Monday, January 16, 2006

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)


*disappointed* chimpanzee?


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



Blogger Zofo The Hermit of Wandering Thoughts said...

I guess the only WILD Life to be found in Indian Jungles these days are Ticks and leeches...forget the elusive tiger. you would hoot with joy if you saw a Sambhar (Antelope)these days in a National Reserve..
Sad state it is...


10:48 am  
Blogger km said...

"If indian film-makers shot more documentaries..."

I think that's only partly true. Wildlife filmmaking, from what little I know, depends largely on public grants and governmental funding. Which is why a Valmik Thapar has to turn to America for his "Land of the Tiger" series.

But yes, Indian wildlife is synonymous with tigers and Corbett. "Brand Africa" is so much more encompassing (and they probably have Edgar Rice Burroughs to thank for it!)


1:28 pm  
Anonymous misha said...

two tidbits came to my mind as soon as I read this post!

one, the growing monkey population around the adyar area was causing quiet a bit of concern to the many residents who were having their kitchens raided on a daily basis by their simian friends. On enquiry it came to light that our dear friends were in fact ex-inmates of the guindy zoo that could no longer afford to keep them!!!

second, there is this "zoo" in pune which only has domestic animals. I am not sure if this is because the exotic varieties died or that they had no money to get them there in the first place but its fun going to the zoo and seeing goats, cows , dogs and chicken.....really!

2:09 pm  
Anonymous misha said...

anyway,distraction caused by that rather digressive comment prevented me from saying wat i wanted to in the first place....
hilariously written.

as with so many other things in india, wildlife is one thing we should have taken better care of and could have cashed in on, big time!! sigh

oh and from the security of being half way round the world i think i can ask G a question that's been troubling me for 10 years now....a golden tailed macaque----- bird or monkey??? any violence this question may cause is to be directed to m.

2:13 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@ zofo: welcome :) erm... thats the thing, we actually have incredible biodiversity - though were doing our best to wipe it out of course.

@ km: hullo! well, for one thing, if you shoot good documentaries there definitely will be funding and buyers for it (the very same nat geo and animal planet that make G. foam at the mouth!) - how those hajaar takes of african wildlife happen otherwise? also, we do have huge groups in india working for conservation... its been years since i saw WWF put out even an ad to get people interested and involved in wildlife! matter of initiative i guess

@ misha: achucho... really?! grief.. i didnt know guindy did these shady things... i hope my poor pudding's ok! :(
and *thwack* for the pune zoo bit! kashtagalum! but i can imagine it sooo well. london zoo had cows da... i mean they have stunning scarlet poison arrow frogs, and then COWS! i felt like bawling.
ahem. for part 2... what happened to you?! lion tailed, light of my life, and LTMs are monkeys!! never mind her, you come here and I'll boot you for that... specimen value... your profs would weep if they could hear you! :P
ps - thanksh :D

5:40 pm  
Blogger Anurag said...

I have seen the following in their wild glory during my various treks and hikes:

i) A hyena (it was more scared of me than I of it, which somehow I find very insulting).

ii) A bison (huge beasts).

iii) Three evil black scorpions in a log of deadwood which I carried up a small hillock for firewood. Brrrr.

iv) Many snakes.

1:52 am  
Blogger Sridhar said...

Wildlife safari's in India are fun! The last time I went on a safari ( or anything even remotely close to it ) was at this place called topslip near coimbatore. We piled into a small van with a lot of very excited people and after a while a few chaps decided they'd seen an elephant. Half the van shouted and the other, more intelligent half, shouted even louder to get them to keep quiet, since loud noises would scare the elephants away. Since we'd had a bit to drink the previous night I was slightly hung over and so I refused to get involved and stared at a tree stump for 5 minutes, convinced that it was the elephant. We finally saw a real elephant and the whole van got so excited that the only way I could sneak a peek was to shove my head and neck under various arms, legs, etc and hold my breath for a few hours. On the whole a very satisfying experience. We didn't see any gorillas even though I would've been willing to pay extra for them :D

9:51 am  
Blogger m. said...

anurag: LOL! yesh.. animals can be unflattering! have you read herriot by any chance?

sridhar: gosh, my stomach hurts after laughing so much!:p yesh, the screaming sessions seem verry familiar. those endless treks, turtle walks... yep. high entertainment value! :D
ps: done deal! i shall shoot you the email address, and you can offer the hiked rates yourself ;-)

5:50 pm  
Blogger Rabin said...

tis a nice scribble pad...

forget about the animals in the forest, i get to see an elephant stuck in traffic here in the kodambakkam high road in chennai ever so often. once my car was wayy too close to the pachyderm in a hurry, it looked at me and half shook it's head...Yeah...i know the state of the roads & the peak hour traffic sucks...

2:56 am  
Blogger the One said...

See, there's just no satisfying the specimens who come and ask to see cheetahsleopardsetc. If you do manage to show them a cheetah, they'll ask to see unicorns or minotaurs or something.

P.S. Trying to resist pun .. still trying .. not working.

>>i anyway work for world peace and hold G. back from mauling the interrogator on the spot.

Sounds like gorilla warfare.

2:31 am  
Blogger m. said...

rabin stephen - lol! literally jumbo transport happening huh :D but oh lawks, the poor elephant! ppl are nuts... kodambakkam high road... *speechless*

the one - no no nooo! damn. too late. *smack forehead* hmm. but that was a cute pun... i guess that makes you the chimp. er,champ i mean... :D

10:06 am  
Blogger gyal said...

Been reading a while, but have never commented.

This post was highly amusing. What is it about us humans that we expect everything and everyone to be at our beck and call?

I have nothing of value to add beyond that, but thought I'd pop in.

3:00 pm  
Blogger m. said...

hey! indeed, well said: control freakism is our speciality i guess :) am glad you broke the silence... its nice to know who the quiet watchers are, and what they think about stuff, so do feel free to holler whenever :D

5:27 pm  

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