Saving the tiger by letting him die with dignity

November 29, 1996|By Bharat Jhunjhunwala

CONSERVATIONISTS across the world are concerned that developing countries are not making enough efforts to protect plant and animal species threatened with extinction.

For example, recent reports by the Tiger Trust and the Environmental Investigation Agency, both based in London, chide the Indian government for not taking stern action against encroachment by villagers on the tiger's habitat. The presumption is that somehow not protecting the tiger amounts to a lack of compassion and concern with preserving the species for posterity.

Views eastern and western

The Western mind has gotten used to thinking that man is supreme and has a right to use nature for his own benefit. "God said to them, 'Fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth,'' the Bible proclaims.

The dominion of man extends over the tiger, too. According to Western thinking, therefore, if man wants to watch the tiger, then the tiger must be preserved. Man wants the tiger, thus the tiger must survive. Whether the tiger himself wants to survive or not is a non-question.

The Eastern world view is somewhat different. The Hindus believe in assisting every being to its highest potential.

When used to build a house, the stone attains its higher potential than lying in a quarry. The use of the tomato by living beings is the realization of its higher potential, as it helps its propagation. So also for the cows. Giving milk is considered their highest potential; therefore, killing them for meat -- their lower potential -- was decried.

What then is the highest potential of the tiger? The tiger used to rule the jungles. It no longer does. Man rules the jungles now. The tiger used to decide whether man will enter the jungles. Now man decides whether tiger will move out of it.

Today the tiger cannot attain its highest potential of ruling the jungles. To "conserve" it, even in its wild habitat, would amount to denying it its highest potential and reducing it to an item of exhibition.

There was a king named Shajahan in Indian history. He was dethroned and imprisoned in a palace from where he could watch the tomb of his beloved wife Noorjahan. The tiger has similarly been dethroned. He, too, has been imprisioned in wildlife parks, from where can survey his erstwhile domain. He is subjected to a yet greater insult. Bus loads of tourists are brought to "watch" him.

Shajahan was saved from such ignominy. Let us save the tiger from it, too. Let us love the tiger by helping him realize his highest potential and administering euthanasia. To force him to live in unnatural conditions, albeit better than those in the zoos and safaris, is not compassion for the tiger, but an insult to him. The "dominion of man" must be compassionate by allowing the tiger to become extinct.

What does nature want?

That raises the question of conservation of species. Nature has lived with change. The dinosaurs became extinct but nature did not collapse. The Ganges Valley was once full of jungles, now it sustains millions of human beings. The tiger was extirpated in China in the 1970s. The jungles and wildlife of the Americas have been sacrificed to build a powerful economy. Nature wants the tiger to become extinct, but man is working at cross purposes.

The fundamental question is not of the tiger but of the relationship of man and nature. The western mind is conditioned to think in terms of supremacy of man and wants to mold nature in conformity with its desires. If the Western man wants to "watch" the tiger, then the tiger must survive. Period.

The Eastern mind thinks differently. It sees man as a humble part in the larger scheme of nature. It plays with nature as the cub plays with the mother. It partakes of nature but as the calf drinks milk. It tries to comprehend the inner momentum of nature and seeks to align itself with that larger scheme.

One could in turn ask, "How do we know what nature wills?" That surely is an important question. But the purpose of this article would be served if we only started to ponder it, rather than presuming that nature wills that man should conserve the tiger.

Bharat Jhunjhunwala is an economist in New Delhi.

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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