The Big 5

Posted in Current Affairs, Environment, History, Media, Uncategorized by Anuraag Sanghi on August 19, 2008

Wildlife Extinction

In America, the bison in the wild has been wiped out. The South American caiman was nearly wiped out. Cougar, or otherwise called the Jaguar, is a rarity. There are no other big cats in the Americas. By the time of Julius Caesar, lions, tigers and elephants had become extinct in Rome, Greece, France.

But India is different. Apart from the Big 5, numerous other interesting wild animals yet live in India. Pythons, deer, bears, bison, eagles and vultures still have significant presence – unlike in the rest of world, Africa excepting. The two popular theories trotted out by Western theoreticians is that all these were extinction-prone species or loss of habitat to human beings. India disproves both these theories. Especially, once you take Indian population density into account. India becomes a unique country with in terms of wildlife conservation.

How come?

Big men, cheap thrills?

Big men, cheap thrills?

Game Hunting

Big Game hunters in Africa (from the West, where else) described 5 animals as the Big 5 – elephants, lion, buffalo, leopard and the rhino as the Big Five. These were animals that were difficult to hunt and kill (for pleasure, in case you thought otherwise).

This ‘pleasure’ was the operating principle. As a result of this ‘pleasure’, there are only two parts of the world where such Big Five exist. India and Africa. China, the Middle East and of course Europe and America, have wiped entire continents of all these animals.

Lions In Gir Forest

Lions In Wild


Lions killed camels of Xerxes’ army during his campaign against Macedonia. Many European kingdoms used the lion motif on their coins. Lions disappeared from Western Europe around the time of Julius Caeser – and in Eastern Europe by 100 AD. The last lion of modern Pakistan, died in 1842 (of course, before the concept of Pakistan was even born). Wild Asiatic lions, once roamed over forests – from India to Western Europe, were wiped out by indiscriminate hunting.

The Asiatic lion was exterminated from the Mediterranean in the 13th century, Turkey in the beginning of 19th century, Syria in the beginning of 20th century; Iraq in the First World War and Iran during the Second World War. (from Gir Forest And The Saga Of The Asiatic Lion By Sudipta Mitra).

The last place on Earth where wild Asiatic lions have refuge is the Gir forest in Gujarat – in India.

Wild Tiger


India has the largest wild tiger population in the world. And it is not an accident. In 1973, a poor and hungry India, went ahead and launched Project Tiger. In 2004, there were 6000 tigers left in the world – and 3000 were in India. In the last 4 years, this has now come down to 1300-1400. Tiger conservation studies say

India still offers the best hope for the tigers’ future because it has the most tigers and a conservation infrastructure. In 1973, the Indian government initiated Project Tiger, designating protected areas and wildlife corridors. This led to a dramatic recovery – their numbers nearly tripled by the 1990s. But that commitment faltered, and the population collapsed again. (from Tiger, tiger, burning out, report by Vinod Thomas, in Los Angeles Times, dated September 27, 2007).

The big drop in tiger population in India was due to poaching. Poaching due to demand from China – in Chinese medicine. The Chinese think there are no alternatives – and that tiger parts can cure them from various diseases. To meet this demand, China wants to reopen tiger-parts trade. Will they legalize this trade after the tiger farms stabilize or clamp down on the trade after the tigers become extinct?


Elephants once roamed across China, the Mediterranean, the whole of West Asia and Africa. By 850 BC, West Asian elephants were extinct. By 300 BC, elephants in China had become rare.

India has the largest elephant population – outside Africa. An Indian deity, Ganesha, is half man and half elephant. Airavata, the mount of Indra (and Lakshmi) is considered auspicious all over Indic Asia – and was a gift to the gods during churning of the Ksheersagar (The Milky Sea) for nectar. Indus Valley seals of 4000 years show domesticated elephants. India was the first country – and also the longest to use elephants in peace and war.

Wild Rhino


Again, outside, Africa, India has the largest Rhino population in the world. The biggest threat to rhinos in India is the use of rhino horn in Chinese concoctions to cure impotence and increase libido. Interestingly, the rhino finds scant mention in Indian mythology and ancient literature. At best, there are only folk tales about rhinos.

Once upon a time, Lord Krishna decided to use the rhino for battle and prohibited the use of elephants as he found that mahouts sitting atop “Haathi” were easy targets for enemy archers. Thus, a rhino was commandeered, dressed in armour and made ready for military service. But when the “Unicorn” was brought before Lord Krishna, he found that the animal was too stupid to learn and obey orders, so it was driven back to the forest – with its protective covering still on it. And that is why to this day, the rhino still have armour plating on them!

