Lost habi­tat

Rapid devel­op­ment has forced the denizens of the wild into pock­ets of frag­mented wood lots; oth­ers have to seek sanc­tu­ary in hu­man homes.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SENIOR - By WAN CH­WEE SENG By FAUZIAH K.

AS twi­light edges into night, a dark fig­ure treads its way cau­tiously along the high wire stretched be­tween two poles. The fig­ure pauses. Wide, wary eyes scan the ground for on­look­ers. How­ever, there is no ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ence to cheer it on and no thun­der­ous ap­plause to greet its dar­ing act.

From the front porch I am the sole, silent spec­ta­tor of the drama un­fold­ing be­fore my eyes.

High above me a civet is edg­ing its way along a tele­phone wire, its bril­liant eyes gleam­ing in the dim light. Sud­denly, it dis­ap­pears among the thick canopy of a rambu­tan tree. Rapid devel­op­ment and the ab­sence of a safe cor­ri­dor may have forced the civet to take to the high wire.

Alone in the still­ness and si­lence of the gath­er­ing dark­ness, I am left to pon­der its fate and those of its kind. To­day, as I drive along the busy high­way lead­ing to our hous­ing es­tate, the grisly re­mains of run over crea­tures such as civets, monitor lizards, snakes and night-jars, of­ten greet my eyes. Will the civet, too, suf­fer the same fate?

My mind drifts back to the early 1970s when we first moved into the hous­ing es­tate. The hous­ing es­tate was then fringed by trees and shrubs and the nearby hill was clad in dense verdant veg­e­ta­tion. The thickly wooded area on the hill was a haven for the many denizens of the wild.

I re­mem­ber that evening, long ago, when I was driv­ing home alone along the nar­row and de­serted stretch of road lead­ing to our hous­ing es­tate. In the deep­en­ing dusk, I caught sight of a long, murky shape creep­ing slowly across the road.

Python! The word flashed across my mind. I slowed down the car, eased it to the road shoul­der and peered through the wind­screen into the gloom. The scene that lay be­fore me came as a pleas­ant sur­prise. A mother civet with five ba­bies fol­low­ing closely in sin­gle file were head­ing to­wards a clump of wild cherry trees on the other side of the road.

Ais a fort­nightly page ded­i­cated to se­nior cit­i­zens. We wel­come real-life sto­ries – happy, sad, in­spir­ing, heart­warm­ing – from read­ers who are 55 and above. E-mail them to startwo@ thes­tar.com.my. Con­tri­bu­tions which are pub­lished will be paid. Please in­clude your full name, IC num­ber, ad­dress and tele­phone num­ber. T 87, my fa­ther was still in good form. He was able to take care of his per­sonal hy­giene and could do lit­tle chores for him­self. How­ever, he had very poor short-term me­mory. We had to learn to be very pa­tient with him and an­swer his re­peated ques­tions on the same topic. He had no prob­lems re­call­ing sto­ries of his youth, and could still play his favourite mu­si­cal in­stru­ments – the vi­o­lin and key­board.

What was dis­turb­ing was his fail­ing eye­sight. It made him grumpy and de­pressed. He didn’t go out of the house at all and was watch­ing less and less tele­vi­sion. What was funny was that he kept on com­plain­ing about the poor pic­ture qual­ity of our TV set and that we ought to send it for re­pairs.

No amount of ex­pla­na­tion could con­vince him that it was his poor eye­sight that was the prob­lem.

As his eye­sight got worse, he stopped play­ing the vi­o­lin. He stayed in his room mostly, and grew weaker from the lack of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.

There was no way we could coax him to go for an eye check-up, let alone a cataract op­er­a­tion. My fa­ther had a pho­bia of doc­tors and hos­pi­tals. He had never been to see a doc­tor all his life. Be­ing a doc­tor my­self, I at­tended to his med­i­cal needs.

