“We got a shrew,” announced Rom, one morning.
I peered into the garbage can. The little grey creature, its long quivering nose pointed at me, sat amidst shredded pieces of paper.
“What are you going to do with it?” I asked.
“Take it far away.”
“But why? It probably lives here. Remember, I told you I saw one zip along the kitchen wall and duck under the sideboard a few days ago? It may be the same fellow, no?”
“A house is no place for a rodent.”
“It’s not a rodent. It’s an insectivore.”
“All right. It’s a bloody rodent-like insectivore. It will chew into everything.”
“It didn’t chew up anything. See, the bowl of potatoes on the counter is untouched.”
“That’s because it can’t climb.”
“But there’s no food on the floor. The cupboards are closed. So why don’t you let it be?”
“No, no, no. It can chew the gas cylinder’s hose pipe, electrical wires, anything. It’s destructive.”
“But it can’t climb so how can it bite the pipe or wires? It’s no use arguing with you. I’ll probably want to write about shrews for the column so let me get a picture first.”
Rom emptied the laundry basket, half-filled it with dirt and transferred the shrew. The little thing flung itself against the walls, sometimes almost high enough to get away. When it wasn’t leaping, it ran along the plastic wall. Occasionally, it sat still enough for a shot, but its nose wouldn’t stop trembling.
Rom said, “It’s ravenous. What can I feed it?”
Earlier, I had seen a grasshopper on a window sill in the porch. When Rom dropped the insect close by, the shrew pounced on it and clamped down on its neck. Now that the creature had something to do, it paid us no attention at all. I placed the camera centimetres away from the shrew and clicked away.
Once the shrew and I were done, Rom released the creature in the garden.
“It will be back for sure. Remember those tree frogs we moved a kilometre away? They came back. What’s twenty metres for a shrew?” I asked smugly.
One evening many years ago, I watched a mother shrew lead her three babies around our back porch. Since they are almost blind, one baby held on to its mother’s tail with its mouth, while the next in line held on to the first baby’s tail, and the third had a hold of the second one’s tail.
I wonder if the English rhyme ‘Three blind mice’ refers to shrews. Cutting off their tails would be the cruelest thing to do to these creatures.
The babies didn’t trip on each other’s tails, tread on one another’s feet, or stop to scratch. They kept up with their mother so well that the ‘caravaning’ foursome looked like one long, lumpy snake. It was one of the cutest sights to behold.
A long time ago, Rom stepped on a shrew by mistake, and was bitten. This difference in our experiences probably explains the polarity of our attitudes.
Many people are revolted by shrews. The public image of these poor creatures needs an overhaul. Bad body odour is partly to blame. What puts people off also puts most predators off. Precisely the trick for a morsel-sized mammal to survive. But shrews musk only during certain times of the year. While we were taking photographs and bothering the animal, it didn’t stink at all.
The other misfortune to befall shrews is their resemblance to rodents. Shrews are not rats; they are not even related. They are insectivores, and useful allies in maintaining a pest-free kitchen.
A few days after the shrew was evicted, I found one in the same garbage can. I dumped it out on the kitchen floor, and watched it scoot under the sideboard.
What Rom doesn’t know can’t bother him.