Thu. Sep 16th, 2021


MUMBAI: Open grasslands are most often associated with African savannahs. But a new research shows that such open natural habitats are widespread in India — and poorly protected.
Grasslands, scrub, and desert ecosystems make up 10% of the country’s total land area — or 319,674 sq km — but less than 5% of this habitat is under protection, a new study shows.
A major portion of that protected area lies in just five parks, found the analysis by ecologists MD Madhusudan and AT Vanak. These are Rajasthan’s Desert National Park and Kailadevi Wildlife Sanctuary, the Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat, the Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve in Andhra Pradesh, and Bihar’s Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary. The lack of protection makes this habitat vulnerable, the researchers said. The study, which is in preprint, is part of an initiative to map and highlight India’s open natural ecosystems through open data tools. These habitats are mainly found in semi-arid regions in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, MP and Andhra Pradesh. They support pastoralist communities, provide fodder for millions of livestock, and host endangered species including the blackbuck and the great Indian bustard.
Yet these landscapes have been neglected due to a historical focus on forests, a legacy of colonial administration, say researchers.
“India has failed to recognize grasslands as a habitat,” says Vanak, a researcher with the Ashoka Trust for Ecology and the Environment. He notes that some of these open habitats are classified as “wastelands” in official records. “There’s a mistaken notion that anything without trees is barren,” he said.
Such misconceptions make these ecosystems especially vulnerable to being converted to other uses, researchers said. They hope that their open data tool will help policymakers exclude these habitats when sitting major projects. “Despite fragmentation, we still have large chunks of intact landscapes,” said Vanak. Ironically, these habitats may be most at risk from green energy projects such as the sprawling solar and wind parks being planned to meet the country’s low-carbon energy goals, said Madhusudan, an independent researcher.

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