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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Survival of the Fittest: With loss of their natural habitat, animals trying to adapt and survive

With loss of their natural habitat, all that the animals are trying to do is to adapt and survive. Can they be blamed?

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi |
Updated: January 4, 2015 1:00:50 am
cow-main A cow shares leg room with a scooter (Source: Thinkstock Images)


Parents of fussy, stubborn creepy crawlies, birds and beasties and even plants, will do well to insist that their progeny not be picky about what they’d like to eat or where they’d like to live. Fusspots in the animal and plant kingdoms, those that insist on their personal little ecological niches and very private lifestyles are surely doomed — because we’re running rampant everywhere. Those creatures that have taken a more bindass approach to life and who eat everything that’s put before them, and live anywhere, thrive.

Take flies and cockroaches. They’re global and as long as we produce guck and goo they’re pretty much immortal, even better off than us. By contrast, take the fig wasp — a complete disaster-in-the making — for both itself and the great Ficus family of trees. Every species of fig tree has its own personalised (notarised?) species of fig wasp that pollinates it (and there are around 1,000 species of figs). Your everyday all-purpose bee or wasp won’t do, nor will any other cousin fig wasp. If Armageddon overtakes the fig wasp that pollinates the great banyan tree — eventually Armageddon will overtake the banyan too. Talk about painting yourself in a corner.

Birds, too, can’t afford to be fussy. Gulls and egrets which had a reputation of being lovers of aquatic fare now seem to prefer hanging about garbage dumps, scavenging from tins and are going great guns. Out of the goodness of our hearts — actually, to get into the good books of the gods — we aid and abet by scattering namkeen, dana, bread and rotis for them, changing their dietary preferences. In upscale New York and London, mighty peregrine falcons maintain penthouse eyries, from where they pick off the ubiquitous blue rock doves (good riddance!), inured to the noise and bustle of the city beneath. In Delhi, black kites dodge the tangled spaghetti of electric cables and dive into the mayhem of Daryaganj gullies to snack on road-kill or spilled popcorn. Crows, of course, will eat virtually anything, anywhere.

It’s the same with mammals: Rats, mice and bandicoots will nibble everything from hard disks and blue cheese to vital cables in airplanes and thrive (except when the plane crashes). In the West, foxes and raccoons party in the streets at night, raiding garbage bins. Bears pose a problem when they decide to patronise McDonald’s instead of making their own burgers. The exploding population of macaques in Delhi now expect to be served four-course meals three times a day (Fruit — papaya, mango, bananas — rotis or rice, gram, pakoras, peanuts, almonds, bread, and, of course, jalebis). Get real — who eats bitter leaves and raw shoots anymore? In Mumbai, the leopards of the Borivali National Park have developed a taste for dogs and, sometimes, children, and are moving into the suburbs — as indeed they are around Delhi. Elephants too have widened their range and now actively seek out the good life, which includes gallons of country liquor — and the destructive consequences thereof. Cows and buffaloes, alas, often get it all wrong when they snack on plastic bags.

We freak out when the deadly spotted cat waits for Brownie in the garden, or a herd of elephants inquires when the bar opens, but it’s our fault anyway. Their attitude towards us is pragmatic: if you can’t beat them, join them. Eat what they eat. Adapt and survive. Be a dogmatic, stubborn so-and-so and perish.
Something in that for us?

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher

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