Monday, November 21, 2011

'Paagal' panda


I have a new favourite animal. It does not possess the fearsome glory of a stalking tiger, the sheer stage presence of an elephant or the calm, powerful gaze of a resting lion. If anything, it has a stuffed toy like cuddliness but its steadfast refusal to behave in tune with that perceived image is what makes me its fan.
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New York's Central Park Zoo on a cheerful mid November Sunday afternoon is awash with the colours of fall. Kids and their parents are out here in full force to make the most of this good weather. One particular enclosure is drawing a lot more attention than the others. Everyone's rushing in to catch a glimpse of Biru, the 1 year old red panda who has just moved into New York City from his Himalayan abode in Nepal.
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The red panda is an animal that might be familiar to most Indian TV audiences of my age group as the furry red companion to Mowgli in the Hindi dubbed version of the animated series "Jungle Book Sh┼Źnen Mowgli" which had achieved cult status back in the days when DD-1 was the only channel on air in India. Sunday mornings were dedicated to Mowgli and his life in the jungle by millions of kids around the country. And to call the real animal cartoonish. in proportions and colours, would not be too far from the truth.
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The lush red fur enveloping his body, the black fur on his feet like he had socks on, the bushy red tail and the teddy bear like face made him look like those simplified friendly animals that are drawn in books for toddlers yet this was actually how nature had designed him. The female component of his human audience couldn't stop "ooh"ing and "aah"ing, going on with their "How sweet!", "How cute!", "I want one!" before saying "Got to get his picture!" and whipping out their point-and-shoots or DSLRs as the case may be.
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This was where the problem lay. Biru had a female companion Amaya who was feasting on leaves in a far corner of the enclosure facing away from all the visitors. So it was left to Biru to be the sole model and ambassador for how beautiful an animal a red panda was. Except... that he wasn't much of a poser. Restless soul that he was, walking all the way around his reasonably sized enclosure clambering up a tree in front of the dozen or so cameras pointed towards him and clambering down it but the randomness of his movements made him every cameraman's nightmare. All the while, while he pranced about right in front of our noses.
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Here a tail, there a leg, here a blurred face, there a really sharp picture of some green leaves - as I looked into the image review screens of the other digital cameras around me, I realized that I wasn't alone in my failure. Biru ran, Biru jumped, Biru spun, Biru looked - but never for more than half a microsecond. Every passing minute, I heard people mutter to the tune of "Come on! Hold it! Get me a good picture." but if Biru understood human talk, he was playing dumb. Every flash or camera beep, would invariably be followed by a groan. No, not this time. Nope, not this time too.
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I had to return to the red panda enclosure thrice to be able to get the handful of decent pictures that I eventually captured and I watched wave after wave of grumpy disappointed shutter-bugs call this impossible task off, walking away with a slightly less rosy view of the 'cuteness' factor of the red panda. I love zoos because of my life-long reading and Discovery/NGC fuelled animal world fascination. This was one occasion where watching the humans outside the cage was even more fun than the animal itself.
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2 comments:

The West Wind said...

Nice post.. I loved the little red panda in Mowgli as a child.. do post pictures if u managed to get some.. :D

Roy said...

@The West Wind: Thanks! I did eventually get two-three clear shots. The pic at the top of this post is one of the initial blurry ones when my cam was finding real tough to focus on the funny little creature! :D