Archive for the ‘CME’ category

The Reptile Rescue Squad – Baby Cobra

11 July 2011

Story by Aditi Baindur

by Aditi Baindur

The phone rang, it was Abhinav Chawla Uncle to speak to Dad! But Dad was out walking the dog! Abhinav Uncle told me that there was a cobra in his room. When Dad got back, I once again pleaded to come along reminding him of how I had helped him rescue the Russell’s Viper. Reluctantly he agreed but ONLY if I obeyed him without exception.

The Baby Cobra in the basket

Gathering our kit, we got into our car and reached Chawla Uncle’s room next to the tennis courts. Chawla Uncle was standing outside adjusting his camera and his lenses – he is a very enthusiastic photographer. Apparently Chawla Uncle’s passion for photography was known to the subordinate staff, one of whom had caught a baby cobra and brought it to him for photography, no doubt excepting some “traditional” fauji appreciation (bottle of rum).

The basket he brought it in was one of the fruit baskets made of thin bamboo slats and which had disintegrated with the cobra inside it. The basket was intact with the snake trapped in it but lifting it or moving it would most probably cause it to fall apart and the baby cobra to escape. Chawla uncle neded Dad’s help to to photograph and then release the snake.

The baby cobra raises its hood

Now, baby snakes are delicate. A hard grip can easily damage their slender jaw bones or their soft internal organs with a lingering painful death following. Yet a baby cobra is venomous from the moment it is born, a miniature version of its parents. Now dad is unfazed by large, strong snakes but handling a juvenile venomous snake calls for a different set of technique. So we did what every person who is out of his depth should do – call in an expert. In this case, the expert was Dad’s good friend Col Christopher Rego who is posted in the Bombay Sappers. Dad and Chris Uncle were YOs room-mates.

The handsome juvenile

Chris Uncle came onto the scene – fortunately he was free that evening.We procured another basket while he was on the way – this time akin to those used by snake charmers.

Chris uncle took the bottom half of the snake charmer’s basket and reverted it on a piece of cardboard. He then had it propped open with a shoe and slid it close to the fruit basket now on its last legs. He offered the entrance under this basket as a new sanctuary for the snake while disturbing it from the other end with a snake stick. The baby cobra bought the trick and slid under the new basket. Then uncle flipped the cardboard over and placed the top cover before the infant realised what was happening.

Chris uncle shows the cobra to some kids who were watching.

We then took the baby cobra to the Demonstration ground where the snake could not escape and adequate safety distances are available. Contrary to urban legend, man can easily outrun snakes. Here Christopher Uncle showed Dad and Chawla Uncle the correct technique to catch baby cobras without endangering oneself and without hurting it. Then we released the baby snake in the marshes nearby and it immediately swam into a large puddle and entered a hole just to be sure we could not recapture it again.

Another Babushka!

9 May 2010

The little pink snake

Its rescue season in CME! The last time it was a lissom damsel, now its a teeny toddler but with all the attitude of an adult.

My daughter Aditi and her friend Sunayana  were cycling along the CME Lake road when they came across a small pink strand moving next to the road. It was a baby snake. Naturally Daddy-O was called upon to drop whatever was doing and come to rescue it!

When I remarked mildly that the snake was in its natural habitat and that nothing need be done, animal-loving Aditi pointed out the dry grass-less environs, two stray dogs nosing the bushes on the other side of the road, some jungle crows perched above and the clear daylight which would highlight the baby to those out looking for a snack.

The miniscule snake found itself ensconced between two Grecian Goddesses armed and ready to war with those who considered a small snake as an item on the Bill of Fare. It was having none of this,  it formed a coiled S shape with the front part of its body,  flattened its body and lunged with its tiny yaw at the girls in turn, quite oblivious to the fact that it’s gape was too small to even hold onto a proffered finger. While I drove to meet them, the snake kept them busy with its tiny antics.  The girls passed the time in IMPORTANT DEBATE! The snake, they decided was a female and accordingly they named it Gaga after the latest goddess in pop music. Unfortunately for the girls, a brief cloudburst drenched all three before I could reach there! Finally, I reached and their vigil was over.

