Wildbuzz: Oh my love, my darling

The terrified Jungle cat kitten’s throat was parched, her ‘meows’ cracking and at their last strains. Mommy was not responding. The barks of the hounds encircling her were deafening. Any minute now and this cutie pie fur ball would be reduced to mangled shreds, no mommy to rescue her or lament her premature passage to death. And, then, Nature’s miracle… Birder and cat lover, Kunal Gokhale, chanced upon the siege while chasing kestrels and orioles. Five stray dogs hailing from the adjacent slum colony were shooed off and Kunal emitted mesmerising, reassuring sounds. Promptly, the kitten came out of the bushes and attached herself to Kunal’s shoes, sniffing them for a sense of safety.

The tiny, hungry creature had sensed that a saviour had come her way, out of the blue. In the kitten’s eyes glimmered a gleam of hope like a distant star. In Kunal’s eyes, intense love shone like a full moon, glazed over by a mist of tears yet to fall. A feeling of ‘mamta’, an irrepressible urge to protect this innocent, helpless waif and reunite her with the mother took possession of the androgynous soul. He took her in his lap and she soon drifted to sleep. In other words, the noblest quality of humanity – empathy – had overwhelmed the situation.

Despite his best efforts over the next two nights, Kunal could not unite the kitten and the mother though the orphan has survived in the care of the RESQ Charitable Trust. Mommy was possibly killed by dogs or the kitten had wandered too far from her den while mommy was away hunting to nourish her yielding teats.

The incident took place earlier this month in the heart of Pune, Maharashtra, on the verdant Vetal Tekdi hill. But the theme bears a resonance throughout India as stray dogs (or man’s companion animals) increasingly butcher, harass and spread disease in wildlife populations. They act as advance scouts of man’s annexation and beastly gang rape of a mute wilderness. “We don’t know what number of wild fauna the dogs have already killed but they are a constant threat to peafowls, hares, mongoose, Jungle cats, Barking deer, civets etc,” Kunal told this writer.

Mommy knows best

Folk tales and myths tend to demonise foxes as cunning, vile creatures. But the Indian fox mommy at Chhatbir zoo is a smart cookie. She has outwitted the efforts of the officials to get a decent picture of her three lockdown pups born in the torturous summer of 2020. The authorities were keen to procure pictures of the pups to showcase this rare species of the region because whenever visitors went near the enclosure, mommy would whisk away the pups into the burrow den. The good news is that mommy and daddy were caught with their pants down recently, ie mating again, and the next, post lockdown litter may be in the offing!

Mommy fox’s sharpest early warning systems are her long, pointed ears that swivel like an airport radar in an arc of 120 degrees catching and processing the smallest sound. The second she detects movement towards the enclosure from 30-40 metres away, the family vanishes from sight. Even while sun basking with her eyes closed, mommy’s ears are constantly moving to detect any disturbance in the environment around the enclosure. The authorities put up a CCTV camera but she was very suspicious of the alien object in the enclosure. She has even dragged the two blankets into the burrow and regularly takes the chicken and boiled eggs food put in the open by the zoo keeper right down.

“While are very happy the foxes are breeding, they have defied all our schemes to photograph the pups,” Chhatbir field director M Sudhagar told this writer.

In the meanwhile, let us have a glimpse of what fox pups look like in the wilderness till such time as zoo pictures materialise!

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