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Wild buzz: The blame game

Since July 2013, Nagal village has faced serial predation of livestock by leopards, the latest a cow killed on July 24.

punjab Updated: Aug 14, 2016 11:29 IST
Wildlife,Rabbits,Wild buzz
A leopard eating a sambar at night.(Dr Vidya Athreya )

The blame game

Since July 2013, Nagal village has faced serial predation of livestock by leopards, the latest a cow killed on July 24. The remarkable fact is that leopards have not attacked a single human at this village nestling in the Shivaliks, about 15 km from Chandigarh. Contrary to popular perception, leopards do not habitually attack humans. This is underscored by a study, ‘Leopard presence in human use landscapes of Punjab’, authored by Jairoop Riar and prepared under the guidance of Dr Vidya Athreya. This study, based on data of 2012-14, was submitted to the Punjab Forests and Wildlife Preservation department in 2015. The study stated: “Three attacks on people were reported but all appear to have occurred because of inappropriate behaviour on the part of individuals.’’

“One attack on a person was reported at Sangowal in Ludhiana on May, 3, 2013 during a rescue operation after the leopard was tranquilised. On January 13, 2015, two people were attacked at Paprali village in Rupnagar, when they chased the leopard after it was discovered in a farmer’s field...On August 7, 2014, three people, including a mediaperson, were injured at Ratta Khera, Sangrur, during a rescue operation when they insisted on taking images of the leopard even after being prevented from doing so by forest guards,’’ the study said.

There was only one instance of an attack outside the ambit of a leopard rescue operation. “On June 5, 2014, two women were injured by a leopard, while collecting wood in the forests of Deriyan village (Hoshiarpur),’’ the study revealed.

Though grazing is banned in jungles, livestock owners not only persist by exploiting this free resource but also leave domestic animals unattended/unprotected leading to leopard kills. On top of it, the study found that a majority of livestock owners demanded that leopards be captured from jungles and jailed in zoos.

Khargosh ki khamoshi

The rabbit and Chhote Lal. (Vikramjit Singh)

If you happen to venture into a corner of the regional centre for youth development (PEC University of Technology), you will come across a solemn rabbit in a big, airy cage. This is not a typical enclosure over-crowded with nibbling bunnies and squabbling, dominant males. Nor is this rabbit a wise, old fellow whom age has mellowed to a meditative disposition. This pet is 18 months old and supposedly at the peak of youthful ardour. What afflicts the rabbit is a global malady of the soul: loneliness. This summer, three of the four rabbits in this cage died due to heat, says their caretaker, Chhote Lal, who has been managing rabbits for past 8-9 years.

As we call out to the rabbit, the voices seem to kindle a spark in the rabbit’s murky, listless eyes. The rabbit breaks out of its frozen turbulence when Lal enters the cage. His endearing voice spurs the rabbit to nibble at the cabbage lying untouched. The rabbit proceeds to take a stroll around the cage and indulge in the compulsive habit to burrow and back-kick the soil. Affection has roused the rabbit and a natural curiosity for the world comes seeping back into its eyes.

Lal says the pensive mood recalls the brooding songs of love and loss from a Rajesh Khanna movie. “When the rabbit’s companions were alive, it would spend all day frolicking with them. Now, the rabbit has two spots in the cage where it alternates position and does nothing else. I can feel the rabbit’s isolation just as I can sense a human in distress. I will request director ‘saheb’ to purchase a mate from a pet shop,’’ Lal told this writer.

Cobra karma

A spectacled cobra whose fangs were removed for Nag panchami. (Ajay Giri)

Last Sunday, Nag Panchami acquired political overtones. The Hindu Mahasabha activists in Aligarh offered milk to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image, terming him an “’aasteen ka saanp’’ as he had back-stabbed cow vigilantes. But snakes are not devious creatures as the milk offering to Modi suggested. Nor do they thirst for human blood or milk. On the other hand, one cannot grant a similar clean chit to humans celebrating Nag Panchami by using captive snakes instead of statues.

This is because snakes are caught by charmers and their fangs cut with a blade or yanked out with pliers. Venom glands are pricked with a needle. The snake’s mouth is stitched, with a hole left for the tongue to flicker. The snake is confined in a basket for 7-14 days without food and water even as its mouth fills with pus and festering wounds. On the auspicious day, stitches are removed and the snake is placed before devotees who offer milk and apply vermilion and turmeric powder on the “neutralised’’ serpent. Leave aside milk, the snake will even drink urine because it is so thirsty. Snakes are carnivores and unlike mammals, cannot digest milk enzymes and this causes vomiting, allergies and lung infections.

In the original practice of Nag Panchami, rural folk would put out milk and rice when the rains poured and snakes were in abundance. Offerings near snake holes would attract rodents and it was hoped that snakes would not need to visit fields where farmers worked. However, contemporary Nag Panchami rituals distort this simple worshipping. A craze fuelled by social media is ‘selfies with snakes’ that leads to rough handling and a traumatic death for the “’venerated’’ serpent.

The snake charmer makes a quick buck, the devotee buys peace with the Almighty. After Nag panchami, the mutilated snake is discarded like a condom and dies slowly on the garbage heap.


First Published: Aug 14, 2016 11:28 IST