How far will you go to be young, wild, and free? The recent death of IT professional Satwik Shastri has sparked off a series of debates that are centred around the man-animal conflict; well here we go again says, Catherine Rhea Roy

Youngsters have a knack of getting embroiled in the oddest situations with the most drastic consequences. Case in point is the recent tragedy where Satwik Shastri, a 24-year-old IT professional who was trampled by an elephant when he went trekking with friends in the Bannerghatta National Park area. The incident has shocked the city and left everyone asking, “What were they thinking?”

“The question that needs to be asked here is if they were thinking at all. There is a sense of self assuredness that comes with the kind of exposure kids have these days but they are obviously not able to draw a line between adventure and stupidity.” says Ila Dubey, a vexed parent.

Don’t be irresponsible

In his rebuttal, Abraham, a law student says, “Adults are always going to think that the younger generation is reckless, that is not going to change. What happened to Satwik was a freak accident, and in hindsight this is a situation that could have been avoided. I doubt these boys went into the forest to experience nature, but in any case it should not change your attitude to the outdoors. Take precautions, have an expert accompany you, have regard for the rules, at least then people cannot call you irresponsible.”

Satwik was missing for two days before his body was found, bruised and broken. The forest area that Satwik ventured into with his friends is a conduit for elephants and they travel that route very often to go to Krishnagiri, Anekal and Magadi. The animals on this course are harassed by the farmers who are constantly chasing and scaring them away with firecrackers and pushing them away into alien areas. Wildlife and nature are now in vogue. The trend has been fuelled by television, digital photography and social networks and everyone is now a wildlife photographer and a naturalist.

“There is a lot of banter but what has not gone with it is the skill to be able to deal with the outdoors,” says herpetologist Gerry Martin. “If people are not going to be intrinsically involved and don’t care enough to learn more about spending time in the wild then, it is dangerous for both the man and the animal.”

Especially in an area like Bannerghatta where the forest is already under a lot of pressure – the forest department will get defensive, the locals around the place will use it as an example of how the elephants are endangering their lives and from there it is just a downward spiral,” Gerry adds.

Dr. Shyam Bhat from the Mind And Body Clinic says, “As humans we are wired to be with nature, and people feel that void. The post industrial economy has disconnected us from the natural world. Our evolutionary roots call us back to nature but it is unfortunate that we are not equipped to deal with it.”

About the question of safety, Dr. Bhat explains, “Risk taking behaviour is prevalent in the younger generation, because it is a time when you are not really thinking about mortality. And while part of the reason is the age, the other part could also be the nature of an IT job which tends to be monotonous.”

Everybody wants to be the lonely traveller, to experience the rush of uncertainty that the wild offers. There is an accessible system and protocol that must be followed to make the most of the forests without upsetting it. “If people want to go into the forest they can go to the Range Forest Officer and make a request and in most cases they give you permission and a guide,” says Kaushik Bajibab the founder of Wishbone, an organisation that conducts educational nature tours.

People should always be wary of the outdoors, says Anand Sankar a wildlife enthusiast. “You don’t mess around in the wild. Venturing into the jungles without good survival skills and a trained wildlife tracker is stupid. Incidents like these also make it difficult for others to get permission to enter national parks. Officials will be guarded as they will be blamed for any accident.”

This incident also brings us back to the eternal man-animal conflict. While the untimely death of a youngster is tragic and leaves family and friends devastated, there is the inevitable blame game that ensues. Elephant experts vouch that the animal would never attack without provocation. Like all animals, elephants have their “circle of comfort”, an infringement of which threatens the animal. “If you violate the safe space of the animal they are most likely to express their displeasure by trumpeting loudly and moving on, but a nervous elephant is not an animal to contend with, and could attack in self defence,” says Shankar Palat, who owns a homestay in Wayanad.

The wild is not for everyone. Most wildlife groups that conduct camps and educational tours are usually accompanied by locals who are familiar with the terrain and have knowledge of the habits of the herd. Understanding and being at home in an environment that is alien to us comes from experiencing it, but it takes responsibility and presence of mind to belong to it.

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