woes of a wildlife biologist
ive just heard a diatribe against "silly clunches who think that animals are going to do one bloody catwalk before their goggling eyes... BAH!", and figured... why just me? you hear all about it too. i know... im a darling at times! :D
G. is what is called a field person. if youve ever done any footwork, youll appreciate all the little squiggles of nuances that are attached to that word. and youll probably join us in saying "oh. (s)he's an admin" in a meaningful way, the very neutrality of your voice underscoring the unspoken contempt for that lowly species!
so anyway, G. spent 2 years in the jungles of the western ghats, clambering first after each of her study animals. shes lived the typical dedicated wildlife biologists life: gloried in the pristine forests of bioreserves, watched wild animals stalk their prey, scooted out of the way of a stealthily approaching elephant, bathed in rivers, carried buckets of water to her field station, lived in tribal settlements and learnt to speak their musical sounding tongue, been bitten by ticks and leeches, walked up to 30 kms a day to reach her field site each day, and returned home each time with the most gorgeous tan and a big happy grin.
she is quite cuckoo, but harmless - not your violent sort of lunatic. until you ask her a certain set of questions that is ....
*excitedly* ohhh! have you seen a gorilla in the forest?
*through clenched teeth* no.
*hopefully* at least an orangutan?
(hmm. this specimen's days are numbered)
at which point, though im no beauty pageant contestant, i anyway work for world peace and hold G. back from mauling the interrogator on the spot.
its stunning how many people watch nat geo or discovery or animal planet, and think all that african wildlife they see is omnipresent. or even worse, think that all you have to do is walk into the nearest jungle and announce your presence for all the animals to come out tripping over themselves to parade before you and shove their muzzles under your nose so youll get a satisfactorily close look at them.
while im for kids watching these (much maligned by G.!) channels, i do also share her opinion of these Types. (yes, you have to carefully suppress a rising BP and say that long sufferingly!) probably if, as she keeps saying, indian film-makers shot more documentaries, we would have equally well flaunted (im tempted to say marketed) fauna. no its not important to the animals ego that you are able to identify it, but good conservation effort requires community involvement, and is based on a degree of awareness.
see, you cannot do anything with specimens who come up to you demanding “where are the cheetahsleopardsjaguarslionstigers?” as soon as they come to the forest site. yes, it really happens – tis the woe of all the forest officials, rangers, trackers, biologists etc. just when they draw a deep breath to explain that cheetahs are extinct in India, they will be silenced by the final demand for a glimpse of that mythical beast, the black panther. at that point, probably a couple of these long suffering folks go bungee jumping without a rope.
for an example of absolutely mind blowing biodiversity, but terribly ignored by the locals, look at us. its a consuming experience watching the animals in our forests*
* youre consumed by the ticks and mites, and there's an incredible lot of stuff to see, smell and hear
for an example of wildlife becoming an absolute brand - africa. (yes, i speak with much envy!) they just need to have a piddly two birds (oh alright, and a rhino or three) and voila! the areas fenced off, there are "Affffrican Safaaari!"s for you to get fleeced on, and you can "kom buy your Safaaari souveniers!" while youre there. (might as well get ripped off in style).
there's this huge park in the outer reaches of johannesburg, dedicated to indigenous varieties. they imaginatively have a lottery thingy, where the prize is "give your garden a free makeover! exotic indigenous plants to make your garden look gorgeous!". the government has (smartly) cottoned on to the threat of introduced species contaminating the local gene pool, sucking up all the water in the land and choking off the local plants, and so has been pulling out the younger firang varieties to substitute em. the old trees stay of course. (ahem ahem. India … rice varieties.. when will we listen to them?)
anyway, this park happened to also be the home of a nesting black eagle. these people promptly cordoned off the area, set up cameras near the nest, and kept the city aware of the eggs cracking, the state of the young birds and so on,until the whole community was as enthralled and involved with the birds welfare as the biologists! did i mention theyre now seeing generations of the black eagles nesting there? - fantastic eh! while im not for all of africas practices in promoting their wildlife, certainly a good number are worth adopting.
until we do, people like G. will be seen climbing trees (um, out of frustration this time, not for honey!)…
ps: I need the entertainment – if anyone would like to ask her where you can see a gorilla, please do leave a request here!! :D