…And the fossil lives on

Mike Pandey recounts the long struggle for horseshoe crab conservation.

Updated - January 17, 2010 12:52 am IST

Published - January 13, 2010 08:39 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

The Horseshoe Crab

The Horseshoe Crab

The Indian horseshoe crab, the world's oldest living creature with a history of 562 million years, has just been declared a protected being by the Government. Environmentalist Mike Pandey doesn't quite know whether to feel happy or sad.

“I am of course happy because now it will not get smuggled out of the country or sold for as little as 25 paise, but it has been a long struggle. I made a film about its importance 14 years ago, nothing much happened then,” he says.

The three-and-a-half minute version of his “Timeless Traveller India's Horseshow Crab – A Living Fossil” was remade into an 8-minute film “when NIO (the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa) thought of shelving its project on the horseshow crab in the '90s,” he recalls. “I was doing films on oceanography and came in contact with Anil Chatterji who has been working on the horseshoe crab since the '80s at the NIO. I got so interested that I soon made the film,” he recalls.

In 2004, his sons — Gautam and Arjun Pandey — remade it into a 17-and-a-half minute film by punching in related graphics, etc, which bagged them the National Award that year.

Pandey says he showed the film to many an important name in Delhi, including Union Minister Kapil Sibal and Rahul Gandhi. “I am glad they understood the need to protect it,” he says.

Boon to mankind

The horseshoe crab, found only on the Eastern coast of Orissa, particularly in Balasore and Shantipur area, is apparently a boon to humankind, an elixir yet to be fully discovered by us, particularly by the medical scientists. For all these million years that it has lived on earth, no sign of evolution has come to show on the horseshoe crab.

“There is enough research to show that it can reverse osteoporosis, diabetics, and cancerous cells and can heal a damaged heart. I suddenly found out that as many as nine patents for medicines made from horseshoe crab are waiting to be cleared. A lot of homeopathic medicines are made from it,” says Pandey.

He also recalls how in 1967, “Professor Heartline and his team of German scientists got the Nobel for inventing the three cubes which gave birth to colour television. “The idea came from the horseshoe crab. It has 10 eyes and each nerve of the eyes carries only one colour to the brain and it gets mixed there, something that three cubes do to emit colour images on the TV.”

Pandey, who has done an extensive study on the species, the longest surviving organism on earth after bacteria, says its blood is white and when it comes in contact with air, it turns blue.

“This signifies that it has copper in its blood.” Its blood has a component which can detect any bacteria. “Many don't know that when Sunita Williams went to space, her earrings were coated with the blood of a horseshoe crab. It was to locate any bacteria up in space,” he says.

Dishing out such fascinating details about the species which has survived 16 Ice Ages, he also talks about its sad state in India. “The Orissa cyclone washed away its habitat. Also, because it has no meat, people don't take too much interest in it. They are sold for as low as 25 paise, sometimes a rupee.”

Pandey continues, “The Chinese horseshoe crab is more or less extinct and the Japanese ones have just a few hundreds left. We have not made any attempt to even count them.” With its name now in Schedule IV of the Act, he hopes it gets enough steam “to push the boundaries of modern science.”

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