Gaga - the feisty little trinket snake! Note the S-shape coil and laterally flattened neck.

They watched with great concern as I nonchalantly  picked the little pink snake up by its tail and dropped it into my butterfly net. Soaking wet, they leafed through my copy of Whittaker & Captain and correctly identified it as a juvenile Common Trinket Snake (Elaphe helena).

Home the snake came, to be photographed and released in our garden in a clump of bushes and grass next to our concrete pond bordered with a small stand of bulrushes.

A damsel in distress!

20 April 2010

A damsel in distress!

An unusual damsel, extremely beautiful, touchy and unlike the normal variety – highly dangerous in reality. She was found wandering around behind the bachelor’s quarters. The bachelors were loth to keep her but feared her vicous temper.

Sadly, if any one other than Abhinav had spotted her first, it would have been her end! Serendipity ensured that there was a basket of the kind that snake-charmers use in a pile of odds and ends in the cubby hole under the stairs. Placing it on top of her and sliding a cardboard below, he deftly trapped her.

It was a young Indian Cobra – Naja naja.

Since she was kept for a few hours only, no attempt was made to feed her and the basket was kept in a quiet place away from disturbance.

In the words of the late Steve Irwin, "Ain't she a beauty!"

Then the experts were called in, or rather, my friend Christopher was called in and I accompanied him. We took her to the wild area of CME to release her. En route, Chris, who is an expert though cautious snake catcher, taught us the correct technique to catch her.

One has to take great care with young poisonous snakes – the head has to be held firmly from behind and above. Too much pressure and you could fatally injure the young creatures. Too little pressure, you risked the little creature getting free from your grip and biting you.

Svelte & sundar!

The cobra was released near a stream and she went and hid in a hole under water.

A note of caution – don’t try to bootstrap yourself into catching snakes. Learn from the experts and that too with non-poisonous snakes. There number of snake-experts and scientists who have died from snake-bite is very large. The only need to catch a poisonous snake is for its own welfare – when you need to rescue it from Man and take it to sanctuary.

On the road to precious freedom!


Since I am a reputed m.c.p., I refer to the young snake as a female. The truth is we do not know whether the snake was male or female. The technique of determining the sex of the snake can injure it if done by other than experts. Since our only requirement was take the creature to safety, this was not attempted.

An avuncular Christopher shows local kids that snakes are lovable creatures too.

Image Credits : Abhinav Chawla. Released by him under Creative Commons License 3.0 Share-alike (Unported).

P.S. Strangely between the writing of this post and its publishing,  I had to interrupt the dinner party I was hosting to rescue a Russel’s Viper. Unbelievable? Yet true!

The CME wetlands are featured on DNA

24 March 2010

The CME wetlands have been featured today on page 2 of the DNA Newspaper (Pune edition). The occasion had been a visit on 7th March 2010 by the students of an extra-mural ecology course conducted by  Dr Prakash Gole’s Ecological Society. Our wetlands have featured prominently. Authored by Rahul Chandawarkar, a reporter and columnist with DNA.

Image credit & copyright : DNA Pune Edition. Click on the image to enlarge.

Comb-ducks at a limpid pool

18 March 2010

There is a quiet spot in the CME wetlands – where people do not go and where the dreaded water weeds have not yet come. Here the Blue Kingfisher flashes chestnut as he shoots across the clearing. Openbill storks roost every night in a tree along with herons and egrets and other storks. Just below the tree are many bushes, one of them Lantana. With the setting of the sun come the Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) who sip the nectar from the little pink and yellow Lantana flowers, enjoying the last vestiges of cool weather before they vanish till the next winter.

A yellow sunset over a pond with silhouettes of trees along the horizon.

