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Vikram Jit Singh, Hindustan Times
October 19, 2013
Householders besieged by rats often promote feral cats as a kind of bioagent. Asian mongooses were exported to islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean in the 19th century to counter rodents swarming sugarcane plantations. But have you heard of a shopkeeper buying house lizards to gobble insects? Meet Balwinder Singh Chawla, whose family runs a tyre vulcanizing shop in Chandigarh's Sector-27 market.


Balwinder's 'bloodhound' action. Photo: Vikram Jit Singh
Balwinder's 'bloodhound' in action.                                                                 Photo: Vikram Jit Singh

The Chawlas, who are into the tyre business since 1958, were troubled by the insect invasion in their shop. And, oddly enough, there were none of these 'ugly' lizards crawling on the walls to snap up insects.

Fortunately, Balwinder shares none of the common prejudices against lizards. He sees lizards as emissaries of nature, who provide a counter-balance to insects.

Every month, a tribal comes around the Sector-27 shops with a unique item: a dozen lizards kept in a jar for sale at the rate of Rs. 250 per specimen. Balwinder bought a particularly robust lizard from the tribal, which he let loose on his wall like a bloodhound. That lizzie did particularly well against flying termites but left Balwinder somewhat disappointed because it does not seem to relish the tiny insects which currently swarm his walls and niggle his workers.

Balwinder has not given up his faith in lizzies, he plans to buy another one and hopes that it will display suitable dietary preferences.

TALE OF TAILS
Akin to tales of the conquest of the Wild West in North America is the saga of Sikh farmers who settled in the Terai after Partition, picking up dirt-cheap, wild tracts of land swarming with mosquitoes, snakes, elephants, tigers and deer.

These families through hard work and courage transformed inhospitable terrain into agrarian land worth its weight in gold, and are now the envy of Terai natives.

These families maintain deep links with Punjab and the tricity, some keeping a second home here. One of the anecdotal Terai tales from the decades following Partition was the march past by a tiger on a cold winter morning as kids sat in the farm courtyard awaiting a breakfast of buffalo milk, butter and thick rotis prepared on wood-fired 'chullahs'.

Well, it is 2013 now and tigers are the rarest of the rare. But there was a big cat blast from the past for Sonia Grewal, who lives with her husband, Harpreet, and two kids at Katiya Pandri village, Pilibhit (UP).

Both hail originally from Gill village in Ludhiana district. A tiger recently wandered into their farmlands from Pilibhit Tiger Reserve. Availing of the Grewals' Punjabi hospitality, the tiger killed a wild boar 500 yards from their farmhouse and gobbled it.

Photo: Sonia Grewal
Photo: Sonia Grewal

That gave Sonia a wonderful opportunity to click pictures of the pugmarks (see photo). After staying a couple of days around the farm, which has the river Kailash close by and hosts riverine grass for cover, the tiger bade adieu and went off to the nearby 'gaushala' where it killed a cow and relished it for three days.

That brought wildlife officials rushing from Lucknow as people feared for their lives. But the wily tiger gave them the slip. Sonia reports three tigers were poisoned in 2012 by villagers after they wandered from encroached jungles.

TERMITE TERMINATOR
The scaly anteater or Pangolin is a shy creature, specialising in eating termites and ants. Whenever confronted, it curls up into a cute ball. But how on earth did an anteater land up at Chhatbir zoo? Villagers of Soond near Banga, Nawanshahr, procured rocks for constructing a gurdwara from a 'khud' in the lower Shivaliks.

The truck transporting rocks also brought along an unwilling stowaway: an anteater. As the bewildered anteater wandered in the village, one person tried to kill it thinking the harmless creature to be some strange, wild fellow.

The injured anteater took shelter in the house of Jagir Singh, who took pity on it and called Nikhil Sanger of the Wildlife Conservation Society to rescue it.

Sanger sent the anteater to the zoo. Chief veterinarian Dr MP Singh says this is the first time in many years that the zoo will attempt to keep an anteater.

imbibes
Photo: Nikhil Sanger

It is a tricky task but zoo authorities feel the anteater imbibes rare educational value for common people.

Zoo authorities have kept 'gur and honey in the anteater's cage to attract insects and ants. Rotting wood and termite mounds have been placed in the cage since the anteater cannot be hand-fed and will gobble food only on its own by sliding its long tongue into cavities where ants/termites are found.

Since it is a nocturnal creature, CCTV cameras with night vision have been installed for monitoring its health.

Dr Singh says they will watch for a week or so. If the anteater refuses to settle down and eat, it will be freed in the wild.

The anteater is covered under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and has been declared a 'vulnerable' species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Poachers relish its meat, and anteater scales are perceived to harbour aphrodisiac qualities.

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