One day, an old school friend of mine visit-

I watched en­thralled at the slow-mov­ing pro­ces­sion. Long af­ter they had melted into the dark­ness, I sat in the soli­tude of the car and tried to cap­ture the magic moment to be stored as pre­cious snap­shots in my me­mory.

To­day, 40 years on, the place where our chil­dren grew up is sadly dif­fer­ent. The once nar­row and quiet road is now a bustling high­way. Gone, too, are the trees and shrubs that once fringed the neigh­bour­hood and clad the nearby hill in verdant splen­dour.

In their places stand stark, mas­sive con­crete build­ings. All that re­main are frag­mented patches of wood lots be­hind the few rows of houses. Here the few dis­placed wild an­i­mals have made them their home; oth­ers have to seek sanc­tu­ary in hu­man homes.

There were nights when the fra­grance of pan­danus leaves drifted into our bed­room and we knew that a com­mon palm civet was in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of the house.

One night I heard a faint thud on the roof and the fa­mil­iar musky fra­grance as­sailed my nos­trils. I tip-toed to the bed­room win­dow and peered through the half-drawn cur­tains.

In a corner of the bal­cony, a pair of eyes gleamed bright in the dark­ness and I could make out the in­dis­tinct out­line of a civet. It glided down a pil­lar and was soon on its way to for­age for food from the neigh­bour­ing gar­dens. In the morn­ing we would find ev­i­dence of its night’s meal. Mango peels, half-eaten cus­tard ap­ples and ciku of­ten lit­ter our drive­way or lawn.

Early one morn­ing af­ter a night filled with thun­der claps, forked light­ning and slash­ing rain, I strolled over to open the bed­room win­dow. I grabbed the edge of the heavy cur­tain and was about to draw back the cur­tain when I was taken aback by the sight of a furry grey ball that was lodged be­tween the win­dow panes and the mos­quito screen.

I peered in­tently at the ob­ject and in the pre-dawn light saw a baby civet snugly curled up in its cosy corner. I gave a half-hearted clap to scare it away. Star­tled from its slum­ber, it gave me a dole­ful, in­no­cent look and re­luc­tantly crawled out from the warmth of its sanc­tu­ary to seek refuge un­der the eaves of the house.

The patch of wooded area be­hind our house has be­come home to a num­ber of wild an­i­mals. One morn­ing as I gazed out of the kitchen win­dow, the branch of a nearby cempedak tree started to shake vi­o­lently, as if it had been hit by a sud­den gust of wind.

A pair of mon­keys ap­peared from within its thick fo­liage. They swung from an over­hang­ing branch to a pa­paya tree and were soon feast­ing on the young shoots. At that moment our next-door maid emerged from the kitchen door and saun­tered to the other side of the house.

At the sight of the wide-opened door, one of the mon­keys darted into the house and in a flash dashed out with a plas­tic con­tainer in its hand. With deft fin­gers, it opened the con­tainer and was soon rel­ish­ing its un­seen con­tent.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, it would stand erect on its hind legs, eyes strain­ing into the dis­tance for signs of any ap­proach­ing in­truder. The sound of muf­fled voices and in­ter­mit­tent chuck­les wafted across the morn­ing air from the other side of the house.

As­sured of its rel­a­tive safety by the sound of dis­tant voices and laugh­ter, it re­sumed its feast. Hav­ing sa­ti­ated its ap­petite, the mon­key fi­nally climbed over the fence and scur­ried into the dense un­der­growth.

A few days af­ter the in­ci­dent, two uni­formed men bran­dish­ing shot­guns could be seen scan­ning the nearby tree tops for the mon­keys. A slight move­ment among the branches of a tree caught their at­ten­tion and they headed for the di­rec­tion. A gun­shot shat­tered the morn­ing air. I hoped and prayed it was just a shot to scare away the mon­keys. A sec­ond shot rang out and then an­other. A long eerie si­lence en­sued. All hopes were dashed.

