Speaking at the 42nd Annual Conference of the Ethological Society of India (ESI), held at the University of Calicut, ESI president Dr S Faizi said, “We need to think beyond the human barriers, reform our assumptions, methodologies and protocols so that we make new strides in understanding the complex world of animal behaviour, and communicate our findings in a way that would help our society make civilizational course corrections. Just so that our own species has a longer lifespan than what otherwise appears.”
Text of of his President, where he spoke about the dangers the modern world faces as water becomes a scarce resource:
Honourable Vice Chancellor, distinguished speakers on the dais, respected members of the faculty, dear delegates and my dear young friends,
The Ethological Society of India is happy to have its 42nd Annual Conference being held at the University of Calicut, where a previous ESI Annual Conference was held in 1982. This university is an important repository of knowledge about biodiversity, and Malabar’s rich biodiversity has attracted both global traders and colonial armies for centuries. A sack of Malabar’s pepper was the most prized dowry in western Europe in the 18th century.
This conference is held immediately after the conclusion of the 14th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity at Egypt’s Sharm Al Shaikh where important deliberations were held on the strategies for biodiversity conservation beyond the year 2020, and the proceedings of this seminar could form an input into the making of the post-2020 Strategic Plan of the Convention.
We face a biodiversity crisis with the irreversible loss of a large number of species due to the industrial revolution of a little over a century, that is but a part of the civilizational crisis that we face. Drinking water becoming a scarce resource in most parts of the world, the spectre of climate change causing deluges like the one suffered by Kerala in August, sea level rise, crop failures and new diseases, and the progressively declining inclusive physiological fitness of humans precipitate this civilizational crisis. And this crisis will mark its tipping point in much less than a century when the oil reserves of the world, upon which our modern civilization is built, will go dry.
How do we avert this impending disaster? The animal world offers the answer. They do not conduct wars as an enterprise and devote resources for that, they address disputes if any with displays, retreats, conciliation and such. They don’t amass resources to create capital for profit but leave enough for others. They don’t rape as humans do, nor do they seek the mate with money and power, but through splendid courtship displays. They haven’t created religions and castes as a rule to divide the members of the same species. They respect the rhythms of nature, whether circadian or circannual, unlike our species that breach these rhythms.
The natural world offers us insights into how we should reform ourselves as a species in order to ensure the long-term continuity of our species. Shedding our prejudiced anthropocentric views of other species is the first step to do this. And these prejudices have their origin in the Eurocentric worldview of the western science of the 19th century where every ‘other’, whether humans or animals, is treated with contempt. Let us not forget that the great biologist of all times, Charles Darwin, uses the term ‘savage nations’ repeatedly to refer to countries outside Europe in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species – the book that has gifted us the theory of evolution that has stood the test of time. I see this very much in the tradition of the 14th-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri who termed forests as infernal.
E O Wilson is a great sociobiologist who has unravelled the mystery of ant societies but his views on human population in the global South does not address the population density factor nor the massive difference in the rate of resource consumption between the northern and southern countries and hence are heavily flawed.
Our challenge as behavioural scientists is to shed anthropocentric and acquired Eurocentric views when we look at other species and read them objectively. We need to think beyond the human barriers, reform our assumptions, methodologies and protocols so that we make new strides in understanding the complex world of animal behaviour, and communicate our findings in a way that would help our society make civilizational course corrections. Just so that our own species has a longer lifespan than what otherwise appears.
I thank the Vice Chancellor for supporting the hosting of this conference and the Department of Zoology for their hard work to make this happen. We have a very large number of excellent papers from across the country scheduled for presentation and I, like all of you, look forward to a very productive scientific discourse in these three days.