Wildbuzz | Headless bodies for victors

Popular lore has it that mongooses are destined victors but that is not always so. A large, experienced serpent matched against a disproportionately smaller mongoose can ward off the pugnacious Rikki Tikki Tavi
The mongoose climbs Satluj bank with dangling, decapitated keelback; (right) later moves towards the bushes. (PHOTOS: AMIT SHARMA)
The mongoose climbs Satluj bank with dangling, decapitated keelback; (right) later moves towards the bushes. (PHOTOS: AMIT SHARMA)
Published on Sep 19, 2021 04:15 AM IST
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ByVikram Jit Singh

In war and grey zone conflicts, it is not very uncommon to behead an enemy and carry the head back as a trophy. The enemy’s decapitated body is left to rot or for his comrades to recover and suffer demoralisation.

Beheading catalyses a degradation of the opponent’s fighting potential. But Nature’s ways as practised through the mongoose materialise in biting off the serpent’s head. The mongoose, like big owls who feed snakes to their chicks, first decapitate the serpent before offering the protein-rich headless body to their offspring.

Popular lore has it that mongooses are destined victors but that is not always so. A large, experienced serpent matched against a disproportionately smaller mongoose can ward off the pugnacious Rikki Tikki Tavi. Or, a mongoose can be laid to death when its agile lunges and ‘jump backs’ fail to evade the lightning strike of, say, a Russell’s viper.

At the Harike Wildlife sanctuary, Amit Sharma, a wildlife photographer by passion and a banker by profession, witnessed a very big Gey mongoose battling a long and solid Checkered keelback in the river Satluj. The encounter took place near village Bhutiwallah,Ferozepur. Alas, for the mighty Satluj serpent, the outcome played to popular script.

The keelback dwells along the Satluj in colonies and feeds on frogs, fish and crustaceans It is non-venomous so, in defense the keelback raises a cobra-like hood to intimidate adversaries. It does not hesitate to bite hard, sometimes even breaking its sharp teeth and leaving them embedded in the tormentor’s flesh. However, the mongoose’s erectile bristles serve to evade, distract and deflect fangs/teeth from biting into its flesh.

A colony of Checkered keelbacks on the Satluj. (PHOTO: AMIT SHARMA)
A colony of Checkered keelbacks on the Satluj. (PHOTO: AMIT SHARMA)

The mongoose was nosing along the Satluj embankment when its beady eyes spotted the keelback basking along the water below. Before the snake could realise the imminent danger, the mongoose had jumped down and latched onto the neck of the serpent from the rear, so as to preempt a bite. The robust keelback resorted to thrashing about with great vigour. The aquatic snake made for deeper water to utilise its prowess at swimming to discard the hunter glued on like a leech.

However, the mongoose was resolute in its crocodile grip. The fate that would befall the serpent would emulate that of migrating Wildebeest snapped up by croc jaws in African rivers. The battle saw sprays of blood-stained water erupting and lacing the mongoose’s fur. The coup de grace was delivered by the mongoose’s formidable dentition. Like a brute chainsaw, the mongoose’s rows of sharp teeth cut off the keelback’s head. The Satluj waters were hushed. They returned to their gentle ripples and docile meander. The keelback’s spurting, spent blood and head would disappear in the Satluj’s eventual drift to Pakistan, like ashes immersed by an amoral, non-grieving Nature.

The canny mongoose, unwilling to pose too long in the open with the dangling, headless keelback, climbed the bank and with furtive glances to the flanks disappeared into the bush. Sharma’s lens framed the bloody victory memorably by silhouetting the fleeing hunter dragging the spoils of war against a dreary sky.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021