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Friday, February 26, 2021

The tiny terrors and big bullies of the animal kingdom

From the teeniest to the most belligerent, a list of creatures best not encountered

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi |
January 24, 2021 6:30:46 am
Dark lord: The crow is the master of mobilising a snatch-and-grab

It’s often thought that animal lovers go gaga over every living creature, but for me, there’s a whole bunch of them whose company I abhor and try to avoid wherever possible. Starting from the smallest and most insidious, we’ll proceed to the big goons.

First on the list has to be mosquitoes, especially those soprano sirens that hover around your ear early in the morning, wailing “Malaria!” Then, of course, flies with big belligerent eyes that will sit on something sickening, suck up muck and land on your fresh piece of toast and have a wash-up. This has to be followed by ticks — the big bulbous kind that will burrow deep in your dog’s ear, sucking blood till they’re like barrage balloons and leaving their heads behind if you take liberties with them. We used to remove them (once in hordes) from our poor Boxer and with vicious delight dump them into a can of kerosene watching them sink and drown. Oh yes, sure they have a role to play in the bigger scheme of things, but not with my dog, thank you! Leeches, too, are a big turn-off – especially the way they scent the air for a blood meal (yours, of course), and then leave the bite site bleeding because of all the anti-coagulants they have injected. Yes, at least they have the courtesy of giving you an anaesthetic as they saw their way through your blood vessels, but they do get into places they have absolutely no right to know about!

I still harbour an automatic “kill on sight” attitude towards centipedes, especially those that come shimmering out of the drain while you’re showering and head towards you, pincers waving evilly. I know these guys are meant to be harmless, but I’d rather not have them scuttle up my legs and take a bite out of me. Others are quite deadly, so it’s better to keep the toilet brush handy.
There are probably many small boys around the world who are besties with cockroaches. I have to admit, looked at dispassionately, some of them can be pretty handsome — of impressive dimensions and clothed in shiny mahogany-date-brown. But man, those feelers waving around inquisitively and that classic cockroach scuttle! Open up a utility hole cover and there’ll be hordes of them, quivering indignantly at this invasion of their privacy.

Little boys also take delight in rats, but while I do understand that rats and bandicoots are but squirrels with scaly tails, I’d rather not have them scuttle over my feet while I’m cooking! I was taken in by one little fellow who perched himself on the sideboard and watched a National Geographic programme on TV with avid interest, but what he and his siblings did to the fruit basket after lights-out, was unforgivable! We’ve had to evict huge joint families of them from the kitchen and garage from time to time and one doting mother had unraveled a whole roll of toilet paper down the stairs with which to line her nest in the depths of an air-conditioner!

Even as an avid birder, I’d rather not get chummy with blue rock pigeons and crows. Looked at in sunlight, the blue-rock is handsome, what with that iridescent purple-and-pink neck and throat and neat grey plumage. But have you seen these so-called “birds of peace” try and rip each other’s throats out as they fight? They’re said to be monogamous, something I find hard to believe because they are perpetually gurgling and pirouetting around one another. Also, they make a stinking mess in your balconies and air-conditioner ducts with vast volumes of poop. Their giant progeny squat in their homes, wheezing petulantly, demanding a non-stop supply of food.

Crows and many other corvids have an unnatural, unsettling glitter in their beady black eyes as they size you up for a snatch-and-grab raid. If you object too strongly, they’ll summon a mob and harass you like love-jihadists.

Among the mammals, the rhesus macaque has to take top place. Yes, babies in their mom’s arms can be very cute, and, sometimes, even the big macho fellows become goofy while playing with youngsters. But they do have incandescent tempers which they lose once every 10 seconds or so, and then matters get really vicious. Look them in the eye at your own peril — they take it as a war cry and will flatten their ears and bare their teeth. And their canines can be larger than those of your Rottweiler! But frankly, they remind me too much of ourselves.
Among the giants, it’s the buffalo I’d rather stay away from. They have belligerent eyes and an unpredictable expression — as if they haven’t quite made up their minds what to do with you. And, of course, those horns that can toss a lion ten feet into the air: I was once buffeted by one and only then realised their brute strength. I’ve always admired those who blithely perch on their backs and take them out grazing. As for me, thanks but no thanks!

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