Where have our Animal Friends gone?

Dr. (Capt) ANJALI MEHTA

Within days of making our first “contact” with humans, we make our first contact with animals. Albeit this is a “stuffed”one. All of us would be able to recollect sans much difficulty the cuddly teddy on the pillow, the leo toy with prominently darting eyes which helped us develop our own ocular fixation and our first “favourite friend”, whichever toy it may be, on whose little stuffed shoulder we poured our stories out.

Surrounded by our furry friends we reached toddlerhood. Again animals came to our rescue in the classroom as we learnt the alphabet through memorizing their pictures. Who can forget the pleasant cadence of “C for cat, D for dog and E for elephant?” In our holidays, weary and tested relatives kept our spirits up with trips to the zoo. We squealed with uncontainable delight at any move made by an animal . We admired the giraffes long neck, the bears luxuriant fur,the steely gaze of the tiger and the agile antics of the monkeys.We fed swans that glided by on edges of lakes and watched birds and squirrels with wry amusement.When we fell sick, the doctor would try and hold our attention with pictures of Mickey mouse,Daisy duck et al and this seemed to be the only way to get our undivided attention!

As we grew older,we learnt in geography of the Savannah grasslands and Amazon forests and the species they supported. We made scrapbooks of animal facts and animal pictures. We saw programmes on tv about animals in their natural habitats as well as special animals that could do tricks and interact with people in unusual ways.We collected pretty little ladybirds, wrote essays on animals and some of us learnt horse riding in school. We bought fishes in packets for our aquariums,and pestered our parents to let us keep a rabbit or two or maybe a puppy or bird.So far so good. It would be fair to say that animals played an overwhelming role in our lives.We could justly conclude that animals provided friendship, facilitated our learning and education, contributed to our knowledge and happiness, gave us endless hours of joy and even helped our health care providers make better judgements about our state of health.

But then… something changed. The years had sped past and we were adults struggling to find our place in the world.We were still exposed to animals but in increasingly limited ways.However the sheer delight they once aroused in our hearts was replaced by very pedestrian emotions.When we saw a little dog we saw its teeth and dirty fur and kept a safe distance.When we took our children to the zoo we fretted that they should not get hurt or get too close to the cages. We made sure they had their promised icecreams. We looked upon the monkeys that resided in the trees near our offices as nuisances and thought of the repair bills we would have to pay if our cars got dented.We felt a sense of shock if the newspapers carried a report of some animal harming a child or attacking an adult.

Somewhere we deserted our childhood friends and totally abandoned them.First we destroy their habitats and feel surprised when out of lack of choice they are forced to venture nearer our homes or habitations. We kill them for sport, fashion, food, money and every conceivable reason.We save our compassion only for other members of our own species who we perceive to be less fortunate than us but don’t have hearts large enough to accommodate other species. We don’t feel any sense of kinship nor any gratitude for our old friends. We simply cast them aside. Like that.

This is totally baffling considering that the old childhood acquaintances,memories, haunts, tastes or the familiar tunes of our young years can leave such warm and indelible impressions.They can conjure up smiles or even bring tears to our eyes.So what about our childhood worlds of nature??

However the scenario though bleak is not black because amongst us there dwell many compassionate and enlightened hearts who are able to encompass all creatures into their circle of love. So we have dedicated scientists and conservationists, several of them giants in their field who reach out to our old friends,study their habits, understand them, protect them, nurture them. Thus they in some small measure at least lighten the burden of debt for the rest of us!

Long live these wonderful people, long live our old friends the animals and as for the rest of us….we need to wake up to many things, we need to reconcile with our old friends….

Some possible ways of easing the burden on our conscience are :

1. Daily acts of kindness towards animals such as feeding birds, putting out water bowls,helping sick animals etc.
2.Being good to domestic pets and looking after them to our utmost ability.
3. Not buying caged birds, not eating the meat of endangered species, tending towards vegetarianism, not buying fur, peacock feathers etc.
4. Speaking up/ speaking out when confronted with an act involving cruelty to any animal.
5. Using the Right to Information act to get out details about animal numbers, habitats and sanctuary data.
6. Public interest litigation against destruction of our ecology and depleting animal habitats.
7. Public debates on prime time( e.g we the people with ms Barkha Dutt) to discuss animal related issues.

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