Below the roost is a pond inhabited by those residents of CME who like the quiet life. Here the Spotbill population finds its headquarters, the Common Moorhen picks its way amongst the reeds and fish plop and create small ripples in the enjoyable silence. A hint of a fragrance from  the pale green flowers of a tree add a master’s touch to this nature’s composition.  At the end of a summer day, the crimson glow through the leaves colours the water rippled by the swimming of ducks.

Abhinav and I were there to pay obeisance to the Spotbill monarch when two white patches shone  in the fading light  on a bank opposite where the legions of Spotbill lay snoozing, bill under wing. At first they were indistinguishable; peering through a binoculars  resolved them to be two large white duck with green-black markings, one of which had a curious growth on its beak, proclaiming to the world that they were Comb Duck or Nakta, a pair (Sarkidiornis melanotos).

A white Nakta female and two grazing Spotbill duck against the pond shore in the evening light.

Female Nakta

They had decided to grace this small hidden spot which fitted their requirements. Attempts to photograph them were not successful as we did not have a suitable lens. A record shot is all that we could manage.

One of the strange misshapen looking ducks, the Nakta is found in Amazonia, equatorial Africa and Madagascar as well as South and Southeast Asia.  Though having a wide range and hence not considered threatened, Comb Duck numbers are declining all over the world. They frequent well-wooded wetlands and usually nest in tree-holes, a habitat becoming rarer by the day. Shy of humans, they are easily disturbed.

A pair of Nakta on a United Nations postage stampThis gave me great happiness for two reasons. The trivial one was that our bird count went up by one more. The more important reason – it showed us that the CME wetland is vibrant and healthy – a rare thing in India today.

I pray to mother nature and all our Gods and Goddesses that this couple find this spot suitable and they be permitted to raise their family for many years to come undisturbed.

Image credits.

  • Nakta stamp – Kjell Scherling ( : Reproduced under fair use.
  • Sunset & female Nakta – Abhinav Chawla (license Creative Commons Sharealike-attribute 3.0 unported).

Oranges streaks on a green canvas!

26 September 2009
Wherever the lands not cropped, an orange blaze is seen.

Wherever the land is not cropped, an orange blaze is seen.

Each season brings a new colour or fragrance to our campus.  Over the past month, banks of tall orange wild flowers have grown in a number of places. One kind is a bright orange bloom at the end of tall stalks, all of which may be seen looking up to the sun in admiration.

A field full of Cosmos.

A field full of Cosmos.

This is the common garden flower, the Cosmos sulphureus, which has escaped the clutches of formal gardens and established itself in many places around Pune district.

A beutiful bloom indeed!

Cosmos! A beautiful bloom indeed!

Last year, banks of Cosmos could be seen edging the cricket field adjoining the OI,  near the D Flats, behind F Combat, en route to the Lake Park and on many other grassy verges around CME. This year they are resplendent off the main driveway from the gate to HQ building and along the road from Bopkhel to the Subway.

The other kind of orange flower which is blooming in the wild after escaping from captivity, is the Tithonia rotundifolia, which is a darker orange and more conventional in looks.

Tithonia, a darker and different flower highlighting CME.

Tithonia, a darker and different flower highlighting CME.

It can be seen near the Lake Park, on the road to the Engineer Regiment or on the Bopkhel-Subway road.

They add such a blaze of colour which reminds of the summer and monsoon are almost gone and spring is around the corner.

Let us take a lesson from nature’s swathes of orange against the earthy canvas.  Our gardens are a part of nature around us. We can keep out the wild weeds which enter the gardens from outside, but you cannot stop nature completely.  She can and will move plants across the garden fence into the wild yonder.

Tethonias frame a few weaver bird nests! This year the weavers are busy, busy, busy!

Tethonias frame a few weaver bird nests! This year the weavers are busy, busy, busy!

The turtle who went walkabout!

