ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Man and Wild

Neha Sinha (nehabnhs@gmail.com) is with the Bombay Natural History Society. Views expressed are personal.

Immersion in the wild is about coexistence, not confrontation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently appeared in an episode of Man vs Wild, a reality television-styled show that follows an explorer’s journey through the wilderness. The explorer is Bear Grylls, who parachutes into inhospitable places and survives without help. Of course, this is not a real solitude as Grylls is accompanied by a filming team. Still, his forays into places with no real food, and into snowstorms or deserts are marked with enterprise and a fierce will to survive. The episode featuring Modi was shot in the Corbett tiger reserve. This is classic tiger territory: it has the sparkling Ramganga river, grasslands, mountains and forest. Though wild, the area is hardly inhospitable the way a desert or tundra is. The weather is clement, the air is bracing.

Yet, in the episode, Grylls fashions a spear and teaches the Prime Minister how to wield it, because he has to protect the Prime Minister from “dangerous” tigers. Though the Prime Minister said he doesn’t believe in killing, two things of concern emerge here. One doesn’t go to a tiger reserve with the intention to hurt a tiger. And if one goes prepared with a weapon, this demonstrates that one doesn’t mind this option. Incidentally, hurting or hunting wild animals is illegal in India; and the tiger—especially in tiger reserves—has the highest protection under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1974. But, legality is not the whole story here; the spirit of the issue, and the law, is.

Grylls’ attempts towards conservation messages are saddled with anachronisms. It is an alpha male attitude that seems closer to a colonial hunter-cum-explorer ideology, rather than rendering any modern solutions. It is worth remembering that he is not alone: he represents a vast brand. One hopes others will not try to walk into forests, armed with bravado and spears.

True jungle craft teaches the opposite of confrontation and the “conquering” of a wild animal. It advocates how to avoid wildlife, and how to walk away if an encounter does happen. Millions of Indians, tribals, villagers and forest-dwellers, live in or visit the Indian forests. Many encounter and know how to walk away from a tiger, an elephant, a snake or any other potentially dangerous animal. Recently, the results of India’s tiger estimation were released. It was Modi who announced the tiger numbers. We have approximately 3,000 of them, seen as a fabulous achievement. Coincidentally, these tigers were counted by scores of volunteers, researchers, and scientists who foot-patrolled forests for tiger signs. While they will often (but not always) be accompanied by armed forest staff, it is worth mentioning researchers walk without spears.

Recent episodes where people have tried to confront wild animals have resulted in terrible tragedies. A tigress was beaten to death near the Pilibhit tiger reserve because she was near people, or vice versa. The video is disturbing; it shows the tigress in great pain, hopelessly outnumbered; it also shows people taking matters into their own hands. To imagine such a situation in tiger reserves is beyond alarming; though such violence often happens in buffer areas of reserves. The answer is to take traditional lessons on living in the wild rather than asking for trouble. There are no real boundaries in the wild; you could encounter wildlife outside administrative units that are supposed to keep wildlife in. Especially in a country like ours where wildlife dispersal corridors are being cut into, lessons on how to survive need to focus on coexistence and wise, non-confrontational jungle craft. It would have been of great value if the episode had brought in forest-dwellers who know how to survive in the forest, and depicted their ways. That would have been intergenerational knowledge worth passing on.

The Prime Minister’s Office recently tweeted the episode as a “memorable adventure.” In appearing on a show like this, undoubtedly the Prime Minister attempted to familiarise Indians with wilderness in the country, building up towards ideas of conservation. However, conservation is about coexistence. Most people who work in wildlife science or live in the forest will tell you that the bravest, most memorable thing to do is to learn how to walk with the forest, rather than against it; that it is man and wild and not man versus wild.

 

Updated On : 5th Sep, 2019

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