Of late, there’s been heated debate on cruelty to animals in regard to our interaction with them. Natural history television programmes are replete with episodes showing macho rednecks wrestling with giant crocs, or trying to pin down Burmese pythons or wrangling with angry sharks at the end of a line. And then there’s this mania about riding bucking broncos and heifers and bull fighting and all its variants.
I was just wondering, what if the animals decided to get a bit of (cultural and traditional, of course) entertainment at our expense and would these acts be seen as being cruel to human beings? You be the judge.
Elephants, of course, could have a great deal of fun. Their remarkable trunks have thousands of muscles; they can take down trees or pluck a single down feather from a duckling’s breast. But would they be able to extract our teeth one by one? A tooth for a tooth, you know, just poetic justice, nothing personal. Or would they need to lever our teeth out using their massive tusks and make a complete hash of our faces in the process? Of course, one big foot would pin us down while they got to work so we couldn’t squirm. They could also hold competitions over guessing how many foot pounds of pressure they would need to apply to crack our ribs or splinter our hips or how far they could throw us after twirling us around their heads using the best techniques of Olympic discus throwers.
Tigers and other big cats could amuse themselves no end by sprawling over us and then with their paws inches from our eyes, extend and retract their claws, like someone operating a flick knife and give us an eye-popping close-up of their canines as well as lungfuls of hot carnivorous halitosis. Staring at us with those implacable amber-gold eyes blazing one message: “Enjoying this, sonny boy?” And all the while, rumbling deep down in their bellies in that way that instantly switches on a liquidiser in your tummy. To scratch a fair cheek or not, ah, that is the question! Or simply, they could just track you in the dead of night, giving the odd growl or roar from time to time, while right behind you. Such entertainment it would provide! And then, of course, there’s the famous cat and mouse game they could play; trip you up and let the kids have a go…time and again… Not hurting you too much, of course (but with exuberant cubs around, sorry, they get carried away sometimes!).
Imagine the cheap thrills bulls and rhinos could give themselves playing “Emergency Brakes!” There you are, pinned against a wall, and they come pounding at you full pelt, heads lowered. (You’ve seen this in films, with cars — but cars have good brakes. These fellows?) The ground trembles, the dust billows behind them in a mushroom cloud as they top 50 kmph, there’s no sign of them slowing down — or wanting to. And then they lock all four feet… When you open your eyes, the brute is snorting in your face, that great aphrodisiacal horn tickling your chest. Or you’re pinned between the bull’s horn-span, while the crowd (like in a Gary Larson, Far Side cartoon) goes berserk: “Encore! Encore! Ole! Ole!”
As for those unpredictable ill-tempered hippos, they could hold competitions seeing if they can swallow you up whole — while you’re standing up! Just to see whose gape is the widest!
Those great gentle orcas or “killer” whales as we call them, whose natural swimming pool is the ocean and who we keep in tanks and make them kiss blonde bombshells, they might have a problem. They’re known to whack seals around like footballs, while hunting them — literally playing with their food, so you can imagine the kind of “badmanton” (apologies for the appalling if irresistible pun) they could play with us. They’d send us into orbit with a single whack. But, alas, they’ve never been known to deliberately kill a human being and don’t seem to want to start now or anytime soon. So they’ll just have to content themselves by gently capsizing our boats and then rescuing those blonde bombshells floundering in the water by giving them the kiss of life with their blowholes.
The smaller animals could have a ball too. I’ve seen a tiny little mouse make a full-grown man scramble onto the furniture, so can you imagine what a good time a brace of bandicoots would have running relay races up and down your trouser legs? Or mongooses? Or ferrets or weasels?
But, of course, it’s the creepy crawlies that would — and do — get the biggest bang for their bucks. Mosquitoes spending opera nights in your ear, flies crawling into every orifice like people entering the Metro, leeches humping into unspeakable places and clamping themselves there like tire clamps, maggots just wriggling en masse, cockroaches just being who they are, centipedes undulating like waves of sheer horror, spiders, scorpions, wasps, all just humming and thrumming and having a good time. They don’t even have to bite or sting, just being around us will provide them with enough screams, thrills and entertainment for a lifetime. And how cruel is that!
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and birdwatcher