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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Home and the Wild

Close encounters with the animal world, from a snake on the sofa to a sunbird at the front door

Updated: January 27, 2014 3:09:23 pm

It’s usually difficult for reptiles and mammals to “home-stay” for long periods of time without being evicted, but it is equally surprising how stubborn they can be — and just not take a hint (or snapping trap). Amongst the most common reptiles staying at home is, of course, the house gecko, with its friendly big black eyes, appreciative nods and lightning darts across the ceiling, after moths and mosquitoes. I am amazed at how many people are terrified of these friendly creatures: they’ll spot one hunting around the porch light and refuse to enter the house.

“They’re excellent cockroach eliminators,” I tell them, though they’re not very convinced and, white-knuckled and white-faced, will keep staring at the ceiling. They really are: I once came across a gecko that was attempting to swallow a roach almost as big as it was. Yes, they do have a rather off-putting habit of laying their eggs in the depths of a sofa, and their wriggly babies can give you the willies as they squirm and scuttle away as you settle down heavily…

There have been snakes twice, once in my bedroom and the second time heh-heh, again on the drawing room sofa… The first, alas, was killed, the second removed, and I was unable (in all the panic and excitement snakes tend to generate) to identify either, though the household helps, of course, were convinced that both were poisonous.

As for birds, easily the most entertainment was provided (many years ago) by two families of house sparrows nesting on either side of my balcony, who got engaged in a furious soap operatic vendetta featuring love triangles, vandalism, much shrieking and culminating in a beak-to-beak combat on the balcony floor that lasted for hours. Alas, though sparrows are still around in our area, they’ve not nested here again. On other occasions, I’ve seen off a baby sparrow on its first flight from the balcony railing and rescued another trying to bash its way through a closet door, after it had fallen out of its nest.

Every spring, sunbirds hover around the bougainvillea creepers and, on one occasion, built their little jhuggi-jhopri dangling from a hanging plant just outside the front door. They were the first thing you saw when you opened the door and didn’t seem to mind it. A laughing dove pair nested in the bougainvillea just outside a bathroom window, so you could watch them while showering. Their single squab grew into the most enormous, revolting looking creature, seemingly larger than its parents, wheezing and guzzling for all it was worth, before presumably it flew off. Juvenile black kites have been rescued several times after they’ve flown into the building: pick them up and they’ll play dead, put them down and they’ll miraculously recover and bustle off. Female koels too have on two occasions flown into the big plate glass windows, possibly while being chased by irate crows; both times it enabled me get a good look at them and both times they recovered and flew off.
Perhaps the most tragic “rescue” was that of a young crested serpent eagle that somehow had landed in the driveway and was being torn apart by monkeys when I reached it. Despite treatment at the bird hospital and being looked after well, it died after a couple of days. Once in a while, peacocks will visit and dance in the garden and peahens will proudly parade their chicks (and show them where the nasturtiums are no doubt).

As for monkeys, they raid the garden regularly — no fruiting or flowering tree
is safe. They have entered the house only once (and shredded all my wildlife magazines) but mercifully are not the nuisance they once were. Rats are. At present, one
has taken a liking to soap, so I’ve instructed soap be put in the traps. Scores have been trapped — and a maid we once had used to chide the ones that got caught for their foolishness… On one occasion, a mouse had trailed toilet paper from the bathroom right down the stairs… It was using the stuff to line its nest inside a cabinet on which the TV set had been placed.

Making itself a home at home. Well, after all that’s what a home stay is all about, isn’t it? n
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher. In this column, he will reflect on the eccentricities and absurdities of nature

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