For many, the story of Jungle Book is a fantasy, a far away legend, where monkeys leap across tree-tops, temples lie hidden deep within jungles and Sher Khan the tiger elusively walks by. To me, growing up in India, this was as real as real could be. One of my earliest teenage memories of heading out simply to watch wildlife, found me sitting on a large Jamun tree by a waterhole on a full moon night as a leopard casually walked directly underneath me, unaware of my presence above it. Needless to say, I was hooked.
Most people in the world associate wildlife with Africa and people with India. There’s no doubt that India is one of the most populated nations on earth, but it is also home to the largest populations of Asiatic elephant, tiger and countless other species many of which are endemic to the country. Much of this is due to the inherent reverence for life amongst many communities living alongside wildlife. Without this kind of deep-rooted reverence I doubt the country only a third the size of the US but with over a billion people would have managed to retain so much wilderness and wildlife.
The challenge now is how we are going to keep the balance of maintaining what precious little wilderness is left with India’s blistering ‘need’ for economic growth. The father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Nature can provide for every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.” As urban populations lose touch with the natural world, and the pressure of a burgeoning population increases, India will face the difficult task of reconciling the moral attitudes of its history and culture with the current challenges of conservation. If successful, India can serve as an example to the world of how large human populations can co-exist with wildlife. We have no choice, we must learn to live with our wild neighbours, with our natural world. The alternative would not only be self-destructive to humankind in the long-term but would also fill the soul with an emptiness too vast to comprehend.”
People influence nature, nature influences people and
only balanced coexistence will allow each to endure.
- Peter Raven – Director, Missouri Botanical Garden