Wild animals are rational beings and our relationship with them doesn’t always have to be adversarial, suggests international study based on Wayanad
As the state’s forest fringes have turned into hotspots of human-wildlife conflict, such tales of conflict aren’t the only stories, especially among those who live in close contact with wild animals. for several millennia.
A study conducted among forest-dwelling Kattunayakan tribesmen living inside the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS) provided remarkable insights into how they display deep tolerance and acceptance of wild animals, which translates into forms of “deep coexistence”. The study, which involved a qualitative field study that spanned several months and involved in-depth interviews with Adivasis members from seven Kattunayakan settlements in WWS and cross-walks inside the forests, revealed that the profound coexistence of Kattunayakan wildlife was based on three central ideas: conversational beings; wild animals as gods, teachers and equals and wild animals as parents with common origins practicing dharmam.
The study led by researchers Helina Jolly of the Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, Canada, along with co-investigators from the institute, Terre Satterfield, Milind Kandlikar and Suma TR of the Hume Center for Ecology and Wildlife Biology, Kalpetta, was published in the August issue of the international journal Conservation Biology.
The study indicates that shaping the view of wild animals as rational conversational personalities was the Kattunayakan understanding of wild animals as logical individuals who communicate (through actions) and display distinct personalities. According to them, animals display an innate ability to read human intentions and vice versa. “When we talk, even if it’s to an elephant, a tiger, a leopard, a bear, a snake or a lizard, we only talk to them freely and honestly. We say to them: I will not interfere with you . Please don’t interfere with my way. That’s all. Then they’ll go their way,” a Kattunayakan man said in an interview featured in the study.
Additionally, when asked if animals will listen to them when they make this request, he responds by explicitly referring to the animal’s agency. “No, they won’t listen right away. They will also consider our request. Then they will make their decision. Our tone of voice is the most critical part of the application. Understand that you are talking to a powerful animal in the forest. If you talk in the wrong tone, then you’ll get it [punishment] of them. After talking to them angrily, you cannot walk peacefully through the forest. Even outside the forest, we speak calmly to people, don’t we? The same is true for wild animals. We must speak with love and patience. Then they [wild animals] will listen,” he reportedly said.
The study indicates that although some younger Kattunayakans (20 to 30 years old) rejected the idea of engaging in conversation with wild animals, they also agreed with the importance of having a nalla manasu (good heart) in the forest by having a mindset free from evil thoughts, such as planning an attack on a wild animal, engaging in hoarding of forest resources, or verbally insulting another Kattunnayakan.
Advancing the concept of animals as social actors, Kattunayakans view wild animals as their equals, which is reflected in the respondents’ respect for animals and acceptance of animals’ equal right to physical space. Community members even attributed respect to their fellow forest dwellers who shared the idea that wild animals are gods and teachers. “We can’t trust humans inside the forest, but we can trust an elephant. An elephant is a valiya (great or elder) aallu (person), so they can harm us, but they will never cheat. Having elephants in the forest is not a problem for us. Elephants are our daiva (God), and we pray to them. If we go into the forest believing that even if we don’t see elephants they will make noise to alert us, then we will know they are there. Then we can take a different path without confronting them,” said one honey-gatherer in the study.
In the many interviews featured in the study, respondents were also seen referring to forests as achan-amma (father-mother) and believe that all animals originated there, emphasizing their belief that wild animals are relatives to common origins practicing the dharmam. “Wayal (swampy wetlands) is like petta amma in the forest. Thus, all the animals will visit it to drink water or get their food. It is as if a mother called and dragged her children through the water… This is what we observe in the wayal. Wherever the forest animals are, we believe they will reach there,” a Kattunayakan is quoted in the study, highlighting the cultural significance of the wayal in the forest ecosystem.
The study indicates that while the perception of wild animals as parents does not obscure the daily challenges of living with them, respondents expressed the difficulty of living well with forest relatives when navigating the landscapes. shared. Yet they agreed that they do not benefit from harming animals precisely because they are seen as relatives. Thus, upsetting or injuring wild animals was similar to afflicting one’s own people.
Additionally, the study presented instances of Kattunayakans sharing forest resources with animals, including dropping parts of the honeycomb on the ground for bears to eat and making sure they won’t take all of it. the hunt as they often take the leftover meat from a tiger’s hunt but leave behind. some for the animal.
The researchers believe that understanding and integrating these perspectives into the management of Indian forests would help resolve the human-wildlife conflict more broadly. Suma TR of the Hume Center for Ecology and Wildlife, who was part of the research team, said the study was important because key insights into the Kattunayakan community’s indigenous understanding of human-wildlife relationships , while all of this cannot be blindly copied, can provide valuable input in developing approaches to wildlife management and also conflict mitigation in the state.
“At a time when human conflict and the mitigation of impacts on wildlife have assumed great social and political importance, all knowledge systems that closely observe human-animal interactions, animal behavior and changes that human actions and behaviors have on wild animals can provide valuable lessons in solving human problems – wildlife conflict and forest management,” she said.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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