Wildbuzz: Death at dawn

  • Vikram Jit Singh, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Oct 25, 2015 09:32 IST
The gasping carp caught in the glare of flashlights. (PHOTO: VIKRAM JIT SINGH)

Humans can live entirely in blissful ignorance of the contradictions coursing through their moral veins. In his story of 1929, set in the terai grasslands at Bindukhera, ‘The Talla Des maneater’, Jim Corbett commences his narrative with flame of the forest blooms shaken by vividly-plumaged birds and red carpetting the white tents of Englishmen.

Out on a February morning shoot and mounted on 17 elephant backs, shikaris, spectators and mahouts cheered with all their heart for an owl flushed from the long grasses and pursued in an epic, spiralling hunt by a Peregrine falcon to a 1,000 feet. Corbett noted with gentle irony that the shikaris had earlier that morning shot 54 birds and four animals without a qualm and yet were fervently wishing the wretched owl escape the hungry falcon! It did!

Cut now to 5.35am on October 20, 2015, at the Sukhna Lake’s reed-flanked Bird Walk, where a similar drama unfolded at dawn. The professional fisherman tasked to net commercial fish above 45cm in furtherance of the lake’s ecological management had landed a Common Carp an hour back at 4.30am. Two researchers and a laboratory assistant from PU’s zoology department arrived to join waiting animal husbandry and fisheries department staff and officers to examine the fish specimens.

The carp was still breathing as it is a sturdy fish. Fishermen let fish breathe on after pulling them out from nets because it preserves muscle better. As powerful flashlights and smartphone lights glared at the gasping carp producing a psychedelic spectacle, I appealed for a quick end to its pain through a killer cut, but it fell on deaf ears. As luck would have it, the measure of the carp’s length showed it less than 45cm so it was decided to let it live.

The zoology team was convinced it would fully revive in water and live happily ever after. Fisherman Imran Khan declared with conviction the carp would not survive even if put back into water as its respiratory system had been damaged beyond redemption. But laboratory assistant, Satinder, persisted and eased the fish into water.

The fins stirred and the fish struggled a few feet. Many sighs and mutters of having ‘saved a life’ played like the soft musical notes of a pious hymn on the dewy air. And, then, the carp turned on its back and died.


Gurmeet Singh with emus at Chhatbir zoo (PHOTO: MC ZOOLOGICAL PARK, CHHATBIR)

The story of farmed emus is a tragic one. They have been starved to death, culled or abandoned by loss-making farmers, who bought hordes on the false sales pitch of quick, meaty profits. But at the Chhatbir Zoo these birds have found their true calling as valued, exotic exhibits. They were the stars during the two-day shoot in April of Akshay Kumar’s October release ‘Singh is bling’. The film was shot at the zoo’s main gate where a special set was created for emus to be fed by Akshay who plays the role of zoo keeper, Raftaar Singh. But the real zoo keeper for emus, Gurmeet Singh, recalls that Akshay was scared of the world’s second-tallest bird.

‘’I told him not to take any ‘pangaas’ with emus as they have very hard ‘panjas’ and can deliver a nasty peck. They tend to rush to the feed giver and this can be scary. Akshay took me along for assurance and guidance and I handed him the feed, which is seasonal vegetables and fruits. The emus were obliging and Akshay was happy,’’ said Gurmeet, who has been caring for bird species at the zoo since 2002.

The bouncers accompanying Akshay did not let any one click pictures of the Emu shoot or take a selfie with the actor. Bouncers confiscated cellphones of the zoo ground staff, while senior personnel were delivered a dire warning: do not shoot the film action or their phones would be broken! However, film’s director Prabhudeva expressed “gratitude” to the zoo later by getting the production house, Grazing Goat Pictures, to adopt five peacocks through a `14,000 donation for a year.



A wanton slaughter of a Rock python came to light from a remote hamlet in the Singhpur area of the Shivaliks in SBS Nagar district, Punjab. How mighty a specimen it was can be gauged from the fact that it killed and was swallowing no less than a Neelgai before villagers butchered and buried it.

Award-winning conservationist Nikhil Sanger, who went to the spot and procured a photo from the villagers, says they alleged the python could kill humans. Vernacular dailies had faithfully parroted the rustics’ narrative of killing as a self-defence. But villagers are actually motivated by the fear that pythons may kill their livestock, apart from ignorance of pythons’ proven track record of rarely attacking humans or having killed any. Grazing livestock in the Shivaliks is banned to prevent erosion, but who is to say who is the intruder, the serial killer?


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