Indian Swamp Buffalo

Indian Swamp Buffalo

Wild Buffalo

The distant cousin of the African Buffalo is the Indian Buffalo – and its cousin is the Indian bison or the Gaur.

In Indian mythology, buffalo is the mount for Yamaraj – the God of Dharma (and Death). Less than 4000 remain in the wild. It is suspected that these ‘wild’ Indian buffalo may actually have bred with the domesticated buffalo.


Outside Africa, India has the largest leopard population of 14,000. The world population of leopards is estimated at 100,000. India has 80% of the Asian leopard population. Easily, the most successful of the big cats, the leopard has managed to proliferate. Spread all over India, many states in India have individual populations of more than 1000 each.

The one tragedy in India is the cheetah. There are no sightings of the cheetah in India for the past many decades. Iran has the last 200 or so of the Asian Cheetah. Africa has cheetahs in the thousands.

Behind The Success

India has managed a structured method of familiarizing the general population with the most dangerous animals. For instance, there are festivals where thousands of the King Cobra snakes are handled by common people. Thus fear is reduced – and secure human beings are more likely to live and let live.

On 2nd August, 2008, was ‘gataari’ amavasya as per Indian calendar. The next day was the start of the month of Shraavan. For the next one month, meat eating, traditional Hindus, avoid meat. Most see it as a religious practice. But the interesting aspect is that this co-incides with the monsoons, which triggers the mating season for many animals. Five days into Shraavan, is Nagapanchami. In some parts of India, elaborate fairs are arranged where snake charmers bring thousands of snakes – and people familiarize themselves with snakes.

Angkor Vat Khandava Freize

Angkor Vat Khandava Freize

Ancient Conservation Tradition

Apart from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts in India, Indian teachers spread the path of ahimsa across Asia.

Mahabharata has interesting insight on man-nature conflict. The Pandavas, having secured a favorable award from Dhritarashtra, in their inheritance dispute, decided to set up a new capital. The divine Asura architect, Mayasura, was retained to build this city. The site chosen for the new capital city – a forest, Khandava.

Overcome by their hubris, the Pandavas, burnt down the entire forest – and the animals inhabiting the forest. In place of the forest came up the gleaming new city of Indraprastha.

All the kings were called to marvel at the new city. And in her pride, Draupadi mocked at Duryodhana – a guest. To avenge this mockery, Duryodhana challenged Yudhithira for a game of chess (instead of a war) – which Yudhishthira promptly lost. They lost their new city – and were sent into exile by Duryodhana. Lessons duly learnt, the Pandavas after the completion of their exile, asked for five villages. After winning the War Of Mahabharat, they ruled from the ancient capital of Hastinapur. No more gleaming cities for them. ,

The Buddhist teacher, Mani, condemned hunting – whose teachings, Manicheanism, were declared as heresy, by the Roman Church. Buddha, as the report went, brought a wild, rampaging elephant, Nalagiri, under his spell – and under control. Nearly, 1000 years later, in China, “… a Daoist hermit of the fourth century had made a tiger his servant, and a century later a Buddhist monk “converted” a man-eating tiger …”

Concurrent Conservation Themes

India, in 1970s, still had a waiting period for Bajaj Scooters. Maruti cars had not been introduced. The Oil shock had hit India badly. Bombay High was yet to start production. Colour TV sets were not known and colour TV transmission started a few years later. TV transmission and content a public sector monopoly. Computers in India were rare and far in between – and IBM controlled the industry. Private sector, as we knew it was non-existent. Licenses were required for everything. Foreign exchange situation was precarious. Hence, for a poor country to launch the Project Tiger was unprecedented.

In October 1998, nearly eight Indian film stars were accused of poaching. This entire prosecution incident was initiated by the Bishnoi community. The Bishnois have a long tradition of conservation activity. The Bishnois were at the forefront similarly in the prosecution of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, accused of poaching.

It is this respect for life that is the secret behind India’s success with wild life. But India, the West feels, needs some lessons and tutoring (from the West) in being green and environment friendly.

