The Zai Whitaker column | A lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Bank – Living News , REDHEART

The Zai Whitaker column | A lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Bank – Living News , REDHEART

Of enclosure manoeuvring, felled timber, and rescued cobras: An account of three action-packed months on the Madras Crocodile Financial institution whereas in lockdown.

Outdated-growth timber are priceless and I’m not speaking about cash, however eye and thoughts sweet, and carbon mulching. (And positively harder to develop than crocodiles.) So it was a tragic occasion for us when this previous big in one in every of our croc pens got here down on the evening of 11 June, in a kind of intense localised wind storms which might be turning into an increasing number of frequent around the globe. It was a rain tree, planted within the early days, so no less than 40 years previous. It had develop into a rookery for egrets and herons and excellent basking spot for the 25 resident marsh crocodiles. It fell half on land and half within the pond.

Chopping and eradicating the branches was a problem due to the social distancing and different issues of safety for employees, and we lastly determined to go away the bigger logs within the water and solely take away those on shore.

As all the time, our employees have been modern, motivated and animal-centric, ensuring there was minimal disturbance to the inmates of the enclosure even when it meant working within the warmth of mid-day when the animals have been within the water.

There was an preliminary nervousness about feed reaching our animals when lockdown started  in March, however then zoos have been added to the checklist of important companies and there was no downside in receiving hen, fish and different feed… akin to greens and fruit for the chelonians.

Zoos typically should separate animals to keep away from battle and harm. Casuarina poles make splendid partitions: low cost, straightforward to move, and rapidly put in and eliminated.

Animal dealing with has been minimised throughout lockdown, to maximise (human) distancing however typically it’s vital. When it was seen {that a} casuarina barrier between two isolation pens — for a mugger and a saltie — was rotting, we determined to maneuver the mugger since salties are usually aggressive and we couldn’t take an opportunity.

It was a clean operation, on 7 July. The curatorial workforce got here up with seize concepts that allowed distancing and used the minimal variety of keepers. For instance, as a substitute of a “common launch”, they  devised a method in order that rubber bands could possibly be faraway from the jaws by tugging  on a rope. This meant the animal didn’t should be restrained for the discharge a part of the operation.

The final job after the mugger’s elimination was dismantling the dividing fence. Untying the decrease rope hyperlinks was straightforward however then for the upper ones, Jani needed to perch on prime of the fence. It’s not as harmful because it seems to be! He’s on the protected (vacant) facet of the enclosure. The saltie is now gratefully having fun with the extra area.

Then, on the night of 28 July, got here an attention-grabbing and intriguing “snake! snake!” name from the  village throughout the street from us… that  there have been ‘many’ cobras in a disused underground septic tank who have been ‘guarding’ a bunch of eggs. To our assistant curator Ajay Kartik, it appeared like the standard fairy story produced by the fevered human creativeness, on seeing a snake. Gathering snake hook and bag and suitably masked, off he went.

However the story turned out to be no less than partly proper. There have been three cobras (two male and one feminine) contained in the tank, and the feminine had scattered her 18 eggs all around the flooring!

The larger male (nearly 6 ft) had a stark white scar-tissue mark alongside one facet of the physique. Maybe a burn mark, from fireplace or scorching water: determined measures folks use to maneuver a snake out of their dwelling.

The tank was about 6 ft deep, and Ajay  tried each potential solution to get them out utilizing lengthy snake sticks: getting right into a septic tank isn’t any enjoyable anyway, and even worse when three irritated cobras are added to the expertise. However there was no approach round it; he’d should get in. A ladder was introduced. It was darkish by now, and the ring of watchers supplied mild with their torches and mobiles.  Fortuitously, massive snakes tire rapidly and after some hissing and lunging, the spectacled cobras have been bagged and the eggs collected.

A lot hypothesis (pun supposed) adopted. We despatched the small print to Rom, whose response was:  “It is doubtless the feminine was gravid, trying to find a protected place to put eggs and her scent path was adopted by the sexy males hoping to mate together with her after which they have been unable to get out of the tank. Cobras are certainly cannibalistic, like many different species, and the larger one may have eaten the smaller ones over a time period, and eggs additionally.”

Writer and conservationist Zai Whitaker is managing trustee — Madras Crocodile Financial institution Belief/Centre for Herpetology

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More columns by Zai Whitaker on REDHEART —

Notes on tenting with crocodiles, and watching child muggers hatch

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