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Animal stories

Animal stories

THE family of sunbirds left a few days ago, and their abandoned nest resembles a derelict house in the neighbourhood. Swimming lazily on my back these last few days, I had been watching the parents dart to and fro, carrying morsels of food to their two chicks.

The nest had been woven like a closed basket with an entrance on the side. Suspended from a branch, it swayed precariously in the wind, and I feared it might come crashing down any minute. But it was far sturdier than I had imagined.

Our greatest worry, however, was the interest our two cats had shown in the birds. As soon as one of them neared the nest, the parents would begin chirping agitatedly, and somebody would rush to the rescue and shoo the cat away. A nearby bench was moved away to make a feline attack a bit harder.




Just as we were getting tired of our constant vigilance, the chicks were able to fly, and the family moved off. But now that we can lower our guard, I must say I miss their presence.

The cats have returned to sleeping much of the day, often close to me under the fan when I’m on the computer. Usually, they are surrounded by our five beach dogs who snooze peacefully until their slumber is disturbed by a call for a meal or a walk. They are in doggie heaven, just as I am as close to paradise as I am likely to get.

Our magnificent red cockerel struts around, surrounded by his harem of six chickens. In return for being left alone to peck in the garden, they give us a few fresh eggs for breakfast. And so life moves along gently in our beach house on the southern coast of Sri Lanka.

In the neighbouring properties, a large number of peacocks have taken up residence, and set up an infernal din with their raucous mating cries.

The only reason they don’t enter our garden is the presence of our dogs: they may leave the cats alone, but a flapping peacock is too tempting to resist.

When we drive around the island, we are often struck by the diversity of wildlife, and the presence of so many colourful birds is a constant source of joy. The reason for this abundance is a complete ban on hunting. Few gun licences are issued under a strict policy that limits the spread of firearms. Despite a long and bloody civil war, guns are seldom visible, even with security guards in Colombo.

In fact, had we had tougher gun laws in Pakistan, the pangolin killed by a security guard in Karachi recently might still have been alive. As it is, these poor animals have been hunted close to extinction in Asia due to a voracious Chinese appetite for their flesh.

Elephants are another species under threat because of the Chinese market for ivory.

A couple of years ago, a large consignment of elephant tusks from Kenya was intercepted in Colombo. The Rajapakse government dithered: despite pressure from conservationists to destroy the tusks, Buddhist monks were demanding them to adorn their temples.

However, the new government stood firm and destroyed the entire lot consisting of 1.5 tons of the precious tusks worth millions of dollars.

In Pakistan, however, our few elephants have not fared well in captivity: in the capital’s zoo, the solitary pachyderm is shackled around the clock. I only wish the zoo director could be chained up next to the beast.

And things look bleak for the poor houbara bustard, the migratory bird that winters in our unfriendly land. For some weird reason, Gulf Arabs are convinced of the aphrodisiac powers of the flesh of this scrawny bird, and have been hunting it with great gusto for years, despite its vulnerable status on the IUCN list of endangered species.

After much lobbying and many protests, the absurd policy of permitting Arab princelings to hunt bustards in parts of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, was finally ended by a Supreme Court judgement.

At last, we thought, the rule of law would apply to the government and to our Arab friends who would now have to make do with Viagra.

But the government had the case reopened, taking the plea that permitting Arabs to hunt the poor bustard was a “foundation stone of our foreign policy”. Lo and behold, the earlier judgement has been set aside and it is open season on the threatened species once more.

One reason life is so hard for animals in Pakistan is that children are not taught to respect all forms of life as they are in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

The first instinct of young Pakistani boys when they see a dog in the street is to look for a stone to throw at it.

If we can’t protect a poor pangolin, what chance do the minorities have?

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Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2016

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