While most people would notice only the peacock's tail feathers that open in a dazzling display during breeding season, there are many hidden feathers that charm a keen observer. Wildlife photographer Devesh Jain captured this striking picture of a peacock taking off and revealing the fullness of its feathered armoury. Males acquire the full tail with the onset of breeding season, which is the monsoon.
According to scientist, Dr S Sathyakumar of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, the more spectacular and robust is the tail display, the more are the number of females (harem) attracted to a male. Mating with a female can be undertaken several times, and 4-6 eggs are eventually laid in dense undergrowth or even buildings in urban landscapes. However, the male's heavy train of feathers becomes a liability after breeding as it is not only tiresome dragging the long tail but it also slows down the bird making it vulnerable to attacks by tigers and leopards. Males start to shed feathers after breeding and this is called 'moult'.
Dr Sathyakumar says feathers start growing back in the beginning of the new year and are ready and flowing for the next cycle of reproduction. Peacocks are adaptable creatures, and found virtually everywhere. One peahen memorably laid eggs in a window at the elite Indian International Centre at Lodhi Estate in New Delhi to keep out of reach of urban predators such as dogs. That family, perched precariously on the ledge, attracted much attention from bird lovers concerned that chicks may plunge to death or fall prey to salivating canine jaws below.
GOLF'S RARE MARTYR
Birds do often fall prey to fiercely struck golf balls but this one was a freakish martyrdom. On September 19 just before noon, a 5-foot Rat snake was gliding across the fairway of the 17th hole at the Chandigarh Golf Club to get to the thick bushes flanking the greens. Out of the blue skies came death, a golf ball struck hard off the tee by a professional golfer at the `30 lakh PGTI Players' Championship. The ball struck the snake in the right eye (see photo), blowing it out. This snake, which is a non-venomous species, suffered serious brain damage and lay limp with its tail twitching before greenskeepers lifted it with a rake and took it aside.
I abandoned my coverage of the tournament and advised greenskeepers to euthanise the snake and put it out of pain as there was no chance of its survival. The greenskeepers delivered a mercy blow with the rake to the snake's head, dug a hole, and buried "golf's martyr" so as to prevent the body from being vandalised by stray dogs. It was not the only encounter with snakes for the professionals.
The next day as eventual tournament winner, Rahil Gangjee, teed off from the 16th hole, his attention was caught by a bunch of caddies and greenskeepers hunched over a water hydrant. A Common krait, India's most venomous species, was lying coiled inside. While the loquacious group wrongly identified it as a King Cobra, surprisingly enough, Gangjee correctly named it as a krait. The greenskeepers pulled it out of the hydrant and the krait went berserk, slithering around speedily in circles and scaring the hell out of onlookers!
HOUNDING THE DOGS
Dog lovers beware. Sifarish does not work with snakes and they do not spare even the pets of the high and mighty! Those who have suffered due to venomous snakes in recent years include former Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal, who saw a Spectacled cobra bite his Labrador to death while he was sipping tea in his bunglow garden in Chandigarh.
Justice Rajive Bhalla of the Punjab and Haryana High Court lost a Cocker Spaniel when he was residing near the Rose Garden. Punjab cabinet minister Gulzar Singh Ranike suffered the loss of a St Bernard after it stepped on a cobra in the minister's Sector 39 residence. Later, Ranike's Bull mastiff had a memorable fight with a 7-foot Rat snake, which bit the mastiff repeatedly on its face but since it was not venomous, the dog survived with bloody wounds (see photo).
According to veteran veterinarian, Dr CB Singh, snakebites are recorded every season. Last week, a German Shepherd died after being bitten in a Sector 35 two-kanal bunglow garden. A Common krait is suspected to have bitten to death a bitch in Sector 20 last week, while it was sleeping inside the house. Dr Singh says it is mostly bigger dogs such as Dobermans, Pointers, Alsatians which get bitten as they fiercly engage snakes in mortal combat. Dogs often kill snakes but sometimes the tables are turned. Dr Singh recounts the 14 days he spent treating a Pointer bitten by a cobra at a Kurali farmhouse. The Pointer suffered acute septicemia, and had to be administered antibiotics and anti-snake venom serum to save its life.