Protected Areas (PA) are, perhaps the most important repository of biodiversity. Wildlife Protection Act (1972) defines protected areas as an area declared legally protected by government under the Wild Life Protection Act. An area is declared as “protected” because of its high ecological or biodiversity value, or because of its diversity or rarity of wild plants, animals and ecosystems. These areas perform important ecological functions such as maintaining the micro-climate and protecting water catchments etc.
A PA is therefore given special protection so that the natural environment is able to thrive without destructive human interference or exploitation. Presently national parks, sanctuaries, conservation reserves and community reserves are four different types of PA’s notified under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
State of Maharashtra has been bestowed with the rich biodiversity of Western Ghats, The Deccan Peninsula along with a long Coast Line. Representing these biogeographic zones, state has notified 46 protected areas. Out of these 6 are national parks, namely
- Chandoli National Park,
- Sanjay Gandhi National Park,
- Navegaon National Park,
- Pench National Park,
- Gugamal National Park and
- Tadoba National Park.
Rest 40 are the sanctuaries. There is only one marine sanctuary namely Malvan Marine Sanctuary representing the marine biodiversity. Only eight sanctuaries represents Western Ghats, while remaining protected areas represents The Deccan Peninsula. Total area covered under PA network is 8802.25 sq. km. which forms about 7.5% of total forest area.
Till recent past, PA’s have been only considered as areas demarcated for maintenance of wild animal population. Fortunately this perception is changing and biodiversity values of PA’s along with their ecological services are being recognized. It is also important to point out that size of PA’s in our country including Maharashtra is small. This fact brings about the urgent need of securing corridors / connecting links among PA’s for undisturbed movement of wildlife. Similarly, more forest area should be brought under PA network i.e. about 20-25% of total forest area. While inventorization of biodiversity in PA’s is a must, there is urgent need to change focus from charismatic species to other lesser known species as well as plants.
To maintain the sustainability of PA network active involvement of all stakeholders is of prime importance. Last but not the least, a regular programme of management effectiveness evaluation of PA’s must be undertaken on a regular basis to ensure that objectives of PA creation have been met.