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How to enter into a relationship with the wild

To be around wildlife is a wonderful feeling, if one is mindful of the boundaries

Written by Ranjit Lal |
May 30, 2021 6:20:33 am
ranjit lal, lionLion-hearted: It requires a special kind of courage to pet a full-grown beast even if one has raised it from when it was a squalling runt (Source: Ranjit Lal)

HOW EXACTLY do you “bond” with the creatures ofthe natural world? Apart from the three dogs, I have never formed a “relationship” with any other creature, except, maybe, with the pair of goldfish I had to look after and who’d begun recognising me only because, I suspect, I fed them. Decades ago, my sister raised a baby squirrel that had fallen out ofits wrecked nest. She even took it to the convent school she attended (so that it could have a good education) and let it run free when it was old enough: it spent the days outdoors and came back home in the evenings until presumably it found its partner.

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You only have to check YouTube or the nature channels on TV to realise that there seems to be an army of people out there who have dedicated their lives into forming relationships with crocodiles, octopuses, gorillas, lions, tarantulas, eagle-owls, anteaters and what have you. Something clicked when these people saw their first baby otter or naked mole rat and they decided, yes, this is for me, I’m going to spend the rest of my working life making sure they have a future.

Famously Jane Goodall, Birute Galdikas and the late Dian Fossey did this with chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas, and, of course, the late Joy Adamson began the trend with lions. Nowadays, you have these gung-ho jocks, who saunter into enclosures full oflions, wolves or hyenas (which, usually, they’ve raised from cub-hood after rescuing from certain death), mock-wrestle with them and tell us that this is when they are most happy, and all their cares and worries just vanish.

Hmm… I would worry if a giant male lion began playfully putting my head in his mouth, even ifI’d raised him from the time he was a squalling runt but then…. Divers have been getting cosy with sharks, telling us that they mean no harm and like being petted. Orphaned elephant calves when rehabilitated back into the wild will recognise their “keepers” long afterward. Mama big cats have been known to bring out and show offtheir babies to people who have cared for them.

Of course, forming this kind of bond usually takes a working lifetime, but there are short-term relationships that can also happen. People around the world have rescued baby birds at some point or another, fed them a hundred times a day (how do you find enough caterpillars?), had them nibble their earlobes, watched them fledge and fly away when all grown up. I can vouch (after attending a bird-netting session years ago) that there’s no feeling better than that of giving a bird its freedom, opening up your palms and watching it whirroffin a blur of happy wings.

Also, there’s no real need to dedicate your entire life to finding out why the lady mantis chews up her husband’s head during their honeymoon (it’s now being said, most mantis ladies don’t do this — another canard spread by men?). One way of establishing a relationship with the local wildlife is simply to begin feeding it regularly, though that makes the animals dependent on you. In their natural state, they would probably run away. But, rhesus macaques in towns and cities have forgotten how to find their own fare and depend on people to throw them banana and papaya parties, suffer from obesity, and throw tantrums when the goodies don’t arrive in time! It might give you a warm feeling to have the local bird and small animal population — say parakeets, sparrows, munias and squirrels — perch on your head and examine your ears for hidden peanuts. To be acknowledged by a wild creature is wonderful.

Then there are those — alas, also celebrated on nature programmes —whose take is simple: Every single creature or “critter” in the wild has you as No.1 on its hit list! A tarantula aching to sink its fangs into you, a spitting cobra dying to give you an eyeful, or bears, buffaloes, elephants and big cats that want to rend you asunder! Even domesticated animals — horses, goats, cattle, elephants, dogs, cats and donkeys —may suddenly try to kick your teeth in or bite off your ears. So, beware at all times, and get rid of the critter. try not to interfere with the goings-on around me, but not when the peacocks and monkeys invade the garden, or when there’s an injured bird fluttering on the lawn. But I will not butt in ifI see a cat stealthily stalk a babbler or pigeon, hoping that its hunt will be successful, or that the silly bird will see the danger and fly away in time!

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