Tuesday, April 12, 2016

No bunnies were hurt in this experiment

You could call this an experiment in borders. An experiment in boundaries. Something that might seem familiar in Sri Lanka, or maybe very distant. Nobody talks about boundaries here. They just DO them. It's an ugly fact of life. Like gravity. So maybe it was gravity responsible yesterday for the young eagle falling to ground from high up in its aerie. We've been watching the nest for a few months, admiring its irregular heft high up on the tallest, most leafless tree, almost a snag itself, and with a great view of the lagoon. You could get a good view of the best yourself from the boat you can hire, just a few feet from shore. Or you can lie down on the hammock under the wood apple tree and get a great view from there. The hammock was temporarily off limits, infested with red ants. Julia noticed them first when I invited her to lie down there. I was so impressed, and so grateful for her powers of observation. She was getting sick anyway and even one ant bite, let alone a whole bunch, would have been awful for her. Several weeks later there was Thava with his can of bug spray taking back the hammock for its "rightful" owners. Bye bye red ants. 

So there was that eagle yesterday, about three months old, still with fluff under its wings instead of feathers but fully equipped with killer talons and a beak to match. Where to put it? The farmer constructed a cage for it that Thava lifted off, letting the young one roam along the lagoon side and communicate with its parents, both of whom spent some time circling around, at least while people were watching. 

But nighttime was another problem. The crows would bother the poor thing until they exhausted it and then make it their victim for the night. Stray dogs that get into the grounds could do the same. Toward the end of the day the eagle was corralled into a fenced-in area next to the rabbits--sometimes they're let out for free play over there--but someone made the decision at night that the eagle had to be under cover. The best worst choice, or the worst best choice, or maybe the best choice considering the options, turned out to be the rabbit house. 

There are about a dozen or fifteen rabbits inside, including a new litter that's looking old enough to start families on their own. The rabbits seem pretty comfortable in there, plenty of shade and water and places to hide and ramps to climb, and a nice cool sandy floor they can dig into and relax. Surprise to me that this morning before dawn this is where I found the eagle!

She was up on one of the rabbits' green leafy vegetable platforms, accessible by ramp that the eagle might have sauntered up. You could see nothing was wrong with her strong legs. Just that one wing folded nicely as it should while the other one looked a little dislocated. All around her, bunnies. This is the bunnies' veggie station so they'd pop up in back of her or stop just under her gaze, inches from that beak of hers, having a munch and a crunch. Just like old friends. If a rabbit became too pesty the eagle would spread her wings and look fierce. The bunnies always take a hint. 

I watch silently and at a bit of a distance. The farmer walks up, gets close. He's not much bigger than an adult eagle, about half my size and I'm small, exactly my age, 62, and real worker. He's got two or tree crops of brinjol going and holes in the ground ready for the new crop, now that New Years and the new planting season are upon us. Farmer? Why do you do this? He gets as close to the eagle as he can, raises his arms quickly, and startles the bird. The eagle gets nervous, scares away the rabbits, and a temporary scuffle disturbs the peace I'd been observing. 

There are plenty of explanations for this peaceable kingdom. We'll see how long it lasts. The best explanation is that the eagle has been brought all her food by her parents. She doesn't know yet that she's a hunter. Maybe she thinks she's in a new nest with a furry new set of siblings. Another biological fact: bunnies aren't territorial. In lands an eagle and they welcome her. Not the most prudent thing maybe but hey, it's an experiment. So. Eagles and bunnies. Why not? At least for now it seems to be working better than a lot of the human-human interactions we see happening. 

Observing all this and thinking all of this in the pre-dawn and just post-dawn light as the ponsala, the Buddhist temple next to the police station, far across the lagoon, blasts its monotone drone of hegemony louder than any bird, any boat, any bus making its way across the Kallady bridge. There are so few Sinhalese in Batticaloa. Do they need the encouragement of monks' canned chants? Or is the too-loud pre-recorded ugliness just there to remind the rest of the folks here who owns this territory?

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