March 29, 2020
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The Spoor of Death

An obligatory read for all who are interested in nature and its protection.

The Spoor of Death
The Spoor of Death
India's Wildlife History
By Mahesh Rangarajan
Permanent Black Pages 136; Rs. 250
A history of wildlife of India is a unique project in that it breaks away from the usual descriptive accounts of the subject or personal reminiscences of shikaris, photographers and the like. This book is an offering which deals in a short but insightful manner with India's wildlife from the earliest times to the sorry state of affairs today.

In evocative cameos, the reader finds himself looking at practices of ancient India where forests were reserved for kings' pleasures and elephants were guarded more closely than nuclear stockpiles as they were incomparable war machines; the Mughals' penchant for the hunt which becomes larger than life itself; the British efforts to exterminate venomous snakes and dangerous beasts, including a systematic slaughter of over 80,000 tigers, more than 1,50,000 leopards and 2,00,000 wolves between 1875 and 1925; the shikar pleasures of the princes which provided protection to the wildlife and forests for their exclusive use and so on.

However, the most important aspect of the book for the initiated is a masterly account of what happened in the 50 years of our republic. From uncontrolled slaughter in the first flush of independence and democracy to Project Tiger; the initial success to the inevitable backlash; from official efforts at protection to grassroot efforts such as those of Tarun Bharat Sangh and the new breed of conservationists such as Salim Ali and M. Krishnan are all part of the story which is brought up to date.

The work is remarkably readable as a saga of destruction for the most part. Cicero said that for a person not to know the past was the same as his being a child forever. We need to know what we have done to other species of the animal world to learn from it for our future and theirs. The book is an obligatory read for all who are interested in nature and its protection.
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