Practically every other day, we are confronted with so many stories about vanishing species and yet, there are people who still doubt. Can human beings really impact the Earth? Isn’t nature all powerful? Hasn’t nature survived for millions of years? The answer is yes to all those questions. For better or worse though, human beings do have the power to affect the Earth as much as the Earth has the power to affect all of us. In 1992, Edward Wilson noted that human activities have increased ‘background’ extinction rates by between 100 and 10,000 times. ‘We are’, he said, ‘in the midst of one of the great extinction spasms of geological history’ (See source P 5). In 2007, as many as one in four of the world’s mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70 per cent of the world’s assessed plants on the current list were in jeopardy. The list in question is the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. The situation today seems just as grim across the world. One of the latest reports says “More than 40 species of marine fish currently found in the Mediterranean could disappear in the next few years. According to a study for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ on the status of marine fish in the Mediterranean Sea, almost half of the species of sharks and rays (cartilaginous fish) and at least 12 species of bony fish are threatened with extinction due to overfishing, marine habitat degradation and pollution.” It is heart-breaking to read reports such as this…BP Oil Disaster at One Year: Assessing Impacts on Marine Mammals. The red tape seems to be getting worse though. The New York Times tells us that wildlife at risk face long line at U.S. Agency. “In February, the Obama administration declared the Pacific walrus to be at risk of extinction because its Arctic habitat was melting. But it declined to list the marine mammal as an endangered species, saying a backlog of other animals faced greater peril. “Read more here. At risk of extinction but cannot be listed as endangered. Such a shame!
Early this year, India released her own List of Critically Endangered Species. “Critically endangered is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN Red List to wild species. Critically endangered means that the natural population of a species has decreased, or will decrease, by 80 per cent within three generations, and all the available evidence indicates an extremely high risk of its extinction in the wild.” Decrease by 80% within three generations… In that list is a bird that had captured the imagination of so many generations through the epic tale of Ramayana. Jataayu, the vulture who fought Raavan so valiantly now watches as his entire race is wiped off the face of this Earth through a combination of poisoning, and disease . While you and I go about our business as usual, ignoring Jataayu’s peril at our own risk, the monster with 10 heads, Raavan finds life in people like us.
Is there any hope for these magnificent animals ?
In such a bleak atmosphere, however feeble, there is still hope. There are many high profile organizations working to save critically endangered species. But hope can also spring from organizations working in ‘ordinary’ wildlife rescue at the grass-root level. In India, there are two that I’d like to highlight- Wildlife SOS and Vanamitra. Both are involved in numerous rescues and other work that is the need of the hour. Each of the websites will give you more information about the organizations and their work. What I’d like to dwell upon here though, is how such organizations come to life through the courage of individuals. Many months ago, I received an email from a young person. A few lines from the mail read as follows: “I have been reading a lot on sustainability issues. The more I learn the more convinced I am that I should take it up as a full time career option. But whenever I discuss it with my family and friends I do not get a positive response to back my decision.” Like this person, I believe there are many out there who’d like to do a lot more but are afraid.
For such people, I’d like to share the story of one of the founder trustees of Vanamitra since I know him personally. He is a young, dynamic individual. I recently asked him why he had chosen to work in this field despite having an engineering degree that could get him a job in many prestigious MNCs (Multi-National Corporations). In his own words :
“Coming to why I came into this field after engineering… Well this was pure passion. ‘Wildlife rescues’ is something that I have been doing for 11 years now. I was 12 when I rescued my first snake and I am just hooked on since then! Engineering was the “safety net” my parents and family wanted me to have as something to fall back on. 🙂 So the deal made was that I would do engineering to please them and then take up a full time career in conservation which would please me and so far it is going great! 🙂 ”
A snake rescue when he was only 12 years old! Such daring, you’d think comes easier to someone who did not live in cities i.e concrete jungles. But this person defies convention in many ways.
“The ideal scenario would be when you are exposed to various fields at a young age, you identify your passion and direct all your energy towards something that you like and are good at. That didn’t all happen in my case actually. Even though I had a passion for widlife, I was made to study engineering to have that degree as a “safety net”! I think I would have liked to study wildlife biology or ecology in my undergraduate course ideally.
I grew up in a completely urban environment actually. Been in Bangalore since birth. The skills to rescue that snake at 12 were definitely hard earned cause nobody was ready to teach me anything as I was too young. Snakes had always fascinated me actually. So I had spent a lot of time in just reading and understanding about snakes before I could actually handle one. There were few rescuers I knew around me who were doing an awesome job of it. So I started spending a lot of time with them observing how they do it and eventually I was able to handle them myself. After snakes, I learnt to handle injured birds and them mammals. Snakes still remain a personal favourite though. 🙂 I started working on reptiles as a whole from a biodiversity and habitat research view point along with researchers from IISc and other agencies and still continue to do so. I am looking to pursue Masters in Wildlife Science through distance education from a university in America. Hope that materializes soon. ”
I hope so too and wish him every success. It is good to know that people can still work very closely with wildlife even if they were born and raised in a city. Such courage to trust your instincts and follow your heart is rare but highly rewarding and also the greatest need of the hour. In the event that you cannot/ don’t wish to do such work full-time, do get involved with organizations such as Vanamitra. From Nature Camps that help us appreciate wild life to Rescue and Rehabilitation programs, there are plenty of opportunities to learn and contribute. Will leave you with just these thoughts.
The term ‘ecological crisis’ is used so commonly today that it often fails to evoke the desired response. Crises today are met with either paralysis through analysis, shock and awe or are completely ignored, hoping that that problem will go away on its own. To remedy the situation and turn it into inspiraction, we only have to realize that the word ‘crisis’ stems from a Greek word meaning ‘a time of decision’