Friday, 29 July 2011

The fine line

Animal-human skirmishes are recurrent occurrences, typically at forest-settlement boundaries. Such examples abound in the forested, mountainous Western Ghats, where the humans have (legally and illegally) established their dwellings and agricultural fields virtually on the doorsteps of the forest inhabitants. Such conflict can be mainly classified into two:

-When humans encroach (mostly unlawfully) into their territories to collect firewood or forest products (including illegal felling of trees and hunting of deer and rabbits).

-When wild animals stray into the settlements and agricultural lands, usually during times of drought when the streams dry up. In the case of Ponmudi, the Kallar river becomes the focus of such skirmishes: the areas bordering the perennial (but relatively shallow) river continue to be fringed with foliage and both parties wage their battle over the resources. This is further aggravated by humans who illegally harvest wild grasses and reeds (Ochlandra travancorica) during the fair weather. This deficiency and destruction of habitat shifts the animal population towards the fertile agricultural lands with consequences such as attacks by gaurs (Bos gaurus), elephants harvesting plantain and coconut trees, wild boars utilising the cultivated tubers, and bears searching for anything edible. It is not uncommon for deer to end up in cooking pots, resulting in leopards retaliating by feasting on goats, calves, and dogs (!). Similarly, jackals target chickens and there are cases of attacks by tigers too.

In the case of urban wildlife, the boundaries become vaguer. Our family home is located in an area supposed to have been a forest around 150-200 years ago (presumably until a manor was constructed for the Chief Secretary of the government). Since then, it has been transformed into a sector of houses (both old and new), most having limited grounds (those which do have what is termed ‘well-maintained’ grounds, i.e. backyards devoid of trees).

In this instance, I cannot state that humans have ejected the resident wildlife out of their territories- such an event would have happened quite a while ago. The area is still frequented by numerous local and migratory bird species, including kingfishers (who were very fond of our outdoor fish ponds), crow pheasants, kites, kestrels, pigeons, cranes, and herons, as well as palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), mongoose (Herpestidae), squirrels, and bats (to name a few). But such peaceful coexistence is not the norm. A neighbour has made the full use of urban wildlife by laying traps for civet cats and mongoose, both of which end up either in his cooking pan or sold for high prices to vendors of quack medicines (civet cat meat is supposedly a cure for asthma).

Snakes tend to reach deplorable ends, regardless of their nature (poisonous or non-poisonous). Even the rat snake (considered to be auspicious) suffers a terrible plight due to mistaken identity. In our grounds, we’ve had kraits (Bungarus coeruleus) and vipers, apart from a regular ‘visitor’ of nearly four decades- a 6-foot hefty cobra (Naja naja). But recently, after being burdened by just too many reports of snakes nesting in an aged clump of golden palm trees in our front garden (next to our verandah), the parents uprooted the thicket and found, to their surprise, a huge nest of vipers. This brings one to the question- where does one draw the line?

Mongoose caught in the trap of our neighbour

Friday, 22 July 2011

Ariel the lion

There has been some degree of e-interest in the case of Ariel the lion. Ariel is a three year old, 140-kg lion, born in Brazil, in an animal shelter belonging to Raquel Borges. Unfortunately, a year ago, what started as a minor case of limping, within days culminated in an inability to move his hind legs. After a surgery to remove a herniated disc, he lost control of his front legs as well.

Tests failed to diagnose anything and veterinary neurologists from the Hebrew University are to publish their results on Ariel's case later this month. Some hypotheses have been voiced: a debilitating virus, a degenerative/autoimmune disease (potentially affecting his medulla causing the WBCs to attack the normal cells). Other potential causes could be Lactate Dehydrogenase-Elevating Virus which causes extensive destruction of motor neurons (Contag and Plagemann, 1989). One previous study communicated progressive hind limb ataxia, loss of proprioception, and eventual recumbency in five adult cheetahs in an Austrian zoo (Walzer and Kübber-Heiss, 1995), all of which had massive demyelination in their spinal cords. Interesting, the local zoo here in Trivandrum has also battled similar cases (in a leopard and tiger) and similar incidents have been reported in the forests.

His carers have launched a Facebook campaign and website to raise money towards his treatment and upkeep (circa $11,500 per month).

It was illuminating to read some of the responses from the readers, most of whom opined that the owners were cruel and selfish in keeping Ariel alive. As is the viewpoint of many an owner of pets, the consensus edged on euthanising Ariel. Indeed, the animal is in a terrible plight and I commend those who take such diligent care of him. But having been a pet owner for over 25 years, I empathise that it is exceptionally hard to put down a dear pet. Many of my pets (mostly rescued), over the years, have been down similar routes when vets would completely wash their hands off. In many a case, TLC, medicines, perseverance, and patience led them to complete recovery.

Contag, CH and PGW Plagemann (1989). Age-Dependent Poliomyelitis of Mice: Expression of Endogenous Retrovirus Correlates with Cytocidal Replication of Lactate Dehydrogenase-Elevating Virus in Motor Neurons. Journal of Virology, 63 (10), 4362-4369.

Walzer, C and A Kübber-Heiss (1995). Progressive Hind Limb Paralysis in Adult Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 26 (3), 430-435


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