Posted by: cochinblogger | February 21, 2011

The Heroine of the Canal

A deserted plot near my workplace that had lain overgrown with bushes, shrubs, and trees for many years was finally cleared. That afternoon when I went to the area, it looked as though it had been carpet-bombed. Among the wreckage on the ground I noticed something interesting. Broken snake’s eggs. And the discarded skin of molting snakes.

As the area had been cleared of all undergrowth, I was able to walk right up to a canal that bounded one side of the plot. I stood there for some time, soaking in the silence punctuated only by bird calls, then turned to return. While walking back, I noticed a movement near a wall, and for a moment couldn’t believe my eyes: There, right in front of me was a beautiful yellow snake! From it’s behavior it seemed to be looking for something. I managed to take a few pictures (see the one at the top of this post).

Here’s a close-up of the head (cropped and enlarged with Smilla Enlarger):

I learned later that this was a yellow rat snake. Rat snakes are usually nocturnal, and I’m sure this snake braved the mid-day sun to look for it’s missing eggs. A true heroine!

I was seeing a wild animal in the flesh in its natural habitat for the first time, and it was an exciting feeling. There was a sense of danger (didn’t know if it was a venomous snake then), but it was subordinated to the thrill of watching the magnificent snake in its natural habitat.

And speaking of danger and wild animals, I’m reminded of a piece titled “Tiger Cave” by Ashish Chandola that I read in The Rumbling Island, a fascinating collection of writings on Indian natural history edited by Zai Whitaker. Ashish is a wildlife photographer, and in his piece writes about photographing tigers at close quarters by hiding in their cave:

It was a cave, large but not very deep, and heavily shaded by a majestic stand of tall sal trees. It rose steeply to over twenty feet at one end and tapered down to the ground at the other. Its floor, covered with sand, was cool and wet from the water of a natural spring underneath. And I must say I have never seen so many tiger tracks in one place. Several males, and a female with cubs! We wasted no time and built a hide at the tapered end of the cave, using stones and boulders just big enough to accommodate the camera, tripod, and me.

Though small, my hide was comfortable enough. It was also quite cool and very dark. To add to this, there was a constant breeze that flowed in my direction from the far end. This made me confident that tigers approaching the shelter would not be able to smell me.

I had five tigers sleeping, resting, and socializing only yards away from me, totally oblivious of my presence. It was only nine-thirty in the morning, and a fascinating tiger day stretched ahead.

I could hardly believe that I had shared a cave with five tigers for close to ten hours!

Having experienced the thrill of seeing a beautiful snake yards away from me, it is understandable how much greater must be the thrill of seeing tigers at such close quarters. But was the risk reasonable? I keep wondering what would have happened if he had sneezed loudly.

But Zai says it best in the introduction to the book: “I’ve rediscovered, for instance, that naturalists don’t seem to have the proper amounts of caution and fear. They think, for example, that sitting in a cave with wild tigers is perfectly normal, which of course it’s not.”

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