Sunday, April 4, 2010

The owl, the dog, the odds

(submitted by Cathrine in Dhaka)

"Something there is," wrote Frost, "that does not love a wall." If he had asked me, I could have saved him the poetry.

It's a dog. Specifically, Rani.

Yes, Rani is still with us. She has had suitors, but none we could consent to: life should be more than acting as a monsoon drenched burglar alarm. Even in the High Commission, which is inno way planned to cope with dogs, she has a 24 square meter kennel which includes garden, grass and an entry passage to a 4 square meter room with windows, a/c and a linoleum floor. She gets out when business hours are over at for at least an hour of running around the compound - with someone and her hard-to-get plastic bags there to scoop the evidence before the DMO sees it.

The kennel was hand made by a Bangladeshi craftsman, and cost the aforementioned poop-scooper 12,000 taka. (To put that in context, the average security guard is paid 5,000 taka a month.) It was quite beautiful when it was first installed. But no one told me that Bangladeshi street dogs can eat bamboo.

I have become adept at repairing bamboo fencing. But you can only do so much before what was a beautiful latticework looks like the aftermath of a typhoon. This is particularly true if you have to do a lot of repairs during 'load-shedding', which is the local euphemism for the rotating power blackouts that indicate the huge gap between the city's desire for electricity, and the electric company's ability to supply it.

So, it is not all that surprising that Ali and I were engaged in fence mending in the dark. Rani, having completed a good run, was lying in her kennel watching us, when suddenly she jumped up, raced down her garden wing to the corner and began to have hysterics.

And I mean hysterics. Ali leapt the fence because he thought there was a snake in the kennel. Moments later he was repeating "Oh, my G-d, oh my G-d!" This was not the sound of a man facing a cobra, this was the sound of a man seeing a miracle. When we got him out of the kennel, he was carrying a bird. Not just any bird - a lokhi pecha. For Ali, this was a miracle.

Lokhi pecha is the local name for barn owl. Common enough in North America, the barn owl in Bangladesh is a critically endangered species. Loss of habitat, pollution of air and water, the use of cheap rat poisons, have combined to reduce their numbers to almost none.

Ali was in ecstasy, despite the fact that the young owl had dug its talons into his fingers so deep that blood was dripping on his clothes. When he was a child, he said, he used to see lokhi pecha all the time in the dusk, leaving for the hunt, but he had not even heard of one being seen in at least 20 years.

So, what are the odds that an endangered owl will, in a city of 16 million, decide to run into the side of just this building, falling into just this long, narrow wing of the kennel, at just the time when there are people available to get to it before someone is maimed or killed?

Those are long, long odds. They got longer when you consider that the people have both the desire, and the resources, to do something for an injured owl.

What odds,exactly, have to be defied for something to be a miracle?

The young owl spent the night in a large dog crate, and, after coming to its senses, drank a lot of water, ate a lot of cat food and steamed chicken, snapped its beak and flapped its wings at anyone who dared even look at it. In the morning, an entire High Commission swung into action on its behalf.

By noon, Iftikhar, the main political officer, had tracked down the man at the head of the Nature Conservancy of Bangladesh. As a professor at a prestigious university, this man has access to staff, veterinary facilities, and budget. He immediately dispatched a team of four to bring the young owl in for assessment and whatever treatment might be necessary.

I was secretly pleased after the head technician claimed he could handle the bird, no problem, to see him sitting there with even more talons dug into his hand than Ali had experienced, waiting patiently for the bird to let go so he could seal the special transport box. Okay, Ali is 'only' a driver, but it took a lot less iodine and gauze to repair his hand than it did to patch up the snooty 'expert'.

So, our beautiful young owl is at the Conservancy. They tell me s/he has a mild shoulder injury and a lot of attitude. If all goes well, in a week, s/he will be transported to Lawachara National Park, up among the tea plantations of Sylhet, where s/he will help the economy by hunting rodents, and perhaps even help prevent the complete extinction of this branch of the family.

If that happens, I'll be calling on my neighbour, the Papal Nuncio: that will be a miracle.


Social Mange said...

Bless you, Cathrine, for helping the owl. What a magnificent creature...and a wonderful photo and story. I'm thrilled for Ali, that he had a part in rescuing the bird (and the scars to prove it!).

hopy said...

and hurrah for rani for sounding the alarm!

Cathrine said...

SM, please, no special praise: how could one not help an injured creature? She (it is a she) is truly beautiful! I would point out, however, how dirty her face is -- you can see that in the photo. This comes from flying through the incredible pollution. Barn owls fly with their faces forward, alas.

Yesterday, she was released up in Sylhet, where there are few large buildings to meet, and a lot of rodentia that thrive on the tea plants. She has also been banded, so her life can be tracked: the Nature Conservancy is part of an international project to track how climate change is affecting the behaviour of birds around the globe.

Maybe she will, at some future time, make a contribution to that project that helps not just owls, but other birds, too. We can only hope.....