Sometimes I wonder whether there would have been any forests left if there were no tigers in India.
Cheetahs disappeared from India in 1952, the last of Asiatic lions are left in grasslands of Gujarat, the one-horned Rhinoceros are now only found in Assam while the Indian elephants are found in pockets in north and south of India not able to move around due to lack of continuity of forests. Over the years forests kept shrinking, first due to the British who cut down trees to build the railway system here and in their own country and now due to the greed of businessmen and lack of vision of politicians. (though this will be disputed by the Forest Department who says they have maintained 20% of India’s land under forest cover – mostly by cutting local trees and planting foreign varieties like eucalyptus)
Due to Indira Gandhi’s vision, the world’s attention and the only honest and reliable minister Jairam Ramesh, that we have been able to create safe zones for the Tigers and hence the remaining forests. There are many human-rights NGOs and people up in arms at the process of resettling villages located within the forests to its periphery. They have come to hate the words ‘Tiger Reserve’ as they feel that due to the ‘big cat’, people are losing out on what is ‘rightfully’ theirs i.e. land and right to forests. So what if the tigers and other animals are the first and ‘rightful’ inhabitants of forests. So what if villages are growing by leaps and bound. So what if these same people are cutting down trees and over grazing the forest land. So what if mining and other infrastructure companies are destroying forests and taking up the home of these animals.
Why is it wrong for the animals and trees to have a safe haven untouched by humans? Who has given the humans the right to decide that humans are more important than the other inhabitants of Earth? When do we start being unselfish in the real sense? Should we even?
I once had a discussion with a friend on which charity she is more likely to donate for. Like all Indians and humans, she said children. I asked her what about environment. Her answer reflected the thoughts and opinion of all the others when she said that she wants to make the children’s lives better....they can grow up and take care of the environment later.
Sometimes I wonder if we do not want to respect nature and wildlife now, how we can expect the children to learn to respect nature later. Our country has a wide diversity of geography, plant and animal life. We have two bio-diversity hot spots, three main watershed regions which provide water to the whole of India and many healthy forests. If these are wiped out, what will be left for these very children to enjoy and take care of?