I’ve heard the language of wildlife many times and I have seen so many of these wonderful species converse with nature. I can tell you it is spellbinding. The hours spent at Dudhwa, Ranthambore and Shivpuri are probably the best hours that I have spent anywhere because they have taken me to a position that would have not been possible after merely reading a book. Yes, books are vital because they are the only source that tell me about my ecosystem… they tell me how to look at and identify plants and trees, reptiles and birds, mammals and all that is there in the wild. Books are great references… but you need to go out and experience wildlife to fall in love with it.

Even a day with the environment is enough

This is true. You just need to sit by a stream, take a walk beyond the city confines and on a trail in the mountains, look up beyond the tall pines on a hill to peep into a different heaven, touch boulders and cliffs to feel their power, listen to what the fallen leaf says, or go to a sanctuary and remain mesmerised by the wild animals that you see nowhere else. It is at such moments that you know you have suddenly popped out of all the text that you may have read in some book and are witnessing the magic of nature as it really exists. You know then that each species is a masterpiece!

Be close to nature to know and discover the truth within you. I was talking to Anish Andheria who is one of India’s leading environmentalists and wildlife experts, and I asked him, ‘Is there a secret mantra for knowing our environment?’

Anish laughed and said, ‘The only secret is to know that we are all a part of this ecosystem and a lot of it is already there within us. We just need to rediscover this… and this is done only when you go out and have your chats with nature.’

I think I agree with him because I have had my little conversations with the environment not just when I go trekking on trails that leave cities far behind but also during my visits to wildlife sanctuaries. It was during these visits that I met the fearsome tiger, the philosophical one-horned rhinoceros, and the moody gharial. The unwholesome truth is that the population of these three animals is dwindling fast and they need us to protect them.

Save our tigers

Yes, the tiger is indeed in the list of endangered species list… and the threat to their existence is very real. Saving this wonderful animal is possible only through a concerted effort by concerned people from the industry, the government, the NGOs, and the local individuals. And the role of ordinary mortals like you and me is equally vital because it is our voice that can travel the farthest.”

I had written these lines in one of my wildlife posts on my blog after my visit to Ranthambore. Now if anyone were to ask me why I’d want to work to save the tiger, the answer would be combined with a smile, ‘Tigers are as essential to our ecosystem as you and I am. Just as essential as the smartphone in your hands and the cutting-edge technology that it embraces. Just as essential as the brand that you are wearing or the brands that you use.’ Yes, the tiger is a brand for the ecosystem and without it the entire ecosystem can quite possibly stumble and crumble… and this is more serious than even our stock markets tumbling or governments falling!

Bengal Tiger, Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan

Bengal Tiger, Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan

There can be a thousand reasons that I can site for saving our tiger… but let me pamper the romantic within me and just say that I would not like to miss watching a tiger pugmark!

The truth is that of the thousands of people who visit wildlife sanctuaries, only a lucky few are able to sight the tiger… but most do come across its pugmark and this is enough to make their visit successful! Let me share this interesting story that a wildlife guide told me. He said that every pugmark in the jungle reads like a book and the sharpness of its edges tell a lot about when the tiger was around or how far he or she could be. So whenever I am in a sanctuary and the guide is tracking a tiger, I spend a lot of time clicking pugmarks!

‘What are the other signs that tell us that a tiger is near?’ I asked.

‘Many signs actually,’ he replied, ‘alarm calls are the soundest ones and they come from chinkara, langoor, red-faced monkey, sambhar, spotted deer and other animals around. These animals get agitated and this is how we learn that a tiger is near.’ He added that they sometimes look at the prey animal and measure his stress level, the expressions, the urgency of his movements, and the pitch of the sounds the animal emits.

For the statistics hunter, TOI states that the “latest tiger census figures show that Karnataka has the highest number of tigers in the age group of 1.5 years and more. The state has 408 tigers in that age group followed by 340 in Uttarakhand, 308 in Madhya Pradesh, 229 in Tamil Nadu, 190 in Maharashtra, 167 in Assam, 136 in Kerala and 117 in Uttar Pradesh.”

Tiger conservationists are active and so are corporates like Aircel who encourage and fund campaigns like their ‘#AircelSaveOurTigers‘ campaign. The tiger population in 2014 has finally touched 2226… and coming from the earlier 1411 and then 1706, this is certainly an improvement. We in India need to be more wary of tiger conservation because we anyway have 70% of the tiger population in the world… and so this 30% increase does matter… more pugmarks for me to click and smile!

