By Bittu Sahgal
How else could anyone possibly describe this death-defying river crossing?
From the austere Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan, through to western Ladakh plus a swatch of high-altitude Indian wildernesses, Capra sibirica hemalayanus doggedly survived every trial of life thrown at it by the forbidding Trans-Himalaya. The mountain goat’s origins date back to an epoch that the legendary Sir Charles Lyell christened as the ‘Miocene’ (about 23 to five million years ago).
At a time when each new day brings news of wildlife setbacks, we in India should be greatly relieved that our country continues to keep the ban on trophy hunting in place, particularly since Pakistan invites trophy hunters from across the globe to kill the finest ibex specimens for cash.
But hold the celebrations.
India is doing more to harm this Himalayan ibex, and its Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan co-inhabitants, by steadfastly refusing to protect Himalayan glaciers from developers who neither care for the ibex’s athletic abilities, nor its handsome demeanour. Living far from ibex country, such businessmen make a living by encumbering our wounded atmosphere with carbon, with the connivance of our planners and politicians.
This will end up killing Capra sibirica hemalayanus more ruthlessly than the blood lust of hunters. How? Because a warming planet produces ‘cascade collapses’ that threaten life up and down the ibex’ food chain. Snow leopards, wolves, foxes, vultures and eagles all depend on herbivores, which depend on the hardy, high-altitude vegetation now facing competition from less palatable plants migrating up towards a warming Trans-Himalaya.
Is this then yet another bleeding-heart conservationist championing a wild goat for crying out loud? Far from it. It’s a warning. A stark warning. Our misplaced belief that our technology renders us immune to the fate confronting wild nature is far more death-defying than the well-calculated gamble this goat takes. The damage we impetuously inflict on our ecological underpinnings will prove to be a leap too far.