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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of four. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Stalwart pariah dogs -- Part 2

Bishnu Bahadur Lama in 1984

Sauraha, Chitawan National Park, Nepal. March 5, 1984

"Load the capchur gun with ketamine," stammered Hemanta. "We're going to get that bloody yellow dog in the hatisar for leopard bait."

"Hazoor!", replied Bishnu with a wag of his topi-capped head, then hurried off to his task.

It wasn't a death sentence. The dog would be caged within a large box trap. Its captivity would give us a break.

Yellow pie was the leader of the pack, and we were tired of his game. Whenever we walked through the hatisar (the government's elephant camp), he and his pack of snarling curs dashed in and barked with raised hackles and puckered bungholes. They would back off if we reached for a stone, but stones were few and far between, and in desperation we'd throw dirt or weeds which showed how ridiculously harmless we were. Canine attitude adjustment required a stone and good aim.

About an hour later the sentenced dog had the audacity to prance into our project compound wearing a grin. He was smooth-coated, fit and confident -- not one of those mangy half-starved worm-riddled pie dogs that snarls one minute and cowers the next.

Hemanta took the dart gun, stepped out the door and deftly approached. Suddenly yellow pie remembered something, and turned around to retrace his steps. The dull pop of the gun was answered with a single soprano yelp, and the dog dashed toward the hatisar with the dart dangling from his shoulder.

Bishnu and the shikaris ran after the dog in their musical flip flops, while Hemanta cursed them for letting him get away. A few minutes later they were bearing our tormentor's limp body in a sling of muslin. It was a hot afternoon, and the men stashed the dog in the shade of the bungalow.

An hour later Hemanta was again reading the riot act. A shikari had just discovered the dog stumbling toward the hatisar, but instead of catching the escapee, he decided to report it. The chastened man took his medicine well, and then ran through camp cheerfully calling his fellows for assistance.

A few minutes later I watched the smiling shikaris perform a feat almost as remarkable as the Indian rope trick. They had managed to balance the limp dog on a bamboo pole. Not to worry, Sahib, they reported. The kookoor (dog) had gotten only halfway to the hatisar when he conked out again from the ketamine.

From the bungalow's porch I watched them plop yellow pie in the shade. He was again in slumber, but periodically he raised his head and looked about like a bleary-eyed drunk.

A half hour later we had retreated from the afternoon heat. A brain-fever bird called like a broken record as Hemanta dozed in his room, I wrote notes on the porch, and the crapulous yellow pie lay in the shade.

Then a barefoot middle-aged Tharu woman from the hatisar came striding into the compound with the confidence of George C. Patton. Yellow pie struggled to his feet and stumbled toward his mistress with a crooked smile and wagging tail. The lady halted in front of Hemanta's bungalow, and my colleague meekly presented himself.

The moving discourse that followed was in Nepali and lasted 10 minutes. Kookoor (dog) was the only word I understood, but I could read the body language and saw the tears. The lady was turbulent with emotion, and to say she was pissed doesn't do justice to her mood. Her discourse had a terribly humbling effect on me, and it transformed Hemanta in a way I had never seen before. Between her pronouncements he simply mumbled like a parishioner at mass.

When she was finished she marched away with yellow pie at heel.

"Well," I said. "I don't know about you, but I feel like a real turd. So you might as well give me the details."

Hemanta spoke very slowly with long pauses and a frozen grin, as if in shock.

"Well, the kookoor is her dog. She fed it from her own breast, cleaned up its shit, and loves it like one of her children."

"Is that all?" I asked.

"Well, she also used a lot of expletives."

"And that's it?"

"Okay, she said Brahmins like me should be used for leopard bait, and not helpless dogs."

The old office building of the hatisar, His Majesty's Government
of Nepal (under King Birendra), 1984 (building now gone).


mscriver said...

I love this! It could almost have happened here! For proof, a video you might enjoy:


Prairie Mary

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thank you, Prairie Mary. I liked it, and will view it again. Rez dogs are my kind of dogs.