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Memorial To The Wild

A former aficionado of the hunt on the need to preserve wildlife

Memorial To The Wild
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
Beyond The Tiger, Portraits Of Asian Wildlife
By M.K. Ranjitsinh
Brijbasi Printers Pages: 208; Rs 1,200
INDIA is more than the land of the tiger. It's a meeting place for two very different ecologies: the open plain and scrub jungle that once harboured prides of lions and herds of gazelles, and of the animals and plants associated in the mind's eye with the Orient, like the rhino and the Malayan bear. An eye-opener to the wildlife of the rest of Asia. But much of the fauna now survives in small remnant patches protected either by law or by custom. In 1947, there were perhaps as many as 100,000 antelopes in Saurashtra: in a decade, less than one in 20 were left alive.

Against this backdrop, M.K. Ranjitsinh was born and raised in the princely state of Wankaner. With the twilight of the Raj, the princes too faded into the sunset and the author joined the IAS. But the early interest in the wild never seems to have left him. Though he majored in history, he did a doctorate on the blackbuck's ecology.

What is most fascinating is the way in which the tableau of Asia's wildlife unfolds. Each chapter begins with an anecdote about the animal in question: we learn of how a wild buffalo charged the author as he approached too close mounted on elephant back. The search for a more people-friendly form of conservation needs to continue. And the author writes of how Bishnois, a community spread across Rajasthan, have ensured the survival of the gazelle and the antelope. The journey even takes the reader to a sacred tank near Karachi where crocodiles are fed and worshipped to this day.

Of course, such practices are not enough to save the great mega-fauna of Asia. Yet, at a time when everybody who is anybody wants India to emulate South East Asia in the headlong rush for growth, the consequences be forgotten, this work has a very different message. Several creatures which once had a range across Southern Asia now mostly survive only in India. Our own success stories may be beacons in the dark.

As a former aficionado of the hunt, Ranjitsinh had seen the decline in the first two decades of freedom. What is significant is that he was able to do something about it. He was the key draftsman of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. And also worked closely with Project Tiger, launched the following year. What is fascinating is his recounting of efforts to save the sangai or the Manipur brow-antlered deer. The writer's surveys and prodding helped upgrade protection and it has recovered dramatically.

Many animals are so bound up with culture and history that their extinction would be no less a tragedy than the razing of the Taj Mahal or of the temples of Angkor Vat. The animals chosen here are all large ones: the elephant and the rhino, the lion and the leopard. But they are part of a larger web of life, one that is being broken down more comprehensively and more quickly than ever before. Protection

for even a chosen few large denizens of the wild may bring other gains in its tow. To save the tiger you have to protect the monsoon forest. The rhino in turn needs its share of mud wallow and grassland to survive. Each of these habitats has a critical role to play in the cycles that bind together the soils, water and flora. More complex is the question of how wildlife and the aspirations of resident people in and near reserves are to be reconciled. When told not to graze cattle in the home of the Manipur sangai, as it had nowhere else to go in the world, the villager told the author that his livestock too had no other place to go to. It is such dilemmas that need to be resolved if conservation is to succeed. The book would have gained to an enormous extent with better reproduction of the pictures and some editing. The author not only takes you beyond the tiger. He brings to the reader images that will linger after its subjects have faded from the land. Even if that tragedy does occur, the work will serve as one man's memorial for the denizens of the wild.

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