Wildlife filmmaker Shekar Dattatri on why it is important for humans to save the forests

“Many people think only humans have emotions and animals don't,” says wildlife filmmaker-conservationist Shekar Dattatri, “but only if you spend time in the jungle you will know that animals have the same emotions as humans. They too love their kids.”

Dattatri, who was is Madurai recently to address a gathering organised by Young Indians (Madurai Chapter), says that increasing intrusion of humans into protected forest areas has caused huge impact on wildlife in India and the dwindling tiger population is one of the most important indications of it.

“Only 4.9 percent of the total area of our country is protected as reserves and national parks. But villages and hamlets have cropped up all along these reserve forests too,” says Dattatri. “People like me want at least the remaining reserves to be safe. Engineering colleges, ashrams and industries have come up on elephant corridors in south India. Animals have been following a particular pattern of migration and living. When humans suddenly block their way, it leads to conflict.”

Dattatri's love for nature bloomed when he was ten years old — he would befriend lizards, ants, birds, squirrels, rats and frogs at the small garden in the backyard of his house in Madras. Ever since, his love and passion for nature has been growing. “I had a very rewarding and lucrative career as a wildlife filmmaker, but when I looked back I felt that making films wasn't enough and that I need to use the medium to spread the word about our country's rich forest wealth and the threats it faces today,” he says. “Hence I have set aside filmmaking and have embarked on this mission to sensitise people towards wildlife. Especially the city-dwellers, who need to be made aware of environmental issues.”

Mindless development

Having made award-winning wildlife films like ‘A Cooperative for Snake Catchers', ‘Silent Valley – An Indian Rainforest', ‘Mindless Mining – The Tragedy of Kudremukh', ‘Monitoring Tigers and their Prey', ‘SOS – Save Our Sholas' and ‘The Truth about Tigers', Dattatri laments the sheer slackness at the political level to protect and sustain forests.

“Mindless development and the craze to reach this 9 percent growth rate have made many lawmakers blind towards the dying forests and wildlife. Development is of course essential but not at the cost of nature. Today we seem to be consuming at a faster rate forgetting that the earth's bounty is finite and needs time to be replenished,” he says. “And the only way out of this mindless development is to exert huge public pressure on the government. It is no longer enough for the same handful of environmentalists to keep shouting against this mindless development. Anyone can become a conservationist. Everyone should think of the forest and wildlife as his/her own as the fruits of nature is enjoyed by every one of us.” He cites the iron-ore mining at Kudremukh as an example of such mindless development.

Talking of tigers, Dattatri says, “It's a shame that we are not able to protect out national animal. Tigers can only be saved with efficient and modernised forest governance and vigilant watchdog groups. Even though the number of tigers is going down, being a conservationist I am optimistic about its revival. People should realise the importance of tigers in the global food chain and our ecosystem. Only then poaching activities will stop.”

Truth about tigers

His film ‘The Truth about Tigers' shows poaching networks in the forests involved in the export of tiger nails, eyes and skin. It also throws light on the human-animal conflict, human intrusion into reserve forests and various other ecological issues the Indian tigers face today. In most reserves, tribals take their cattle to graze and these cattle become prey for the tigers. When people lose their cattle, they retaliate by poisoning the carcass which leads to the death of tigers. It also shows how people set fire in the jungle during summers to allow fresh growth of grass. It also shows how forest officials are poorly equipped to deal with such issues.

“The DVD has been released in vernacular languages too as the sensitisation at grassroots levels is essential. We also supply copies of the film to schools and educational institutions to spread awareness, which should eventually bring about an attitudinal change,” hopes Dattatri. ‘The Truth about Tigers' is available in both Tamil and English and can be ordered for free at www.truthabouttigers.org