George Bush ‘Thinks’ Otherwise

“We can’t have an effective agreement unless China and India are a part of it. It’s as simple as that. I’m going to remind our partners that’s the case.” as India and China are now contributing to significant pollution says George Bush. Another news report confirms that Bush

“denied special environmental exemptions for China and India since they “are emitting increasingly large quantities of greenhouse gases, which has consequences for the entire global climate”. Psychologist Sam Keen observed famously about the end of the Cold War that “we [Americans] were getting desperate in our search for a new enemy … and the shift of emphasis to China and India as the new “hit me” toys in Washington is a surface-level manifestation of the realization in American strategic circles that the new competitors … come from Asia.” (ellipsis mine).Indian Cows Fart Too Much

Cattle in India started getting blamed for global warming (Indian cattle fart too much!). UN and FAO got involved in this psuedo scientific study.

10% of the earth’s population, in the developed world (largely the western world), does not adequately price or cost the ecological damage they cause, into their production.

Indians Cows Fart Too Much

The post facto price is borne by the rest of the world (90% of the world population). This damage is then inversely blamed on increasing population of the under-developed world!

An exquisite instance of acrobatics in inverting logic.

By the 1990’s the Green lobby, global warming, Ozone layer, environment had become an fashionable issue. Kyoto protocol negotiations began. As usual, the Western world (led by the Anglo Saxon Bloc) dumped this problem onto the developing world.

Secure a greener earth – at the cost of the poor. This time even Third World animals were not spared.

What Kind Of Art Is This?

What Kind Of Art Is This?

The Best Of The Rest

One Western ‘artist’, Damien Hirst, makes art from killing butterflies, cows – and other such animals. What kind of art is this?

Two Czech scientists were arrested in Darjeeling recently – accused by the Indian authorities, of smuggling butterflies. The Czechs claim they were scientists. Indian authorities claim that the hundreds of samples that they were collecting are part of an illegal trade ring.

The role of traditional Chinese Medicine in extinction of wildlife is well known. The Chinese think that civet cats have to be eaten (till they are available), tigers flesh and bones can cure them of impotency (and what will they do after tigers are extinct?). Of course, Rhino horn and the bile juice of wild bears are essential! What will the Chinese do after these animals become extinct in the next few decades? Japanese resistance to a ban on whaling is symptomatic of a similar insensitivity to other forms of life.

4 Responses

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  1. Dsylexicus Indicus said, on August 20, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I disagree with the premise that human emission of greenhouse gases is the primary cause of global warming. The greenhouse gas emissions from natural sources like volcanoes and dying bio-matter is a far large (magnitude in 100s of times) larger than human industrial and vehicular emissions. Global warming will continue regardless of any human intervention. It is better to adapt our lives to a slightly warmer climate and some loss of land along the coasts.

    There is nothing bogus about methane emissions from cows,but there is ofcourse no need to single India out on that count and there is pretty much nothing one can do about biological emissions

    .The biowaste from US industrial slaughter is a much bigger culprit.Al Gore’s alarmist propaganda has hijacked the agenda of pollution -which is real-and diverted funds towards human caused greenhouse gases .
    It is a fact that a permanent brown haze hovers over much of China and parts of India. It would be a stretch to blame other countries for the dust particles in our neighborhood.

  2. Anuraag Sanghi said, on August 20, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Usually, in an analysis of matters like change in weather patterns, aka global warming, the principle of ceterus paribus will apply. Other things remaining the same, what has changed! Only exceptions will get analyzed.

    Let me assure you, that Indian cows have not changed much in the last 3000 years.The point is, did a few million cows in India suddenly start emitting ‘green house’ gases in the last 10 years! India’s position on cows is now a 3000 year old factor.

    But in the last 3000 weeks, emissions from the West have grown by a multiple of 5.

    I also agree with you when you say that India cannot blame significant pollution damage from the other side of the globe! But Europe and USA seem to be blaming Indian cows for global warming! And transferring blame from cows to human beings is a short step away. That is how the Eugenics program began – which ended with Hitler.

    Note the strategy of giving Nobel Prize to a non-starter like Al Gore and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (of which Rajendra Pachauri is the Chairman). In one stroke, they have co-opted an Indian who will tirelessly go around making Indians feel guilty about cows. It is a classic case of making the victim pay the price of the crime.

    I am not an expert on global warming – if such a phenomenon does exist. My post is not about global warming. My post is about stellar record that India has in wildlife conservation – unmatched by any country in the world! Rich or poor. And it has something to do with our 5000 year old tradition of vasudevaih kutumbakam.

  3. […] culture, i.e. India not produce Jaws, Jurassic Park (animals as malevolent monsters; justifying the extermination of huge swathes of wild life, “good that we have exterminated them“). Where is the Indian Dracula or […]

  4. samadhyayi said, on April 1, 2012 at 11:54 am

    pandora’s box vs ksheer sagar manthan.
    so perfectly illustrating difference between them and us.

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