Wildlife and Rubber Plantations

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In India, the southern Western Ghats is acknowledged as an area conducive for rubber cultivation, often referred to as the “traditional rubber growing areas”. This region is also known as a biodiversity hotspot housing several plant and animal species that are unique to this region, found nowhere else in the world and many that are found in very small numbers and are endangered. In this landscape, forests and rubber plantations and other human use areas form a mosaic of land uses.

Before the conversion of this area to rubber plantations and other uses, contiguous forest existed throughout the southern Western Ghats. With the advent of more intensive human activity over decades, this contiguity has been lost, resulting in wildlife using production landscapes more often to traverse between forest fragments. In some cases this has resulted in isolation of populations which, in the long term could be lost. This loss of contiguity also often results in conflict with humans, in addition to exposing the animals to danger such as road kills, pesticide poisoning from contaminated water sources near agricultural areas, high tension electricity lines, and illegal hunting .

Globally, there is an increase in demand for natural rubber. In India, there is a shortfall to meet our own demand and for export, thus providing an opportunity to expand the rubber industry to newer areas, within the Western Ghats and also in North East India. Such expansions to new areas often  correspond with the loss of traditional land management practices and also in the loss of natural habitats. In the long run, it is well noted that intensive monoculture are ecologically unsustainable.

Given this continued and increasing pressure on wildlife habitats, loss of our natural resources is inevitable. The rubber is an important and responsible industry which has recently been looking towards long term sustainability. It is also one of the few agricultural crops that are least affected by wildlife. If this industry could consider ecologically sustainable practices, they would naturally promote a more wildlife friendly plantation and the benefits to both the industry and wildlife will be huge. In the case of larger plantations, such efforts automatically go towards their Corporate Social Responsibility, and reiterate their commitment towards the environment.

Wildlife refuges can often be created along streams and rivers, which not only protect the water source, but also act as a good vegetative cover for wildlife. Native vegetation as wind barriers in areas affected by high velocity winds also provide excellent habitat for local wildlife. In other areas smaller stretches of natural vegetation on under productive lands can be established to link up forest patches. Again, this will contribute to increasing the biodiversity on the farm, bringing with it many important ecosystem services. Very often even narrow stretches of indigenous vegetation work well as refuges for wildlife.