We’ve observed that only a handful of Indian companies are committed to CSR in animal protection. Given the large ecological footprint of companies, it becomes more binding on them to contribute to overall prospects of biodiversity conservation. Protection of wildlife comes under item 6 in Clause 135-Schedule VII of the Companies Act, where companies in India can take up activities for ensuring environmental sustainability, ecological balance, protection of flora and fauna, animal welfare, agroforestry, conservation of natural resources, and maintaining the quality of soil, air and water.
As of May 2019, India has 869 protected areas covering 165,088.36 sq. km, which is 5.02% of the total geographic area of the country (according to National Wildlife Database). Such a large landscape requires sustained efforts and substantial funds to conserve, manage, restore, recover and monitor wildlife, its population and the habitat.
There is too much emphasis on conservation only but seldom on protection with long-term studies using scientific approaches. This calls for a change in the conservation approach in India, wherein the corporate agencies should initiate collaboration with scientific institutions for developing strong and result-driven conservation plans.
Some business groups realise that biodiversity and development are closely linked, and that the pressure of developmental activities on biodiversity is not always positive. Here are the most successful CSR projects for animals in terms of effectiveness and impact:
The Muthoot Group – Human–elephant conflict management
The Muthoot Group’s logo displays elephants and the company has a special interest in the conservation of the Indian elephant. It has collaborated with WWF-India for managing Human–Elephant Conflict and protecting elephant habitats. The company has donated 75,000 USD under its CSR mandate to protect elephants across six Indian states, namely Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, and the company’s home state of Kerela.
The project for CSR in animal protection focuses on the development and training of anti-depredation squads across elephant attack-prone areas in these states. Funding for low-cost solar fences in villages and electric fencing around agricultural fields is also provided.
Investment is also made on the use of advanced technology like infrared motion sensors that work on the concept of detecting activity (elephant) through sensors in the nearby areas and activating the alarms in return. In addition, the villagers are equipped with torch and searchlights to help them spot elephants and thus prevent damage to crops, property and life.
Sony India Limited – Red panda and snow leopard conservation
Sony India is working for the conservation of red panda and snow leopard in Arunachal Pradesh. The snow leopard can be found above a certain height in the Himalayan states of India and is often called ‘the ghost of the mountains’. It is usually hunted for fur, bones, meat and other body parts for medicinal and other purposes.
On the other hand, red panda, the state animal of Sikkim, is mostly found in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and West Bengal (northern part). In addition to the threats of poaching and habitat degradation, this species faces threat from feral dogs.
The project funded by Sony India in collaboration with WWFIndia focused on estimating the population status and generating baseline data for the two species. Other objectives of the CSR project included a study on ecology, habitat requirements and potential threats. Additionally, effective mitigation measures to prevent and manage human-wildlife conflicts have been developed and implemented.
The company also runs sustainable livelihood programmes for local communities of the region, making them self-reliant and empowering them to adopt alternate livelihoods, which has resulted in making them less dependent on forest produce and minimizing likely human–wildlife conflicts.
Tata Chemicals – Save the Asian Lion Project
The Gir National Park is the last fortress of the endangered Asiatic lion. One of the threats to these 400-plus lions are open wells inside the National Park due to which several of them have been killed in the past. In this context, in partnership with the State Forest Department in Gujarat, Tata Chemicals launched a project in 2008 to save this species.
Through this project, parapet walls were built around open wells which made them safe for lions and other wildlife. This helped in reducing the mortality risk to Asiatic lions and other species due to falling in open wells. To date, some 1204 open wells have been upgraded at the cost of 126,840 USD, which is contributed by the Tata Group.
Tata Housing – Endangered species conservation
Tata Housing, collaborated with WWF-India and donated 60,400 USD during 2014–2015 and thereafter committed to contribute a total of about half a million USD until 2018, for the conservation of the Great Indian bustard in Desert National Park, Rajasthan; red panda in Arunachal Pradesh, and one-horned rhinoceros in Laokhowa–Borachapori Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam.
