Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song. …In the economy of nature, the natural vegetation has its essential place. Hedgerows along country roads and bordering fields provide food, cover, and nesting areas for birds and homes for many small animals. — Rachel Carson.
Professor P. J. Sanjeeva Raj’s reference to ‘the Age of Loneliness’ in his article “Beware the loss of biodiversity” ( The Hindu , Open Page, September 23) reminded me of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring , especially the 8th chapter — ‘And No Birds Sing.’ The U.S., the most ‘advanced’ nation, felt this loneliness even before 1962 by annihilating biodiversity. Silent Spring was first published in 1962 and it tells what an eerie loneliness the ‘developed’ man has brought on himself with his anthropocentric pruning of the Environment.
Carson quotes from the letter an Alabama woman sent to an ornithologist: “Our place has been a veritable bird sanctuary for over half a century. Last July we all remarked, ‘There are more birds than ever.’ Then suddenly, in the second week of August, they all disappeared. I was accustomed to rising early to care for my favourite mare that had a young filly. There was not a sound of the song of a bird. It was eerie, terrifying. What was man doing to our perfect and beautiful world?”
In my village in Kerala, where there were acres of paddy fields and dry lands filled with indigenous trees and thickets, there were plenty of water hens (k ulakkozhi) , lapwings ( thithirippakshi ), spotted doves ( pullipravu or aripravu ) quails ( kada ) and different kinds of bulbuls. The water hens and lapwings are wetland birds and paddy fields are essential for their survival. As paddy cultivation is gone forever, the sounds of water hens and lapwings are heard no more.
The habitat of quails, spotted doves and bulbuls was the spacious dry land filled with trees and thickets. The sound of the spotted dove has been ubiquitous in the village. Bulbuls were seen picking the little fruits from among the creepers and shrubs in the thickets underneath the trees and quails were seen crossing the village roads from one bushy compound to the other. I used to wonder how the water hens, lapwings and quails, which nest on the ground, protect their eggs and chicks from predators like the snake, mongoose and fox. The howling of foxes and hooting of owls were always heard at night. The eggs and chicks survived in spite of the predators, but neither the birds nor the predators could survive man’s unnatural tampering with their habitat.
Today, no howling of the fox is heard. No owl is heard, no water hen or lapwing or spotted dove is seen or heard. Everything is gone, the quails, the snakes, the foxes, the bulbuls, the trees, the thickets, the black palm trees, paddy and paddy fields.
Kanjiram , Podikanni , Mundipparukku , Plachi, Maruthu , Njaval , Manjappavutta , Kasumavu — these are the names of indigenous trees which were in abundance in our surroundings till some years ago, but none is seen now because we found that there was no ‘utility’ in these trees.
The jungle babblers nested on these trees and even if their habitat is lost, fortunately they are still seen. Of the many birds I used to watch and hear everyday in my childhood, the babblers are the only ones (of course, the crows are there) which I regularly see now. And there are sunbirds, some bulbuls, magpie-robin, myna, kingfishers and coucals ( Chemboth) . It means that the birds which feed on paddy or corns and the birds which depend on big trees for nesting are hard hit by our development.
As Carson says in the concluding paragraph of Silent Spring , “the ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.”
If we fail to understand at least at this belated stage what Carson said in 1962, and protect our biodiversity, what will await us the Homo sapiens is the fate of the dinosaurs — a complete wipeout. I have read somewhere that the dinosaurs were wiped out only when their existence undermined the equilibrium of the environment. I am not sure whether the surmise is correct or not, but man has undermined the equilibrium of Mother Earth is a doubtless fact.