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Discovering nature without the Discovery Channel
Every time I have tried to watch a snake programme on TV at a friend`s house I have given up after a short while. TV programmes are very basic.
Posted/Updated Wednesday, Dec 29 00:00:00, 2004

Rahul Alvares
Third World Network Features

`You must watch National Geographic. It`s just the thing for you`. If someone says this to me one more time, I am going to blow up. Watching Discovery or National Geographic seems to be the latest in-thing for showing your concern for animals today. Everybody wants to prove their love for animals by talking about how they just can`t get enough of Animal Planet.

I have nothing against any of these channels. The photography, especially of the underwater sea world is beautiful and extraordinary. But I find that while everyone wants to sit and watch what`s showing on their TV, not one of them can even spare a moment to find out about the things going on in their own backyards.

At twenty three, I am the oldest of three brothers and I distinctly remember the family discussion at home some 15 years ago on the subject of TV. My parents have always been opposed to buying a TV and they were trying to explain to us the reasons why they were not falling in line with the TV-buying public.

We couldn`t understand all their arguments until they finally put it to us this way: TV is for those who will never get to experience the real thing. Do you want to actually visit, some day, all those beautiful places they show on TV, or would you rather be happy with just seeing them on the screen? The choice simply put was: Buy a TV, or travel around instead. We chose travel. And I am proud to say that till today we have never allowed the idiot box space in our house. We have travelled instead to almost all parts of India. I learnt snake catching in Pune, handled crocodiles in Mamallapuram, studied spiders and earthworms in Chennai and even travelled to Thailand and Malaysia in my quest to learn more about reptiles. All of which I managed to do because I never sat in front of a TV.

So what`s to see in the backyard?  Well, have you ever noticed the different types of insects around? Grasshoppers, locusts, bugs, beetles, ants, spiders, geckoes, snails and shrews riddle almost every household. But they are little aliens to us when we compare them to the lions and tigers prancing around on Animal Planet. Do you know that spiders aren`t insects, that they have eight legs instead of six? Same with scorpions. They belong to Aracnida. But why bother, since every once in a while we swoosh away all the cobwebs in our homes, sending all the spiders scuttling around for safety, their homes destroyed. Spiders prey on flies and mosquitoes. So much for nature`s mosquito control programme. Neither are cockroach eating geckoes welcome in our homes.

And if we see a centipede (another cockroach terrorizer) we crush it, quick.Even in big cities one can find toads, frogs, snakes and birds. How many birds do we know the names of, other than just crow or pigeon? How many wild plants do we know the uses of? Earthworms are found almost all over, but I cant think of one National Geographic fan who hasbothered to collect a few and set up a vermi-bed in an effort to tackle the kitchen waste that we all produce everyday.

I don`t believe that one can learn much from watching these channels. Every time I have tried to watch a snake programme on TV at a friend`s house I have given up after a short while. For one thing, TV programmes are very basic. They cater to viewers with the most
average IQ levels. TV programmes are designed to catch the eye. They cannot be made even slightly complicated or you would soon lose interest. And the few bits of information that do appear to enter your mind so easily, exit just as fast. I can guarantee you that you will be none the smarter even after watching a two hour show that you paid full attention to from the start.

So many people watch snake shows, but zero is the number of people who will be able to identify a snake on that basis. And close to 90% is the number of these TV viewers who would happily smash a snake, should one cross their path. I have had many avid National Geographic viewers ask me very basic questions like, is it true that snakes seek revenge, or that they have two heads sometimes?

One little known aspect about TV programmes is that they often stray from the truth. I remember once watching a video on Monitor lizards. 'Thunder Dragons' was what it was called. Scenes of monitors clashing with each other, claws drawn, lightening flashing and all this combined with the deep rumbling voice of the narrator, gave even me the creeps. The truth is that monitor lizards, like snakes, are cowardly at heart. But the simple truth is not always exciting, isn`t it?

If you are just a casual channel surfer or watch Discovery for the wonderful photography (I have to give them credit for that), and you have no other interest in the world around you, then you have no reason to feel hurt or offended by my article. But if you watch nature channels because you are interested in learning something, then change your tutor. Buy a book instead (about whatever you want to learn-snakes, insects, or birds). You would learn more, reading for 30 minutes a day, than you would if you managed to catch every TV show on the subject for the next 2 months.

Start bird watching, collect insects-its very easy when you have even a little genuine interest. And you will soon find yourself far ahead of all the TV programmes, in a very short while.

Third World Network Features.


Rahul Alvares is a young snake rescuer from Goa. He has recently won the `Young Naturalist Award` given from Sanctuary Magazine.

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