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Compassion in the jungle

Survival of the fittest is the law of nature. Yet sometimes, there comes a moment when human instinct drives one to acts that are just, well, instinctive, says Mike Pandey.

health and fitness Updated: Aug 24, 2009 15:03 IST
Mike Pandey

Survival of the fittest is the law of nature. Yet sometimes, there comes a moment when human instinct drives one to acts that are just, well, instinctive.

We were in Gujarat filming lions and were taking a tea break a few miles from Junagarh. An unusual movement in the dry tall grass caught my eye … a lion perhaps? A closer look through the binoculars showed a large snake thrashing about in a frenzy.

A snake on a kill? A great sequence to capture; my camera was rolling. But on moving closer, I noticed that the snake had no prey in its mouth. There was a long, gaping wound on its side, crawling with hundreds of red ants.

The rat snake moved with lightening speed as we closed in and leapt away. Murad, my assistant, just managed to grab the tail before it could disappear into the thicket.

It was a beautiful specimen in its prime, a female over six feet long. The rat snake’s body seemed to be pregnant with eggs and it was fighting a losing battle against the aggressive red ants.

A portion of its flank had been neatly sliced off, “perhaps by a passing vehicle,” said Murad. Fortunately, the spine was intact. The gash was almost six inches long, festering and oozing, and we removed hundreds of ants from the open wound.
The minute we started to clean the wound the snake stopped struggling, suddenly calm but watchful. Our first aid kit had a lot of homeopathic medicines in it, and one of them was calendula, which is made from flowers and is a great antiseptic.
We used that to clean the wound and then stitched it up with a needle and thread, taking about 30 minutes to finish the job.

Murad, meanwhile, lifted the scales and removed ticks. Snakes carry ticks that live under their scales; we found over 60 of them.

After a final layer of calendula cream we released her and she slithered away to the nearest peepul tree, melting into the foliage.

There was a lot of excitement and rejoicing in the camp that evening, prompted by our good samaritan work. But questions triggered by years of exposure to certain values raced through my mind. Had I interfered with the natural law of the jungle? But then, wouldn’t I have rushed to help an injured man? Why shouldn’t I do the same for a snake?

Here was a victim of a man-made, life-threatening accident. To my mind, only another human being could undo the damage. Three days later, we found the same rat snake guarding a nest of eggs. Her wound was healing well thanks to Murad, who is a wildlife guard and a tribal familiar with snakes. I too can recognise and handle snakes, having worked with animal rescue teams, which has given me the necessary experience.

But what should you do if you are on a trip in the wild and chance upon an injured animal? Here are a few rules to follow, if you want to help the animal.

Don’t approach an injured animal unless you are trained in handling and treating it. Always drive with caution around forested areas and never turn your back on anyone who is in trouble and needs help. Contact the nearest animal rescue centre.

Follow your instinct — there are millions of threads that weave all of us together. As humans, we have an unmatched intelligence and compassion. We only need to learn to recognise it and use it well.

Pandey is a wildlife filmmaker and conservationist.