Awool: The brave barn fighter felled by Naga folly
DIMAPUR, APRIL 16
ON Sunday, April 13, little Kumti and her toting uncle Dr. Lanu Jamir were shopping for vegetables at the Sunday market near the City Tower in Dimapur.
What the two discovered among the hundreds of goods on sale at the local market that day would forever change the perspective of 8-year-old Kumti. She met ‘Awool’, a Barn Owl. Severely injured. And on sale.
The exotic creature, scientific name Tyto alba, was stuffed in a shopping bag, up for sale for the ultimate Naga mouth to come walking along. A closer inspection revealed that the little creature was severely injured. It had either been shot – most probably by a catapult – or was snared in a spring trap. Its left wing was entirely broken at the hinge of the shoulders. The fate of the bird wasn’t so much a priority. The hunter was peddling the injured owl for a price of about Rs. 300 at the local market!
“(We) happened to notice some unusual feathers wrapped in a shopping bag. Curious, I had a peek inside only to be greeted by a pair of enormous eyes staring back at me,’ says Dr, Jamir, a young medical practitioner based in Dimapur. With him was wonder-eyed Kumti, Dr. Jamir’s 8-years-old niece.
The local market assembles every Sunday at around the City Tower, opposite to the road that leads to the Lotha church. Besides the injured Barn Owl, there was also a pair of wild pigeons “too far gone to even attempt at reviving,” Dr. Jamir told this newspaper.
That was where tiny conservationist Kumti stepped in. She saw life in the sad eyes of the dying owl. The duo’s only mission was to save the bird’s life – or whatever was left of it. There was no way little Kumti was going let the injured owl be sold or eaten in any case. She wanted to take the bird home, coax her ‘doctor uncle’ to treat it, and free it to the wild where the creature belonged.
“She just had to, had to rescue the poor bird,” the doctor said of his niece’s urgent appeal at the market when she first spied the bird of prey.
There, the haggling began between the doctor and the unidentified seller, who demanded nothing less than Rs. 300. Nagas have a strange, addled mind when it comes to wildlife and conservation. Finding exotic wildlife on sale in local markets in Nagaland is not uncommon.
Some creatures have had the luck of being noticed by a few concerned citizens, such as the Amur Falcons, and thus escape slaughter. But by and large, nothing in Nagaland is safe from the Naga man’s jaw of death.
Finally, after much haggling, the seller reluctantly agreed to part with the owl for Rs.190 only.
“I bought the owl after much haggling all the while scolding them for such audacious disregard for wildlife. I know I faulted by buying the bird, but this was a situation where I could have potentially saved the poor soul. Apparently they were selling it for the village hunter. I had planned on releasing the bird initially but because the bird had a broken wing I had to abort that,” Dr. Jamir said.
Suffice to say that Kumti’s joy knew no bounds. She has under her loving care a number of chickens already. She even fostered a pair of turkeys until stray dogs came and devoured the birds. That left her distraught; she refuses to eat eggs ‘because they hatch into little chicks,’ he told the newspaper.
After the bargain, Kumti and her uncle rushed home to treat the bird. The little girl, who aspires to be a farmer when she grows up, promptly named the injured bird “Awool”.
Lanu’s little nephew Zachary was no less excited than Kumti was. Unfortunately, the local veterinarian was off from work for Sunday. There was nothing for the little family to do to help little Awool, except to clean the bird’s wounds and bracing the broken wing with a stick.
The following day, there was sunshine in Kumti’s Dimapur residence. On Monday, Awool appeared to be responding well to the care from Kumti and Zachary. The creature had even begun feeding well.
Yet, that was all it would be. That evening little Awool began losing the fight, as his injury began smarting slowly. Finally, on the pleasant night of April 14, little Awool lost its fight to live another day.
Little Kumti’s tiny heart was shattered to pieces yet again, the way it shattered when her beloved turkeys fell to stray dogs. “She was the first person to have seen Awool. She clutched the lifeless bundle and rushed sobbing into her parent’s room,” Jamir said of the moment they discovered lifeless Awool.
In Nagaland, conservation efforts are largely exceptions and not a rule even for the departments that man the helm of environment and wildlife management. If the ‘demand’ for wildlife stops, so would supply.
“… But that is easier said than done, I have seen educated and well informed people clamoring for the choicest of wild meat, probably what is required is inculcating values of conservation and preservation early in life.” the doctor said of .
“Start at home with the young ones around; ensure that educational institutes have lessons on biodiversity and the need for its preservation; it takes a village to raise a child. It takes collective efforts and will to conserve and preserve our God-given natural bounties,” an unhappy Jamir said.
There is still sadness in Jamir’s household. Kumti and Zachary have lost a gentle, adorable, feathered friend.
“Her mother consoled her by telling her Awool was in a better place with no pain, and right now looking down at her thanking her for all the love that she had shown. She was satisfied with that answer”, the doctor told this newspaper.
Later, Zachary buried brave little Awool, the Barn Owl from Dimapur who fell to the greed and ignorance of an ignorant society.