'If we are compassionate to animals, we would be compassionate towards each other'

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 10 August 2018

Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, speaks about animals and what actually makes them smart

Starting today, watch on Sony BBC Earth some of the most amazing examples of animal intelligence captured on camera as this series asks: What makes some animals smarter than others, and could they even outsmart us? The first episode explores groundbreaking research into the practical intelligence animals need to manipulate the physical world, while the second episode looks at exciting new studies of social intelligence: how animals lie, cheat, think, co-operate, use language and predict behaviour of others. 

Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, a non-profit wildlife conservation organisation, supports the show, Super Smart Animals. Satyanarayan, who is also known as the ‘Bear Man’, talks with us about his experiences with animals and man-animal relationship. 
Excerpts from the conversation:

How would you define smart animals?
My definition of smart animals is that they are not like human beings. We have one planet to live and survive on and we have done a good job of damaging it. Until the human beings arrived, the animals had preserved their habitat. 

Animals are able to display social, emotional, cognitive capabilities and they also share along with human beings, a remarkable capacity of grief. I guess this quite clearly indicates that animals are incredibly smart. 

For example, a female elephant, who heads the herd, leads it through corridors across forest patches to watering holes, year after year, to train them. She has a succession plan; she teaches them about survival, and how to avoid human beings, trains. That to me is a sign of incredible amount of intelligence. Without GPS system, Google earth and mobile phones, they have survived. We are lost without these navigation tools. 

The fact that the monkeys can leap from tree to tree without having to calculate velocity, and the angle of jump is incredible. The calibration, calculation and the precision of learning when to let go of a branch and what effort is used to swing and the momentum required is just not possible for human beings.  

Can you explain the emotional make up of animals?  
They have the ability to express a lot of emotions. When a wild elephant dies, the entire herd comes together to pay their respects. It has been documented scientifically that when there is shortage of food, and the mother antelope knows that a new born calf is going to have hard time searching for it, she will abort the foetus. Animals may not feel the way humans feel, but they express a lot of emotions amongst themselves and the fact is that we don’t understand their emotions, or communication. 

Where does all of this fit in with Charles Darwin’s theory of Survival of the Fittest? Every specie would have a different mechanism to cope up.
When a big male langur, who is heading a group, gets into a fight and is injured, then another male will drive it away. The second male wants to ensure that he is more fit animal and his genes are much more stronger than the one who has died or lost the control of the group. The new chief will then go around mating with the females in the group to ensure that the group’s genetic health and diversity is maintained.

The animals in captivity will breed with other family members. The wild animals won’t do that. When a young animal is born, he will be driven out by his mother, sister or other females out of the pack, to go out and join other group or find another female to copulate and ensure that there is no inbreeding. This clearly shows that if you have inbred genetics, you will not be the fittest to survive. 

You have taken wild animals off the streets, like bear. What’s your take on having pet animals like a dog? Can that be a way of sensitising children with animals?
I think it is a good thing if people keep a dog, or cat at home because it invokes the inbuilt compassion amongst us. Spending some time with a pet animal takes away your stress. People, who have pet in their household, are automatically prone to be kinder, more compassionate to not only animals, but also human beings. 

Also, several publications in the US, have documented facts that serial killers or rapists have been abused as kids and they in turn have abused animals. If you can instill compassion amongst kids by watching shows like what Sony BBC Earth is doing, and also get a pet animal home, you ensure that the kids will not grow up to be anything but kind. 

How does the sensitisation process actually happen?
We have seven rescue centres; we have a leopard rescue centre near Pune. We have a bear rescue centre at Agra. We have a volunteer programme where people from all walks of life come and volunteer with us. They get an opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with our team and instill a sense of compassion in their lives. 

Each one of the volunteers walks out of the facility as ambassador of Wildlife SOS, for Indian wildlife. We do talks around the country and the world. I have been invited to speak at San Diego next week.

How do you rate educated India’s awareness on wildlife? 
About 70-80 per cent educated Indians are so caught up with their daily life that they are not able to enjoy happiness. The minute they commune with nature, step out into the outdoors, their lives will have much more joy. 

In India, every god or goddess, angel has some animal form associated with her. We are worshipping these animals but we are not putting our minds to it. There is a lot of cruelty, ignorance and poaching of animals. All of this stems from ignorance — ignorance about laws, ignorance about sensitivity of the animals, lack of compassion. 

My dream and hope is that five years from now, if we are more compassionate to animals, we would be compassionate towards each other, crime will go down, people can move around fearlessly... 

Celebrities are encouraged to look after the upkeep of animal/s. Is that a viable model? 
I think every single person should look after one animal. We all have responsibilities in our house; we look after our parents, in-laws and kids. It will be insignificant if we look after one more living creature. As a matter of principle, we should look after one animal child, apart from our own. That also builds compassion. Sometimes it doesn’t even cost money. You will be surprised to see that ragpickers and beggars, who don’t have a roof over their heads, will have a pack of dogs around them. I think that is true wealth. The more you give, the more you get. 

While I would encourage celebrities setting a trend, every single person should be able to do it. Some are already doing that like feeding birds, stray dogs, putting out water for monkeys and so on. 

Compared to West, we are lucky that hunting is banned in India. In US and Europe, there are hunting seasons. For 25 dollars, you get a licence to kill bears. The Wildlife Protection Act (1972) of India is one of the most progressive legislations in the world. If it wasn’t, India would have been in a very, very bad shape now. The problem lies in focussed intervention.

For implementation, we need citizens voice to rise. That can happen when there is awareness. Shows like these bring about awareness. 

ST Reader Service
The show, Super Smart Animals, premieres on  August 11, at 9 pm on Sony BBC Earth

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