Tata Housing is also engaged in tiger conservation across six landscapes of India, viz. Terai Arc, Sundarbans, Satpuda–Maikal, North Bank, Kaziranga Karbi Anglong and the Western Ghats. The company has helped by training the forest staff and providing them with protective gear to curb poaching of tigers in these landscapes.
In addition, the frontline personnel of tiger reserves, national parks and sanctuaries were provided with patrolling equipment such as GPS, compass, binoculars, digital camera, LED torch, winter jackets, trekking shoes, backpacks, mosquito nets, raincoats, patrolling vehicles, etc.
The company is also associated with snow leopard conservation in Ladakh, which accounts for 5–10% of about 7000 snow leopards in the world. Through a crowdfunding effort with WWF-India, Tata Housing worked towards awareness creation among the public about this vulnerable species.
Rio Tinto India – Vulture Project
Rio Tinto Group is an Anglo-Australian metals and mining corporation headquartered in London, UK. In India, the company went into State Support Agreement with the Government of Madhya Pradesh for a mining lease for the Bunder Diamond Project.
The mining region of the project in Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh has a flourishing bird population and is a natural habitat for vultures. The Indian vulture, which is critically endangered since 2002, has witnessed a huge decline in its population in the recent past.
Rio Tinto and BNHS have partnered since 2014 with the aim to protect the Indian vulture population by setting up a ‘vulture safe zone’ of about 32,000 sq. km around Bunder Diamond Project area. The project has adopted a multipronged approach in which apart from monitoring and tracking of vulture population, awareness among local people about vulture conservation was also raised.
So far, about 20,000 locals have been educated about the conservation significance and the role of vultures in the whole ecosystem. Another major initiative was to monitor the use of banned diclofenac (a veterinary drug used as a painkiller for cattles in the past) through regular carcass sampling.
Aircel – ‘Save Our Tigers’ project
Aircel Ltd took up the ‘Save Our Tigers’ initiative in 2008 with an aim to raise mass awareness about the status of tigers and their conservation. The project helped introduce the concept of kid’s safari with Sanctuary Asia ‘The Kids for Tigers Express’, which is a fully equipped education and entertainment van that passes around the villages in Ranthambore National Park and promotes awareness among the communities about the need to protect the tigers.
In another initiative, Aircel partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Trust to deploy and implement high impact on-ground projects. This initiative was highly successful as it developed and deployed 41 rapid response units in 35 tiger reserves, refurbished 1167 anti-poaching camps across majority of the tiger reserves and trained a large number of frontline forest guards in various aspects of conservation.
ONGC – Eastern Swamp Deer project
The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) collaborated with the Wildlife Trust of India in 2010, for the rescue of the endangered subspecies of the eastern swamp deer. Kaziranga National Park in Assam is the last remaining habitat of about 681 surviving animals of this species in the world.
Through this project, ONGC aimed for long-term conservation of this species and has donated funding of 128,250 USD to the Assam Forest Department for this cause. The conservation strategy involved the estimation of population dynamics, threats and factors restricting the growth and distribution of the eastern swamp deer. This also included the development of new viable populations outside the Park, if required.
In 2007, ONGC in association with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in Gujarat and Maharashtra, worked for the restoration of about 200 ha of degraded mangroves. The restoration work was carried out with the help of local communities, who were trained initially and grouped into mobile education units for conducting mangrove restoration work. In the past, over 1000 such educational activities have been initiated by teachers and students with a focus on conservation of coastal biodiversity, involving about 60,000 students and 1500 teachers. The awareness programme covered 20,000 locals of fishing community from 250 coastal villages and provided employment to 150 trained personnel in Gandhar, Gujarat.
The mandate for CSR in animal protection can go far in reversing the current loss of biodiversity and degradation of the ecosystem and its services. The partnerships with business groups under the CSR Act to conserve biodiversity, and using their experience to design enhanced policies and programmes, can lead to better management of resources, nature and ecosystem services.