June 2011: Magnificent. Totally magnificent. There is something about objects crafted by nature that stirs the senses. And no, it’s not this Kanha tiger that has me spellbound... it’s the entire system! I can almost hear the music of the ragged, wild, green cathedral where this tiger paused awhile to evaluate whether Dr. Anish Andheria was menace or meal. Instinct and experience probably convinced him he was neither, so, after throwing a quick right-shouldered glance at Anish, the cat proceeded to do what tigers were genetically programmed to – vanish into the womb of an undisturbed Kanha to eat, sleep and procreate.
If truth be told, the stunning beauty of wild tigers do have me in their thrall. But the aesthetic of their awesome, wild demeanor and their equally exciting and varied habitats move me less than their out-and-out ecological function. Everything works! And everything works in unison – the tiger, the ticks that move parasites between tigers, the butterflies that suck minerals from tiger-urine-wetted earth and the protozoans that help termites digest the cellulose-fashioned forest itself. Everything meshes to form the living, breathing, throbbing entity that is our only home... Planet Earth.
In celebration of the gift of life I make it a point to place myself frequently in spaces that allow me to breathe air cycled through tiger, elephant, ratel and hornbill lungs. And, when I am lucky enough to actually sight such creatures, like any other gawking visitor, that familiar “Sigh! It’s-all-so-perfect” feeling washes over me.
That’s when Darwin kicks in. The magic is in the imperfection he pointed out while breaking the news to us that somewhere in the distant past, before countless imperfections worked to the advantage of a whole line of survivors, even tigers and humans shared a common ancestor. It’s true. Were it not for defects, blemishes and faults... both Panthera tigris and Homo sapiens, the quintessence of species survival today, might well have remained blue-green algae floating in ancient oceans.
So how did such apparent perfection come to be? How does our planet purify dirty water and turn sunlight into food? How does this self-repairing planet cope with insult after ecological insult that Homo sapiens heaps on it? I’m guessing the ‘system’ described so dramatically by Darwin uses extinction like a blind craftsman, with natural selection doing the same job that the delete key on your computer does... remove typos and rough edges to keep the text functional.
So. If nature deselected Smilodon, while allowing this adaptable tiger to survive, deselected the islanded Dodo, allowing turkeys to survive, and deselected dinosaurs, allowing crocodiles to survive... what has it in store for Homo sapiens? Clearly we have the necessary intelligence and power, but do we have the resilience? After all, as Charles Darwin famously wrote: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXI No. 3, June 2011