On February 1, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh gave his people a surprise. He declared the Indus Dolphin, one of the world’s rarest mammals, Punjab’s ‘State Aquatic Animal’
“Delighted to declare the Indus River Dolphin as the State Aquatic Animal of Punjab. My government will do everything needed to conserve this endangered species — a rare aquatic mammal found only in the Beas river,” tweeted Captain Singh.
The ‘State Animal’ of Punjab is the Blackbuck, while the ‘State Bird’ is the Northern Goshawk, famous for its association with the Tenth Sikh Master, Guru Gobind Singh.
Each of India’s 29 states has a State Animal, State Bird, State Flower, and State Tree. There is also the category of ‘State Aquatic Animal’. The state of Rajasthan has made an innovation here too. It has a ‘State Wild Animal’, the Chinkara or Indian Gazelle, while its ‘State Animal’ is the Dromedary Camel.
The practice of naming a particular animal and bird as an emblem of the state goes back to the 1970s. M K Ranjitsinh, the architect of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, who was part of the government then, told Down To Earth (DTE), “At the time, I was Director of Wildlife Preservation under the Wild Life Protection Act. Declaring a state animal or bird was a guideline that I and my team issued to state governments in the 1970s. The idea was that since certain animals were endemic to certain parts of the country, declaring them as state emblems garnered special attention for them. It also gave the people of the state a sense of pride in that species, a part of their natural heritage.”
So has the declaration of state emblems really helped in conserving specific species? “It has helped in various degrees,” says Ranjitsinh. “Some cases have shown remarkable results. In others, they have been negligible. It is a mixed bag.”
Ranjitsinh draws attention to what he thinks is the best example of this. “In 1975, when the Sangai or brow-antlered deer of Manipur was declared the state animal, there were only 14 individuals left. However, following the declaration, people started to own the Sangai. Today, it is an icon of Manipur. You have shops, taxi stands, the biggest fair in Imphal and the largest daily in circulation in the city named after the deer. There is even dance in the Manipuri classical dance genre named after it. And the last time I heard, there were 200 individuals,” he says.
However, there have been many failures too. “The Hangul is the state animal of Jammu and Kashmir. But look at its current status,” points out Ranjitsinh. “The difference is so marked from Manipur as the people have not yet started to own the animal as their pride.”
Nagpur-based Prafulla Bhamburkar, Coordinator for Central India for the non-profit Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), agrees. “By declaring the mammal or bird as State Animal or State Bird, people can be made aware of its status. Attention can be diverted towards it. The more people take pride in that species, the more it contributes to its conservation,” he told DTE. Bhamburkar however, concedes that despite declaring the wild buffalo as its State Animal, Chhattisgarh has not been able to increase its numbers. “There are a host of problems including most importantly, the shortage of breeding females. The authorities are now trying cloning,” he says.
Sumit Dookia, Assistant Professor, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, however, says that the declaration of state emblems is essentially a ‘cosmetic measure’. “Whenever a government declares such emblems, they should have a long-term conservation plan in mind,” he says. “Take, for instance, the Great Indian Bustard. It is Rajasthan’s State Bird. That status has just made it a celebrity. Its actual pain is not understood. And of course, the numbers are decreasing continuously.”
Dookia gives other examples. “Haryana’s State Animal is the Blackbuck. Has that had any effect on the population of the species in the state? Or the Chinkara, which is the State Wild Animal of Rajasthan. In addition, it is also revered by the Bishnois and other communities. But not a month passes without a poaching incident involving Chinkara being reported from Rajasthan.”
He adds further, “Peafowl, despite being declared the National Bird, are protected not because of that reason. Instead, it is because of their association with Hindu deities like Krishna and Murugan. Does the tiger being our National Animal guarantee it protection from poachers?”