How do we react when we see or meet different animals? What do we think of their characters? Naturally, that depends on the animal. Here’s what my own spontaneous reactions and opinions are on various species, both wild and domesticated.
Tiger: Awe is the first reaction. Its carriage, gait, the black flames on its rich rufous body, the sheer, arrogant self-confidence it displays. And then, of course, when it growls or snarls, like a submarine’s diesel engine, you feel the liquidiser revving up in your belly, ready for flight.
Lion: In spite of its shaggy mane and apparent nobility, it makes its wives do all the dirty and dangerous day-to-day work, while his lordship sleeps off the latest meal. It has no table manners either, and will cuff even cubs away from the table. So thanks, but no thanks!
Leopard: Stunning to look at but keeps all your nerves (and muscles) tingling and taut. It can disappear like Houdini, so you have to keep your wits about you and watch your back.
Rhesus macaque: The city-based macaque is a thug. It needs desperate anger management and probably suffers from high blood pressure which yo-yos manically. Occasionally, big dada males can display tender affection towards babies — but this is only to win brownie points with the ladies, who hold the real power in a group.
Gorilla: With its eternal frown, and slow, deliberate movements and gentle-looking eyes, even the silverback can be endearing. Makes you suspect that behind that massive sumo-wrestler physique beats a tender, marshmallow heart, until it stands up, beats its chest and charges at you.
Chimpanzee: Shrewd and card-sharp, this one keeps you on your toes at it calculates its chances of being able to take the mickey out of you. In spite of its laughing face, it can be horrendously cruel and violent, especially when teamed up with its gang, like a hairy, knuckleduster mob looking to lynch.
Orangutan: Those eyes are irresistible, aren’t they? As is the gentle permanent smile, like monks that have attained nirvana. Beware; even as one may hug you and slobber you with a kiss, it will slyly pick your pocket: A past master at seducing you with sweetness.
Elephants: Their size may be intimidating, but they have lovely smiles, a swaying, sashaying gait, and twinkling eyes (for the most part), and a calmness which suggests long hours of yoga and meditation.
Rhinos: I love their baby faces! They’re chubby and cute, even if clad in armour and are able to roll at 45 kmph and do handbrake turns. These are real heavyweight ballerinas, whose fuses, however, are notoriously short, so appearances can be deceptive.
Wolves: Handsome, but those glinting eyes are plainly untrustworthy — cunning and calculating.
Cats (domestic): Friends tell me cats can be as affectionate and loving as dogs. But, whenever one jumps in my lap and purrs, why do I keep thinking that it is going to slip its claws out and swipe me one across the face and stalk off, tail up?
Dogs (domestic): They have the eyes, the smiles, the madly wagging tails and the ability never to hold a grudge (for any length of time): they’ll greet you exuberantly like a long-lost friend after even a five-minute absence or a scolding. Which spouse, partner or friend does that?
Hippos: They look so foolish, don’t they? With their little piggy eyes and tiny ears; and forever yawning in each others’ faces, bumbling through mud and water snorting? And then slyly sinking under and heading straight for you. The most dangerous animal in all of Africa — surely there could have been a less clumsy, sleeker-looking contender.
Wild boar: Bristly, snorty, very swift on their legs, and oh-so-deliciously ugly that they’re beautiful! They smile with their tusks. Watch a wild boar scratch its back on a rock in a mud hole and you’ll learn the meaning of true bliss. Piglets on the run are hilarious, although they might not think so if they have a tiger behind them.
Wild Buffalo: Belligerent, in-your-face and totally unpredictable. Given to extremes, they will either stampede away or charge en masse: Always sensible to keep at least a mile between you and them.
Horses: (Wild and domestic): They look gorgeous when they run, don’t they? But, really, how much respect can you have for an animal that rolls its eyes, rears up in panic and flees every time it sees a piece of paper fluttering in a hedge? I have no idea how warhorses were made, but it shows that anything is possible.
Donkeys: Anyone who beats a donkey should be locked away for good. How can anyone raise a hand against an animal that looks so sad? Poor donkeys have much to be sad about — their lives as beasts of burden, for instance. No wonder some turn mulish.
Bears: Bears seem inscrutable and sound incoherent when they do growl or roar or whatever.
(More animals next week)
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher.