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Critically Endangered Species May Go Extinct as Land Degrades

Species with depleting populations could be casualties of desertification.
Shamani Joshi
Mumbai, IN
three animal species declared extinct in India
All photos via Wikimedia Commons (Great Indian Bustard, Asiatic Cheetah and Pink-headed Duck)

This article originally appeared on VICE India

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article said that the Great Indian Bustard was extinct, rather than critically endangered, and that the main cause of extinction of the other species was desertification. After clarifying with the Zoological Survey of India Director Kailash Chandra, we have updated our piece to reflect the findings. VICE regrets the error.


Although human actions are the ones primarily responsible for the effects of climate change, the threat of extinction isn’t just coming for our kind. Researchers at the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP 14) have said that if desertification—where fertile land degrades significantly as a result of deforestation and agricultural practices—and improper use of land continue, critically endangered species could become extinct.

While some animal species like the Asiatic Cheetah and the pink-headed duck have been extinct for decades, mainly due to human activities like hunting, habitat destruction and deforestation, others that are on the verge of extinction now face the same threat.

“Species like the Great Indian Bustard, which only has about 150 of its population left, are critically endangered, and if land is not managed properly, desertification could be one of the reasons they become extinct,” Kailash Chandra, Director of the Zoological Survey of India, told VICE.

At the conference, Chandra mentioned that they had a database of more than 5.6 million specimens, collected from all over India and also from the neighbouring countries before independence, and said that, “They give a lot of information about how things have changed in more than 100 years. If you see their distribution in geo-special platforms, you'll realise how much changes have occurred because of the impact of deforestation and desertification.”


Chandra pointed out that even the use of insecticides pesticides, conversion of forest to agricultural land, industries and chemicals, and indiscriminate chopping of nature in the name of development (we’re looking at you, Aarey authorities), are responsible for triggering this deadly desertification. This doesn’t mean development must come to a screeching halt, but rather stresses the need to regulate such practices and minimise the damage done to the environment. He also said that such degradation doesn’t just threaten the survival of animals, but also that of humans and other microscopic beings.

"The entire food chain is affected due to this," says Chandra, stressing that a lot of land in India continues to degrade, with more than 30 percent of its land resources being affected by over-cultivation, soil erosion and depletion of wetlands.

What’s even more worrying is that India isn’t the only one having aridity issues. At the conference held in Greater Noida from September 2 to September 13, more than 196 countries and 94 environment ministers got together to acknowledge this crucial issue and work towards conserving the environment, especially in terms land management.

In fact, a recent UN report estimates that over a million plant and animal species are at risk, especially iconic endangered ones because of reasons ranging from pollution to overfishing, meaning that it’s all happening as a result of human activities. It also pointed out that ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves that protect the surrounding area from hurricanes, and wetlands that absorb water to reduce flooding, have declined dramatically, which is why natural disasters are now being increasingly reported. Apparently it’s not too late to unfuck the planet but we have to act now by incentivising the protection of natural resources and shift our development focus to nature-based planning.

At the conference last weekend, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a speech promising cooperation in addressing climate change and land degradation, while the other ministers present are expected to announce their targets for land restoration soon and unilaterally agree on ways to deal with threats like forced migration, sand and dust storms, droughts and water crises.

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