Last Updated: Friday 10 July 2015

Blame it on the libido

The last thing an overpopulated world -- least of all India -- needs is an aphrodisiac. Conservationists today stress the need to educate laypersons about the foolish belief that animal parts are good for virility.

Not so Ajith Kumar of the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History. In his article Cat sense (Down to Earth, April 30, 1994), he lists the uses of the musk of the Malabar civet, and one of them as an aphrodisiac. He talks of captive breeding and nondestructive use; but nothing can stop people from a rampant civet-hunt once they realise there is a market for its musk. If you lead people to believe that Malabar civet musk can increase their libido, what's to stop them from turning to the wonderful powers of tiger penis soup?

Further, he goes on to give us a population estimate of the Malabar civet. Believed extinct, its rediscovery is nothing more than the recent find of 2 skins. At a time when the scientific community prefers to treat all forest department figures with great suspicion, here is a "scientist" -- who has never seen a live specimen, in captivity or in the wild, in his whole life -- producing the magical figure of 250 to 500 civets. Was the estimate of 40,000 tigers at the turn of the century a similar cook-up?

In a few years time, if we (hopefully) get further sightings of the Malabar civet and proper studies are undertaken, all talk of the population having increased or decreased is sure to be based on this fictional number, reality taking a comfortable back seat. The simplest definition of science is "reliable information". Fantasies of the aphrodisiac of the numeric kind are absolute no-nos. ...

Missing links

As far as the issue of climate change -- increase in greenhouse gases, melting snow in the polar regions leading to sealevel rise and the consequent threat to islands like the Maldives -- is concerned (Down to Earth, April 30, 1994), scientists are yet to explain past variations in climate where carbon dioxide, for example, was not a culprit. Again, some animal and plant species have become extinct, but not due to human interference.

However, this does not mean we are not to take steps to protect our environment. Environmental degradation is due to overconsumption and the biggest culprits are the advanced countries. However, India and China may overtake them because our population is very large....

The green auditor

The Supreme Court's recent order to close down some 41 industrial units at Agra shows that the Bhopal tragedy in no way moved industrialists to improve environmental conditions in their units. The Indian public, too, seems quite unaware of the dangers posed by global warming, species extinction and the loss of the great rainforests.

Hence the anxiety about the environmental effects of opening new industries in the countryside. While such units will provide local employment, special clauses must be included in their permits and environmental auditors appointed to look to the interest of the local environment. Perhaps this is a kind of intervention by outside authority. But the state is duty-bound to privilege public interest over that of certain individuals or corporations.

The idea is not new. After the Bhopal disaster, American multinationals introduced this system in their branches. In Europe, companies took to environmental auditing, perhaps to display their concern for public health problems. We in India should emulate this example to the best of our abilities. We should employ specialists in environmental science as auditors, their recommendations to be implemented as thoroughly as possible. In this matter, educating the public, rather than legislation, is more effective to convince industrialists of their responsibility....

Craning our credibility

I was very interested in the article on the blacknecked cranes of Sangti valley in Arunachal Pradesh (Down to Earth, May 15, 1994). However, it was shocking to see the accompanying picture, which was that of the Demoiselle crane (Anthropoids virgo) and not of the blacknecked variety. Such a slip is surely unexceptionable....

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