Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Why Study Animals?

Why do people study animals (and other creatures)? Here are some answers -  

1. To improve animal welfare - Humans use animals for food, sport, labour, entertainment, etc. We need to ensure that these animals are treated well. That is, until we eat them (in the case of animals in the food industry). therefore, we research their living conditions in these working environments. Are they treated well before being processed, or while being used on farms or as livestock, or while being bred for shows or for races?

2. Conservation - Some creatures like insects are essential for ecosystem maintenance. We need to conduct studies to find out if their populations are changing and what factors affect this, in order to maintain optimum numbers to help us maintain our ecosystems to suit our personal economic and aesthetic interests. Studying physical differences between species and correlating these with our knowledge of genetics, geography, geology, etc. adds to our knowledge of physical evolution and the selection pressures involved, which in turn adds to our knowledge of biological processes, genetics and human and animal welfare and conservation.

3. Disease prevention - Many creatures are responsible for spreading disease. We need to study these to find out how we might control their numbers. Other creatures help us find cures for diseases by being test subjects in disease research, or by providing us with biochemical materials that help us lead safer and more comfortable lives.

4. To improve human welfare, by adding to our knowledge of our minds and evolutionary history - We need to study apes, dogs and other creatures to find out more about differences in behaviour patterns between them and us. This adds to our knowledge of how and why we might have evolved certain behaviours, based on our knowledge of how distantly related these animals are to us. Studying differences in individuals within a species also tells us about how personality differences and other mental abilities develop in different species. We can then determine causes and make predictions, which helps us figure out how mental processes work, and compare these with our own, to make studying our own species easier, and add to our knowledge of neuroscience, to make it easier to detect, predict and prevent abnormalities in human behaviour. 


Thursday, 1 August 2013

2006 Trip Redux

I remember writing most of this years ago but not posting it. Not sure why. This was back in the monsoon of 2006, when I did an overnight trip to Vikramgad and Jawhar with a group of friends from my first job (while I was on my second job). That was my first trip with them (I only did two, the second one being Peth/Kotligad/kothaligad fort, 2007, undocumented so far). So here goes:

The trip. We 're supposed to meet at Borivli, drive to Vikramgad, visit the palace, Dabossa falls and Bilya mountain. The driver (a friend and former co-worker) from Mira Rd meets PrV and I at I.C in his Omni early on a weekday morning. We pick up two Thane guys at Borivli Stn (they've woken up really early to travel from thane to IC, poor guys). We then learn that the 6th member of our group, JS from Santa Cruz, has done a double shift at work the previous night and has only just returned home. So we drive all the way to Santa Cruz, pick him up, stop so he can buy sandals along the way, and then drive north once more. A total waste of time, especially for the Thane guys, who are too polite or tired to grumble. I would have left him behind, but the others are softies.

Two points run through my mind at this time, apart from the helplessness at time being thrown away before my eyes. One, I'm not really sure I want to be there. I'm not sure if this is a common feeling for others , but sometimes, when waking up early or getting ready to leave on a trip that's been organised by someone else, I just get this weird sick feeling in my stomach, like this shouldn't be happening. I'm not sure why I get it, but except for one time, I've always ignored it.

The second and more pressing point running through my mind is more work related. My two day leave hasn't really been approved. In fact, I haven't even notified anyone about it. But I'm more or less the only one at the office, there isn't a lot of work to do, things will go on without me, I haven't been on a trip in a long time and I need this bad, like someone needs a drug. Still, the benefits of going on the trip vs the seemingly disastrous consequences to follow weigh heavily on my mind for the entire journey to Santa Cruz and back. I went through all the options. Call the guy I was reporting to, to let him know I'd be away, or not say anything at all and come back early enough the next day to make it to work in time on day 2. I finally make the difficult call. The guy doesn't like it but there isn't much he can do. That takes a load off my mind.

We pass by Borivli, two hours after we were supposed to have left it, and drive north along the highway. We make it to Vikramgad, driving north and stopping at a waterfall. We check into a hotel in town, and drive to Dabossa falls first. The falls are huge, brown and loud (it has been raining). The view from the viewing platform is excellent, and my friends climb down to the base of the falls. We make it back to town and while our man from Santa Cruz, JS, crashes out in one of our rooms upstairs, we sit in the bar cum restaurant, drinking and talking.

I share a whisky with a colleague who has left the company a year after I did. I don't remember what the others drink but PrV, being a non alcoholic, asks for chocolate milk. They only had milk, so he goes out looking for a packet of chocolate milk powder, which he manages to find (I do something along the same lines when I go searching for juice to add to my drink in Karjat after my Rajmachi trek in July '09), brings it back to the restaurant cum bar, gives it to the waiter, and asks them to make his chocolate milk. He seems to savour that drink.

And as the night wears on, we talk about many things - David Blaine, God and evolution being chief topics. The driver finds it difficult to believe that Blaine's tricks aren't real magic. I try convincing him otherwise. Dinner was Biryani, but I have had a lot to drink, and skip it altogether, crashing alongside JS in the bed upstairs. The weather has been perfect the entire day, with intermittent light rain.

The next morning, after a breakfast of many many Vada Pavs, we go to the palace nearby and then go looking for Tiger caves. We decide to visit Tiger caves because no one knows where Bilya mountain is and someone else recommends Tiger caves to us. We can't find Tiger caves either and end up driving deeper into the country. We stop outside a straw hut on the side of a road to ask for directions for the umpteenth time. This is beautiful country. Middle of the monsoon. Green trees and hills all around, along with outcroppings of black rock that tell us we're in the Sahyadris. PrV goes into the hut to ask for directions (his Marathi is better than ours). The driver decides to play a prank on him and drive off. We return a moment later to see PrV looking really content. He gets into the Omni and tells us there was an old man on a cot in the hut who told him the exact location of Bilya mountain.

We find Bilya mountain, and begin climbing it. This is typical leopard territory. Just boulders and rocks. Gorgeous. It keeps going on and on. We can see rain clouds in the distance. they're coming our way. Rain falls. The rocks soak it up. They're absorbent, like sponges. Really hard sponges. There are beautiful little red spiders everywhere. One of the Thane guys probably sits on a clump of them while we're sheltering from the rain at one point. He doesn't care. No one does anymore. We're that exhausted.

Eventually, we turn back. Drive home. We stop for an ice cream lunch. It has been fun.