Need to accept humans and wild animals have to share common space

India is a fascinating country. Not only is it home to the largest number of languages, religions and cultures but it also supports some of the richest biodiversity areas in the world. If we consider just the large carnivores, India has four species of large cats, four bears and six in the dog family. If we compare this to all of Europe, they have only four species of large carnivores. Even at a human density of more than 300 people per sq km and severe pressures on land, India still retains most of its wildlife species, even the potentially dangerous ones. The reason might be due to the tolerance Indians show for other life forms. It is evident in the way animals, domestic or wild, are positively incorporated into their culture, religion and life. Tolerance is something we take for granted but is required for the persistence of the charismatic, big wildlife. Simply put, wild animals will remain only if the local people let them remain.

In rural North America and parts of Europe, wild carnivores like the wolf and bear often invoke negative sentiments among the local people. These animals were virtually wiped out by the mid-20th century due to State-supported extermination programmes where rewards were offered for each carnivore killed. This mindset changed and the focus has shifted to their conservation. As a result, the wolves, mountain lions, and bears, are all making a slow comeback. In the meantime, the local people who had forgotten how to live with these animals now protest strongly against their return. In India, the extermination of a dangerous species was never part of its ethos. Although wild animals were hunted for sport or food, the intention has never been to wipe out the entire species because they were considered dangerous. In fact, even today many tribal societies worship animals and regard losses to wild animals as part of nature's cycle. This tolerance is already entrenched in India's society.

Full article can be read in The Hindu's Survey of the Environment 2010.The publication is now on stands. Copies can be obtained by Registered Post (not V.P.P.) for Rs.80 (Rupees Eighty) by drawing a cheque in favour of "Kasturi and Sons Ltd." (Add Rs.10 for non-Chennai cheques) and sending it to the Circulation Department, The Hindu, 859-860, Anna Salai, Chennai 600002 Email: subs@thehindu.co.in

Vidya Athreya is with Kaati Trust, Pune, and NCBS, Bangalore; Rashid Naqash is Wildlife Warden, Jammu and Kashmir, Department of Wildlife, and John Linnell is with Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norway.