From the Kerala Nilgiris to the beaches of Orissa and from Mysore to Bharatpur, this is one enthralling adventure through the jungles of India. And each adventure holds a lesson: Do something to protect wildlife. Take Clifford Rice’s example.
The Nilgiri Thars are mountain goats found only in the Blue Mountains (Nilgiri Hills). If it hadn’t been for Rice, the Thars would have ceased to exist. Rice’s doctoral thesis was on these shy creatures. He spent two years in their midst after winning their confidence. There was just one dilemma. How was he to ensure that the poachers didn’t get his “tame” Thars?
The collection is full of interesting anecdotes that are not only informative but also make one think. Editor Zai Whitaker offers a startling case. “In Kodaikanal where I live,” she writes, “the bison, or gaur, have come to town. Last week, there were 28 on Bear Shola Road; another five or six have settled in a compound not far from the busy market area. Let’s face it; we are in for a difficult time as wild animals move into our habitat. It is only fair, since we have taken over theirs.”
The book features Tiger Cave (by Ashish Chandola), Ralph Morris of the Biligiris (by Monica Jackson), M Krishnan: Nature’s Spokesman (by Ramachandra Guha), On the Trail of the Giant Crocodiles (by Rom Whitaker), Into the Tiger’s World (by George Schaller), Agasthyamalai’s Sacred Slope (by Ian Lockwood), Zoo Girl (by Sally Walker), Meroe: The Rumbling Island (by Manish Chandi), Bob Hoots (by Shanthi Chandola), Turning the Tide (by Kartik Shankar), Playtime in the Jungle (by Bittu Sahgal) and The Magic Ring (by Zai Whitaker). The list of authors reads like a Who’s Who of naturalists.
A wildlife enthusiast’s, or conservationist’s, world is one that is made up of animals and birds in their natural habitat. As Walker says, “I loved animals so much that I never went to the zoo.” Walker, a Bostonian, who came to learn yoga in India, stayed on with the Mysore Zoo to look after her tiger “friends”.
There is also a feeling of having done something substantial. Bob Hoots is the story of how Shanthi and Ashish Chandola found a family for a young owl.
Jackson’s story about her father Morris has a touch of humour. Once, Morris was so caught up with his tiger-spotting that he gave his daughter a few stones to defend herself with in case a tiger came along. As it happened, he inadvertently chased a tiger almost on to her!
The Magic Ring is about Salim Ali’s — and the Bombay Natural History Society’s — efforts to understand how far and why birds migrate. Whitaker relates how the Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur) was saved from being turned into agricultural land.
No more spoilers now. Read the book and treasure it. Gerald Durrell would have been proud of some of the writing.
Some of the stories are extracts from old issues of India Magazine and Sanctuary. But each one is timeless, in a sense. Whitaker, a grand niece of Salim Ali, is herself an avid conservationist and has written many books on wildlife. The Snakes Around Us, Cobra in My Kitchen and The Boastful Centipede and Other Creatures in Verse are some that children should read. And, of course, the extremely instructive Salim Ali for Schools.
Reading about conservation is but a first step towards doing something about it. In this age of impending climate change and unfettered deforestation, it is the children who should be motivated into action. There’s hope, yet, for the natural world if books like this one are brought to them.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
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