The Dwindling Animal Kingdom

Posted on November 13, 2010 in Environment

By Varun Sharma:

“The greatness of a nation and moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” — Mahatma Gandhi

Our father of the nation must have phrased the above sentence to silently remind the people of his country to be sensitive to those who cannot raise their voices for their rights but it looks like India is losing track of the sayings of the lean man who bought them their much coveted Independence. Seeing the fate of animals in a country where almost every animal roaming on the terrain is worshipped along with the deities in Hindu religion, expectations start taking a back seat.

Elephants are one of the few in the animal kingdom who are very close to human emotions. A female elephant doesn’t leave their offspring till he/she reaches the age of ten. All the females in the herd treat the little ones equally and help in rearing and caring. The mourning behavior is also observed in elephants. So, calling them just another animal doesn’t fit the idea.

Sometimes, ignorance and poverty give way to the exploitation of these muted beings. The sight of tuskers traveling the length of small towns and cities balancing themselves down the potted roads is quite common. These giants are forced to travel the paths their feet are ill equipped for. The distance is not the problem as elephants cover around a hundred kilometers every day in their natural habitat looking for food but the pot holes and uneven roads don’t favor the giants. The basic requirements of food and water usually fall short as the keepers are too poor to sustain the diet of an elephant. An elephant takes around 200 kilograms of food and 150 liters of water. With his meager income, a mahout is not able to make the ends meet for himself, leave aside the animal. Living the life of solitude, tuskers succumb to various psychological ailments which lead to radical shifts in behavior.

The noise and pollution from the vehicles leave them confused and drag them to a state of detachment. Legs draped with heavy chains develop bruises which attract infections. Eye ailments, swollen feet and infected toes are some of the many problems these animals pick up on their way to self destruction.

An elephant calf killed by poachers in West Bengal

Natural havens of the north east which were once regarded as territories for animals and humans to harmoniously live in are also shrinking due to land encroachment and deforestation. This forces a collision between the animal kingdom and the human population. Assam recently came to limelight when the mysterious deaths of elephants became the talk of the country. Tests reported that most of the animals were poisoned. Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh, taking a firm stand, asked Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi to probe the horrendous act. Further investigations revealed that movement of elephants in fields have increased recently which gave way to clashes between the villagers and the elephants. Retribution was one of the most prominent reasons in the shocking deaths of elephant population.

Aquatic animals suffer from the same grief. The colored fish species in aquariums and fish bowls live a lonely life away from the open waters. Lack of sand, plant weeds and other environmental factors which form the base of water ecosystem are usually absent. In recent studies, it has been proved that fishes are intelligent species and can learn tricks just like a dog if properly trained. Dolphins in Asia’s first dolphinarium in Mabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, suffered a similar fate when three of them died. Dolphinarium are marine mammal parks where aquatic animals are forced to perform tricks to entertain the visitors. The free roaming giants, who are used to swimming in vast oceans, are forced to roam in endless circles leaving them confused and alienated. The stress and pressure to obey their masters adversely affect their health leaving them depressed sometimes leading to untimely death.

Human greed knows no limits. The soul shaking act of killing innocent animals for money is a matter of great shame. Most animals end in drawing rooms and so the called “collections” of the rich and famous which are meant to flaunt and pamper egos. Their dead figures look at the visitors who come and appreciate with a sense of awe gleaming in their eyes.

A deceased tiger's skin being taken away after poaching.

Great international demand of animal body parts has put the population of some species on the verge of extinction. The future of tigers, leopards and rhinoceros are hanging in balance. Tiger parts are reported in trade ranged from complete skins, skeletons and even whole animals–live and dead, through to bones, meat, claws, teeth, skulls and other body parts. Variety of cultures and tribes use specific bones and teethes for making traditional medicines and decoration artifacts. Considering that India is home to half of the global tiger population, taking urgent steps towards his safeguarding becomes even more crucial.

Poachers enter the protect areas to hunt down these creatures and put them in cages to sell at high prices in national and international markets. The situation demands stringent laws, quick prosecution and proper implementation of rules laid down under different wildlife protection acts. The riddle cannot be solved without joining hands with forest inhabitants as they are the ones in constant touch with them. These inhabitants should be provided with proper source of income to prevent them from collaborating with poachers under the pressure of poverty and hunger.

Habitat loss and encroachment by villagers are the major issues that need special attention. Collisions between human and animal population adversely affects both the sites. While government has failed to provide alternative job opportunities to the inhabitants to make a living, they are forced to cultivate forest lands to feed the young mouths at home. So, it would not be wrong to say that the system has shattered in this front. Timely amendments in the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 have been made (the most recent in July 2010) to expand its sphere, but a lot remains to be done at different levels.

India is proud of its natural heritage and she has every reason to be so. But any further delay in protecting their interests, and we would be left with no option but to show pictures of tigers and elephants to our children and tell them how they once roamed in our jungles.

Lead image courtesy: