The real Jungle Book
Disney’s 1967 Jungle Book is one of my favourite movies.
Now, we can enjoy it all again in the 2016 fantasy adventure directed by Jon Favreau.
What a fabulous world it would be if we could feel safe with a pack of Wolves Canis lupus, sing with Sloth Bears Melursus ursinus, ride on a Leopard Panthera pardus and talk to Asian Elephants Elephas maximus. But the sad reality is that most of us face a dilemma which is the opposite of Mowgli’s.
After being raised by Wolves, he felt safe in the jungle and didn’t want to return to the Man-Village. In the UK, where I live, most of us feel safest in our villages, towns or cities and react with fear or even aggression when nature threatens our security, our income, or our convenience in some way.
Last summer, the British Prime Minister called for a ‘big conversation’ after seagulls attacked two pet dogs in the south of England.
In the Western Isles of Scotland, where the White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla has been successfully re-introduced, the loss of some live lambs has led to farmers calling for the birds to be controlled. In eastern Scotland, farmers have been shooting Beavers Castor fiber because the animal’s dams are damaging their drainage systems.
Beavers are causing crops to get flooded, seagull attacks can be terrifying and sea-eagles do kill a low level of lambs. But there is a remarkable contrast between the intolerance shown by those of us in degraded landscapes, where all our top predators were exterminated long before our time, and the willingness to suffer loss, or even risk injury and death, by people who still live alongside far more dangerous animals.
In India, where Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book was set, many farmers sit around fires by night to guard their crops from hungry elephants which sometimes cause human deaths. Yet, in A Rocha India’s experience, villagers do not call for the animals to be culled: they want these awesome giants to survive.
In India this year, after a Leopard entered a Bangalore school and mauled six men, it was captured and later released into the wild. The Forest Department asked A Rocha to run an education programme training teachers and students about these big cats and how to react if they encounter one – the aim is to protect the animals, as well as the people.
Of course, our world views are different. But a Christian, or post-Christian society, has no excuse. One of the earliest pieces of ecological literature is in the Bible. Psalm 104 (especially verses 10–24) describes God as Creator and Sustainer: the one who supplies food for every living thing. Here, Man is just one small part of nature, whilst Lions Panthera leo, Wild Asses Equus hemionus, Wild Goats Capra aegagrus and a host of other mammals and birds flourish and thrive. The psalmist says to God, ‘In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.’
I wonder, can some of us learn wisdom and a deeper respect for our fellow-creatures from this ancient writer and the peoples who still live alongside Shere Khan, Bagheera and Kaa?