What is in a name: Should cheetahs arriving in India be given names?

What is in a name: Should cheetahs arriving in India be given names?

It may appear a trivial issue but there is a serious ethical and scientific debate underlying this proposition

What is in name? If I call a rose by any other name, it will smell as sweet, said Romeo, the Shakespearean hero. So is the case with the cheetahs being brought from Namibia and South Africa to India. They all have local pet names and IDs, but should they be given new names once they are in their new territory? Will it make them less fierce or any less spotted?

The cheetahs being brought to the Kuno National Park (KNP) are the offspring of some ‘coalitions’ (in cheetah society, males usually band together to form these groupings) named after a popular superhero duo that fights crime and famous musicians who composed symphonies which still give us goosebumps.

The offspring, that are due to arrive in India soon, do not have names so far. But should they be given nicknames like those of the tiger Bandhu in Van Vihar, Bhopal?

Or is it better to respect their dignity since they are wild animals and refrain from looking at them with the same adoration that we have for pet dogs and cats like Tommy and Mr Lancelot?

Candice Gaukel Andrews, a noted nature writer, wrote in a 2015 article that some scientists worried about giving names to wild animals since it could lead to anthropomorphising them. This would make the scientists biased. But other conservationists note that it may lead to better conservation by forming a bond.

The principal chief conservator of forests of Madhya Pradesh is of the first school of thought. “I am against naming wild animals. They are wild and should not be treated like pets. If it was a zoo, that would be different. But we are planning to release them in the wild. So their IDs will suffice for monitoring them,” he said.

Andrews wrote that lupine researchers working in the Yellowstone National Park, United States, purposely do not give names to wolves to remind themselves that they are wild animals.

But Paul Slovic, president of the non-profit Decision Research and a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, writes in his article Psychic numbing and genocide for the American Psychological Association:

Most people are caring and will exert great effort to reserve “the one” whose needy plight comes to their attention. But these same people often become numbly indifferent to the plight of “the one” who is one of many in a much greater problem.  

He further quotes Mother Treasa who said: “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

He calls this phenomenon ‘Psychic numbing’ wherein we, as humans, tune out stories of catastrophes if they are presented to us in dry numbers or abstractions as we are unable to relate to the suffering.

On the other hand, single characters stir our emotions. For example, Steven Spielberg in Titanic moved the audience through the love story of Jack and Rose, even when there were hundreds of others who suffered and perished when the unsinkable ship capsised after hitting an iceberg.

A number of scientists believe that animals, wild or domestic, are more cared for and attended to when they are given special identities.

Prakash Verma, the divisional forest officer of KNP, in a conversation with Down To Earth, recalled how a 16-year-old tigress in Pench National Park who gave birth to seven litters in her lifetime was given the nickname of Mataram or mother by tourists.

“Whenever tourists used to spot her, she was with cubs. She gave birth to 29 cubs in her lifetime. So tourists started referring to her fondly as Mataram. The tiger Munna, who was noted for the words ‘CAT’ and ‘PM’ written on his head, was also given that name by tourists as he was spotted very frequently in Kanha. These are the names people give to animals but we only give them codes. Once the cheetahs are here, we will issue them codes but not official names,” he said.

He added that the nature of each wild animal is different. While some become more accustomed to human presence, others are shy and prefer to stay away. Those that are frequently spotted are given nicknames.

While the debate is endless, but for the fun of it, what would you like to name the four male and four female cheetahs coming soon?

Down To Earth