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What's up? Hissteria

punjab Updated: Jul 28, 2013 10:12 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The centre of attraction was a 5.5 foot spectacled cobra. It had sneaked into the garden of Manish Kumar, a kiryana shopkeeper, in Tarn Taran's Jeevan Singh Nagar, just after dinner time. Once detected, it hissed with accomplished acoustic effects. But more intriguing were the antics of the crowd that gathered to see the tamaasha.

When wildlife ecologist Navdeep Sood, landed at 11.30pm to rescue the cobra, he found a big stick lying close. He learnt that some of the more brutish Punjabis had wanted to thump the cobra but had retreated quickly when it hissed at the stick and flared its hood. In fact, before Navdeep had arrived, his friend, Ravinder Singh, had a difficult time protecting the cobra from the crowd, who wanted to kill it and bury it in an obscure place so that its mate may not find out and spend the rest of its life seeking revenge! Navdeep was warned not to touch that stick because the cobra's hisses had “poisoned it”. Onlookers then broke the stick and dumped it in a vacant plot so that kids may not touch it and get harmed. This is poppycock. Hisses are not primed with venom, and actually benefit humans by delivering an emphatic warning of a cobra's presence. Cobras live singly and not as a vengeful couple.

Anyway, Navdeep had a tricky task at hand because the cobra was coiled around plants. The crowd grew, cold drinks were served, and smartphone batteries expended on filming live action. Most tittered, some twittered, and one onlooker posted pictures via WhatsApp! The cornered cobra turned to enviously peer through the window into the civilised ambience of Kumar's living rooms. When Navdeep disentangled the cobra, and it threatened to make a bolt for it, it was the high-handed crowd that showed a clean pair of heels! Navdeep finally caught the cobra with his net and freed it outside the city.

Chick In The Sink

How did a wild chick find itself in a sink in a Panchkula home? Col (retd) Ashok Datta can't figure out this one. A keen bird photographer and a resident of Sector 20, Panchkula, Col Datta was visiting a friend's house where he was told that the children had found a chick. When he asked the children where they had found it, they delivered a googly by claiming that some other kids had discovered it and handed it over to them! The chick was looking cold and desolate. The kids had, out of good-intentioned ignorance, placed it in a sparkling sink. Col Datta persuaded them to move it to an empty box. It was identified later as that of an Ashy prinia, a small bird found in tricity gardens and one that nests in shrubs and potted plants, primarily in monsoons. Unlike some other bird chicks, prinia chicks maintain silence as a survival strategy as nests are low to the ground.

Prinia eggs' colour range from a glossy brick-red to chestnut, and 3-5 are laid with both parents sharing incubation and later feeding duties. The prinia is a monogamous warbler, whose sharp reddish eyes, quaint habits and half-cocked tail make it a most endearing bird. The prinia's call is a sharp ‘tee-tee-tee’. It is to be noted that nesting birds are sensitive and may abandon nests due to prolonged human attention.

If nests are exposed to the open because of garden pruning, chicks are gobbled by cats, snakes, shikras and crows. Householders who find wild birds must inform wildlife officials or an NGO.

Lajja Ram And Kala Ram

What could be a better tribute to the bonding between dog and man than the old faithful being named like a brother. Lajja Ram is a farmer/grazier living in deep jungle near Nagal village, a few miles off the PGIMER Mullanpur-Siswan road, and is greatly exposed to wild animal attacks. To guard his fields at night, Lajja keeps mongrels. One of his most vigilant ones, Doggie, a bitch, was killed by a leopard recently in front of Lajja's eyes.

His other champion is Kala Ram, a name that not only takes from the dog's black coat but is equally inspired by Lajja's fraternal love. A bond that has evolved from sharing a lonely, strenuous life. Across the lower Shivaliks looming behind the tricity, farmers keep a merry medley of dog breeds. Most are blends with illegitimate lineage from alsatians, bull terriers or German short-haired pointers.

At night, Lajja Ram counts on his dogs to alert him as he mounts the field machaans. If raiders are sambhars, dogs chase them away easily and Lajja creates a din by banging tin utensils. If these are wild boars, dogs find the going tough because pugnacious pigs are reluctant to retreat from ripening maize. During winter, Lajja keeps a fire going and ties his dogs near it to keep leopards at bay. Lajja says Kala Ram has taken to heart the killing of Doggie, as Kala Ram also witnessed the incident. Kala Ram does not bark much now and keeps a lowered, brooding gaze, twitching nervously at the slightest disturbance.

Kala Ram has a chance, though, to take revenge for Doggie. Wildlife officials placed a twin-chambered cage outside Lajja's shelter to trap the leopard, and ordered Lajja to place a dog in the rear chamber every night as live bait. But if the leopard does fall into the trap, Kala Ram will face the mother of all traumas. The leopard will roar and tear at the cage with unbridled ferocity, and may even extend claws through the bars at the cowering Kala Ram.