The desert was once a forest
Geology and geomorphology enthusiasts would agree promptly that the barren deserts of the current era have evolved (or in the present context, resulted) from a process which began in a manner much distinct from the state an area and its features are in today. No doubt, anthropogenic factors may hasten desertification, but a peek into the environmental history of a region gives a sense of course of nature which must not be violated because if done so, it is only humanity which will ultimately be at the receiving end of it. The resilience of nature can revive it from any damage but the rapidly advancing humanity will have more to lose. A recently-published analysis of 14 million-year-old fossils in Gujarat's Kutch desert explains that the arid region was marked by a diversity of fauna and flora, it was once a vast green expanse that was home to various life forms including fishes, reptiles, birds, mammals and also possibly, ancient giraffes and rhinoceros. This study was published in the journal Historical Biology and specifically records its analysis of fossils of vertebrates found in Palasava village in Kutch's Rapar taluka. The findings of the study point out that the desert that exists today in Kutch once had an environment that was warm, humid/wet, with tropical to sub-tropical conditions. Such environmental conditions allowed many species of plants and animals to thrive. The fossils recovered from the site confirm this possibility. Discovering that the now hot and arid desert of Kutch was once a humid sub-tropical forest abuzz with a variety of birds, freshwater fish and possibly giraffes and rhinos, the team of Indian and French researchers have drawn their conclusions based on the unearthing of a tranche of vertebrate fossils from about 14 million years ago in a geological time period known as the Miocene era. It took nearly 12 years for analysis to draw the said conclusions after the discovery was made. The authors of this study have recovered vertebrate fossil specimens belonging to fishes, reptiles, mammals (both marine and terrestrial) and birds since 2007. Their fossils include remains of teeth, ribs, and bones. The marine mammals' remains show types of fish and sea cow and, the terrestrial mammal fossils hint that 'a long-limbed rhinocerotid' (a member of the rhinoceros family), unidentified species of suidae (boar/pig family), bovidae (buffalo/cow family), and giraffidae (members of the giraffe family) had once walked this part of the earth. The authors have clarified that the bovid and giraffid remains warrant detailed further investigations. Proximity to the Arabian Sea is of significance here as geological changes in this region eventually closed off the salt-flats' connection to the sea and the region turned into a large lake, eventually becoming salty wetlands. This discovery is also some insight into how mammals traversed between Africa and the Indian Subcontinent when India belonged to the supercontinent Gondwanaland nearly 300 million years ago. So was the case 14 million years ago. As matters stand today, the Kutch region is reeling under an environmental debacle as livelihood stands at risk owing to water crisis. The severe heatwave that struck India this year has left damaging impacts in various parts of the country. With scant rainfall in Gujarat and soaring temperatures, one of the worst droughts in the past three decades has only been aggravated. Locals lament that there used to be a lot of grass for their animals to graze on but now there is a shortage of fodder and water. The helpless residents can only watch their livestock die. Beyond Gujarat, the entire stretch of the western coast of India is vulnerable to climate change at large. The receding coastline of Kerala, the damage from nearly annual floods, haphazard urbanisation, and recklessly pursued development have completely overturned the course of natural history of the environment of these regions. Perhaps this study by Indian and French researchers will prompt efforts to make more spaces green and full of life forms of various kinds instead of creating concrete jungles that breathe fumes.