Any ‘development’ that destroys natural habitats is not development at all, just sheer destruction. This is the theme of Ranjit Lal’s book that eloquently echoes the Native American proverb, ‘We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’
The destruction of our rarest animals and their habitats is happening at an alarming pace, as a consequence of which many beautiful species are on the verge of extinction. Even the meagre 5% of our country’s area protected by law has been ravaged. Shameful indeed!
Forest land is being put to more urgent uses, highways run through national parks and sanctuaries, and mines and dams result in whole scale destruction. There is also the serious problem of noise pollution. ‘For a wild animal—especially a carnivore—living cheek by jowl with noisy, impatient, irascible human beings and all their clutter is a risky proposition.’ And river pollution caused by effluents, fertilizers and pesticides, all of which wash down into rivers turning them into toxic sewers, is fast wiping out water creatures like crocodiles and river dolphins.
Despite the seriousness of the issues involved, Ranjit Lal writes with immense humour. Tongue-in-cheek asides, anecdotes, animal histories, origin of names, even mythology and superstitions dot the book, making it highly readable and instructive at the same time. He has done heaps of in-depth research here. He delves into the details of different species of India’s rarest big cats, birds, antelopes, deer and water animals, some of which have made a heroic comeback from the brink of extinction, while others are dwindling down to their last few numbers. The author’s deep love and understanding of these creatures of the wild underscores this slim book.
Ranjit Lal is a prolific award-winning author, having written over forty books, both fiction and non-fiction, for children and adults. He was recently awarded the Zeiss Lifetime Service Award for Promoting the Cause of Wildlife especially Birds, through Exceptional Literary Skills.
But there is a huge lacuna here in this book. One wishes there were photographs or illustrations of the birds and beasts Ranjit Lal writes so imaginatively and fervently about, especially as this is a book for Middle Readers (says the back cover). How on earth does one expect the young reader to picture/imagine these wild and wonderful creatures without a single sketch or picture? For instance, what is the difference between a gibbon, a gorilla and an orangutan? Visual images would have helped the young reader to grasp the information on India’s rarest animals better, apart from making the book much more attractive. Surprisingly, the publisher chose to print such an informative and well-written book without this vital ingredient, maybe to cut costs, without which it is quite incomplete.
Nita Berry writes short stories, picture and activity books, historical biographies and full length non-fiction for children of all ages.