When humans attack

Nobody knows what they are capable of unless the situation demands it. Heroism isn’t hereditary. Circumstances make people do extraordinary things. Most of us would like to think we are capable of some bravery in the face of danger. However, when the threat is posed by a wild animal, valor can be misplaced.

In 2013, during an Indian gaur attack, I ran faster than I ever realized I could. A friend, and a tribal kid were with me. But I didn’t look back to see if they were safe. Instead I took off, leaving a cloud of cartoon smoke. They did too. I knew that if I had turned around, I might have been gored. We were a just few meters away from an alpha gaur. That’s nearly 1000 kilograms of power, agility and anger charging us at an alarming speed.

Sure, I like my friend. The kid had a charming disposition too. But I liked increasing the odds of my survival a lot better.

It turned out that I was the only one who suffered an injury. I shattered my left leg. My ankle felt like it had a kidney stone trying to tear through its bones. Nevertheless, there was a valuable lesson in it for me. Must run faster.

I hear it all the time, from local trekkers, who help me spot animals. They tell me to watch out for myself, in case of a close encounter. They insist that we should go, as quickly as possible, in separate directions. That way the group has a better chance of survival. It isn’t a fight or flight predicament in the wild. Not unless you know what you are doing and/or armed. If nobody has any field experience whatsoever, taking flight is a sound strategy for all involved.

Indian Elephant, Thekkady

Bravery is best reserved for when humans treat each other with spite.

Animal attacks are unfortunate. Some of them involve horrific amounts of pain. It’s sad. But we must share the blame for the bad karma. It is brought upon by, for lack of a better word, speciesism. A history of murder and displacement. Our utter nonchalance for life-forms that communicate in a manner that is alien to us.

Recently I, along with a friend, spotted a family of Nilgiri tahrs on the way to Valparai. These mountain sheep (not goats) are majestic creatures. They are so graceful and unctuously proud about their place in the universe.

Much to our dismay, some of the tourists started pulling over their cars. A bunch of excited families got out, and drew the attention of an alpha male. He zoned out as they pulled out their mobile phones and went selfie-crazy in front him.

They were about 5-7 feet away from him. I kept my anger in check for about a minute. I then walked towards them, and tried to shoo them away. I even claimed to be working for the forest department, and insisted that they vacate the area at once.

They put up some resistance by making ignorant statements about wildlife – in general. I sensed braggadocio, which is one of the reasons I hate traveling with men. I hurled back a few expletives at them while suggesting that they shut up and behave. One of them offered, with malice, his middle-finger as they drove off.

Standing there, fuming, I wished one of the tahrs, preferably the big guy, had gored some sense into them. I kept thinking what a wonderful lesson that would have been. An abdominal scar in the shape of the sharp end of a horn to remind them to treat animals with respect.

Nilgiri Tahr, Valparai

Animals have every right to be mad at us. We have pillaged their homes and stolen their children for profit. Dried up their rivers and disrupted their natural behaviour. We have remained mute spectators to violent and discriminatory practices in the name of commerce and comfort.

I swear, the day the tiger goes extinct – if I am still around – I am going to wear a party hat and gore everyone in sight.

My advice is that, in case of an animal attack, do everything you can to get away from its line of offence. If it’s a large creature, like a gaur or an elephant, run downhill. Use their body weight against them. If it’s a leopard, flay your arms over your head or hold a stick over it. Be noisier and more intimidating.

Lion-Tailed Macaque, Valparai

But if you end up on the ground, gasping a last lungful of air – nursing a neck wound or having your internal organs squished under a heap of flesh – don’t panic. It will all be over soon, hopefully. You won’t die a coward. You are more than a mere statistic. You are a victim of ignorance and arrogance. Not just yours. The blood will be on our all hands.

You should know that it wasn’t the animal’s fault. May they roam safe and free. And the stars were innocent too. May they blink effortlessly, and endlessly.

It was always us, maaaaaaaaaaan.

(Photographs: Kodaikanal, Thekkady, Valparai)

A few days ago, I was surprised to find out that Cheri Lucas, one of the editors at WordPress.com, had featured VerseHerder in her blog, and on Twitter. She added a lovely note too.

Obviously this wouldn’t have been possible without you coming here and listening to my stories about birding and life in my city of Chennai. You have been so warm and endearing about sharing yours, as well.

It’s been a treat like no other. Thank you so much.

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14 comments

  1. The animals are deprived of food and water and so they have started entering the human settlements. What will they do?
    ‘ If it’s a leopard, flay your arms over your head or hold a stick over it.’ In ‘Gods must be crazy II’, the child does it!

    We had visited Vaalpaarai recently and have posted pictures of beautiful gaurs. But we stayed far away. I feel sorry for the animals.

    Take care.

    I was not able to read the words which have gone inside the photos. Can you check pl.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just revisited that scene from the movie! Thanks for the whimsical reminder, nanba.

      You’re right about encroachment. It’s funny how property laws start and end with only our species being allowed to ascertain ownership.

      Also, did you mean you weren’t able to read the captions? I generally don’t give them, only titles that carry the name of the species and its geography.

      Like

  2. Congratulations on the mention! You write so beautifully. 🙂

    I’ve always wanted to ask, and I thought of this again when I read what the editor had to say: “…to life in India.” Do you consciously try to give a primer of sorts for your non-Indian readers when you write about uniquely Indian things?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Anu, for the constant encouragement!

      To answer, yes I do at times. I just mask it as personal bafflement in case of the bad, and wonderment – when it’s good. I am unsure though about uniqueness. Cultures may vary but how insufferably different, are we? (Smile)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully written. I think it is a combination of being cruel and dumb that makes some humans so annoying. Animals are way smarter than some humans. When college educated people start commenting ‘but the fish was already dying ‘ on the FB images of a beached whale that died thanks to the idiots who stood on it for a picture, you kind of fear the ignorance of some members your species. Fear that some day, their stupidity will destroy everything including the world we live in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      Animals are indeed smarter and more resilient, it sucks that they are going extinct in silos despite being well- equipped to adapt. I reckon that we are made the universe less like it was intended to be, maybe.

      As for the nincompoops who claimed that the “fish was dying” – I hope someone smacks them over the heads and tell them that whales are not fishes.

      Like

  4. I like to think you are contracted by the animals. A human scribe. An initiated. A translator of a far superior culture into human language for a baser population. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehehe that sounds like a dream job, dear friend. I’ll tell you this, I don’t consider myself above this parasitical nature, maybe just an observer with a cultural hangover!

      Thanks again, Madhu, for the cherubic hypothesis (smile)

      Liked by 1 person

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