“Humans are the most intelligent animals in the world”. I don’t know who came up with that statement, but I know they got it wrong. Humans are the most ruthless animals around and only a few are actually smart enough to think of the consequences of their actions. Fewer still are the truly intelligent ones who go about trying to strike the perfect balance between nature, their fellow animals and breakneck development; and repairing the damage done by the others.
Forest cover all over the world has shrunk drastically. The polar ice-caps are melting, while the temperature goes haywire due to pollution in the air, water and soil. Hundreds of species of animals have become extinct due to unrestricted hunting and poaching. The change in migration patterns of salmons, whales and various birds is an indication that the bionetwork of nature is undergoing a strong and unhealthy upheaval. The Gharial in India is barely clinging to survival with 1000 of them out in the wild and another 1000 being bred in captivity. The whale shark, the royal Bengal tigers, white tigers, the one-horned rhinoceros, Asiatic black bears and many others are in the highly endangered list of species. Vultures are being poisoned, while the most common bird – the bulbul, is hardly seen anywhere in the cities.
While international and domestic legislations are in place, the Wildlife Trust of India remains the only one of its kind that is involved in long term rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals in the country. They stabilise and re-release temporarily disadvantaged animals at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation. In the last three years, they have trained 240 individuals with help from American, Russian and South African experts. On the non-profit front, various organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), etc. have an Indian chapter. But how many of us are willing to volunteer?
The one problem universally faced by conservation agencies has always been security. The equipment, gear and tactics to help injured animals and protect them from poachers are sadly outdated. Because the funds can only be mobilised by the Government, the red tape and bureaucratic mountain to climb is ridiculous. Apart from this the sheer lack of awareness amongst the masses, as well as the policy makers about the reality of the national parks, sanctuaries and protected areas is so little that it becomes almost impossible to install the urgency of the need for conservation drives in them. When so much of the budget is dedicated to defence, why isn’t a little more allocated to education, awareness and preservation?
A little closer to home, the Animal Welfare Board of India was set up in accordance with Section 4 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960) comprising of 28 members. It was the first of its kind to be set up anywhere in the world. It has since looked after the enforcement on various rules and laws regarding draught and pack animals, performing animals, captured animals, euthanasia and sterilization of street dogs, etc. But you have to ask yourself, do these big words get translated into action?
The fact of the matter remains that human and animal interests are still treated as separate. For example, the Municipal Corporation in Mumbai recently Okayed a move to kill stray dogs. The euthanasia of street dogs, according to the Animal Welfare Board of India, can only be done in the case of “incurably ill and mortally wounded dogs as diagnosed by a qualified veterinarian.” Furious or dumb rabid dogs happen to be an exception. So how did the move come about?
Even in the case of animals rescued from circuses, the issue of what to do with the animals went unaddressed for a very long time. The animals languished in rescue centres while the concrete plans for their future was very vague. While experts suggested that a safari be set up, so they can be taught to re-learn hunting and foraging methods, very little has yet to be done to realise the plans.
Poultry farms have been known to be a notorious haven of animal rights violations, with the birds being kept and transported in small wire-mesh cages which are filthy and breed germs. Why are there no surprise inspections and checks in these places?
Try and put yourself in a place where your entire existence revolved in a cage, big enough to sleep, but not big enough to stretch your legs and prowl around a bit in. Or maybe a situation where the hair on your head gets yanked out without sedatives to dull the pain, just so they can be turned into paintbrush bristles. How about having your teeth knocked out so they could be turned into centrepieces in the houses of the rich and the famous? Not your style? So how about being whipped and punished into performing the most demeaning tricks for hundreds of giggling and squealing viewers inside a large tent? Would you like that kind of life? There is no amount of rehab that can help heal the wounds that come from such situations.
What we need are emergency hotlines to report animal abuse and awareness drives to promote it. Do not encourage circus performances. We need to understand that this planet is as much theirs as it is ours, and we have no right to cheapen their worth. Various movements like the Project Tiger, etc. should be made more mass-based and whoever is heading the project should be made more accountable for the execution of the same. The operational aspect of the project is where we, the people, come in; be it handing out leaf-lets or starting ad campaigns. The arms and ammunition provided to wildlife security forces needs to be upgraded and night vision goggles must be provided. While I agree that the wildlife security force can protect only so much of the vast area, educating and mobilising locals about basic survival tactics and first aid for animals becomes very important.
When stories break out about animal miracles, where a leopard begins to nurse a chimpanzee, or a dog suckles a cat, a rescued lion rears up on its hind legs and hugs its rescuer in the rehab centre and a pig grows up amongst sheep as foster parents; the one thing we can take away from such stories is the fact that animals are more human than we ever could be.