Wildbuzz: The 'born-free' trap

  • Vikram Jit Singh, None, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Aug 08, 2015 23:29 IST
With a ballerina’s poise and grace, the deformed myna braves life’s challenges. PHOTO: AMI PRABAL

Sometimes, our emotions or the need to ‘feel good’ gets the better of us. We may not act in the best interests of the hapless creatures we endeavour to save. Nothing could illustrate this better than those instances when we rescue a squirrel pup or cute chick fallen out of its nest, love it to bits and domesticate it. However, it is rendered ‘useless’ for a return to the wild.

The 1966 hit film, ‘Born Free’, which was based on a real story and greatly encouraged this tendency, may have done more harm than good as evidenced by Shekar Dattatri’s sterling essay in retrospect, ‘Why captive or man-eating big cats should not be released into the wild’, published online in ‘Conservation India’. Such romantic misinterpretations of wildlife conservation actually turn out to be failures concealed in a spin of popular, tear-jerking narratives. Fact is lions of ‘Born Free’ lived a life of many maladies, some died unnatural deaths, others turned man-eaters/cattle-lifters and were shot.

Advocate Ami Prabal did not have lion cubs to rear, but a Common myna in her Gwalior garden. The myna has one leg and a deformed beak. Ami has resisted the allure to turn the myna dependant on her. In her stirring, evocative words: “I really love to see my brave and strong baby, a single day when I don’t see her, I feel bad, she makes my day, I really love to see her, how she eats, how she balances herself, how vigilant she is about the surroundings, she loves to eat soft grains or may be because of her beak she can eat those only, in this small pot mixed grains are kept and some biscuits (for crow), she very skillfully searching and taking her food, I can keep her special food separately, but I don’t want to make her dependent upon me... because I love her, I love her wildness and independence.”

Ami’s myna will not make for a successful Bollywood film. But Ami’s is the self-effacing way that places wildlife’s interests above our emotional frailties.


Something very similar occurred in our Chandigarh garden recently when we discovered a forlorn, wet and shivering chick of a Common Tailor bird in a potted Portulaca plant. The chick could not fly and had evidently jumped from the nest prematurely. It was twilight and we searched in vain for the nest. We decided to nurse the chick till next morning as we feared the active cats in our garden.


Swift gazes at photo autographed by Dr. Salim Ali. It was clicked by Jaswant S. Twahi at Deer Park, Bir Motibagh, Patiala, in 1981. From (left to right): Late Dr Ali, then Chhatbir zoo director, Yash Pal Chowdhry, late Man Mohan Singh (IAS) and then Punjab chief wildlife warden, late AS Randhawa. PHOTO: HEMANI SINGH The chick was fed with houseflies (which I had to swat with such finesse!) via a tweezer inserted gently into the beak. It soon got over its fright. We introduced the chick to the legendary Dr Salim Ali, a family friend who would stay at our house in Chandigarh and later, New Delhi, and greatly encouraged us kids to not only love nature, but also to "think" about its conservation. His autographed picture, when he visited Chandigarh and Punjab in 1981, adorns the wall of our home and the chick gazed at it quite spellbound from the comforting palm of my hand!


Swift in a thoughtful mood! PHOTO: VIKRAM JIT SINGH

So goddamned cute was this little bird — whom our daughter named, Swift, after the singer, Taylor Swift — that we were loathe to set it free. But parent birds take weeks of nurturing and guiding a fledgling through shrubs before bidding it adieu as an adult.

Though we could not locate the nest, the parent birds were frantically searching. We placed the chick in an Evening Glory hedge running along our boundary wall, which the parents frequented. It was soon taken under the wing of the parents. Our hearts were heavy, but a smile gently lit our lips.


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