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Our love-hate relationship with wildlife and the mixed messages we send

Why expect kindness from animals, or teach children to be environmentally conscious, when we ourselves break every rule in the book

Written by Ranjit Lal |
Updated: March 7, 2021 7:54:27 am
What is wrong with us?

We cause one hell of a confusion (and scepticism) for children, young adults, and wildlife. We piously lecture youngsters that the environment and wildlife are sacrosanct and must be protected, that they shouldn’t waste electricity, that every drop of water is precious, not a tree must be cut, not a leaf picked, not an animal harmed. And, proudly, we show them some of the sterling laws we have made to protect our wildlife and environment, including the Schedule I list of protected species in our Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

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Even a child can nail the hypocrisy: You’ll be jailed for seven years for even accidentally running over a peacock. For the government, however, it’s okay to cut down entire forests. Decimate or make homeless every living creature that lives in them. Bulldoze highways through national parks. Let trains through thickly forested tracts, so elephants get mowed down. Rivers are dammed, widened and deepened, so they muck up aquatic life and silt up, besides flooding entire forests (after these have been razed). It can dig for oil or mine in these areas circumventing or breaking every law. Frankly, it stinks, like our rivers.

Thousands of crores of rupees have been spent cleaning up rivers, including the Ganga, but most of them still look and smell like sewers. Look at the Yamuna: 70 per cent of its pollution load comes via its 22 km passage through Delhi, where it foams and froths like someone gagging on poison. London had the same problem, but they cleaned up the Thames. We moan about air pollution, get panic attacks every winter and forget about it when the wind blows it away temporarily.

We’ve been bipolar. Yes, a lot of people feed birds (usually useless pigeons) and animals in cities. Increasingly, people are visiting national parks and sanctuaries and have taken to birding. We worship so many of them — parties are thrown every Saturday and Tuesday for Rhesus Macaques in cities like Delhi and Jaipur; gigantic tuskers are decked up, caparisoned and taken out in grand, noisy processions from temples to bless people; cobras are offered milk (which they don’t drink) and worshipped; tigers are revered; there’s a temple dedicated to rats; the rare Great Indian Bustard has been given Z+ class security, and precious chicks are being raised by surrogate human “mothers”, there being, perhaps, less than 100 birds left in Rajasthan.

At the same time, monkeys are stoned, trapped and taken to unfamiliar places, firebombs are thrown at wild elephants as they meander through tea gardens and crop fields, tigers (and leopards) are lynched on sight, and, on city streets, you’ll see cart drivers mercilessly beat their draught animals — oxen, donkeys or mules. Then, there are the few psychos who get their kicks by throwing dogs off terraces. With great wisdom, we have put up scores of giant windmills all over the Great Indian Bustard’s territory, so that birds regularly slice themselves to pieces, because their forward vision is not all that good and they fly straight into them. Really, what is wrong with us?

On the face of it, it may seem these animals are the culprits: monkeys in cities will (like so many city folk) attack if you so much as catch their eye, wild elephants flatten houses and anything in their path, tigers will pounce if cornered in a sugarcane field — as will leopards, for whom there is little sympathy.

Well, monkeys will attack simply because they don’t know whether they’re going to be thrown a party or get an airgun pellet up their backsides. Having been feted in the cities, they have no idea of how to look for food when banished to outlying areas — what leaves or fruit to eat (besides, who wants indigestible leaves when you’ve gorged on parathas and halwa?) Wild elephants go berserk because their ancient migratory routes have been railroaded by us, who then throw fireballs at them. The grand temple tuskers were not born to carry 100 kg howdahs on their backs and walk past clamorous streets to the accompaniment of an unholy racket of yelling people and manic tin-drums. Sooner or later, something has to give — and when that happens with a tusker, it’s bad news.

Those who treat animals kindly don’t mistreat them. But how are the animals to know that? For them, anything on two legs soon becomes the “enemy” to be avoided or attacked as we give their tolerance and our “live and let live” doctrine the big heave-ho.

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