The Vanishing- Culture Connect With Nature

I mince no words to describe the enormity of wildlife crises, or the task, to retain, and restore, our fractured landscape, and preserve wildlife. The crisis is enormous and urgent, but it need not be overwhelming.

Vartika TomarVartika Tomar   18 Oct 2018 3:42 PM GMT

The Vanishing- Culture Connect With Nature

Gaon Connection has started a new series to make people more aware of the conservation and protection of the wildlife and to discuss all the issues related to the preservation of the wildlife. In this weekly series, we would bring you extracts from, "The Vanishing", written by India's eminent wildlife reporter Prerna Bindra and published by Penguin Random House India in the year of 2017.

While most of our rivers are female, the Brahmaputra is male, the son of Lord Brahma, the mighty creator. Narmada is the lone 'virgin' among our rivers hence the plan to link it to the 'married' river Kshipra has been scathed by the seers—it goes against the scriptures. This is part of India's hubristic project to inter-link its major rivers, altering their contours and course; ruining their ecology.

How does one reconcile playing god with rivers, when we revere them as gods?

Redefining India

Equally, excessive development is eroding our shorelines, and we are blasting and tunnelling the mighty Himalayas that have risen in our defence and nurture us, with the rivers that flow from its glaciers. This ecocide is redefining India, irrevocably altering its geography, its physical entity, striking at its ecological and economic security. When we ravage nature, we are despoiling our culture, threatening our future.

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When we war with wildlife, it is a war against ourselves.What I am trying to say here, through The Vanishing, is that we are part of the problem. We are culpable not just by our complicity, but also by our avaricious lifestyles that is trashing the planet, consuming natural resources at a level that will leave a hollowed earth for our children.

We—and that includes me, and you, the reader—are central to the wildlife crisis. We rise in patriotic fervour—and rightly so— when our nation faces external threats. Then why this silence, if not acquiesce, to the threat from within? We are our own colonizers, enriching ourselves, impoverishing future generations. But then, the enemy within is always the hardest to overcome.

There is one last thing I want to leave you with before you embark on this book. As you may have gathered by now, the subject is bleak. A crisis has the tendency to be so, and the book does not shy away from it. I mince no words to describe the enormity of it, or the task, to retain, and restore, our fractured landscape, and preserve wildlife. The crisis is enormous and urgent, but it need not be overwhelming.

There is hope. There is time . . . even though the clock is ticking away. The act of writing the book itself signatures hope—it is a rallying call : only if we call the crisis, will we act to resolve it. Most of the stories I write carry this message and offer potential solutions. The chapter, 'To Save a Tiger', is not just the way forward for the national animal, but largely speaks for all wildlife.

Frontlines Of Wildlife Protection

In my travels to document the crisis, I met with people engaging in resolving it. Researchers, officers and conservationists who have devoted their lives to understand and preserve wildlife, communities whose lives are linked with nature, and who are its stewards . And most of all watchers, trackers, forest guards, rangers—who are on the frontlines of wildlife protection.

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Few of us know they exist, much less the role they play or the hardships they endure—working out of remote outposts with the bare minimal of facilities and in the harshest of conditions.

Most I met have developed a rare empathy for the animals in their trust. The risks they face are extraordinary. Many have been felled by poachers, or met a grisly death by sand and timber mafia. They are our unsung green army—putting their life on the line to protect our wildlife, forests and ecosystems that are vital to our survival.

You will meet the elephant trackers who form the 'Athgarh Conflict Mitigation Squad', and read of the enduring bonds they share with the animals in their charge. The Vanishing documents, if briefly, those engaged in reversing the tide, and securing a future for wildlife. They give me hope. Their numbers, and strength, need to grow. We need to honour them. Be one among them. If we are part of the problem, we are also the solution.

Fall of the Wild

Do animals have funds or votes—

Or anything but vocal throats

Will you help me get reelected?

You are speechless? Just as I expected

—Vikram Seth, 'The Elephant and the Tragopan',

Beastly Tales from Here and There

India: A Global Conservation Leader

Special Moments

In two decades of roaming India's forests I have had the most amazing of natural history moments—a royal Bengal tiger stalking its prey, a mating pair of greater one-horned rhinos, rambunctious wolf packs at play, a young elephant calf curiously peeking out from a protective pillar of legs that formed her herd. Such moments are special, etched in memory and heart.

ALSO READ: Rescued elephants find a home, away from home

My most prized encounter, though, is of a rather nondescript nature: a chunky little bird that sat bunched into a ball, with its disproportionately strong talons—to catch prey double its size— hooked onto the branch of a naked tree in the Melghat Tiger Reserve in Central India.

It lifted its drab greyish-brown crown and I found myself looking into the startled yellow eyes of the forest owlet, a bird believed to have been extinct for over a century- it was last seen in the wild in 1884—till it was found 113 years later, again nonchalantly perched on one such tree in 1997.

This was unique—I was meeting a creature once believed extinct. And I thought, we know so little about what we have . . . and we value it even less. This was well over a decade ago but the wonder of it stays with me as though it had occurred just yesterday. In the grim world of wildlife conservation, this tiny forest owlet was a beacon of hope.

Biodiversity Hotspots

India's increasingly battered forests still harbour secrets—and species we thought had vanished, or did not even know existed. In the rich forests of the Western Ghats and India's north-east, both biodiversity hotspots, scientists have discovered no less than 100 new species of frogs over the past fifteen years, at a time when amphibians globally are undergoing die-offs.

This miracle of discoveries when the natural world is so imperilled is a remarkable legacy of India's strict protectionist laws—considered among the best in the world—and policy that govern its forests and wildlife, as well as a deep cultural connect with nature. India is looked upon as a global leader in conservation having pioneered initiatives to protect tigers and other rare species.

India is also the custodian of species that are extinct—or found only in very low numbers elsewhere. One among these is the Gangetic dolphin—over 80 per cent of the global population inhabit the Ganga–Meghna–Brahmaputra river basin.

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