Presidential address by Dr S Faizi, President of ESI at the 41st Annual Conference of ESI, Bhuj, Gujarat

Distinguished guests on the dais, respected scientists and dear young scholars,
I am very pleased to have the 41st Annual Conference of the Ethological Society of India being held in Gujarat. The State has a tremendously rich and varied biodiversity and that is the location of ethology. The four mountains ending on Gujarat’s eastern profile- the Western Ghats, the Satpura and Vindhyas , and the Aravalli- are rich abodes of forest biodiversity. Adding to the physiographic diversity are the vast grassy plains, the saline desert system, a large network of inland wetlands and the varied marine ecosystems including large tracts of mangroves. The coral reefs in the Gulf of Kachch mark the northern most range of corals in the Indian Ocean.

This conference is held at the gateway to one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world- the Rann of Kachch. Alternating wet and dry spells in an area larger than the state of Kerala, with its saline deserts, mountains, grasslands, agro-pastoral ecosystems, rich biodiversity and an amazing culture that seemingly dates back to the Harappan civilization, make the Rann of Kachch a special landscapes and it readily qualifies to be on the Unesco World Heritage List. The Greater Flammingos breed in large numbers in the splendid isolation of the Rann of Kachch islands and Dr Salim Ali had called it the Flammingo City.

It is however a matter of concern that this special ecological infrastructure is being impaired. The State’s forest cover was reduced to 7.73 per cent of the land area several years ago. A significant part of the 960 sq km of mangroves recorded in 2003 has been lost. It is important that this trend is arrested and reversed sooner than later.

India is an open massive laboratory for the science of ethology. It is to promote this science that the Ethological Society of India was established in 1970. While ESI has been striving its best to do so since its inception it is a fact that we still have to go a long way in ethological studies. In the western world where ethology is advanced -and we largely follow their methodologies and research protocols- eminent scientists like Nicolas Tinbergen, Kornard Lorens, Karl von Frisch or E O Wilson have done their studies in significantly altered natural habitats. But in India we still have wild habitats, unaltered, in large scale and with tremendous diversity of life forms, where the animal behavior remains in its original form, uninfluenced by human interventions. The Flammingo breeding grounds of Rann is only a ready example. We ought to make full use of the wild endowments in unraveling the enigmas of animal behavior.

And do so perhaps in a manner uninfluenced by our anthropomorphic views. To understand behavioural traits such as imprinting, instinctive behavior, social transmission, peck order, altruism etc in the animal we need to look at the animals in a dispassionate manner, freed from the human perspectives. Failing to do so may end us up in confusing conclusions.

The theme of the 41st conference, namely, on the behavioural responses to climate change is timely as the global ambient temperature increase is not showing signs of reversal . The latest meeting of the community of nations to find ways to resolve this threat under the framework of UNFCCC ended in Bonn last week without agreeing on meaningful measures to reduce the carbon emissions because of the western position guided by their corporate interests. Animals have to suffer as much as humans from the escalating climate crisis, and it is important for us to understand the ways in which the animal world respond to this change in a critical edaphic attribute. And here we have an array of presentations on this count scheduled for today and tomorrow.

I once again thank GUIDE for hosting this conference and wish us all two days of fruitful deliberations.

S FAIZI
President, ESI
24 November 2017