Recently, in a Mumbai suburb, a child was dragged away by a leopard in full view of her shocked mother and grandmother, only to recover the head of the girl next day. The ghastly and scary incident is not the first of its kind, except the gory nature of it. People living in the periphery of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, have been living with this problem for the last few years and time and again such incidents are reported. Many environmentalists say that this is due to excessive encroachment of human lives inside the jungle which is supposed to be that natural habitat of these animals.
When we move into their territory, what do they do? A classic case of man-animal conflict, where we end up blaming the animal.
This leopard had jumped a boundary wall and entered the verandah of a Row House
in Goregaon, Mumbai - photographed by a resident
This reminds me of a lesser known myth of the Kayopo tribe of the Red Indians taken from Claude Levi Strauss’s collection of the myths of the Kayopo tribe.
An Indian takes his younger brother-in-law to catch parrots up a cliff; they quarrel and the boy is left stranded in the forest. He is there for several days and is rescued by a jaguar who is walking past carrying a bow and arrow. (It is important to mention here that these tales are set in the period when man and animals lived together and some of the animals had both human and superhuman qualities). The jaguar takes him home for a ‘cooked-dinner’, for it was only the jaguar who had the gift of fire and cooking at this stage.
The jaguar’s human (!) wife does not like the boy who was from the village and the boy is eventually forced to murder her with the bow and arrow; he then runs back to his village, taking with him a piece of cooked meat. There he shows the villagers the jaguar’s lair from where they capture an ember and thus learn about fire and the art of cooking, but the jaguar becomes man’s enemy for the betrayal.
Shorn of fiction, the story is full of symbolism. It is symbolic of mans move towards culture (from a raw existence) by the discovery of domestic fire and cooking with the help of the animal and the jaguar’s (i.e. the animals) move away from culture which becomes the embodiment of raw nature. Man pays the price of fire by earning the hostility of animal life in the jungle. Besides all that the myth portrays, doesn’t this myth also bring out man’s inherent nature of not being trustworthy as against that of the animal? Debatable? I don’t think so.
If this is not a case of classic man-animal conflict, then what is it? Since childhood we have heard stories of man and animals – man in villages and cities and animals in jungles. Things have changed slightly, man has started leaving villages for the cities and the cities have started moving into jungles. Where does that leave the animals? Where do they go? While I sympathize with the family that lost the child, I also would like to question the authorities as to how is it that humans encroach so much that it takes an animal to remind us about it and that too in its own way? Many such incidents have highlighted the plight of the animals that are vulnerable at this time of year, due to the rains as well as new-born cubs to look after. At this time, they look out for easy preys. Children and small animals like dogs and cats that are a many due to the garbage accumulation (again thanks to the human encroachments), are the easiest prey for these animals.
Who do we blame? Man or Animal?