Meet the Lilliputians! Chevrotains aka Mouse-Deer

The smallest hoofed mammals in the world, chevrotains are in the lime light since the beginning of this week! The news that scientists spotted the silver backed chevrotains or Vietnamese mouse-deer after 30 years in the jungles of southern Vietnam is doing the rounds on media. It is said that there are 10 different species of chevrotains in the world, mostly seen in south and south east Asia, west and central parts of Africa. The silver backed ones are the most elusive, say the scientists.

My encounter with the timid, tiny mouse-deer was quite unexpected; spotted two to three of them among the dark shades of a corner in the zoological gardens. This happened a few months back. Big surprises come in small packages! I was elated at the sight of these adorable creatures that I have never seen before! It was a tough task to click a good photo as they were too shy and were startled even at the sight of birds; I somehow managed a few decent clicks. After reaching home I did some research, gathered some information about the mouse-deer.

A tiny package of a mouse, a deer, a squirrel, all in one is what the mouse-deer looked to me! They belong to Tragulidae family. Unlike deer, they don’t have antlers or four chambered stomach. They have two fangs projecting from either side of their lower jaws. These needle like fangs of the males are fiercer than that of Dracula’s, they say! They use it while fighting with their rivals.

These tiny creatures are preyed upon by many animals, including man. They are seen to lead secluded lives. The spotted chevrotains are seen in some parts of India. I realised that they are seen in Kerala too when a friend mentioned that she has seen one. In Malayalam they are given a term meaning puny; kooran or kooramaan (കൂരൻ, കൂരമാൻ). That throws light on a term of endearment my great grandmother used for my then toddler sister. Later when I grew up I used to wonder where the word ‘kooran’ derived from! She would have been referring to the dimunitive figure of my sister.

It is interesting to learn that in Indonesian and Malay folklore mouse-deer appear as tricksters. Kancil stories are popular in these regions. Sang kancil, in the folk tales and fables, is a clever mouse-deer that triumphs over stronger and bigger animals. Sang kancil’s song goes like this

“Am quick and smart as I can be

Try and try, but you can’t catch me

Be quick and smart, little friends and thrive well!

May your tribe increase!

Fairies’ sweepers, so says the poet!

“Peacocks sweep the fairies’ rooms; They use their folded tails for brooms;

But fairy dust is brighter far

Than any mortal colours are;

And all about their tails it clings

In strange designs of rounds and rings;

And that’s why they strut about

And proudly spread their feathers out

~Rose Fyleman

Isn’t that a lovely poem! I chanced upon this poem by Rose Amy Fyleman, an English poet who was well known for her fairy poems for children. The poet says the peacocks were the sweepers of fairies. Thus the idiom ‘proud as a peacock’ is fully justified!

Peacocks fascinate everyone with their resplendence. Poets say, when the rain clouds gather in the sky the peacocks dance with joy! The birds were familiar through poems and stories, in my young days. Other than zoological gardens or some temples they were hardly seen elsewhere.

The birds were seldom seen near human habitation those days. But in recent years, they have become a common sight. In most parts of Kerala, including our small village Anakkara, peafowls are seen fearlessly strutting around, flaunting their iridescent plumes and train.

The shrill shrieks of the peafowls from the paddy fields in front are quite normal during my visits to amma. Along with the chirp and tweet of the smaller birds, Anakkara mornings have become noisier with the cacaphonous calls from these birds! The bevy of peafowls parade in the fields across the road with the chicks, forage around the house and walk across the road without any fear.

Caution! Peahens crossing the road. Madam Peahen is hurrying to join the ‘party’ on the other side of the road!

Some peacock facts I learnt recently: Peacocks shed their train after mating season, hence Man can gather the feathers by not harming the bird, unless he wishes to be too greedy. Tiny crystal like structures present in the feathers give the shimmering blue and green colours of their plumage. Usually there are three to four females and a male in a harem of peafowls. A peahen’s crest has sensors and is attuned to the vibrating frequencies of the rattling of the male’s train!

