By Arefa Tehsin
I love animals. And I don’t mean cats and dogs who hog the limelight as soon as animals are mentioned to humans. I mean the wild variety – lumbering monitor lizards, ever-grinning crocodiles, badass hornets, swashbuckling parakeets, clamorous frogs, silent snakes…you get the drift. It is all about upbringing. Being brought up in a family of naturalists, animals and jungles hold an unrivalled mystique for me.
Today, we are alienated from nature, when it needs to be an essential part of growing up. Climbing trees, bee stings, crushing ants and catching butterflies made my childhood afternoons. Through these games and even heartless acts, a bond was formed with nature, unbreakable for life. Many children, as author Richard Louv points, are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder. Due to an absence of daily interaction with nature, especially in the cities, most kids are growing up with a total lack of understanding of the natural world, which hampers an all-inclusive growth. In the ‘Four Arguments For the Elimination of Television,’ Jerry Mander says that after sometime if you’ll ask children where do oranges grow, they’ll say, “in the supermarket.”
Youngsters, who spend more time with nature, develop better immune systems, healthy emotional coping skills, empathy and a scientific temper.
It starts at home
Let the child be hands-on with nature, whether you have a garden at home or not. Planting a tree, a shrub, a bush and nurturing and raising it even in a pot, putting up a sparrow house or an owl house outside your window, dirtying your hands in mud or making sure the rain splatters on the tomato creeper can be the first kindle of love for nature. Once you have even a little greenery around, small and big critters will appear magically.
While we think that the wilderness and wildlife are confined to forests, there is a whole lot of wild in our own backyards, homes and cities. There are hunters and hunted, diggers and tunnellers, raptors and roaches, the eight legged and the legless, with canines and claws, growls and chirps…a lost world all around us, which children can be encouraged to explore.
The Great Outdoors
All you need to do is arouse children’s curiosity by taking them to botanical gardens or reserved forests close to the cities. Wilderness has magic. Unlike TV and video games, where you can only hear and see, forests are where you have a sensational experience – feel, see, taste, smell, hear and have a hell of a good time. First hand encounters with the wild can transform a child’s outlook.
Zoos and Zoological Parks
Nature depletion to most of us has been reduced to threats of global warming. Our country’s education system has succeeded to paint a doomsday scenario and has failed to form a bond with nature. With the forest cover depleted to a minimum, animals poached to extinction and holidays in wildlife sanctuaries the interest (or the privilege) of a few – to bond with nature seems like a distant possibility. Zoos and zoological parks remain the only places for the multitudes to connect with wildlife and be sensitised towards it.
Some animal rights activists talk about banning the zoos. We, of course, should work towards giving good living spaces and ensuring the well-being of the captive animals. But we have a rather hypocritical approach towards conservation. The greatest cause of wildlife destruction is expanding cities and clearing forests for agriculture. Trillions of life forms are killed for our development. Zoos, in fact, are an unmatched educational tool for laymen. They also breed many critically endangered species, which are threatened even in the wildlife sanctuaries. We need to protect these animals from ourselves. Banning zoos, for all we know, might accelerate their extinction. Many species are bred in zoos and reintroduced in their natural habitats.
An attractive place is needed for nature education that can stimulate a child’s interest and provide competition to internet, television and Playstations. No child can remain unmoved after seeing an animal at close quarters. Zoos are a place where children get to see the animals, which they’ve heard of in stories. To see a child’s excitement in a zoo is a joy to behold. It gives form to their imagination and opens a world of curiosity. Many grow up to become crusaders of wildlife protection.
Baba Dioum had contemplated, “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
Most of the times when we hear people getting agitated about mistreatment of animals, it is for the domestic, tamed varieties – horses, dogs, cats and cows. They are at least not threatened by extinction. Today, we are facing the sixth age of extinction (the species extinction rate is 1000 times more than the normal rate) after the Ice Age and the biggest factor for that is human activity. We must introduce children to the animals who are out of sight, out of mind, and out of discourse — the creatures and trees and wild spaces that are disappearing like morning mist with the dawn of human ‘development’. My naturalist father Raza H. Tehsin says that it is not facts or preaching or lessons that will connect one to nature; it is stories. Stories, like music, have the power to move, to change. Finding good books on wildlife and nature and giving them to children can be a small act of redemption for us.
(Arefa Tehsin is the author of several fiction and nonfiction books on wildlife, such as Wild in the Backyard and the picture book The Elephant Bird. She was appointed the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Udaipur and has relentlessly pursued nature conservation through her writings and columns.)