Conservation Conversations


R S Tejus:

Literary works have often shaped the minds of societies but unfortunately any works on nature and its conservation has taken a backseat. Literature forms the foundation of any society, however, there are not many writings on conservation, barring a few which too are unscientific. Although Karnataka has seen legendary writers like Shivarama Karanth, Kuvempu, Beechi, S L Bhyrappa and others but in the aftermath of the recent disasters and developments, one feels the desperate need for writers on nature, wildlife and conservation.

Some literary works by English and other language writers that exist popularizes only the bravery of hunters and glorifies their abilities to hunt wild animals. “We would have had some respite from such wrongdoings like unnecessarily planting of trees, destroying habitats for ill-planned developments, hunting, etc., had there been many works published in Indian language literature.”

Wildlife conservation has gained popularity only since the early 70s’; it required the much-needed push before and even now. Then only, people in power would be well informed while our citizens realized their folly who leave everything to their elected representatives whose knowledge about such issues, the less said the better. Although rivers take birth from forests, we are not as serious about conserving forests. In fact, we worship rivers with no understanding about its source or roots.

For example, some people who live in close proximity to the forests often dislike elephants and other wildlife and even the forests as a whole. Forests have always been considered as a commodity for exploitation from time immemorial, a sad and harsh reality. And questioning back for stopping or arresting for hunting, encroaching and other forest-related crimes is pretty common in such areas. 

Presently, India is left with just 21 percent of its total geographical area as forests due to efforts of people, foresters and the government. However, a lot needs to be done to save what remains. 

And on the issue of conservation literature, we talk to Dr Ullas Karanth, noted tiger biologist and well-known scientist-conservationist from Karnataka. 

Do you think there is a dearth of conservation literature across languages and beyond boundaries?

Yes, in major Indian languages, there is an acute dearth of writings on natural history, ecology, and conservation. 

In Kannada literature, there are not many works on conservation though many prominent writers knew about the issue. So, what could be the reason?

Yes, in non-fiction Kannada writing and Kannada journalism, there is a lack of well-informed and well-written pieces on conservation. Much of what you find is poorly informed, technically unsound, or blind copying of journalistic pieces from English.

Another trend is the so-called Mrigaya Sahitya, much of which is ill-informed and unscientific writings of native hunters, who, unlike their earlier British counterparts, had no basic knowledge of natural history and repeated falsehoods and superstitions embedded in our folklore. Their focus was only on tracking, hunting, and eating the target animal! I also find it odd that old hunting tales of Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson are being repeatedly translated, despite there being excellent translations like the one by Shankar Bhat being already available… The reason again is a lack of effort and laziness on the part of writers.

Can you please throw some light on your recent works? 

Much of my scientific and popular writing has been done in English because of my professional responsibilities. When original research results are published based on collected data, the priority is to go to high-calibre scientific journals or reach out to a global rather than a local readership.

I have written a few articles and books in Kannada on my own or in association with translators or narrators. These include Aranya Matthu Samaja (1982), Kaadu Pranigala Jaadinalli (2001), Huliya Baduku (2007, translated by HR Krishnamurthy) and Hulirayana Akashavaani (2007 – jointly with TS Gopal). Although very few, these have been well received and re-published several times.

Do you think lack of work on conservation is the reason for poor policy management and poor understanding among the commoners? 

Yes, in the absence of reliable information and authoritative knowledge brokers, the media and social media are dominated by ‘influencers’ and pseudo-experts without an iota of scientific or ecological training. In fact, the noise generated by these types of people overwhelms the signal of accurate conservation science, particularly on TV and the internet.

What does the future hold for conservation literature? How can we get quality and correct type of writing?

First, there should be a genuine interest in making an effort to gather reliable knowledge. The yardstick of the calibre of science is the quality of original research publications and not self-proclaimed status’ which often is self-promotion masquerading as expertise. Unfortunately, journalists rarely make an effort to use objective criteria to identify well-informed scientists and seek information. Once again, the reason is a lack of real interest.