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A Jungle Whodunit!

Red-wattled Lapwing, Kabini

If you’re holidaying in Kabini, and have settled down on a hammock with your favourite murder mystery, the last thing you’re looking forward to, is someone trying to loudly second guess the name of the murderer. What’s more irritating than being subjected to a loud refrain of “did he do it…did he do it?” is the realization that this interloper is also playing a game of hide and seek with you. First you turn and glare at the waiter solicitously hovering around, then at the suspicious looking fellow-tourist in a flowery red shirt (anyone who dresses like that MUST be guilty of something), and the tribal kids on a tree, looking at you innocently (you’ve got kids and you know that angelic look is all hokum)….slowly, you realize you’ve lost it when you hear yourself muttering, “did he do it…or did he do it?”. This is, we feel, the right time to introduce the reader to the mysterious private eye of Kabini, the Red-wattled Lapwing, a.k.a the ‘did-he-do-it-bird’, who gets his name from his trademarked alarm call. This bird’s legendary wariness of humans and his unceasing vigilance have earned him the sobriquet of ‘Aal Kaati’, which means ‘human-spotter’ in Tamil. When not doubling up as an avian alarm system, he runs around in typical plover fashion, picking up insects, often during the ‘full-moon’ night, which lends itself to more local legend. If you, occasionally, see him with his nose in the air, fluffing out his feathers, and strutting around…be sure there’s a female involved. This, like for many of his human neighbours, is part of his mating ritual. Once nature’s taken its course, his paternal instincts take over and he’s famed as a fierce protector of his brood. The one thing that may embarrass him in company, though, is if the first thing his kids say is, ‘did he do it?’!

Photograph: Kiran Poonacha Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy



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