Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why we can’t do without Wildlife

This article of mine was published in a Saturday issue of New Indian Express.

My dear son,

I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself throughout the entire journey you took with Mowgli, Baloo and the other friends from the jungle, with Shere Khan keeping you on tenterhooks now and then. You know what, Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book” has been a must-read for not only you, but thousands of other children over the decades. And to share a secret with you – I’ve even got a copy of the original story for myself as a bedside read. What had motivated Kipling to come up with such a masterpiece, with such interesting characters (helpful bear Baloo, deadly python Kaa and shrewd tiger Shere Khan) making it a delightful read, a perfect classic? Where had they all existed? Well….the forests of India, actually.
What if they were not there at all? What if they’d become extinct before he sat down to write?

“Oh! Mom, don’t be so imaginative! Our Social Studies teacher told us our India is home to a great variety of wildlife, and they’re all thriving here,” I can almost hear you say.
But did you know their numbers are dwindling alarmingly? That many species of wildlife have already vanished from the face of this world, never to come back? “Why is Mom so worried about all this?” you might wonder.

Well…it’s simple. We, the humans, have been dependant on wildlife for ages. Wildlife doesn’t mean wild animals alone, it covers all animals, birds, plants and even organisms growing in natural conditions. Together they form a huge world, and so if we neglected it too much, we would be in trouble sooner or later. Just sit and think for a while. When it comes to plants, the herbivores depend on them on which the carnivores depend in turn. So it’s not only the vegetarians or vegans, it’s also the non-vegetarians that depend on the plants in a way. If you thought it’s mostly food that plants provide, let me remind you that medicines, clothing, even many building materials (wood, for example) come from the plant kingdom. Next time you wear your woollens and cottons, spare the animals and plants a thought.
It doesn’t end there. Who powers your trips to the bird sanctuaries and zoo and national parks where you get to see wildlife during holidays and vacations? Well, the plants of course! How?! It’s a long story, but to tell you in short, millions of years ago when humans did not exist, plants and animals and many organisms died and got buried under layers of earth which finally formed oil to give us petrol and diesel that power our buses and cars and other vehicles, taking us where we want. Even coal is formed likewise and is indispensable today because of the electricity it helps generate.

Sadly we don’t feel threatened enough to stop and think of how to minimize the damage we have been doing to wildlife. We take our wildlife for granted. “Damage? We? How?” you might think.

We’ll get into that soon. Say, how would we feel if aliens came and tried to drive us out of our planet? Threatened, right? We are doing something exactly like that. We are building roads, recreational areas, amusement parks, hotels, malls and buildings more than we need. But when we are cutting down forests for all this, are we not destroying the habitat of many plants and animals and birds and organisms, something they call their home that they suddenly lose without any fault of theirs?

My dear son, it’s not only to feel empathy for the animals and birds that we need to stop killing them for sport or meat, or the trees that we need to minimize their felling, it’s more for our survival that we need to reduce some and stop some of our irresponsible acts. Stop for a moment to think. Today, it’s us making a list of endangered and extinct species of wildlife; tomorrow will it be us there in that list? Well, we definitely don’t want to go the way the dinosaurs did.

Nature has gifted us with its bounty of wildlife, so that we live a healthy life in a healthy habitat. A forest cut down today means losing the many treasures of many forms of wildlife which were silently helping us live and other treasures too. It could mean something as important as oxygen-producing plants and trees purifying the air. And not to mention the sheer joy of watching creatures of the blue planets – the oceans where blue whales swim about nonchalantly, on the TV, of listening to chirps of the birds, the roars of tigers and lions in the forests and reading Kipling’s Jungle Book-like stories inspired by wildlife.

The Red Panda, the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger, the Siberian Crane, would they all go into oblivion, only to appear in books and the Net? Would you like to visit Bandipur for roads instead of forests, a busy township in North India instead of the cool ambience of Uttarkhand where people flock for bird-watching in the forests there?

If you are alarmed, do not be. Rather, work with your Science teacher to know how you could help. You could start in small ways, like enjoying birds in their natural habitat instead of keeping them as pets at home (because many a time they die as we do not know to take care of them properly), throwing garbage in the right bins, else it litters a place and might end up as garbage in waterways and get devoured by animals accidentally, causing them a painful death (it could even flow down to oceans and stay as floating garbage as a potential danger to the creatures there), urging your family members to wear less of leather (since it comes from skin of animals), writing short notes on how you can save wildlife and pasting them on the return gifts that you distribute during your birthday party. After all, small gestures from many kids like you, can bring about a change in the way people have looked at wildlife.

Let’s do the little things to start with and change the wildlife world and our world in turn.


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