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The great game of survival

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We live in a diverse world. Be it cultural, religious, ethnic, anthropological, and of course natural. We have a rich and diverse natural heritage coupled with extreme topographical variations.

With the ever-increasing population and of course the awesome material advancements, we have progressed a lot in the last few decades. The situation is however literally rosy. Which means that there are quite a few prickly thorns.

The thorns are the effects of our endeavours. Endeavours to make life comfortable. We need roads, bridges, dams, factories, and all other amenities. These Endeavours come at a cost. Not just on commercial terms but also on the nature and natural resources. After all, even plucking a single blade of grass kills millions of microorganisms who had made that blade their home.

Let’s understand the consequence from this example.

These microorganisms were the first step of the food chain. So effectively, we are removing the bottom layer of a house of cards. The result is anybody’s guess!! With a single grass blade goes a myriad of organisms across various trophic levels.

Now one might argue this is natural. Eating and being eaten. Survival of the fittest. Isn’t that how nature is supposed to work?

Let’s take a moment & think about the famous ‘Jungle Book’. Kipling’s epic captured many imaginations and enthralled old and young alike. It indeed was an excellent book & the excellence was multi-dimensional. The most common reactions among the readers were as follows:

  1. Everyone rejoiced when ‘Leela’ adopted our Mowgli. No one however thought of it as a brilliant example of co-existence, which is what nature has made us for.
  2. Everyone hated ‘Sher Khan’, but no one empathised that the poor tiger had no choice but to kill other animals to live. After all he did not, like us humans, have the luxury of going to supermarkets and get canned meat that god knows which poor animal had to donate for our humane cause.
  3. Everyone also celebrated when Mowgli killed Sher Khan. But why did the poor animal have to die? The answer is quite simple. That old issue of fighting over limited resources. An eternal truth which makes conservation a losing battle.

Human beings are among the weakest animals in terms of physical strength. But by virtue of superior mind power we rule the planet. The Sher Khans stand no chance in front of that phenomenon called intelligence.

Let us now go a step further and understand the source of this conflict. What we call as the man-animal conflict.

We often hear about animals coming out of the forests and damaging crops, livestock and also endangering human lives. The result is almost always the same and that is either capture and translocation of the animal/s or in dire situations, killing of the “rogue(!!)” animal/s.

So why do the animals do this? After all, by now, they should have better sense than to walk straight towards their doom!!

The answer requires a bit of introspection.

Where were we born? I mean our human race. Where did we start our journey?

The clear answer is that we had our first refuge in lush meadows and dense. In fact, the entire World was a Forest then. It is understandable that reading this in these times, sitting inside a plush flat overlooking a busy street in a metropolis, we might actually shudder at the thought of how life was when it was shared with leeches, mosquitoes & God knows what other creatures of the wild.  But we actually had lived like that at that time during the dawn of humanity.

So, if every place were forested then how come we have cities today? Where did they come from? We can be very proud that we built the cities. We literally transformed the World over thousands of years and built the glorious citadels which bear evidence of our progress and advancements. We have made life simple, easy and mechanized. With a press of a button we can even order our breakfast now! A far cry from the days when we had to hunt for food and fight with angry predators over raw meat.

The cities we made killed a lot of forests though. The animals had no choice. They had to adjust. They still have to adjust as we have not stopped growing.

There seems to be an inversely proportional relationship between our population growth and forest cover. We have to feed and house trillions. Where will the land come from? Where will we plant our crops to feed ourselves? So, more and more forest lands have fallen prey over the years for our expanding needs. The animals have lesser and lesser space for themselves now. The wilderness has shrunk manifolds and across the World, in the last century alone, approximately 500 animal species have gone extinct due to over-exploitation of natural habitats, over-hunting and other human activities. Natural selection process has continuously chosen us as the fittest and we have survived at the cost of these unfortunate “lesser (!!)” beings.

