Wild buzz: The charming otters | punjab$dont-miss | Hindustan Times
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Wild buzz: The charming otters

Chhatbir Zoo has added one of the most charming of display species to its stable, a pair of smooth-coated otters, whose delightful antics in water and fish feeding are witnessed either on TV documentaries or by the few who venture into the wilderness.

punjab Updated: Oct 16, 2016 15:20 IST
Otters at Chhatbir Zoo.
Otters at Chhatbir Zoo.(Photo: Shivjot S Bhullar)

THE CHARMING OTTERS

Chhatbir Zoo has added one of the most charming of display species to its stable, a pair of smooth-coated otters, whose delightful antics in water and fish feeding are witnessed either on TV documentaries or by the few who venture into the wilderness. The otter is classified as a vulnerable species and inhabits dams, lakes, canals, etc. In an exchange programme, Chhatbir got otters, three Chowsingha, a pair each of Indian Star tortoises and White peacocks from the Sarthana Nature Park, Surat, and delivered in return a pair each of Asiatic Black bears and Golden pheasants along with three Barking deer.

‘’Very few zoos in India have otters and the Surat pair was being sought by 5-6 other zoos but Chhatbir managed to secure priority because of an old commitment made by the Sarthana park. The otters are very fond of fresh fish and while on the way to Chhatbir, they refused to eat the stock fish kept for them. Since they were travelling on October 2, no market was open to buy fish. But when they got to the zoo, they quickly got comfortable and were delighted with the fresh fish. We may add eggs also to their diet,’’ field director, Manish Kumar, told this writer.

So, next time around at Chhatbir, take time off from tigers and visit the lolling otters and the other tiny charmer, the Mouse deer!

A STUDY IN CONTRAST

To most casual observers, two individuals of a species would tend to be very similar in temperament and personality. If both individuals were of the same size and rescued from the same location, no one would imagine these could be two very different individuals, as chalk is from cheese or contrasting brothers born of the same womb. But those who intimately interact with animals realise that virtually each individual has a distinct personality, including subtle distinctions in skin pattern.

A vivid variation came to the fore on Dussehra when a Russell’s viper bit to death the pet dog of a Railways employee, Manmohan Nagi, at T-82, Railway Colony, behind Kalagram. When snake-rescue expert, Salim Khan, came to rescue this viper, he found this specimen to be the most aggressive and agile of the hundreds of vipers he has tackled. This viper repeatedly lunged at Khan to bite him like an ill-tempered Rottweiler and, unlike other vipers, did not curl up when pinned under Khan’s stick. It took many tense manoeuvres to get this intrepid specimen into the container. The same night, another viper of the same size laid siege to the Nagis’ front door. Khan was able to subdue this viper with less than a third of the energy and risk expended on the first one.

Both vipers were retained for the night in separate containers. The first viper vented its resentment by hissing virtually non-stop like a bawling baby afflicted with colic while the ‘’docile’’ specimen did not so much as utter a murmur!

ARMY’S PARTRIDGE HUNT

Panchkula-based retired officer Col JPS Nakai was commissioned into the Deccan Horse and was a keen partridge shikari. The photograph displays a gundog, beaters and partridges bagged in Punjab’s Malwa region in the 1980s by Col Nakai and fellow shikaris. (Photo: Nakai family archives)

Former Northern Army commander Lt Gen HS Panag (retd) named his farmhouse near Fatehgarh Sahib, ‘Teetar Lodge’, due to fond memories of partridge shooting. That sport is outlawed but the analogy of a ‘’partridge hunt’ persists and is used in discourses on contemporary military matters. I queried Lt Gen S Ata Hasnain (retd), the authoritative commentator and former 15 Corps Commander, after he embellished his latest essay in the ‘Swarajya’ magazine with this intriguing analogy. The essay’s thrust is to decipher the Pakistan Army’s stratagem of launching terrorist attacks in quick succession at Baramulla/Langate/Pampore and invites comparison to fidayeen attacks launched after the Kargil War by a humiliated Pakistan Army. But first, a tidbit on Lt Gen Hasnain’s family history of traditional shikar.

‘’My hunting days started in 1957 at Jammu in the company of my father who was the Brigade Major of the Damana Brigade under Brig Harbaksh Singh (the Western Army Commander during the 1965 War). My father had a BSA .12 bore shotgun and would take me and my brother hunting for ‘Tilyer’ (Common starling). We did family shoots every winter as one grew up in our home town of Allahabad and sometimes in areas around Meerut. We used to do beating in sugarcane and partridges flew at lightning speed. The beat was with a rope which was dragged by two men holding both ends and passing it over the sugarcane. The number of partridges flying out was very high but not to our ability to down them in flight mode. Difficult shooting indeed!’’ Lt Gen Hasnain told this writer.

Decades later, posted as Colonel (GS) at the Victor Force HQs, Awantipur, Lt Gen Hasnain tasted rich success with ‘’partridges’’ of another kind: those that could also peck pretty hard! His definition of the other hunt: ‘’The analogy of partridge hunt in the Army usually applies to the ease of multiple contacts because in such operations if you get a contact once in a month and that, too, on your own terms it is a big advantage. Units (battalions) go without contacts with terrorists for months. It is also used when an environment is created for multiple contacts and success at a relatively better rate.’’

Such favourable conditions arose after Kargil. ‘’The term partridge hunt was related to the situation of winter 1999-2000. Our one full division was employed (pre-winter) for extensive operations in the upper reaches, rural and jungle terrain and we destroyed many hideouts and captured lots of rations and logistics material stocked by terrorists. This forced them to spend winter in the villages of South Kashmir. When we got wind of the situation, we did not await intelligence as there were so many terrorists all over. We started search and destroy operations by beating through villages with some intelligence sources. It is not as if terrorists came flying out like partridges but we started to pick up more intelligence and firefights commenced almost daily. There was a time when as the Colonel (GS), I was handling seven firefights in our area of responsibility. We killed a very large number through December-January 1999,’’ he recounted.

A STUDY IN CONTRAST

The rescued vipers together in captivity. The one that killed the pet dog is in front while the ‘docile’ one is at the rear (Photo: Vikram Jit Singh)

To most casual observers, two individuals of a species would tend to be very similar in temperament and personality. If both individuals were of the same size and rescued from the same location, no one would imagine these could be two very different individuals, as chalk is from cheese or contrasting brothers born of the same womb. But those who intimately interact with animals realise that virtually each individual has a distinct personality, including subtle distinctions in skin pattern.

A vivid variation came to the fore on Dussehra when a Russell’s viper bit to death the pet dog of a Railways employee, Manmohan Nagi, at T-82, Railway Colony, behind Kalagram. When snake-rescue expert, Salim Khan, came to rescue this viper, he found this specimen to be the most aggressive and agile of the hundreds of vipers he has tackled. This viper repeatedly lunged at Khan to bite him like an ill-tempered Rottweiler and, unlike other vipers, did not curl up when pinned under Khan’s stick. It took many tense manoeuvres to get this intrepid specimen into the container. The same night, another viper of the same size laid siege to the Nagis’ front door. Khan was able to subdue this viper with less than a third of the energy and risk expended on the first one.

Both vipers were retained for the night in separate containers. The first viper vented its resentment by hissing virtually non-stop like a bawling baby afflicted with colic while the ‘’docile’’ specimen did not so much as utter a murmur!

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