J R.R. Tolkien was right to portray the Ents, hulking pieces of tall barks with sad eyes and mossy facial hair who guarded forests, as perhaps the most stoic figures in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Their whole manner spoke to an endurance that seemed constantly on the verge of dissipation. They had seen and tolerated far too much in a world at war with itself. Yet they remained calm, like a steady lighthouse in torrential downpour.
Treebeard, the oldest of these Ents, makes one of the wisest observations about Middle Earth and, if any of us think about it today, our Earth too. “I am not altogether on anybody’s side because nobody is altogether on my side…Nobody cares for the woods as I care for them.” I imagine his weary resignation is shared by this great planet’s animals and birds, especially its wild inhabitants.
I’ll confess I have never been completely at ease in the jungle. I have enjoyed my few visits to national parks and sanctuaries but at the end of them, I have come away feeling like an intruder at a party, where no one approves of my appearance.
But I do recognise that being in the wild is something everyone should attempt at least once in their lives. Notice how travellers on a forest safari often start unwittingly mimicking animal behaviour. They adopt stealthy stances behind thickets, sharply snap their necks about at the slightest indication of any movement or stand alert as if awaiting some imaginary clarion call. All this for a fleeting glimpse of a creature, who is either startled or unsettled by their presence. Animals are levellers; if we want to see them, it’s only fair we play by their rules.
Chasing a wild animal also never succumbs to a pattern. Each time the excitement is unique, the story entirely unscripted and the heart, pounding and fully alive. Now, given what we know about the existential threats facing wildlife in the future, that experience is bound to be poignant too.
Our wildlife special is packed with a slew of adventurous escapades from the woods, like two enthusiasts trailing the reclusive snow leopard in Ladakh and a writer looking back on the refreshing, quiet and unexpected thrills of Jim Corbett National Park. Some narratives shine light on getaways in crowded urban crawls such as wildlife hotspots in London. Others discover that forgotten tribes in India’s central parts are its finest sentinels. So yes, wildlife deserves to be seen thriving in its natural habitat. Go tiger-spotting, deer chasing or birding. As Treebeard said, the woods need all the watchers it can get.
Lakshmi Sankaran fantasizes about a bucket-list journey to witness the aurora borealis someday. Editor in Chief at National Geographic Traveller India, she will also gladly follow a captivating tune to the end of this world.