Sabyasachi Patra

Indiawilds Newsletter Vol. 3 Issue IX

Indiawilds Newsletter Vol. 3 Issue IX

This issue of IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 3 Issue IX examines Conservation, sustainability and moral obligation. This newsletter is available online. To view and to post your comments check at:

Conservation Definition:

As per Webster’s dictionary the word conserve means to avoid wasteful or destructive use and in the context of Conservation means avoid wasteful or use of natural heritage or “natural resources” as it is referred to. So Conservation in context of wildlife, nature and bio-diversity implicitly means that we are treating our natural heritage as a resource and like any other resource it is finite and will run out one day.

In view of this definition, there have been many voices in the past to preserve as opposed to conserve.

Sustainability the bane of Conservation:

Sustainability is currently the buzz word. People want sustainable exploitation of natural resource. Well can exploitation ever be sustainable?

We have realised the importance of a few species or elements in Nature and want to conserve and/or commercially harvest those. However, we are yet to unravel the many mysteries of nature and hence we don’t care if many species that are smaller in size are on the verge of extinction. Of late, some significant work done in the field of biomimetics has resulted in learning and replicating new techniques and designs found in nature to create technologies and products for human good. Such work teaches us that there are probably countless such mysteries that need to be unraveled and has led to conservationist urging to protect at least a few of these species in some parks.

George B Schaller highlights this point lucidly while writing on Rainforests:
“Can a rainforest be harvested sustainably? So far no commercial logging has been sustainable. And reforestation is not an easy solution; we can plant trees but cannot re-create the original forest. Ecological processes are so complicated that planted forests are only superficial replicas. .. proponents of sustainable development seldom mention limits – limits on the number of persons in an area, on the number of monkeys killed for food, on the amount of forest degraded. Without enforced limits, there can be no sustainability. Who makes the decisions about access to resources and amounts that may be extracted so that harvest rates do not exceed production? Who can make such complicated decisions? We still know too little to manipulate forests and predict the consequences.”


Apart from the benefits that we derive from the various species and elements in Nature, one needs to keep in mind that there is also a complex web of inter-relationships between various species and loss of one species, however small it may be in size, can result in significant challenges towards the survival of human species on this planet earth. In a bio-diversity hotspot like Western Ghats, where news species are still being discovered, it would be preposterous to think that we know enough about the complex relationships between organisms and the impact when one or many species are lost or locally extinct.

To provide some food for thought, I am quoting Dr. George B. Schaller
“An intriguing aspect of rainforest life is its extraordinary mutualism, a dependence of organism upon each other. For instance, each of the many fig species has its own wasp pollinators. . A rainforest is remarkably complex, yet its stability is tenuous. The extinction of a pollinator or seed disperser may cause the death of a plant species and with it many other species, especially invertebrates, which depend on it. Such responses are subtle and perhaps long delayed. How many key species can a rainforest lose before order becomes chaos, before the community collapses in an avalanche of extinctions?”

All this begs a question. Are we right in destroying anything at will? Man – supposed to be an intelligent species – has abrogated the power of lording over and destroying this planet earth. Are we right in doing so? Beyond the hard economics and politics, don’t we have any emotional reasons to save our wilderness areas and wildlife?

Conservation as a Moral Obligation:

A decade back I was in the mountains in Ladakh, photographing alone and had an amazing spiritual experience. For a person who hardly visits a temple, it was extremely surprising. I am sure in the wilderness areas there would be many people, who would have found peace, solace and would have tried connecting with the almighty. And in a country like India where the Himalaya is considered sacred unlike other mountain ranges in the world, if we don’t preserve that primordial wilderness then apart from the bio-diversity we are losing out on our culture and history as well. I am sure, instead of “conserving” those areas to exploit later, we have sufficient reasons to focus on “preserving” those primordial landscapes to remain in their own pristine state for ages to come.

