Few days ago, we posted a video of a young forest department staff trying their best to save the elephant calf to be joined back to the herd that had moved away. The video, photos went viral on social media and there was so much happiness and appreciation for the staff and in particular to the forest guard Palanichamy Sarathkumar, 28 yrs to have carried over 100 kg on his shoulder and run to rejoin the calf with its mother and herd. It was a positive story full of energy and heartwarming moments. World rejoiced and celebrated the spirit of human empathy towards animals, in particular to the young calf. Guard was a hero!
And within few days, in fact less than 48 hours, we have another story of distress when ill informed, short sighted and selfish humans didn't do the right thing, getting back the calf to the herd. India's wildlife challenge is so complex and differs from region to region and state to state. There is no single conduct of discipline and consideration.
This headline that appeared in the media is a sad and disturbing narrative:
Selfie mob separates elephant calf from mother.
The Nilgiri Biosphere is vast landscape of extraordinary vegetation and habitat ideal for elephants. Banidpur Tiger reserve and National Park is a part of the biosphere and the UNESCO world heritage, the Western Ghats. Elephants emerging out of the forest boundaries and visiting the agricultural land is increasingly more and more. Though elephants are very protective of the young calf around, in few incidents when the elephants are driven away by sound and noise by humans, they retreat fast and the young calf couldn't keep up with the pace of it. I am sure the mother was stressed, but couldn't do anything else but run away from the marauding humans.
It can happen to humans too, in a large gathering when there is chaos mother and child get separated and then often the child is taken away without a care by the humans to understand the gravity of the action. Soon, a perfectly healthy child with the motherly love becomes an orphan! Travesty of life takes over and the child grows up in an entirely different circumstances.
Animals too have this situation. In this tragic incident, humans who are the caretakers and protectors of the animals and everything around showed their different side of character. Yes, we all love elephants and more so baby elephant. But we are unfortunately ill educated and not empowered with knowledge to think what happens, when we go to spend too much time around the separated calf. Often the adult elephants don't accept them back into the herd. In this case, the stress of the selfie mob piled onto the young calf and it couldn't cope up with people surrounding and pulling it around. Imagine a young boy or girl separated from mother!!!!
The calf didn't live to be rejoined with the mother. It neither became an orphan nor gets back to the family. WE are shamelessly not empathetic and took away a young calves life, which takes over 21 months to come to this world. Just give a moment of thinking towards the mother who lost her baby!!!! Perhaps, we don't... that thinking doesn't suit us!!!! We just want a photo to post on social media!!!!!
In a similar incident few years ago, another elephant was picked up from another part of the forest and look at the life, chained and roped...where is the freedom that they deserve?
It is no surprise or exaggeration that habitats have shrunk all over the world. It is also no exaggeration that we talk at great length on the glaciers melting, ice caps fading away and climate change affecting the sustainability and livelihood of people around the world in so many different ways. It is indeed equally difficult to think, how wild animals, particularly the mega fauna are forced to emerge out of the natural habitats and thereby caught in the whirlpool of protection v/s conflict.
One of the famous you tube video of a tiger leaping to the top of the elephant when cornered was an emotional challenge to understand how the tigress was lurking around for so long outside the park boundaries. The tigress was primarily looking for its two cubs which had walked away outside the park. Mother was looking for the two cubs and got caught up with the human surroundings. The forest department made a valiant attempt to push back the tiger thereby stressing it further. It is true that elephants and tigers maintain a healthy distance and not get into a direct challenge of power in the wildlife area. The point of course is the tiger saw a different area of life and least did it expect a stressful encounter with the humans outside its comfort zone.
The unending stories of other wildlife animals particularly the mega fauna straying outside the national park boundaries is continuing to emerge time and again. Our reactions to such conflict / movement of wildlife in our surroundings, which at one time earlier was the mega fauna's rightful place is one of panic and at times retaliation. In the city of Bangalore, a large city with nearly 10 million people, on two edges of the city - North and South, the wildlife conflict continue to escalate. On the Southside is the Bannerghatta National Park that has a contiguous connection to other wildlife sanctuaries. At one time Bannerghatta was a good 10 kms away from human habitation, which at present is hardly 500 meters away from the national park boundaries. On the north side of the city, the rocky outcrop of Doddaballapur and beyond has been heavily mined and since the emergence of the new airport the demand for real estate has increased 10 fold.
On the Southside elephants are walking into the small farms and on the northside leopards have come into the human habitation looking for livestock and other small prey species. In both scenarios human deaths, animal deaths have been increasing and the reactions by the officials, the locals and the researchers have been one of anxiety, and fear. It is not a one off incident that can be brushed aside either. It continues time and again, as human habitation has expanded inch by inch all the way to the original homes of the wildlife.
This article that came today on Yale Environment 360 blog post talks about similar incidents and the future of conservation scenario. Until now the emphasis was more on the habitat protection, species conservation funded by many leading global funding agencies. As it stands, it is a think line that separates the wildlife boundaries and villages. In some places, it even overlaps as the encroachment has stretched beyond consideration. As we continue to ascertain the necessity of co-existence in diverse demographics and landscapes, it is time the focus of conservation too engage towards co-habitation. Is this a healthy trend at all? Not necessarily either!!! There is a particular way wildlife in the wild lands survive and the same wildlife in the urbanized land have to adapt!!! That is another topic of interest all together!!! For now, we need to address if we are going to live in conflict everyday or to understand the new way of life surrounded by mega fauna around us in the habituated landscape!
Dr. Thomas Grant
Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College