Pandemic has given a lot of new insights

There are always two sides to a story, including the pandemic story. As citizens refrained from venturing out in fear of the virus, the environment showed some signs of improvement. With no vehicles on roads, pollution level in major metro cities dropped and weather conditions improved. Human inactivity surprised the wildlife that came out on city streets to check if the world had changed. But has it really changed? Some experts believe the pandemic has not benefited the wildlife and ecology as it was believed initially. Poaching and killing continued even during the lockdown as did destruction of nature. Nature breathed easy momentarily and the chaos came back to reign after a few months. Then what is in store for mankind? Have we learned our lesson this time? How much has to be done to make Earth a better place for all living beings? To find answers, MT spoke to experts and this is what they had to say:

Anu James, the divisional forest officer of Khasi Hills Wildlife Division, feels the lockdown and the pandemic was an “enriching personal experience”. She does not agree to the claim that the pandemic had been a boon for wildlife and ecology. The Indian Forest Service officer shared her experiences of the pandemic and what to expect in 2021.

How was your personal experience this year?
This year has been a tough one for me as like for all because of the Covid pandemic situation. But at the same time, it has given a lot of new insights, perspectives and it gave the time to slow down and look deeper into Nature. During this year, we trekked the forests across the Khasi Hills and interacted with the local people a bit more as a part of our job for collective conservation and enforcement of wildlife laws. It was a quite enriching personal experience and Nature gave me solace and hope amidst the gloom.

Would you call the pandemic a boon for wildlife and ecology as a whole?
I wouldn’t say the pandemic is a boon for wildlife and ecology. Rather, I would put it across like this. It gave us all an opportunity to look deeper and think wider. In the initial days of the total lockdown, we got the almost daily news that wild animals are coming out into human habitations and that they are reclaiming their lost lands.
Also, the wildlife crime during the initial days had spiked as there were many reported cases of hunting and poaching. So, the talk about wildlife, nature and the human-environmental balance was dwelled upon more. The very possible zoonotic origins of the Covid pandemic also exposed to us our vulnerability as human race when the balance of nature is disturbed. May be these are the warning signs nature sends across again and again to make us clear that there can be no existence for us independent of nature. Hence, sustainable development is an imperative rather than just a high-sounding word and we need to be very serious in the conservation of nature and the natural resources.

Did departmental projects got stalled for/during the pandemic?
Yes, there were of course cuts in our budgets too because of the pandemic. Many of the developmental works got stalled. But there are some core jobs — like our patrolling, enforcement and protection duties — which went on as it had to go on. Amidst the pandemic, we had booked many wildlife offences and we reached out to many remote villages for awareness and collective co-operation in conservation.

What one big plan do you have for next year, both personally and professionally?
One big plan among many others professionally is that we will continue working towards engaging community in conservation in higher degrees by way of more community reserves as in our state of Meghalaya, the Forest Department is having direct control of less than 6% of the area.
On the personal front, as my professional job as a forester is also my passion (and) my plan for the upcoming years is to understand more deeply about the forest and wildlife, document them, contribute towards conservation and to inspire especially the younger generations to appreciate the magic of nature.

Make a wish. In 2021, there will be…
Harmony between our species and nature and that we will collectively overcome the pandemic.