“They are back!” an ex­cited voice called out. I rushed to join my wife at the kitchen win­dow. The sight that met our eyes filled us with joy. Un­der the dap­pled shadow of a durian tree, a fe­male jun­gle fowl was busy scratch­ing and un­cov­er­ing food for her clutch of fuzzy chicks. Head bob­bing in the morn­ing air, she kept a wary eye for lurk­ing preda­tors.

“There should be three chicks, but I can only see two of them.”

“What hap­pened to the other chick?” my wife in­quired, an edge of anx­i­ety creep­ing into her voice.

A large monitor lizard, tongue flick­ing, wad­dled lan­guidly near the un­sus­pect­ing group. We feared for the worst. Sud­denly, a chick darted out from the un­der­growth to join its mother and we heaved a sigh of re­lief.

Some­times we would hear the crow of a male jun­gle fowl and catch glimpses of it among the half-ob­scure mass of veg­e­ta­tion. Oc­ca­sion­ally, it would perch on a nearby boul­der and this pro­vided us with the op­por­tu­nity to study and ad­mire this mag­nif­i­cent rooster with its re­splen­dent plumage.

The rooster had a rich, red comb and wat­tles, and sported a cape of irides­cent hues, while its stream­ing tail feath­ers of red, green, yel­low and blue shim­mered in the morn­ing sun­light. The jun­gle fowl would van­ish for days, weeks and even months and then reap­pear un­ex­pect­edly. Un­til then, two re­tirees will wait pa­tiently for the home-com­ing. ‘’They are back!” My eyes flash open at the magic words. With sleepy eyes from my in­ter­rupted af­ter­noon nap, I peer though the half-open win­dow. “ Po-po!” A lit­tle girl comes run­ning up the drive­way and jumps into the wait­ing arms of her grand­mother. My heart warms at the sight and sound. I know my chil­dren and grand­chil­dren are here on a short visit, but at least I know they can al­ways come back to a place which they can call home. Then I think about the wild an­i­mals in the wood­lots be­hind our houses. I won­der how long it will be be­fore they are driven out of their homes.

Some­where be­hind the house I hear a rooster crows. It is a long and poignant crow that lingers in the still, slum­ber­ous af­ter­noon air. Wildlife ex­perts may say it is a mat­ing call, but to me it sounds more like a lone rooster lament­ing the loss of its nat­u­ral habi­tat – their lost habi­tat.

One was found on the bed and the other on the floor. He con­tin­ued to be con­fused over the next two days and had a few falls. For­tu­nately, he was not se­ri­ously hurt.

By the third day, he seemed well enough and I found him at the key­board play­ing his favourite num­bers. Ah, how won­der­ful!

Just like old times. His mood im­proved, he walked more steadily and started watch­ing the TV again. He com­mented on how lovely the gar­den looked, and asked when I acquired cer­tain items for the house.

How­ever, he did not recog­nise his grand­daugh­ter. He re­mem­bered her as a lit­tle seven-year-old girl; she had grown into a tall 11-year-old. He did not play his vi­o­lin again. It did not oc­cur to me to ask him why. Now I re­alise that he must have for­got­ten about it since it was kept un­der his bed and out of sight.

When asked how his eye­sight was, he said it was fine, and that it had al­ways been so! He had no rec­ol­lec­tion of the cataract op­er­a­tion.

Sadly, my fa­ther passed away a few months ago. It was about one year af­ter his cataract op­er­a­tion.

Look­ing back, I am pleased that my fa­ther had a fruit­ful one year of good vi­sion. Af­ter his cataract op­er­a­tion, his qual­ity of life im­proved tremen­dously. He was more in­de­pen­dent, less de­pressed and was able to en­joy some of his favourite pas­times again.

Cap­ti­vat­ing sight: A civet per­form­ing its high wire act.– Il­lus­tra­tion by Wan Ch­wee Seng

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