Friday, 8 August 2014

How I managed to click the image of a jackal’s horn

Does a jackal have horns? Have you ever heard about it?

Well, the answer is – a straight no. A jackal doesn’t have horns. However, you won’t believe, I clicked the image of a jackal’s horn. You can’t really say it’s a horn. But, is a small protruding piece of meat on its head.

It was a perfect day. I was wearing a white WWF t-shirt with a huge logo on the back. The logo inspired by Chi-Chi, the giant panda at the London Zoo, reminds me the importance of conservation and inspires always to be a conservationist.

Those days photography was my passion. It still is today, only the intensity has declined though. I was a proud owner of a DSLR, a Nikon D80, thanks to our communication department I could any time run around with the camera to click pictures.

While I was fumbling through the daily newspapers, trying to scan conservation related news of the day, I received a call from the Metropolitan Police Range, Hanumandhoka. To get a call from Hanumandhoka has two meanings in Nepal: either you are wanted badly by the Crime Division or you are a reporter with a national media agency. I was neither of the two.

However, as WWF was partnering with the Crime Division to keep an eye on the illegal wildlife trade, they [the police officers with the Crime Division] knew us well. And whenever they nabbed wildlife traders, they would make sure to invite us to the press conference.

The call was an invitation – a quick one – to be at a house in front of Goma Ganesh temple in Naxal. It’s where the Nepal Police headquarters are located. I left the newspapers scattered on my table, grabbed the DSLR and headed to the mentioned house.

When I reached the spot, the place was already swarmed with journalists reporting on wildlife crime. The items on display were skins of tiger, leopard, red panda, snow leopard and python, tiger and bear claws, chests and sofa mounted with animal skins, artifacts like temple idols, buttresses and thangkas among many other items prohibited for trade.

Among them was a small tuft of hair kept in vermilion. When asked, the police revealed that it was a jackal’s horn. It was a small protruding piece of meat on the hairy skin. Being an unheard and unseen thing, I started adjusting the lens of my camera to click a perfect shot of the horn. Soon, there was a deluge of flashes – everybody was trying to get a piece of the pie.

Each and every item displayed was unique to me and I posed the camera to each of them. They were collected by Ian Baker, a famed writer who even contributed to the National Geographic. He was not in Nepal at the moment though. The police had raided the house on a tip from reliable sources.

Talking about the jackal’s horn, I asked many, researched on the subject and got the below.

“When a pack of jackals howl on a full moon night, a piece of meat protrudes on the leader’s head. If the leading jackal is shot at the moment, the protruding piece of meat remains as it is. The protruding piece of meat is termed “jackal’s horn”. It is safeguarded in a pool of vermillion.   

“A jackal’s horn is traded illegally and is a sought after rarity for gamblers. It is a common belief that one who owns the horn never loses in a gamble or a bet.”

I never believe in superstitions and can never believe that a jackal has horns. But here’s a peek to the rare item I clicked during the police raid.

As I was wearing a t-shirt with huge WWF logo at the back, I got featured in next day’s Kantipur, the largest selling Nepali daily, with the caption “A WWF personnel clicks images of illegal wildlife parts from a police raid”.

Though it only showed my back with me in the action, it was a huge motivation – to be a conservationist and a WWFer.