Mindsnack #7: Wildlife and you
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

A wild Royal Bengal tigress walks across while nervous birds and monkeys make cacophonous warning calls.

A wild lone tusker stands a few feet away happily munching some grass. He doesn’t even acknowledge your existence. But all of a sudden, he turns and gives you a stare, of the bone-chilling variety.

Such sights and experiences are not the sort of connection that a median netizen has with wildlife and forests because their connect with the wild mostly begins and ends with hitting the “like” button on Save The Tiger or Beautiful Nature sort of facebook pages. But with middle class incomes rising and many people seeing upward mobility, many wildlife resorts and jungle lodges are seeing houseful weekends and I hope this continues because it is good for the animals’ future to be in demand.

So a short summary of what not to do in the wild may be in order for the uninitiated who find themselves going out to the wild soon.

Do not expect:

Too many urbanites carry their natgeo hangovers to forests. Wildlife documentaries are made over years and if lucky, in months. The kind and number of sightings of elusive wild animals in documentaries can’t be replicated in a one off wildife safari unless a miracle happens. Many people come to wild safaris with very high expectations – they want to sight a tiger, an elephant, a leopard and if possible even a predator hunting prey. Many wildlife-lovers would consider it a boon if they can sight all of this in a lifetime, let alone in one wildlife safari. Needless to say, such folks go back terribly grumpy and disappointed, never to return to the wild. It is also important to understand that it is not all about tigers, lions and elephants. Even watching a woodpecker peck away at a tree or a hornbill feed its chicks is a very heartening experience.

Do not come out uninformed:

There was this lady who wanted to sight lions and camels in a forest in South India. May Shiva bless her. Then there was this guy who kept on arguing that rattlesnakes exist in India. Do you get the drift? Although it is a good idea to prepare well for anything that you do, it is an even better idea to do so while venturing out into the wild. A modicum of preparation into what the flora and fauna a particular region you’re visiting offers, helps you immensely in both enjoying the sojourn as well setting the right expectations.

Do not mistake the forest for a discotheque:

The kind of hollering that ensues after the sighting of a wild animal is irritating to the more seasoned. All the excited “Hey! There’s an elephant!” shouts are actually counter-productive because they drive the animals away and such behaviour is sometimes even dangerous. Poking your hand out of the jeep and clicking photos when an Indian Gaur weighing a tonne and a half is a few feet away from you, is to put it mildly, very very dangerous. These animals have been known to overturn jeeps with their power. Keep your composure. Stay silent. Respect their space.

Do not let your guard down:

We sighted a handsome lone tusker a few feet away from us while driving through a forest. But we didn’t switch off the engine. And we didn’t focus only on the tusker but were taking turns to look all around. Switching off the engines would mean a delay in taking off in case the tusker gave us a charge. Keeping a tab on the surroundings was very important because some of these animals move in herds. Surely watching a tusker while some more pachyderms arrive right behind your car isn’t a good situation to be in. These animals are called wild, for a reason. If the wildlife safari recommends you don’t do certain things, stick to it because all it takes is a one moment of stupidity to bring about a disaster.

It is very important to visit the forests to witness the wild in all its splendour and to make it an economically viable initiative for various stakeholders to help keep the wild animal populations healthy. Treat your mind to a snack of visiting the nearest wildlife sanctuary the next weekend. You may be really helping Save The Tiger that way.