Contrary to my belief, the white peafowls are not a specific species. They are the ones with a genetic mutation called leucism, that causes lack of pigmentation.

It looks exciting to follow the colourful trail of peacock tales! The bird has a prominent place in Greek, Egyptian, Roman and Hindu mytholigies. Hopefully I shall unfurl the stories in another blog post.

A boatful of blooms…

Tet, the Vietnamese new year is round the corner. Colours of tet as well as an air of gaiety fill the streets and even the river!

The sight of this boat filled with vibrant flowers, gliding through Saigon River filled me with joy in the morning! Marigolds and chrysanthemums are as significant as yellow apricot and pink peach flowers during Tet festivities.

The city is all set for Tet. Hoping that the year of the Pig brings Peace and Happiness to all!

Let’s take a gander at these gannets!

A forty minute long pleasant drive from Albany, through scenic farmlands and small vineyards on both sides, takes you to Muriwai beach with its black sand dunes, wind sculpted tall trees, flat rocks and cliffs lined with flax plants. Muriwai beach is one of the few places in the world where gannets nest on the mainland.

A smooth trail up the flattened rocks would take less than fifteen minutes walk and as you reach the raucous gannet colony, the viewing platforms help you get close view of the birds. Gannets are native to New Zealand. I find the Maori names for the native birds quite interesting as I feel that the names sound like the bird calls! There are Kereru (pigeon), korora( penguins), kaka, kea(mountain parrots), pukeko (swamp hen) and so on. Gannets are called ‘Takapu’ in Maori.

There are flat rocks and a flattened cliff below, where hundreds of gannets nest. Like most of the native birds, gannets too are fearless in human presence. The gannets look elegant while flying yet there is something comical about their gait. Is that a smile or a frown? Those clearly outlined beaks leave you baffled! Nevertheless the gannet in flight is magnificent, spreading their two metre wingspan, they glide and swoop wth grace.

A magnificent gannet in flight

It is pretty fascinating to know that gannet pairs bond for life. The female lays one egg, both male and female take turns in hatching the egg; they warm the eggs using their webbed feet. Gannets co-parent the young ones. When they are about four months, the young birds take off to Australia crossing the Tasman sea and after four years return to New Zealand to breed and never to go back!

Smile please

The birds have binocular vision and have air sacs in their face and chest, under their skin, which help them while diving deep into the sea to catch fish. Their excessive eating habits led to the slang ‘gannet’ for a gluttonous person!

In the golden light of the setting sun the sight of hundreds of nesting gannets of Muriwai Beach was a splendid experience!

Happy Birtday Emily Dickinson!

 

 

The Poets light but Lamps –

Themselves — go out —

The Wicks they stimulate

If vital Light

Inhere as do the Suns —

Each age a Lens

Disseminating their

Circumference

                                                               (Emily Dickinson)

 

Today is Emily Dickinson’s 188th birthday. Her poem says it all. Years and centuries have passed, the lamps that Emily has lighted are shining bright providing warmth and joy to many of us. Happy birthday Emily Dickinson! You are immortal!

 

October’s Party

Chanced upon this beautiful and delightful poem by George Cooper. While visiting New Zealand I was overjoyed to see these brightly coloured trees against deep blue skies; a rare sight back home! I could not take my eyes off the trees, plants, flowers, grass and weeds. This is an October full of splendour!

”October gave a party;
The leaves in hundreds came
The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples
And leaves of every name.

The Sunshine spread the carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.

The Chestnuts came in yellow,
The Oaks in crimson dressed;
The lovely Misses Maple
In scarlet looked their best;
All balanced to their partners,
And gaily fluttered by;
The sight was like a rainbow
New fallen from the sky.

Then, in the rustic hollow,
At hide-and-seek they played,
The party at sundown,
And everybody stayed.
Professor Wind played louder;
They flew along the ground;
And then the party ended
In jolly “hands around”.

Thank you October, as you’re waving hands bidding adieu, for all the bright and joyful memories you gave me. Good bye until we meet next year! Let me get ready to welcome a November to remember.