Does a leopard change his spots? Or was it the cheetah or jaguar or tiger. Leave alone the panther and puma, they are a different cat family altogether where they belong with the lion. For that matter how many of us know the crocodile from alligator or the gharial. Whale from shark and dolphin and porpoise. Comodo dragon from the monitor lizard. Ant eater and the tapir? By the way, I never expected tapir to be sooo huge, and another surprise was that its natural habitat is Malaysia (or south east Asia). Up close with the tapir in Seattle zoo for the first time ever 😀 How different are the deer, antelope and the gazelle? Eagle, vulture, kite, buzzard, falcon? Can you tell between the turtle and the tortoise. Wolves and foxes? And oh, the (siberian) husky I believe is the closest domesticated living relative to the wolf. What about the gorilla, chimpanzee and orangutans. The monkey family trees are way too many. Similar are the rodents. Birds are myriad and the sky is the limit for the avian genre. Bewitched by the African pigeon that was fowl size! The animal world is truly fascinating. Even giraffe has okapi from the family although both have distinct identities. The zebras may somewhat come as closest second cousins but then they have the ass and the horse lineages to blame their genes on. Nature has worked wonders with living organisms creating a spectacular and divergent array of species, and some including us human sapiens may still be ‘work under progress’ really. Yeah, we may not be finished with as yet. One of the flipsides of the evolutionary process is that, as species may interbreed, mutations could pave way to infertility and bring to halt some bloodlines. Thus the mule is non reproductive, just as the tigon is. May be cloning is the way forward?
Zoos are not happy places, that much I know. Its pathetic to view a bored lioness tearing at nothing just as you gaze a dozen bored and soft listless Bengal tigers pacing up and down their airconditioned cells in Dubai dry heat for instance., where wildlife even makes for pets to the richest Arabs. The apes have nowhere to swing to. The winged beauties cannot flee their nettings. The otter has to keep swimming in loop just like the penguins within the glass aquarium. The rhino pair just have each other and the manmade pond to wallow in. Yet I know the value and importance of conservation when it comes to endangered species. Sometimes, zoological nurseries become the only way out to stop exotic species from going to extinction. Or on retrospect, are we doing it right. To borrow from the ‘Sapiens’, should we be allowing the rhinos to go extinct in the bush rather than save them to live a miserable life staring at space. What have we humans done to the poultry that progenerate many million times every single day. After visits to half a dozen zoos around the world, and coming from India, home to a stunning range of wildlife, I am for afforestation to increase green cover. A single lion or elephant in the wild in India may require a minimum living territory of 400 sq km for instance. This is not just the breathing space for a predator but also its prey zone. So when we shrink the wildlife habitat, the population count drops. The least we can do is NOT take over the elephant corridors for development and/or encroach upon our sanctuaries and wildlife reserves for industrial expansion or mining. Our green cover also serves as our country’s lungs. Shrinking the forests will directly dent the ozone layer over India depleting the oxygen in the atmosphere.
Heartening to learn of giraffe birthing healthy young calves in Mysore zoo and to watch the radio collared tiger mom in Panna with her newborn cubs on Mother’s day. While the former is an astonishing breeding in captivity, life in the wildlife reserve will be tough for the tigress and her brood. Managing the delicate balance between sustaining wildlife in their natural habitats and development and progress of human society is a Herculean task. Zoos may still be a last resort only. One of the unshakable memories for me is listening in alarm to the traffic noise outside the Mysore zoo even as I stood admiring the gait of the Bengal tiger almost six feet long restlessly growling and pacing down the enclosure.