This problem of gradual extinction is of a pandemic scale. Whenever we go out on an exciting safari, we should remember that many of the wildlife we are seeing are probably the last living specimens of that species.

Let’s talk about the Lions at Gir (Gujarat). So many of them there for a tourist’s delight! The King of the jungle strolling right in front of us all day long! The point we miss is that the poor king has been booted out of all his kingdoms and what we see is nothing but a final refuge to rest his tired mane before he breaths his last. A single disease tomorrow and the entire population will most probably get wiped out.

What about the cheetahs? The wonderful Nat Geo documentaries on dashing cheetahs in African wilderness have captured our imaginations since long. While we gape with awe at their magnificent gait, we must remember, even India had its field day with the cheetahs. We managed to shoot the last of them some time in 1952. All in the name of a good sport. In fact, Asiatic Cheetah has the rare distinction of being the only animal to be hunted to extinction in India. There were no other causes behind them going missing from our forests. Currently around 50 of them are preserved in Iran whereas their cousins continue to live in Africa.

Thus, the truth about extinctions and conflicts lie within us only. The concept of “right to live” is not something which is commonly accepted when it comes to Non-Human Animal Lives when we deal with Man – Animal conflict. We, humans, obviously did not create this wonderful plasma of life. But we seem to have claimed the right to decide who lives and who sinks into the eternal sea of oblivion?

The dodos lived for ages till we saw them, the wondrous cheetah ran like the wind forever till it could not out run our bullets.

Vultures, snakes, songbirds, eagles, frogs, lemurs, langurs, tigers all have become our prey. We don’t need to hunt and eat all of them. We just kill them for our whims, comforts, materialistic mindset and shortsightedness.

Mother Nature, being the great balancing force, has blessed us with all the intelligence of being the dominant apex species, but also cursed us with a severe impairment, which is our short-term memory and myopia towards the long-term future. This curse has resulted in the major crises that we now face in the form of climate change and global warming. 40% of the World Population lives very close to the coasts. In fact, all bustling cities and examples of our industrialisations are largely situated around the seas. By end of this century, at the current rate of global warming and rise in sea levels, land which is home to around 200 million people, will probably be permanently under the high tide line. In fact, some reports point to a grave possibility of Indian cities like Kolkata, Mumbai and Surat to be under water or severely ravaged by frequent floods by 2050.

Another major concern is that though 75% of our Earth is covered by water bodies, actual availability for human consumption is almost miniscule and this too is getting reduced year after year. As per estimates. 98% of the water available is Sea water and hence not fit for consumption. Of the remaining 2%, 87% is stored as ice and glaciers, 12% as ground water and 2% in lakes, ponds etc. Global warming is slowly melting these ice reservoirs while extraction while faulty land practices have taken a toll on the ground water levels & other sources. Cape Town recently was in the unenviable situation of being the first major city in the modern era to face the threat of running out of drinking water. Several Indian cities are also in the running for this dangerous fate.

Given this scenario, an obvious question that comes up is how long can we sustain ourselves?

Life of course is beautiful. And we need to live. For this we need to help each other preserve the web of life that we have. If we continue to cut the strings one by one then this web ultimately has to collapse. There are no solitary survivors in this game.

Of course, we can’t replace the dodo, the Caspian tiger, the Tasmanian devil, the Pallas’s cormorant, or the Stellar’s sea cow. But we can make sure that others don’t follow suit. We can make sure that the lions keep roaring, the cheetahs keep running, the eagles keep and above all, the forests keep glistening.

Conservation and preservation are that oxygen, which we need to keep inhaling if we want to make sure that we don’t strangle ourselves in the bid to be pharaohs in our dying world!! We can’t regenerate the loss, but we can arrest the decline and continue living for maybe another millennium.

After that we can only hope for survival. We can only hope that beyond this horizon, our future generations still continue to look at the rising sun and enjoy the calmness of the full moon.

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