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.
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.
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.
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)
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.