What The Life of Pi tells us about poaching and the cull

I saw The Life of Pi over the weekend, and it certainly got me thinking. For those who haven’t seen it, I’m not giving anything away by saying that it focusses on a boy and a Bengal tiger stranded together in a lifeboat.

Their situation, man and beast in close proximity, is a mini version of what is happening in many countries around the world, in what is called human-wildlife conflict. Tigers prowl near villages in India, elephants trample crops in Kenya, badgers raid farms for food in the UK.

As a wildlife charity, our attention is on the animals and the abuses they suffer. But we must also widen our view to ensure that we are looking at the whole picture. For many of us, seeing a tiger in the wild would be a dream come true. But for a villager in India, seeing a tiger come out of the jungle must be a nightmare. A safari to see elephants would make our year, an elephant trampling a season’s crops would ruin a Kenyan farmer’s.

And then comes the ultimate cost. Human lives are lost to wildlife, probably in the hundreds each year. Retribution then plays a part, and animals are killed in return. The numbers are big enough for this to be a serious threat to endangered species like tigers, rhinos and elephants, especially when they are also under attack from organised poaching gangs.

Basically, if we want to help wildlife, we need to get real. Our anti-poaching patrols are invaluable, but we have also backed a project which replaces easily-breakable fences with strong wire ones around farms. If predators cannot reach farm stock, then the circle of killing cannot start.

Other charities are working hard on this problem – WWF for example backs projects to plant chillies, which elephants don’t like – a simple but effective way of keeping crops safe.

So what does all this mean for the badger cull? It’s effectively the same problem. A country once covered with forest and abundant in wildlife has gradually encroached through both farmland and cities. Inevitably, this has led to clashes.

The problem of bovine TB is one such clash, and a heartbreaking one for farmers. But surely, like with the elephants and tigers, we can find a solution that doesn’t involve wiping out everything in our path.

We humans have a choice in this world. Keep expanding until ultimately we can effectively concrete over every last bit of green; or we can appreciate what nature and wildlife bring us, and find ways of living with it. Just with Pi on his lifeboat, we have a choice – what will it be?

PS While the film mainly used CGI to create the tiger, real animals were also used in some shots. We have concerns about the use of animals for ‘performance’ and would encourage directors to always use CGI.