Nature is sacred: start worshiping at home.


We have often been told: “this place is sacred, keep it as it is” about Cheetal Walk. In a way, it reveals that people associate pristine nature with sacredness. Cheetal Walk however is nothing like pristine. For millennia, people have inhabited this area, hunted, cultivated, cut trees and herded cattle. It looks pristine today because it remained untouched for a few generations, and because we have decided to protect it.

Einstein, I believe, once said something like: “or everything is sacred or nothing is sacred.” People may consider nature to be sacred because it is the source of our very lives. Wild animals are beautiful, natural landscapes are absolutely gorgeous and intelligence seems to flow from every corner. The more we learn, the more we see how the law of nature produces a machinery compared to which our modern technology is child’s play.

But the same people who appreciate nature’s “sanctity” (maintained by private people, communities or governments), find no contradiction in getting into their SUVs, driving back on mad roads into overpopulated cities, work in small offices and live in boxes. This is modern lifestyle, you cannot do anything about it, there is no choice…

The problem is not so much that life is difficult in a polluted, inhuman reality. We are all there. The problem lies in the schizophrenia we have developed about nature, the separations we have built. On the one side, we have our busy cities where we are active, smart and make money, and on the other side, we have a “pleasant” stetting to unwind and relax. Today, the holy-day (also supposed to be dedicated to the sacred) is used to consume the remaining wild, to desecrate our world a little more with activities that do not differ from our routine: I want money, I want to achieve, I want to see a tiger, I want a selfie with an elephant, I want a bonfire, I want to see a charge, I want to see animals at night, I want a good road to get there, I want a spa, etc.

Now, if you consider everything to be sacred, then your office is sacred, your flat or house is sacred, your car is sacred. From all these gadgets, emerge a relationship with nature. So why not use a little bit of your hard-earned money to help conservation? Why not put some (rustic) tomatoes to grow on your balcony? Why not purchase a convenient car that pollutes less? Why not preserve an untouched space in your garden? Why not have a holy-day in a good eco-resort that tries to preserve nature instead of destroying it (this is hard to find and if you check, you will see that this industry has abysmal records to the point of destroying their very source of survival).

Next time you tell a guy that nature is sacred, if you do this, he will consider you to be a saint instead of a worshiper of futilities.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud.

Surviving the charge of a duck

A terrifying duck charge

A terrifying duck charge

As I am often far from Pondicherry where we live, my wife purchased three ducks for company. One male duck is territorial and charges. I have seen our servant giving him a good whack with a stick (she was told not to hit the duck) because she is frightened of him, even though he is a perfectly innocuous animal. Its bite is nothing more than a tickle. However, I was also charged and observed that I felt a strong reaction. A duck weights two kilos and a human-being sixty kilos. A human-being is thirty times heavier than a duck. In the same manner an elephant is tens of times bigger than a human being, but would feel a bolt of emotions if anyone goes directly towards it.

In my opinion, there are four situations pertaining to encounters with elephants or other wildlife: the animal is unaware of human presence, aware but comfortable, uncomfortable, and sufficiently disturbed to flee or charge. I am talking of situations instead of distance because one can be very close to animals but undetected if our scent does not waft towards them. Response distances also varies with sex and conditions. Female elephants with babies are extremely aggressive and will be uncomfortable with humans as soon as they detect them.

With wildlife, responsible people will not go to the extent of disturbing animals. It is unethical to ask jeep drivers to provoke an elephant to charge, and photographers should not disturb birds roosting or nesting. Wildlife observation by itself provides sufficient pleasure when animals are left to their own devises. Beautiful encounters happen only when their behavior is natural, when they are not threatened in any way.

Many television programs disregard ethics to be sensational. Professional people disturb animals only I they must. For example, animal surveys create disturbance, but still need to be carried out if we want to know how many animals are present in a reserve. Beyond absolute necessity, no one should take the liberty to provoke additional stresses to species that are on the verge of extinction, because it endangers them further. Moreover, it is dangerous and too many people are killed by “accident”, that are not really accidents but involuntary or voluntary provocations.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud.

Revelation on World Elephant Day


Picotti, the Messenger.

Picotti, the Messenger.