29 August 2009

This is a short story of a tortoise who went for a long walk. In fact, who went for a very long walk on the CME campus. If you do things like that, you may very soon find that you are back where you started from and on top of that named ‘Myrtle’.

One morning I got a call at office from a friend. His daughter Shreya had found a tortoise in the garden. What, he asked, should be done? Naturally, I felt, it had to be restored to its habitat.

Going home, I picked up my tortoise books –

  • “Indian Turtles – A Field Guide” by Indraneil Das
  • “the Book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians” by J.C. Daniels.

and ventured forth. My daughter Aditi, an inveterate invertebrate inthusiast, accompanied me on this trip.

When we reached my friend’s house, I found the ‘exalted visitor’ on the pavement surrounded by all the kids from the neighbourhood.

Before you scratch your grey (or is it gray) cells wondering what kids were doing there and why they were not at school when I had been at the office, I have only three words for you –

“Swine Flu in Pune!”

Do I hear some one say, “Four not three…!”

I can’t count!  Never could.

Shreya holding the turtle she discovered.

Shreya holding the turtle she discovered.

Predictably, the turtle had withdrawn itself into its shell. The back was coloured “muddy-shoddy, grey, brown, black, ochre”. It had three black  stripes on its head.

Black streaks on the head

Black streaks on the head

I turned it over and said “Aha!”

( Aha = Its got flaps to hide its legs under! See the black-edged half crescents on the left half. It’s the Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata). Now I can appear learned and quite the expert! )

The downside of up! This flapshell turtle upended.

The downside of up! This flapshell turtle upended.

The kids were excited as I told them more about the turtles a la Messrs Das & Daniels.

It was an angry turtle – aware, wary, alert and fast. No sooner had I put it then a knobby, ridgy fore-leg with three claws emerged. To you and me they may look grotesque as compared to say cute kitties and puppies, but to a turtle – lover   I’m sure these are as fascinating to a turtle over as  female feet are to Quentin Tarantino!

The turtle emerges....

The turtle emerges....

The turtle scurried away along the lawn but was repeatedly recaptured while I pored over the DDs. I learnt from Daniels that –

“the adults and young make long journeys during the rainy season, which is probably the reason for the species being so widespread….”

Indian Flap-shell turtles are the “hoi polloi” of CME and occupy the four lakes, large acreage of reed-beds, ponds and marshes and the 2 km long rowing channel. The nearest water body or marsh as one can make out from the Google image is more than a kilometer away.

The turtle had crossed roads, houses, gardens, fences, ditches besides stray dogs and people to land up where it did! The turtle would surely have died if allowed to roam free as it was heading deeper and deeper into civilisation.

Red line surrounds lake/marsh/nalas. Brown spot - found. Black spot - released.

Red line surrounds lake/marsh/nalas. Brown spot - found. Black spot - released.

The next question I faced from the kids was ‘is it a boy or girl’ ? Met by a don’t know look on my face, they decided, mostly being girls (two girls both older vs two boys both younger), that it looked feminine and soon names for ‘her’ were being proposed.

It was decided that her name was actually “Myrtle” and that she would be a very good pet! Undying vows were made to look after the creature if only they could have it please, pleeassee..

Mindful of stricken looks on a loving parent’s face, I pointed out that Myrtle fed on shrimps, insects and worms from within the water (actually they eat that and vegetation too) and her family was probably missing her.

An expedition was launched and finally Myrtle was released upstream into the marshes near the CTW lake. The last photo that we have of Myrtle is of a grinning Shrey (not Shreya’s brother) who held the turtle last. And the reason for that is, as soon as we set it on the ground some good seven-eight feet from the water’s edge, Myrtle became greased lightning and vanished before we could photograph her!

Guess it was not a ‘snapping’ turtle!

Little Shreyas before he released the turtle.

Little Shrey before he released the turtle.

So Myrtle the turtle went back to tell tales to the grand-turtles with a new name to boot.