We often hear about indigenous tribal knowledge — how beneficial it is. Tribals use the forest — they take firewood, collect fodder and what not from the forest, but still manage to do it year after year. This points to the fact that even though they use resources from the forest, they never overdo it. They never overexploit. They know how much to lop a tree, such that the tree would not find it difficult to regenerate. They also know exactly which root or shoot or leaf to use in case of health problems. Thus, inspite of not going through the rigors of an academic curriculum in order to be judged ‘educated’, they still know amazing scientific stuff — knowledge that has percolated from generations.
The heading of my article suggests that the article is about monkeys. However, I talked about tribals in my first paragraph. Why? Well, recently, I heard something about monkeys that reminded me about such tribal practices. Here goes the story. My friend keeps bonsai plants on her terrace and there are plants of different varieties. One day, at eight in the morning, she suddenly woke up because of the concerted crowing of crows. The commotion seemed to centre around something on the roof. When she reached the terrace, she got a shock. A troop of Rhesus monkeys were sitting right next to her bonsai Shimul tree!
When she tried to chase them away, they instead started coming towards her and the intention was to bite! She ran downstairs to safety and went back again only when the crowing had stopped. The monkeys had apparently sucked the marrow out of the root of the tree. My friend knew from the sight of it that the tree would not die, it would recover and so it did. Next day, around the same time, the monkey troop came again. The stayed for 15 minutes and within that time they had scraped of the bark of the bonsai Arjun. Again, in such a way, such that the tree would not die. The cambium layer of the bark, which is responsible for the growth of new cells, was uninjured and thus the tree recovered.
The next day, she sneaked upto the terrace and saw them eating up the leaves of the bonsai Kalmegh. They were careful enough while plucking the leaves, so that the tree did not get uprooted. The day after, they were seen to be eating the young leaves and flowers of the Tulsi plant. It was almost as if, they had a sound knowledge of plant biology and they seemed to know exactly which parts of the plant to eat and interestingly, not one plant died! This continued for the next 15 to 20 days.
The troop again came back before winter. The monkeys seemed to like the root marrow of the Shimul tree but just beside it, there was a bonsai Baobab tree, with its roots jutting out of the soil. They never even touched this tree. The point to note here is that, it is not possible for a layman to tell the two trees apart. How amazing! On brooding a little, it suddenly occurred to me that the Shimul root is a sexually stimulating plant part but not Boabab. Did the monkeys somehow know this? The other thing that struck me was that inspite of the terrace garden not having enough plants, the monkeys never fed on one tree for two consecutive days. Thus each plant had enough time to recover. This is what we call sustainable exploitation — what indigenous communities are known to do. Isn’t it awesome that a creature less intelligent than modern, urban man knows how to use nature sustainably, yet we, the urban, greedies don’t?