Director Sandesh Kadur’s Interview with Radio-host Mario Muñoz
What do you hope to accomplish with this film?
I want to accomplish things on several levels. First off, when most people think of wildlife, they think of the open plains of Africa. When people think of India, they tend to think of the crowded, dirty slums of Calcutta. Yet, India has vast areas of wilderness set aside as national parks and is one of the most bio-diverse nations on earth. I’d like to alter people’s impression of India—I don’t want poverty-stricken slums to be their only image of this beautiful country.
I also want to help people understand the importance of the wildlife and habitats in south India. And not just American audiences, but audiences in India also. Most nature documentaries never reach the people most closely involved with the wildlife—the people who live in and around the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries where these animals are found. We, at Gorgas Science Foundation, plan to widely distribute copies of this film in all the locales it was shot, and in the local languages of the area, so that the people of those areas can learn more about the wildlife they live with, and perhaps develop a greater appreciation for it.
What is remarkable about India or the area of India you were filming in?
What most people don’t realize is that India, a nation only a third the size of the United States, or 2.2% of the earth’s land surface, supports nearly 20% of the world’s population—that’s over one billion people. With all those people, how could there possibly be room to support even a single elephant? And yet India has over twenty thousand elephants, plus tigers, leopards, deer, monkeys, cobras, and an amazing variety of birdlife. Even I wonder how this can be—the math tells you it just isn’t possible. And by American standards of living (which are incredibly wealthy on a global scale), it probably isn’t.
So why is there so much wildlife left in India?
The amount of wildlife left in India is due in large part to Indians’ religious reverence for animals. Nearly all religions found in India assert the inherent sanctity of life, some more so than others. Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism—all promote preserving the lives of animals, whether through vegetarianism or other lifestyle practices. In Hinduism, for example, tigers are revered as the vehicle of goddess Durga; the peacock is the vehicle of Lord Karthikeya; the most popular deity on the Subcontinent is Lord Ganesha, the elephant god; another popular deity is Hanuman, the monkey god. And tree worship is probably the oldest form of religion present in this part of the world. All of this adds up to a mindset more conducive to conservation than that of the average Westerner. Over here (USA), conservation is buying recycled goods, contributing to World Wildlife Fund or the Nature Conservancy, but it rarely involves real sacrifice. In India, where resources are so scant and the majority of the population lives well below the poverty line, a decision to conserve rather than consume can greatly affect one’s life. If in India, the population consumed anything close to what the average West consumes, then there probably wouldn’t be anything left to conserve.