Check(ing) lists


In 1972, the Indian government passed a landmark legislation, the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), to dictate the levels of legal protection for Indian animals. The WPA has since been very effective for some species, especially charismatic large mammals, but not as effective for invertebrates, feels Krushnamegh Kunte, in an article published in Current Science in 2008.
The invertebrate listings are especially inaccurate, including species that are either wrongly named or that have not been chosen objectively, while leaving out endangered species.

Using butterflies of the Western Ghats as an example, Kunte illustrates the shortcomings of the current listings, and proposes an objective method that can be used to improve their quality.

Starting with an exhaustive list of 333 species from the Western Ghats, he collated information about them where they are found globally, whether they are restricted to some areas within the Western Ghats, what kind of habitat they prefer and how easily they are found. He then divided each characteristic into sub-categories, which were assigned numbers so that common species got low scores and ones found rarely (only in specialised habitats) got high scores. Finally, he totaled the scores for each species to get the ‘mean conservation value,’ a number between 9 and 40. Higher the value for a species, the more endangered it is.

Only very few species that got high conservation values in this study are listed in the WPA, showing that these listings are inadequate, at least for butterflies. For instance, it covers only 3% of the species in the butterfly family Hesperiidae (skippers). The study demonstrates the need for objectively assessing WPA lists for other groups, and revising them where necessary. Also, Kunte provides an easily workable framework for future studies, in which pre-existing information on species can be used, coupled with some careful analyses.

Further reading:

Kunte K. 2008. The Wildlife (Protection) Act and conservation prioritization of butterflies of the Western Ghats, southwestern India. Current Science 94(6):729.

This article is from issue


2011 Jun