The Gavialis gangeticus decline

I once asked a college student for one reason why she would want to save the gharial or the Gavialis gangeticus. Her answer alarmed me. She said (without even the slightest tremor in her voice) that she really wanted fashion accessories made from gharial skin and if these animals disappeared, she would miss her accessories. Now this is not just callous, this is being utterly unintelligent.

Gharial, National Chambal Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh

Gharial, National Chambal Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh

My reply was, ‘Thank God you don’t like gharial eggs with your bread and cheese spread!’ I told her that a WWF report says that there were just around a thousand of this reptile left in India in the wild and of this just 400 are adults. The gharial is really vital for maintaining the biodiversity and the habitat of our rivers… after all, species do have a specific role and without their contribution to our ecosystem we can and possibly will simply perish.

I had my first sighting of this charmingly deceptive reptile while we kayaked in river Denva in Satpura sanctuary. I was there to take part in the NDTV-Volvo Adventure Challenge and this was part of the adventure that was being shot by a film crew for the 13-episode TV serial. Well, I saw a couple of them look at the passing kayaks with half-open eyes and I guess they too were as curious as anyone. They were on the shore then but I know that gharials are known to not move far away from water.

It isn’t just stopping the killing of this reptile that must happen but even the poaching of their eggs needs to stop. And I have one very good reason for saving the gharial… I would not want the gharial to be the first species in independent India to have gone extinct! It will surely be the saddest day in the history of our nation.

The one-horned Rhino

Dudhwa National Park has more than 21 Indian rhinoceros or the Rhinoceros unicornis… and this is where I first saw this shy but charismatic mega-herbivore looking into my camera with undisguised amusement. I was atop an elephant and the rhino stood at a respectable distance calmly grazing. There was an awed silence and no one spoke… this is one reason why I love wildlife. They silence all the clutter that we fill in our lives.

One-horned Rhinoceros, Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh

One-horned Rhinoceros, Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh

The mahout with us told us that the population of the rhino even in Dudhwa was slowly increasing. Their poaching is primarily for Chinese traditional medicine. Their population has declined as human settlements moved into areas that were earlier wilderness and thus grasslands and wetlands reduced in size.

Listen, rhinos have been around for 40 million years and this is reason enough for me to go all out to save this gentle armoured beast. Moreover, rhinos have been classified as an umbrella species which simply means that when they are protected, a lot of other mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and insects get the benefit of this protection.

Each species is a masterpiece

It isn’t as if only these three animals from the wild need us to protect them… there are the wild asses from Kutch, Malabar Gliding Frog, Lion-tailed Macaque, Indian Hog Deer, Indian Bullfrog, Indian Wild Dog, Asiatic elephant, the peacock, Spectacled Cobra, Leopards, and Lions too in this queue of endangered animals. The whole scenario is rather grim… but all it needs for everything to change is concern.

Concern for the environment, let me say again, will come only if we first choose to move out into the wild, explore nature, and fall in love with it.

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Note – The three pictures other than the ones below are from this site

Some pictures clicked by me in Dudhwa and Ranthambore…

The one-horned rhino that I met in Dudhwa

The one-horned rhino that I met in Dudhwa

Tiger pugmarks in wet earth can be quite a giveaway of where they could be

Tiger pugmarks in wet earth can be quite a giveaway of where they could be

Tiger pugmarks clicked in Ranthambore

Tiger pugmarks clicked in Ranthambore

Coming close to a peacock in Ranthambore

Coming close to a peacock in Ranthambore

Romancing birds in Ranthambore... nature always delights

Romancing birds in Ranthambore… nature always delights

Another shot of another docile animal in ranthambore

Another shot of another docile animal in ranthambore

Spend a night out in the open and you'll fall in love with nature

Spend a night out in the open and you’ll fall in love with nature

Get away from the clutter of routine and know that the ecosystem needs you

Get away from the clutter of routine and know that the ecosystem needs you

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This post has won a prize:

2015_08_31_Saevus Wildlife India_winner_email info

2015_08_31_Saevus Wildlife India_winner_email info

2015_08_31_Saevus Wildlife India_winner_on the Saevus blog

2015_08_31_Saevus Wildlife India_winner_on the Saevus blog

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I am participating in the Save the Species contest for the book “Capturing Wildlife Moments in India” in association with Saevus Wildlife India,  read the reviews for the book ‘Capturing Wildlife Moments in India’ here

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Arvind Passey
20 July 2015