I think it would be pertinent to quote the legendary biologist George B. Schaller. While writing about his experiences in Serengeti, he has this to say:
“Preservation for profit should not be the ultimate goal. Tanzania has maintained the Serengeti in spite of crushing social needs not for economic reasons but as a statement of the nation’s vision and identity. The Serengeti does, however, have inestimable value as a genetic storehouse of numerous species. At some future date, when we are ready to mend and restore what has been squandered, the grasses and animals may provide stock for rehabilitating other pastures. Parks such as the Serengeti also provide valuable natural laboratories, baselines against which changes elsewhere can be measured and placed into perspective. But, above all, certain places are so unique in the pleasure and inspiration they afford that they must be preserved without compromise as repositories of beauty-as living museums. They must remain unmanaged, as original fragments of our past. Unaffected by human greed, their survival will be witness to man’s moral obligation to society and to other species. And there must be a global commitment to maintain such cultural resources. As Edward Hoagland phrased it in another context, the Serengeti should be viewed as “the best and final future place to make a leisurely traverse or enjoy a camping trip that [is] not rooted in our century.”

Though there is a clamour for “science based conservation”, to set up research stations drilling mountains, creating roads and digging unnecessary waterholes in the wilderness areas etc, like George Schaller we should call for retaining our wilderness areas as “unmanaged, as original fragments of our past”.

I hope that atleast some of our wilderness areas remain “unmanaged, as original fragments of our past”, because it also teaches us humility. Having faced death several times, I have realised how vulnerable we humans are, and this makes us humble. We realise how insignificant we are in the overall scheme of things. And after such a humbling experience, if one gets access to power, then I believe the person is more likely to exercise the power with great caution and responsibility. The feeling of megalomania, of being able to lord over the world may subside.

Any traveler who has just returned from a pristine wilderness area can vouch that his/her visit is therapeutic. The person comes back recharged with a new zest for life. Of course it is a different matter if one takes a safari in crowded Bandhavgharh, Bandipur or Ranthambhore.

With our wilderness areas providing cultural, spiritual, therapeutic and also a humbling experience, it is certainly a moral obligation to preserve such primordial landscapes. Unfortunately, with greed driving all our actions, morality is the first casualty. There are also well-meaning individuals and organisations who take a very short sighted approach and for them the narrow interests of man comes before anything else. So preserving the vast tracts of wilderness areas and wildlife for moral obligations towards other species and towards mother earth, though appropriate, might be the most difficult propositions. This is especially true in a country where we are used to the dichotomy of praying before the elephant headed God Ganesha and killing the elephant in the same time or polluting and destroying our rivers by constructing dams despite considering the rivers as Goddesses. The only exception – the mighty Brahmaputra – is the son of Bramha and is now being “tamed” by constructing dams. With our generation leaving moral obligations far behind us in our quest for materialistic goals, it might be a good idea to try inculcating moral values in the younger generation hoping that they take the lead in saving our Planet Earth. May we use the coming Wildlife Week to generate awareness!

Screening of the film “A Call in the Rainforest”

The first screening of my film “A Call in the Rainforest” which documents the plight of one sub-population of the Lion-tailed Macaques in the Anamalais in the Western Ghats is being held on 1st October at 5 PM at Alliance Francaise in Bangalore. The screening will be followed by talks from distinguished biologists like Dr. Ravi Chellam. This is an effort to raise awareness and I cordially invite you all. A short preview to the film can be found here:

Wild India: Conservation News:

Villagers kill tiger in Rajnandgaon (Chattisgarh)

Koyna Sanctuary and Windmills

Wild India: Wildlife Photography:

Images shared by our members between 10th August 2011 – 9th Sept, 2011 that depict interesting behaviour or are just plain beautiful.

Blackbuck by Mrudul Godbole and discussions

Leopard at Kabini by Mohammad Yasir

Affection: Indian Gaur by Bhargava Srivari

Shikra by Dr. Kalpamoi Kakati

Blue-faced Malkoha by Mrudul Godbole

Red-billed Leiothrix by Dileep Anthikad

Two Trees by Gopal Nayar

Indian Bull Frog by Dipankar Mazumdar

Do not Disturb by Aroon Kalandy

Hamsons Hedge Hopper record by Vikram Gupchup

I look forward to your inputs and your support in preserving the last tracts of wilderness and wildlife left in this beautiful country. For other interesting articles and photographs please check:

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Sabyasachi Patra

Sabyasachi Patra
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