Between A Rock And A Hard Place
October 2005: I cannot imagine a world without tigers. And no, I am not one of those ‘bunny huggers’ that hard-headed ‘realists’ love to hate. I cannot imagine a world without tigers because I know that their presence, along with that of snow leopards, whale sharks, Siberian Cranes, blue whales, giant squirrels and king cobras, is proof positive that ‘Nature’s Plan’ has not become totally unstuck.
Take the case of Tamil Nadu where lowly eels were once worshipped by ancients who (erroneously) believed they were related to Lord Shiva’s snakes. Eels and their waterways were protected by the engineers of yore who designed the world’s most sophisticated rainwater harvesting systems that allowed spillovers to be used repeatedly till the water reached the sea. Following ancient urgings, eels could negotiate such man-made channels to migrate to and from the sea.
Then came ‘modern’ post-Independence engineers. They constructed bigger tanks, canals and dams. Drainages were blocked. Waters became stagnant. Diseases struck. Eels could no longer undertake their ancient parikrama. Tamil Nadu, once a virtual university for the science of traditional water harvesting became permanently water stressed. When we ask that the Sundarbans and Kanha be spared the indignity of nuclear reactors, or that Niyamgiri, Kashipur and Lanjipur be saved from death by mining, or that no port come up at Dhamra as it would harm one million olive Ridley turtles, we do not seek to protect tigers, elephants, turtles and coasts for their own sake. What we ask is that India’s collective wisdom be stimulated to understand that forests, swamps, grasslands and scrublands are the only infrastructures that can buffer humanity from the harsh vagaries of future climate change.
The Sanctuary manifesto for human development involves returning the waterways to the eels, leaving the Earth’s coral and mangrove nurseries to their own devices and leaving the fate of the tiger to the hands of future generations. If we fail to accomplish this, it is Homo sapiens, not Panthera tigris, that will find itself between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXV No. 5, October 2005