Their fate appeared to be sealed. But they tried beating the odds and made it to the New Year. Prince Frederick on the fighting spirit of a tree, a pack of beagles and a dolphin

The 70 beagles: From dark cells to sunny homes

In their book The Perfect Puppy: How To Choose Your Dog By Its Behaviour, Benjamin L. Hart and Lynette A. Hart assess a slew of common breeds against 13 parameters. In the test for excitability, the beagle makes it to the top list. Anyone who has held the paws of a beagle would agree with them: beagles enjoy having people around them and are gentle and merry creatures. Now, in the light of this study, try to picture the plight of the 70 beagle pups that spent around two months at the animal quarantine centre in Pallikaranai, cooped up in cells. Imported from China, these pups were on their way to a laboratory in Bangalore for experimentation. As lapses in documentation came to light, the pups would not be released from the centre. There was a glimmer of a hope they would be up for adoption. For this to happen, the pups had to jump a series of red tapes. With bureaucratic silence persisting, their stay seemed endless. Cramped cells don’t make for a pleasant life, but it was better than ending up at a laboratory. The fate of the pups hung in the balance until mid-December when these adorable dogs found freedom in the loving arms of pet lovers.

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An unlikely Nilam survivor

In early November, cyclone Nilam left many trees uprooted. Post-Nilam, botanist M. Udayakumar, serving on an Inspire Fellowship project at Pachiyappa’s College, surveyed the damage to the trees on his regular commuting route from Thiruninravur to Aminjikarai. He noticed that the rain trees (Albizia saman) were the most hit by Nilam. A good number of them had lost their branches,” said Udayakumar. A tour of the city proved him right. Out of sheer curiosity, this writer also checked up on a particular rain tree on the campus of the Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education, Kamarajar Salai. An object of repeated vandalism, this tree has a gaping hole on its buttress, also charred by fires caused by miscreants. To his surprise, he found this tree unaffected by Nilam. In surprising contrast, a healthier rain tree in the vicinity had lost a huge branch to the cyclone. Strange are the ways of Nature!

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Losing a hard-fought battle

On December 6, a rough sea kept fishermen home. However, for the residents of a fishing hamlet near the Marina, the day was anything but boring. Just before noon, they discovered that a dolphin was stranded on the shore. Five young fishermen from Ayothiakuppam plunged into the mission of returning the creature to the sea. As the sea was rough, the fishermen’s effort resulted in repeated failures. The dolphin was kept in a splatter of water that had accumulated near the sea. Before the diligent fishermen succeeded in carrying the dolphin in a boat and releasing it in a calmer area of the sea, the mammal survived a horrid time. News of the stranded dolphin had sparked a sudden surge in ‘tourist’ interest in the Marina. It was disaster tourism at its worst, with people hovering around the hapless mammal and the team of fishermen, and freezing the moment with their cameras. Not content with a glimpse of the mammal, some touched it. Before releasing the dolphin, the fishermen noticed injuries on its mouth and a fin. Naturalist K.V.R.K. Thirunaranan of the Nature Trust felt the injuries could have partly been caused by the rescue operation, ironically. Later, arriving at the spot, Dawn William of the Blue Cross of India, said experts should have handled the dolphin – they would have known how to keep the animal calm and safe before releasing it. Some naturalists were keeping their fingers crossed for the dophin.

Their hopes appeared to have been dashed the very next day. A dolphin washed ashore on to the sands of Chinnadi Kuppam, a fishing hamlet near Neelankarai. The Sea Turtle Protection Force, which functions under the auspices of Tree Foundation and promotes responsible behavior towards the sea and its creatures, tried to save the dolphin. But the creature had gone lifeless much before their attempts to revive it. The dolphin was sent to the Madras Veterinary College for post-mortem.

Studying photos of the dolphin at the Marina and the one at Neelankarai, Supraja Dharini, founder of Tree Foundation, made an announcement that broke many hearts. She explained that injury marks made it was clear it was the same dolphin.

What could have ended up as the greatest survival story of 2012, nevertheless, has some lessons for this year and beyond. When it concerns lives of creatures that are little understood, it’s better to call in the experts than taking matters into one’s own hands. Another lesson learnt: the need for a rescue system that is prompt in responding to emergencies.