A very common quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi runs as follows: "Greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." This quote is used often by stray dog advocacy groups to oppose a Western solution to the menace these creatures pose to Indians. Well-known authors also brandish this quote but without a footnote/bibliographical citation. But unfortunately, for animal activists of all stripes, the fact is that this is a quote that Gandhi never uttered in his life. Exhaustive research by Australian author, lecturer and radio commentator, Philip Johnson, establishes that this is a quote attributed to Gandhi by an unknown author who wanted to cast the Mahatma in a romanticised light. The quote is also not in sync with Gandhi's actual views and practices with regard to some animals.
Johnson examined 98 volumes of the 'Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi' issued in 1999 by the Publications Division, Government of India. "The collected works contain his speeches, letters, and transcriptions of even telegrams, newspaper and magazine articles, prefaces he wrote to other writers’ works and so on. The result of my search is that there is no such quote to be found in any of the 98 volumes!'' wrote Johnson in his online blog, 'Animals Matter to God'. Johnson augments the hoax expose by citing the fact that the so-called Gandhi quote has many variations, all attributed to the Mahatma!What can be accurately attributed to Gandhi are his views on stray dogs. In a nutshell, Gandhi, writing in various forums such as 'Young India', was of the opinion that there must be no stray dogs. He advocated that dogs be put up for adoption or kept in shelters, and the balance euthanised. Gandhi spoke against feeding ants, monkeys and dogs. "There is a regular science of dog-keeping which the people in the West have formulated and perfected. We should learn it from them and devise measures for the solution of our own problem," wrote Gandhi (Vol. 36, 'Collected Works', Pg 412).
SONG SUNG BLUE
* On a deep autumn afternoon, there are few more rewarding spots for birding and enjoying a ramble through the countryside than the complex of habitats formed by the Saketri-Kaimbwala-Sukhna lake nature trail. The scrublands are alive with larks, pipits, lapwings etc, while a rare sight may be afforded of the furtive Sirkeer malkoha popping out of an agrarian hedge. Birds of passage such as the European roller are seen in late August and September while even the rare Asian Desert warbler has been photographed here.
PHOTO Credits: Mohan Munivenkatappa
Amid the avian carnival, how can one ignore that Audubon canvas of blues liberated by the flight and elegant aerial antics of the Indian roller? The roller comes to Saketri in autumn and finds a patient perch. Unwary insects and mice that creep along the floor of the countryside will have scarcely noticed the dark, lumpy bird sitting still like an assassin in a high-rise building. Until that swoop upon the hapless creature, and the revelation of a rainbow of blues as its wings and tail burst open in flight like a Japanese lady's elegant hand-held paper fans. But to that prey in its death throes, the blue shadows that the roller casts upon it must seem like a macabre cape donned by a swooping phantom!
The roller, once a common bird and a friend of the farmer as it eats harmful insects, is declining in numbers as are other agrarian birds.
RARER THAN A TIGER
* In these columns two weeks back, I narrated the poignant story of a female Sunderbans river terrapin (a creature on the verge of extinction and rarer than even a tiger!) rescued from a remote Bangladesh village by intrepid wildlife conservationist Rupali Ghosh's team. If that rescue took some emotional blackmail of the terrapin's aging owner, Shubhashini, the rescue of another female from captivity played to a very different, dramatic script. The owner in the second case, Malek Kazi of Daganbhuiyan, Feni district, was adamant in not parting with his pet, which he had cultivated for more than 30 years.Ghosh, along with team member Sheikh M.A. Rashid, even secured the help of the Forest department and cops to pressurise Kazi, who believed a female terrapin brought him luck as the pond in which it was kept would "never dry up" as long as she inhabited it. An argumentative Kazi cleverly exploited legal loopholes to justify keeping a pet terrapin. Finally, Rashid had to hand out a sound thrashing to one of Kazi's belligerent relatives. That softened resistance, and a male terrapin was offered as a barter exchange along with cash to sweeten the deal. After tense negotiations, which had even the local media and TV crews involved, Kazi parted with his pet.
Kazi's pet female (on right) gets a mate.Photo Credits: Rupali Ghosh
The female was taken to Bhawal National Park, Dacca, where she mated with a male rescued from the same region. She had been retained as a spinster pet by Kazi, whose family would relish her infertile eggs.
According to Ghosh, female terrapins lay eggs at night. The male is smaller than the female terrapin (8-12 kg against 25-30 kg for a female) and exhibits a black neck that turns pinkish-orange in breeding season (April-October). Only 350 terrapins are in captivity while their numbers in the wild are anyone's guess as few hatchlings have been found.
Another breeding colony for terrapins is being established with funding from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Herpetologie und Terrarienkunde and European Union of Aquarium Curators at Karamjal, known as a gateway to the Bangladeshi Sunderbans.