Monday, November 23, 2009

Wendy, lions and tigers and gentleman.

1. We have a tame robin (Erithancus rubecula). It first appeared when it was quite young: wide beaked and speckled with feathers sticking out at silly angles. Now it has a fine red breast.

When the back door is open it sits on the doorstep then hops into the kitchen as if it were its own house. It hops under the table and daintily picks up all the crumbs and then hops out again. Sometimes it goes further into the house. One day it hopped through the utility room, kitchen, hall, sitting room and into my study where it picked a dead moth from a spider's web, ate it and hopped out again.

When the door is not open it sits in a shrub and crossly tck, tck, tcks at anyone who appears. When it is not foraging it sits in the middle of a thorn bush and practises singing. It sings very quietly with its beak hardly open (bird teenage mumbling) in preparation for the spring when it will sit at the top of the bush and burst into full song.

2. I visit the WHF Big Cat Sanctuary in Smarden. ( They are part of an international programme for breeding Amur Leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis). WHF is one of 40 organisations holding over 100 animals. The programme is planning to release captive-bred animals in the next few years.

There is a female and her two male cubs. The leopards are so aggressive that the adult male has to be caged separately. The male is wonderfully wild and spits and hisses. WHF have a second potential pair of young animals and as there are only about 35 left in the wild this is a vital exercise for the survival of the species.

As I leave I pass a snow leopard (Panthera uncia). I disturb its meal and it glares at me with pure disdain.

3. Rajasthan. Early in the morning we visit a tiny Bishnoi village. It is a collection of thatched single room houses surrounded by fields. Bishnois are followers of Guru Jambheshwar, Jambhoji, who taught respect of the environment and all living things. They live a very simple life and do not kill anything, even to the extent of building their simple homes using only fallen branches. We are received graciously by the head of the village and, as we sip tea, he allows us to take photographs. I wonder what he thinks of us.

Text and pictures by Michael Grant.