Friday, November 16, 2007

Charismatic cat - KUMARAN SATHASIVAM.

Charismatic cat

THE GIR LION: H.S. Singh; pub. by Pugmark Qmulus Consortium, 406, ‘Kaivanna’ Opp. Saffron Tower, Ambawadi, Panchvati, Ahmedabad-380006. Rs. 2000.

There must scarcely be a soul who has seen a lion in the wild and truthfully claim to be unmoved by the experience. For want of a better expression, the overused term “majestic appearance” suggests itself in describing this most impressive of animals. The largest of the cats, the lion, ranged historically over a large geographical extent including Africa, Europe and a good part of Asia. Considering how widespread the lion was and the awe it inspires in the beho lder, it is hardly surprising that it features as extensively as it does in art, sculpture, coins and literature.

Dwindling numbers

The extraordinary personality of the lion and its depiction in cultural artefacts, however, has not stood in the way of its decimation by humans. In the 19th century, lions were to be found in India in modern day Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. But the second half of that century saw a tremendous decline in their number everywhere in the country, and it disappeared from one region after another. By 1880 there was “increased concern for the falling numbers of the beast.” Occupation of the lion’s habitat by humans and hunting appear to have been the main reasons. Eventually, the lion was left only in the Gir forest of Gujarat, where according to one estimate it numbered no more than 19 in 1900. And there the Asiatic lion has maintained a tenuous foothold into the present century. Its existence there appears to be taken for granted, the precariousness of its position forgotten. It is hopefully an indication of a revived interest in the Indian lion, therefore, that at least three books have been brought out in the last two years dealing with the theme of this animal and its only abode today.

User friendly

The Gir Lion covers a wide range of topics, including the lineage of the lion and its historical distribution, its biology, conservation measures taken in the Gir forest and outside it, and the human and other issues involved in translocating lions to a new home. The main theme is supported with a number of anecdotes, a chapter giving a background of the big cats and an informative reference section. Altogether, the book is an absolute wealth of information.

The overall user friendly nature of the book deserves mention. The production is tasteful, and the book is liberally but appropriately illustrated with photographs. The generous use of colour, photographs, drawings and sidebars ensures that the eye experiences little strain.

Reference lists have been provided at the end of each chapter, providing collectively a good bibliography for the serious student. In the text, though, the sources of information are primarily cited using superscript numbers, there are a number of citations in which the name-and-date style is followed. Nevertheless, there is little ambiguity on account of this.

The thoroughness of the research and the clear expression of ideas make the book a useful review. The author’s personal familiarity and involvement with the subject add value to the work. During his years as the Conservator of Forests, Junagadh, he had a unique opportunity to study the lion and to address the issues involved in protecting it. The chapter “Interesting Observations” in particular provides fascinating tales and insights gained by the author. The authority of knowledge obtained through personal observations and participation is tangible in most discussions in the book.

The overall effect of the book is somewhat tarnished by numerous instances of incorrect usage of language, which could have been eliminated easily. In summary, this is a useful and readable book on a charismatic animal above whom hangs the sword of Damocles.


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