It is now two years that I live almost continuously in the jungle surrounded by elephants. Little by little, I rediscover for myself what must have been the tribal’s knowledge. Therefore, I am not the first on the elephants’ continent, far from it. I even remember seeing on TV Indonesian villagers allowing elephants to “use” their village land during migration. However, experience is different from knowledge. It provides a sense of closeness, a bond.

In the book we recently edited –Giant Hearts, Priya Davidar and I tell an experience we had. To make it short, I went in the middle of an elephant herd to give water to the elephants. As I am better experienced with the elephant body language, I know what to do and how not to disturb them. The elephants observed me and came to drink when the tank was full and we thought it was pure grace. But it was not. It was normal behavior. Elephants are not as aggressive as we think they are and this is how I rediscovered it for myself.

Before leaving Cheetal Walk for a short while, I had to go to the well where a young bull, I was not acquainted with, was standing at nightfall. I decided to go in the full view of the elephant who was 20 to 30 m from the well. However, I walked slowly, deliberately, talking softly to the elephant, making sure he could see me. I always observed him, never went straight at him and I had decided to stop and return to the house at the slightest hint of discomfort. He could charge or run away. But looking at me, he continued to feed, scratched the soil with his tusks, dusted himself. I did my work and I slowly came back to the house, all the time watching the elephant. He did not budge, did not bother.

I was seriously puzzled by this experience that happened on 12 August 2015, World Elephant Day, because it went against what I knew about elephants. My earlier encounter with the herd was exceptional, I thought. I reasoned that the herd or some individuals had a purpose for letting me approach. They may have seen other persons providing water. But here, there was no purpose. The elephant was at peace with me because I approached the right way and did not go beyond his level of comfort, which varies with circumstances. Females with young would have far lower thresholds of tolerance.

With this encounter, I now tend to believe that the aggressiveness we see in elephants is mostly a response to our aggressiveness. We need to change.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud.

The Pope’s Encyclical


The Pope’s Encyclical is a welcome wake-up call for the Christians, particularly Catholics of course, and some Protestants and maybe other people of other faiths as well. It reminds the Catholics of the importance of the environment and of other forms of life, a welcome move since to the Christian view, Man is the lonely apex of creation.

After a review of the environmental problems and its associated sociological problems, the Encyclical comes with a more theological chapter on Christianity and its understanding of our relationship with nature. Another chapter attempts to go into the root cause of environmental problems, i.e. the technological paradigm. The Pope considers it to form a set of beliefs that over-rides all other beliefs, in particular the notion that Man’s well-being (in a holistic, spiritual understanding) should be the aim of all activities. In economy for example, we are promised future happiness in a world with infinite resources. Optimist technocrats also prophesy solutions to all our problems with science and technology. This attitude percolates into all our lives with a conception of progress that pushes people to “go forward” without thinking twice. And in the Christian perspective, this is considered a sin because this mindset causes a shift from God, the source and the purpose of all existence on whom our focus should remain. This false “wealth” god creates environmental destruction and I must agree with the Pope that our planet is in dire straits. At last a leader is courageous enough to say it.

I don’t believe in happy technological endings and I don’t see the Eldorado some economists promise us. We are richer, maybe. Are we happier or better off? See in your own city how people are ready to kill early morning, stuck in traffic jams. As an ecologist I believe in frugality and in God, depending upon the airline, the weather, and the experience of the Captain. Otherwise, I am a rationalist, empirical sceptic as Nassim Taleb (a trader turned philosopher) puts it. With this prudently laid disclaimer, I would humbly disagree with the Pope on the source of the problem. To me, the source of all problems is political. Even in democratic regimes, we just don’t have abandoned our judgements (sold our souls) regarding technology. We have abandoned our very responsibilities in delegating our power. When we delegate our power with a vote, we hand over responsibilities to professional politicians who do what want their rich sponsors. They become kings. They form dynasties. Early democratic experiment in Greece had citizens taken for a short time at random, to write the Constitution (the law of the law). In that way, common people kept control of the law without conflict of interest. No one could be the king but everyone was involved in the public life.

What would happen to the environment if we dare try empower citizen to write and control the law? This, I believe, could save our planet and is worth trying. Amen.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud