A world to behold - our wildlife

The world is changing. It is changing at such a breakneck pace that sometimes it is difficult to stop a while and ponder over where we are headed towards. Apparently, we are progressing. Progress, they say, is required in life – for a better life. I wonder, though, if it should be at the cost of trampling over others’ lives. 

A few days back I had stumbled across a horrible sight on Facebook. No, it was not the picture of an ultra-fanatic beheading a hapless hostage. It was something even more appalling and heart-rending. The picture was that of the world – a map depicting  countries with the most number of threatened animals, using different colours to illustrate the findings. 

India was splattered with red. 

So, ladies and gentlemen, our country holds infamy for having over 90 species of mammals that are threatened – one of the highest in the world. Should we let the curtains drop then, over these wretched creatures who cannot speak for themselves? 

Let’s see how a few of these fare, if they have any chance of survival against the might of the species homo sapiens.

1. The Indian One-horned Rhinoceros:

The Indian rhinoceros once grazed peacefully all over the Indo-Gangetic Plains, till we decided that it had to be hunted down for its horn. The fact that rhino horn is largely made up of the protein keratin, the chief component in hair, fingernails, and animal hooves, failed to deter us on our hunting mission, for we believe that the rhino horn can treat anything from cancer to virility. Progress in the medical sphere and technology be damned – it is this horn which is the real thing. So much for living in the 21st century with enlightened minds, eh?

Today, just around 3,000 of these rhinos live in the wild, out of which 2,544 are found in Assam. Although this number is an improvement over the figure in 2006, the threat has not reduced by any means. One has just to open an Assamese daily and there would be at least one rhino killing reported in a small article in the corner. It is just a matter of time before the number of rhinos goes down again and then there would be no coming back.

Let’s save the Indian rhino, because: for one, there are no medical benefits to be had from the rhino. Period. It is being poached mercilessly and hacked up for something that we all have in our finger nails. How about us growing up and letting this innocuous, unsuspecting creature live its full life? We would not be able to forgive ourselves if this animal, which evolved 11.7 million years ago, had to perish in this century in our hands. 

2. Indian Wild Dog: 

Perhaps there were none more misunderstood in the animal world in India than the Indian Wild Dogs or the Dholes. Once widely distributed all across central and south-east Asia, today there are hardly 2,500 of them. Packs of these social creatures roamed in large numbers in the pre-British era and were considered to be one of the prime predators of the Indian forests. They were declared as ‘pests’ during British Raj and almost eradicated by order, till better sense dawned and culling of these animals were finally curbed. 

It took a long time for the dholes to make their comeback. It was almost as if they were afraid to reclaim their rightful numbers. The measures taken to cull them had scarred them for life. I remember my father telling me about the pack of dholes that would appear in his village fringes during his childhood in Assam. There are hardly any reported from the jungles of Assam now. The only place where you could see them enjoying their due title as predator is in the Central Indian Highlands and the Western and Eastern Ghats of the southern states, prominently in Nagarhole and Bandipur National Park in Karnataka.

Let’s save the Indian Wild Dog, because: simply put, they have an irreplaceable place in the jungle eco-system and they help maintain the balance. Take one element out of that eco-system and you have a veritable pack of cards in your hands, ready to tumble down at the slightest threat. Besides, dholes are tolerant of scavengers of their kill, thereby supporting other lives as well.

3. Asiatic Lioness:

We always cheer loudly whenever Disney’s animation movie The Lion King comes on screen, but how often have we given a thought to our own Simba, or rather, our own Sarabi (Simba’s mom)? Are we aware that these majestic animals are found only in a tiny part of our country, and nowhere else in the world?

The Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, encompassing an area of 1,412.1 sq km in Western Gujarat, is the only habitat for the Asiatic lion. At one time they used to rule the jungles of West, Southwest, South and Central regions of Asia. In India, their range extended upto to the state of Bengal, but indiscriminate and irrational hunting by the Indian royalties and the British led their entire population to be wiped out, leaving only the tiny patch in Gujarat as their kingdom. 

By 2010, their number had dwindled to a mere 411, teetering at the edge of extinction. They were finally able to make a recovery and as in May 2015, there were 523 Asiatic Lions. However, just as we were about to rejoice in their recovery, calamity struck the region in the form of heavy floods in July 2015 and 10 lions were reported dead. Perhaps, we can take some solace in the news that a few days back 4 lionesses gave birth to a total of 11 cubs. 

Let’s save the Asiatic Lioness, because: they are beautiful and they are priceless. They are also terribly delicate – one epidemic strike and we shall never be able to see them again in their natural habitat. They are trying to adjust to their constricted range, down to just a few hundred sq kms from the broad expanse of the previous era, and they are trying to live in harmony with the presence of mushrooming villages. If we lose them now, a precious jewel will be lost forever from our treasure of wildlife.

As I write this, I am reminded of the Dodo, a bird that we lost recently – in the 17th century. It went fairly unnoticed. In present times it has become a fixture in popular culture, often as a symbol of extinction and obsolescence. I find that rather painful. I wonder who has given us the right to eradicate a species that had evolved over thousands and thousands of years. And why? 

I think it is high time we take a pause, give the wheels of progress a breather, and deliberate on our actions. Nothing should come at the price of eliminating a living creature – be it a spider or a lion. I hope to see these beautiful creations of nature thrive and live a full life, till the day I die. Amen.

Note 1. The images have been taken from 'Capturing Wildlife Moments in India' by Ashok Mahindra.

Note 2. I am participating in the Save the Species contest for the book “Capturing Wildlife Moments in India” in association with Saevus Wildlife India,  read the reviews for the book ‘Capturing Wildlife Moments in India’ here 


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