Author: Bittu Sahgal
Photo: Dr. Caesar Sengupta
If you travelled the world in search of this handsome wild monkey, you would be forced to come right back to the evergreen forests of south-west India’s Western Ghats to breathe the air it breathes. In fact, thousands of tourists do just that… come to special places in India to see how beautiful our planet must once have been.
In truth, India is many nations rolled into one. The great Himalaya, the sub-Himalayan terai, central and peninsula forests, living coasts, magical coral islands, and even our cold and hot deserts… India has sights and experiences to offer that few other nations can match.
Apart from the tiger, arguably the most-loved animal on the planet, this lion-tailed macaque Macaca silenus, is one among thousands in India that can hold us in thrall. It thrives on fruits, but will readily take a bird, small squirrel, lizard, snail, spider or beetle! Its progenitors probably emerged soon after the dinosaurs threw in the towel when the first primate-like mammals made their appearance. This old-world monkey’s ancestry is, however, more recent, some three million years or so. That’s long, long before Homo sapiens dreamed up the false notion that they knew how to manage the planet better than Mother Nature!
Even more impressive than the way it looks (all purpose, no vanity) is what this primate managed to do with a little help from the likes of Prof. M. K. Prasad and Dr. Sálim Ali and a phalanx of scientists, poets, journalists, teachers and students. This motley group, prevailed upon India’s late Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi to stop the construction of a dam that would have drowned Silent Valley, one of the world’s most biodiverse jungles.
Some suggest this was the birth of modern-day, science-based environmental battles. Long before people began talking seriously about saving other species in the name of the tiger, this monkey managed to save a retinue of lifeforms, including tigers, leopards, elephants, sloth bears, wild dogs, flying squirrels, pangolins, birds, insects, fish and a gazillion plants, too numerous to list… many found nowhere else on Earth.
Clearly, India’s nature tourism potential is an under-utilised, under-appreciated asset. But our current implementation strategies need vast improvement if we wish to achieve the multiple objectives of biodiversity conservation, livelihood creation and brand-equity enhancement. We can do all this, without eroding our natural capital, provided we exhibit the same silent strength that has stood this macaque in good stead for millions of years and adapt to nature instead of trying to force our unproven survival strategies on our fragile biosphere.
First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 10, October 2018.