Wildbuzz | Look and let die

Published on Apr 03, 2022 02:35 AM IST

The weavers had chosen the nest site carefully: hanging over water and on a tree with thorns; at the Thiksey monastery near Leh, Buddhist wisdom underscores the importance of fish as indicators of Himalayan aquatic health upon which hinges the wealth of an estimated 600 million people

Rat snake’s head inside nest and (on right) its stomach bulges upon gobbling chicks. (PHOTOS: DR NISARGA)
Rat snake’s head inside nest and (on right) its stomach bulges upon gobbling chicks. (PHOTOS: DR NISARGA)
ByVikram Jit Singh

Rat snakes hunting for chicks and eggs – heads thrust up the tunnel of a Baya weaver bird nest and tail anchored to an adjacent nest – make for scintillating photos. Sometimes, the marauder’s body is so looped that it resembles a romantic, heart-shaped love sign though the victims’ hearts would be quaking at the monster’s intrusion. The darkish serpent sliding forcefully up the brambly nest tunnel could alternatively evoke the imagery of sexual assault!

One of the most fascinating of predatory interactions, the snake-weaver encounter has not been scientifically studied in India. It is left to the photographer to illuminate the encounter with added descriptions. At a birding hot spot outside Hyderabad, Dr Nisarga, the chief cardiac surgeon at KIMS Hospitals and an accomplished photographer, captured a hunt that lasted 40 minutes.

The weavers had chosen the nest site carefully: hanging over water and on a tree with thorns. When the snake climbed to the nest, the puny but pugnacious pair attacked the mighty predator with pecks and heckling swoops but could not deter the seasoned shikari. The snake entered the nest and gobbled two chicks. However, thorns had penetrated and lacerated the hunter’s hardy skin as access to the nest’s convoluted interiors required dodgy twists of the long body slithering over thorny branches.

Unlike photographers, who click pictures of snakes predating on nests and then throw stones at the serpent to “save the cute chicks”, Dr. Nisarga was restrained. “My heart bled for the birds. But I did not disrupt the hunt because the snake was pursuing its natural food. Had the situation been of a human child under assault, I would have intervened.”

Goddess Ganga rides on a Rohu fish. (PHOTO: PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART)
Goddess Ganga rides on a Rohu fish. (PHOTO: PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART)

River of grace

At the Thiksey monastery near Leh, Buddhist wisdom underscores the importance of fish as indicators of Himalayan aquatic health upon which hinges the wealth of an estimated 600 million people.

A stanza inscribed on a monastery sculpture is the people’s prayer to God: “Please fill the streams with fish to keep the Himalayas alive forever.” That is to say, if fish survive, streams survive and so would the Himalayan towers of priceless fresh water resources.

Fishes have come under threat, from dams, invasive species, over fishing etc, reflecting the shadows looming large over the Himalayan aquatic system. The threats emanate from modernity’s blinded, “Gods of Development”. But in diverse ancient wisdom, fish were bestowed priority, there were sanctions to protect them, and were associated with the Gods. Near Jogindernagar (Himachal Pradesh) is situated the Machhendra Devta (fish God) temple based on the belief that Lord Vishnu had incarnated from mahseer fish.

Similarly, a painting by an unknown artist from Mandi, executed around 1650-’75, lends pride of place to the Rohu (a native carp) as the vehicle of Goddess Ganga. Creatures pay obeisance to the river as a life force in the painting that radiates the symbiotic relationship of humans with an unravaged nature. Human greed has, however, attracted the relationship label of “conflictual”.

Held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the lush artwork is described by the museum thus: “Goddess Ganga is the divine personification of the most important river in India, the holy Ganges. In this painting, she rides rippling waves atop her vahana (vehicle), depicted as an enormous Rohu, an Indian carp common in rivers across North India. Breaching the water are crocodiles, and a tiny elephant, likewise associated with water and often shown as a marine animal in Indian painting. The white-robed goddess holds a vessel full of sacred river water and a lotus flower, a symbol of purity and abundance. In the sky, egrets and waterbirds soar across monsoon clouds.”

vjswild1@gmail.com

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022
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