Thanks to the lockdown, I’ve been able to make some amazing trips: super-comfy ones, inconvenience to airports / stations, frozen shoulders from carrying luggage, worry about delays. I’ve been down several memory lanes, sorted along with old photo albums that had to be sorted and distributed.
The other day, I saw one of the late 1970s (Ish), sitting on the edge of the Amaravati reservoir, during a trip to the crocodile egg collection: I’m wearing a rather heroic expression, actually a little Am self-satisfied; And it was presumably taken soon after the Green Keelback incident. I was walking along the bank, and others, including Rome, were at a dam above the dam, looking down. Seeing the snake enveloping me with a squirt of water, I shouted excitedly and pointed.
“Catch it! Catch it!” The herpetologist’s immediate reaction was he could not see it clearly, and I had no idea what it was, but being a newlywed I must have been in an affected state and caught and caught the surprised snake.
Luckily it was harmless, but a few seconds of wondering whether it was venomous or not stayed with me.
I continued to pretend I was bolder – and more knowledgeable – than I really was. In Andaman, I caught a pit viper for a cat snake, and vice versa. At Snake Park, I insisted on teaching poison extraction, and was almost in mourning. At Croke Bank, I assimilated the idea of taking a stick with me while watching the nesting women from my hideout, and almost died of fear. In Papua New Guinea, I was surrounded by severely shaped saltwater crocodiles through a stinky, opaque swamp. In the beautiful Annamalai Hills, I looked at the backside of a bush and took (bad) pictures of the backside of a huge bison.
Caesar’s tour, our iguana. Photo courtesy Zai Whitaker
And then, one day, something beautiful happened, thanks to the Time Great Teacher. I realized that I do not have to pretend to be brave. What a wonderful, beautiful, liberating moment! Time highlighted – and revised – this lesson with me, until I became proficient. I became an expert on the thesis that one could love and care about animals, and be conscious of a human being, without being able to pin the head of a wiper or jump on a crocodile’s back without looking without.
Another great lesson learned along the same lines was that of our Uncle Salim, who would often turn some of us – grand-nieces and nephews – round and round and take us to bird watching. One of his favorite tricks was to point out the sound and ask us which bird it was. We will answer the ignorant: “Saw pigeon!” “Babbler!” Adi will enjoy the moment when he looks at us with disdain and regret, and says, “This is a squirrel”. Or any other non-bird. Once, it was a traditional wooden well winch. As we grew older, his reactions became more harsh and he did not pretend to know.
Life certainly becomes easier, more comfortable, if one lets it show off. The pretense sits on one like a pokey, scratchy, ill-fitting jacket; Very tight at the elbow, misplaced floppy, itchy, ominous. The good news is that anyone can be a nature lover, and enjoy animals and engage deeply in conservation, without knowing everything in the name. According to Bard rose by any other name.
Another interesting lesson from Teacher Time is that often, backyard / kitchen window observations are just as exciting, sometimes compared to what I (secretly) TV-wildlife-watching calls. I have seen a few of them, and if allowed to boast a little, they include several lions in Kruger, visions of rhinos and cheetahs, birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea and lakes in Manya Sarmingmos in Tanzania. But my two favorite animal memories are right here in Chennai; A garden lizard lays its eggs near the Croc Bank canteen, and there are a bunch of whale (monkey) bonnet macaques at one time behind the Snake Park complex in Gunday National Park (then a sanctuary).
Egg lizard garden lizard. Photo by Dnyaneshwar CH
I sat within 3 feet of the garden lizard, digging its nest hole, placed its white eggs, stuffed it, and shook its head against it and dropped it down. She was completely oblivious to me, and due to the loud clumps of our archaic Nikon camera with her roll of black and white film that one had to come back with chirping and whistling. It was a beautiful, private moment; Me and Calotes Versicolor And that made it special and memorable. (I had not greedily informed anyone else.) As she finished her job and got away from that athletic race of lizards, she circled and gave me a friendly “See You Around” look.
Macas was playing in a rain-fed pond, which was lined up on a branch about 10 feet up. It was an ideal diving board. The first person in the queue will jump, swim to the bank, and run back to join the line for the second to go. Meanwhile, the others in the queue become impatient, and push the front man. Sometimes the diver has a panic attack at the last moment, and has to go off the branch, as seen with swimming instructors and their students. what a view!
Our people in the field of conservation will do well to use this lockdown time to see what time has tried to teach us collectively as a country.
What tremendous opportunities we had to protect our wildlife and forests! Why and how did they get lost? According to the cruel truth of Hector Bellioz: “Time is a great teacher but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.” Unavoidable; But before this happens, we can learn a lot – and apply it in our lifetimes. Because of COVID-19, we have the opportunity to do so.
Writer and conservationist Jay Whitaker is managing trustee – Madras Crocodile Bank Trust / Center for Herpetology