Posted tagged ‘Aditi’

The Reptile Rescue Squad – Softshell Turtle

8 August 2011

Story by Aditi Baindur

by Aditi Baindur

If you are a tortoise and go for a very long walk on the CME campus far from your home, you may  find that you are back very soon from where you started and named ‘Myrtle’ on top of that.

It was during the summer holidays last year that my Dad got a call at office from Bhattacharya Uncle. His daughter Shreya had found a tortoise in the garden. What, he asked, should be done? Naturally, Dad felt that it had to be restored to its habitat.

He picked me up, our tortoise books and we soon reached Bhattacharya Uncle’s bungalow adjoining Holloway School. The turtle was in the lawn surrounded by Shreya and Priyansh, Bhattacharya Uncle’s kids and Shrey Kamoji. It had withdrawn itself into its shell.

Shreya holding the turtle she discovered.

The back was coloured “muddy-shoddy, grey, brown, black, ochre”. It had three black  stripes on its head.

I picked it up and turned it over. We saw that had got flaps to hide its legs under and realised that this was the Indian Flapshell Turtle or Lissemys punctata.

The flapshell turtle with its flaps wide open showing its legs and its face. (Image:Shyamal)

Now the turtle struggled to be put down. No sooner had this been done than its knobby, ridged and clawed legs  emerged and it scurried away along the lawn but was repeatedly recaptured while we pored over our books. We wanted to know why the turtle was wandering so far from the CME lakes. Our handbook by J.C. Daniels had this to say –

“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 “aam janta” in the turtle community of CME and occupy the four lakes and the river. They are also found amongst the reed-beds, ponds, quarries and marshes and the 2 km long rowing channel. The nearest water body or marsh to Bhattacharya Uncle’s house is more than a kilometer away.

Black streaks on the head

The turtle had crossed roads, houses, gardens, fences, ditches and braved the dangers of stray dogs and turtle-eating people to land up where it did! If allowed to roam free, it would head deeper and deeper into the CME campus and surely would be killed.

Shreya asked ‘is it a boy or girl’? Since it isn’t easy to identify the sex of a turtle just by looking at it, the children decided, (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 what the parents would have to say to this, Dad pointed out that Myrtle fed on shrimps, insects and worms from within the water (they actually eat that and some vegetation too) and her family was probably missing her.

It was decided to restore Myrtle to her home. Everybody set out in our red Maruti van for the rear Nashik gate. There Myrtle was released at a suitable spot upstream into the marshes near the CTW lake. The last photo that we have of Myrtle is of a grinning Shrey Kamoji holding the turtle last before its release. 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!

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

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.