“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” – Edward Abbey
Back in 1936, India created its first national park in order to protect the Bengal tiger, one of the most majestic creatures on earth and the national animal of both India and Bangladesh. This year, the country decided to build a superhighway through the middle of the park, The Corbett Tiger Reserve—now home to the highest density of tigers in the world—in order to cut down commute times between two cities by a mere two hours.
While activists quickly put together a Change.org petition that now has more than 25k signatures (and needs yours too), the government is already moving forward with the highway project, according to a recent article on environmental news site Mongabay.
“Protecting the integrity of this landscape is a must for the survival of tigers in the long term.” Prerna Singh Bindra, a wildlife conservationist and former member of India’s National Board for Wildlife told Mongabay.
“Simply put, “ he continued, “roads spell the end of the wilderness.”
Already placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species, the Bengal tiger needs large intact pieces of wilderness to roam through in order to survive. Cutting through the middle of one of their prime habitats with a heavily trafficked highway can only spell doom for the largest feline on the Indian subcontinent.
In fact, a study done in Russia in 2012 on the effects of roads on Amur Tiger populations found that “protected areas seem to cease functioning” where road access exists and concluded with the recommendation that “in habitats managed for tigers, construction of new roads should be prohibited wherever possible.”
So why after 80 years of protecting their national animal has India suddenly reversed its conservation practices? Where did this country, known as Mother India around the world for its position as one of the three cradles of ancient civilization and for giving birth to both Hinduism and Buddhism, lose its own soul?
The answer, of course, is in good old-fashioned capitalism.
Surpassing China just last year as the fastest-growing major economy in the world, India has been developing at a breakneck pace that simply has no time for tigers anymore, just as it has no time for the spiritual practices that brought it to the advanced cognitive levels necessary to become the hub of human potential and high culture that it was for thousands of years.
Instead, India has entered a mental health crisis of epic proportions alongside its newfound material wealth, with a third of all suicides in the world now happening within its borders. Never mind the fact that it also now has the deadliest air pollution on the planet, reason enough to stop building more roads. In its rush to get ahead, the new India is not only cutting down commutes times by killing off tigers but is sacrificing an entire generation to the furnace of economic prosperity by robbing them of a meaningful and healthy life.
Don’t get me wrong India, I am from California. You know, the state with the grizzly bear on its flag even though the California grizzly has been extinct since the 1920s, driven out of its wilderness home as we paved over paradise on the road to becoming the richest state in the country. This is more a warning than a judgment.
The grizzly bear, like the Bengal tiger, are keystone species. This means that they keep the entire ecosystem healthy by checking the overgrowth of other species. When they disappear, the whole system becomes out of whack and can completely collapse. California, with our out of control wildfires and severe droughts, is a prime example of a once dynamic and healthy wilderness system that is now spiraling deeper and deeper into ecological chaos.
As capitalism turns the great green earth into the asphalt gray Death Star road by road, highway by highway and parking lot by parking lot, I’m still hoping that some yogic wisdom will break forth from the depths of India’s rich spiritual traditions to save the day like a real life Yoda with Jedi prowess too strong to be ignored. And it’s possible.
Up in Canada, environmental guru David Suzuki has been promoting a new way of looking at our relationship with nature that is based on interdependence instead of self-centered competition and exploitation. In his Declaration of Interdependence, which is well worth checking out and signing to get the word out, Suzuki declares that it is this ignorance of the independence of all life on earth that is driving our current ecological crisis.
“We are human animals, related to all other life as descendants of the firstborn cell. We share with these kin a common history, written in our genes. We share a common present, filled with uncertainty. And we share a common future, as yet untold.” Suzuki writes.
Anyone who takes this kind of interdependence as truth could never build a road through a tiger preserve knowing what the consequences will be. Not only would our kinship to the Tigers make that a crime but our knowledge that the future of our generations depends on our present actions would prohibit such shortsighted stupidity.
For India, and India of all places, this should be obvious. After all, this is the culture where what Suzuki is saying now has been common knowledge for 5000 years—as recorded in that timeless classic that continues to inspire seekers around the world, the Bhagavad Gita:
“All actions take place in time by the interweaving of the forces of Nature, but the man lost in selfish delusion thinks that he himself is the actor.” – BG 3:27
So let’s hope the delusion passes as fast as it has come on. India’s thousands of years of spiritual wisdom grossly outweigh its short stint as a capitalism petri dish experiment that only proves how horrible things can get. After all, understanding interdependence means looking into the tiger’s eyes and seeing out of them at the same time.
And that changes everything.
Main and lead photo by Mathias Appel, CC0 1.0 CC0 1.0
Ocean Malandra writes the EarthRx column for Paste Magazine and divides his time between Northern California and South America.