Since our childhood days, our rendezvous with wildlife was limited to the local temple elephant. Though the animal was originally from the wild, it was tamed and trained to obey the orders of its mahout.
It was always thrilling to see the elephant and get blessed by it, duly offering small change in return. In all my 66 years, we had seen three different elephants in the local temple. While the first one (donated to the temple, by the then Maharaja of erstwhile princely state of Mysore), died of old age, the second one was a baby elephant. It was donated to the temple by Mr. Sivaji Ganesan, a famous film star from southern India.
It was all of four months old, when it arrived and was really scared of people. For the children of the locality, it was almost like a toy and we have many vivid memories of its early days in the temple. However, it died of some unknown illness, in its middle age.
The third and the current one was donated to the temple, by a local cloth merchant and is now in the temple’s service.
Our other rendezvous was with several elephants that were owned privately by individuals and were made to beg for alms. It was always a pathetic sight to see such majestic animals going round the town, begging for alms. At last, at the intervention of the local chapter of the Blue Cross, this practice was banned.
We had also seen many wild animals including lions, tigers, cheetahs, elephants, bears, et all, whenever a circus was in town.
We never had an opportunity to visit any of the wildlife sanctuaries located in India, though we went on a night safari, during our six week visit to Singapore in 1997, but could not spot many wild animals.
On my part, I do watch National Geography, Discovery and Animal Planet channels on TV and am always mesmerized by the extent of coverage. In contrast to what we watch on TV channels, the situation seems to be quite different in India.
We have, without any foresight, embarked on extensive deforestation thus trespassing into the territory of wild animals. Their habitat has, consequently, shrunk in size and these poor animals are forced to stray into areas occupied by humans and get killed.
Poaching is another massive weapon of destruction of wildlife…poaching elephants for tusks, poaching tigers, leopards and deer for their hide is rampant in India and elsewhere. The result is that many species are in danger of near extinction.
We need to educate our people on the importance of plants and animals, to balance our eco system. We need to preserve wildlife, in their natural habitat and just not in sanctuaries.
Written/Contributed by Thayumanapillai Meenakshi Sundaram