Offbeat (10): Degraded Ecology Leads To Wildlife Decline
Bellevision Media Network
When a man wants to murder a tiger he calls it sport; when a tiger wants to murder him he calls it ferocity. – George Bernard Shaw.
20 August 2012: According to a report by Muralidhara Khajane in The Hindu (17-8-12), much against the wishes of the Karnataka State government, Union minister for Envornment and forest, Jayanthi Natarajan, on August 14 announced in Parliament that final approval has been accorded to declare Kudremukh National Park as a tiger reserve. With this, it has become the fifth tiger reserve in Karnataka and 41st in the country.
Against this background, a few Tulunad-centric nostalgic reflections are offered. In January 1999, a tiger visited Balmatta Hill in Mangalore and provided a talking point to the city folks for days thereafter, focussing on from where and why the animal could have come to the city. One plausible answer was that the tiger lost its jungle cover in the hinterland of Tulu Nadu and it tried to find shelter in the developing concrete jungle of Mangalore. Once there was thick forest cover close to the city which is reflected in some place names – Katipalla, Pilikula, Pilithhaguri and Pilnguri, for instance.
People nostalgically remember an earlier tiger-related hero, Caithan Lobo, who had made a name for himself as shikari, more than as a criminal lawyer that he was. His scene of action was Kelarai, off the Mangalore-Gurpur Road and close to Neermarga, which abounded in wildlife up to the 1950s. In those days tigers were quite common in Tulu Nadu’s rural setting. As a youngster I used to sleep in the outhouse, called Mugasale, which was the main access to traditional farmhouses. A large courtyard separated the main house from the outhouse. Sleeping with us at night were our two dogs. They would cosy up to us for warmth, or maybe security. Warmth they might have got; but not security. For, at periodic intervals tigers would crawl up to the outhouse and carry away the dogs for their meal. The tiger would spare the humans and zero in only on the dogs.
December-January was the mating season for the tigers. The nights were marked by loud roaring, as the tigers moved from one place to another in pursuit of their romantic mates. We would make a mental picture of the shifting scene – and often it was too close to our outhouse. But we had learnt to live with the situation.
That was the golden age of wildlife. Besides tiger, we came across a large simian population, wild boar, jackals, civet cats, scaled anteaters, porcupine, mini stags (barinka) and palm (toddy) cats( Beru). There is a cute story about barinka. In those days, tribals without guns used to set the forest on fire and as the animals ran out for dear life, they were cornered and bludgeoned to death. The barinka is as big as a small dog. So, when they skinned the animal that was cornered and killed, they found in the stomach a piece of rotti. An argument ensued in which one side contended that it was a dog of the hunting party, while the others said that it was a barinka. A neutral person put the dilemma thus: barinka rotti thinpugi; nai beerik popugi (barinka can’t eat rotti; dog does not go into bush fire). How they resolved the issue is another matter.
The root of declining wildlife in Tulu Nadu goes back to the progressive denudation of forest cover which started in the 1950s. The timber industry developed a great thirst for forest materials as the industry progressively switched over to mechanised saw mills. At the same time, the then flourishing tile industry became a major consumer of tree stumps for keeping its kilns burning. So, the larger trees went to saw mills and the smaller ones to the tile industry. The net result was near extinction of forest cover for wildlife.
This drove wildlife out of its natural habitat to follow a nomadic route in search of forest cover. This was a competition between a woodcutter, for profit, and wildlife, for survival. Driven to the wall, the wildlife became vulnerable to shikaris and other sundry killers. The second nemesis of wildlife was the progressive use of insecticides. What was projected as a protector of crops from insects, also became the destroyer of wildlife. In some cases, the wildlife got destroyed deliberately as when the carcasses of cattle killed by tigers were laced with insecticides. This not only poisoned to death the tigers but also a number of other species that preyed on carcasses – jackals, crows and vultures.
This recalls an incidence of my childhood. Working in our ancestral household at Bearikody in Bantwal taluk was Silam (Uncle Sila), our Man Friday. He went to his house on our farm only to sleep at night. He kept a couple of cows which were let out to graze on the meadows and would return at night-fall. One Friday one cow did not return. On mounting a search, it turned out that a tiger had killed it and half eaten. Angered by the loss, Silam laced the carcass with insecticide. On the following Sunday, when we returned from Mass at Bellore church, we spied crows and vultures swooping down on a hillock. Going close, we saw a tiger with its stomach bloated. Silam got worked up and, declaring that it was the tiger that killed his cow, kicked the tiger on its stomach with all the force he could muster. There was a laud and continued noise from the tiger. Declaring that the tiger was alive, Silam ran for his dear life, without looking back till he reached home. It was only later that we realised that the kick released the trapped gas from the dead tiger’s stomach.
Apart from killing cattle by tigers, wild animals also destroy crops. After the advent of electricity to farmsteads, electric shock traps are also set up on the farms to kill animals which forage on standing crops. Despite the potential danger of such electric traps to unwary humans, this practice continues to kill wildlife in the rural setting.
Today, we are poorer because of our extinct or depleted wildlife. Many types of animals and snakes which abounded in Tulu Nadu 60 years ago are a rare sight today. This is due to creeping ecological degradation. When activists shout from rooftops against developmental projects on grounds of environmental damage, hardly anybody stops to think about our lost wildlife heritage over the last several decades. This creeping phenomenon has no dramatic visibility and no media potential. “Wherein lies the solution?” That is for us to think and act upon.