of each protocol from the Lab to the field in case of both flora and fauna. For example, if a High Altitude Shrub or tall tree is propagated by tissue culture, then its hardening has to happen in the Alpine surroundings followed by its plantation in pre-planned plantation sites. These sites will have to be observed by the Researchers to monitor their survival, growth rates and capacity of natural regeneration. Similarly, the pheasants and other fauna bred in captivity will be acclimatised in phases to become fit enough for survival and then released into the wild and observed thereafter for their successful survival and successful natural breeding. The GPCWRC is expected to develop and adopt the protocols best suited for the objective through a combination of in-situ and ex-situ methods.



Creation of Seed Banks:

It is a well-known fact that the unintended and undesirable consequence of the green revolution is genetic erosion of crops. As the demand for medicinal and other plants keeps growing and as the population of endangered species keeps reducing, the gene pool of crop original diversity will have to be preserved. Thus the GPCWRC will have to prepare strategies for conservation of evolutionary potential without cultivation by maintaining seed banks.


Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre for high altitude species:

The HPFD at present has a Wildlife Rescue Centre at Tuti Kandi in Shimla. However, their distance from the Northern end of the State to this Rescue Centre makes it impractical to evacuate injured and orphaned animals. The availability of zoological Researchers and Veterinary Doctors at the GPCWRC makes it an ideal location to co-locate a Wild Life Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. This endeavour will also be useful to study the behaviour of different species while the rescued animals are acclimatised and rehabilitated before releasing to the wild.


Propagation of High Altitude Medicinal Plants and developing its harvesting and extraction techniques:

The demand for medicinal plants is ever increasing. There is also an everlasting requirement of soil conservation through bio-engineering. The GPCWRC can create large scale propagation nurseries for medicinal plants for distribution to the HPFD high altitude Ranges for plantations. The Research Centre can also work on its best harvesting age, season and time for the best results. The Research can also extend to methods of extraction. This endeavour will provide a revenue stream to the GPCWRC together-with a large potential for employment of tribal manpower in this terrain in the long run.


Location


Selection of the location depends on the compulsions of research coupled with the logistic, communication and administrative facilities. One of the primary qualifying requirements for selection of location is altitude, accessibility and proximity of HPFD Territorial and Wildlife organizations. There is a need to find a location which will accommodate transition of plants and animals from their incubation to release in the wild. The logistic requirement of a Research Centre of this nature also necessitates that it should be accessible from a major town with reasonable resources. Taking these factors into consideration, we studied the forest areas in the catchment of Satluj and Beas. Several locations were compared which included following:

  • Tabo in Spiti valley,

  • Sarahan Wild Life Sanctuary, Kufri, Tutikandi in Satluj River Basin in Shimla District.

  • Sai Ropa on Tirthan,

  • Wilde-life Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre Manali, Solangnala, Marhi

  • An area in Bhunbhuni in Tulga beat near Barshaini in Parvati River Basin.

Of these the criteria of altitude is met with by village Tabo, Barshaini, Manali Sholangnala and Marhi, while the criteria of proximity of a large town is met by Sholangnala and Barshaini.


Collaborations and Funds


The principal collaborating partners will be HPFD and NERIL. The main assistance required from H.P. Forest Department will be in the form of Forest Department’s land and construction of infrastructure of required specifications. NERIL will provide the research manpower. NERIL has done preliminary discussions with the Swiss and Canadian Authorities for seeking their collaboration in form of supplying high-tech equipment and exchange programmes and the response evinced is extremely encouraging. Probably, there will be no need to take any donations from foreign entities in shape of finance. However, due approvals and processes will be followed if and when need for the same arises. Similarly, collaboration with Universities in India and abroad, which have Forestry and Veterinary wings, will also be explored for providing reasonable funding. Some funds for such purposes will also be available from MoEF, Wild Life Institute of India, World Bank and through other National and International Agencies.

The continuous revenue needs of GPCWRC are expected to be generated from the following resources:


  • Grants from Government of Himachal Pradesh and other Himalayan states for the funded Researches will be undertaken.

  • Funded Research for Species of medicinal importance for pharmaceutical/Ayurvedic/Homeopathic.

  • Sales of plants, and seeds through Seed Banks.

  • Sale of aromatic chemicals.


Recommendation:

The need for GPCWRC is well appreciated by not only the Forest Officials but also every citizen who is concerned about conservation of gene-pool and bio diversity. Unlike the existing institutions, this proposed Centre will be located at and devoted to the research in respect of gene pool conservation, propagation, rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals exclusively at high altitude. In times to come it will become the Centre of Excellence for forestry and wildlife research and its application to the gene pool of the flora and fauna in the higher reaches of Himalayas. We look forward to active long term cooperation and approval in principle from HPFD.

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