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Dominique Boukris, France

Chapter 1: Spent 3 days at the Rain Forest retreat, a bio-dynamic farm where everything is organically grown and our cottage lay in the shade of luxurious trees bearing orchids. After exploring Coorg for 3 days, we left knowing that this would be a part of our mental landscape forever. read more

 


If statistics were any indication of India's wildlife, imagine this. India harbours 60% of the world's wild Tiger population, 50% of Asian Elephants, 80% of the One-horned Rhinoceros and the entire remaining population of the Asiatic Lion. All this, in a land that has one sixth of the entire human population on roughly 2.2% of the earth's total landmass. It is something of a miracle that despite such population pressure, this country supports such diverse wildlife. India perhaps has the answer to the biggest challenge facing wildlife - how to co-exist with wild animals in an over-crowded world.

India's obsession with wildlife can be traced to its 330 million gods and goddesses. The earliest indication, the Harappan seal of Pasupati or the Lord of the Animals, goes as far back as 2500 BC. Apart from being featured in several mythological tales, animals have been further elevated due to the concept of vahanas (sacred mounts) of many Hindu gods. In the 3rd Century BC, the Indian emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism and soon after issued India's first known conservation law 'The 5th Pillar Edict', forbidding the slaughter of animals and burning of forests. Perhaps it is such interlinking of religious beliefs and animals that lends an air of sanctity to wildlife in India.

In Rajasthan's Karni Mata Temple at Deshnok, locals revere rats as their reincarnated ancestors. Even the venomous cobra is considered sacred and thousands across India make offerings to the snake during Nag Panchami (Snake Festival). The Bishnois, who revere the blackbuck, consider all life-forms sacred. The cult was founded in late 15th century by Guru Jambhoji, who laid down 29 conservation principles (Bishnoi in Rajasthani means 29). In 1730, a Bishnoi woman Amritha Devi clung to a temple tree that was to be cut and gave up her life. Following her example, 362 others clung to the trees and courted death. Despite indulgent royal hunts, some kings realized the importance of maintaining wildlife and developed Shikargahs (Game Reserves). The British too, indulged in rampant hunts and felled forests for timber, but with help from nature-loving officials like Jim Corbett and Col. Pennyquick, buffer zones and private reserves were created. After independence, the conservation movement gained critical mass. The Chipko movement, led by Sunderlal Bahuguna, urged people to hug (chipko in Hindi) trees to prevent them from being cut down. The great ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali spent his entire life studying birds and creating safe sanctuaries for them. At the beginning of the 20th century more than 40,000 tigers roamed India but numbers plummeted to 2000 by the 1970s. The scare was big enough to initiate Project Tiger and today 89 national parks peacefully co-exist alongside the 497 wildlife sanctuaries.