My father, grandfather, uncles and I, were all keen ‘shikaris’ until one by one we put away our guns and became ardent conservationists. I cannot account for this change as far as my kin are concerned, but my own conversion from killer to keeper is still fresh in memory. It was a cold January dawn, when we waded into a marsh running parallel to the Chenab Canal near Churkana (a town some kilometers from Sheikhupura). Our timing appeared to be perfect, for as we settled into our ‘hide’ we heard the unmistakable sounds of ducks landing on water. Three guns belched flame and smoke, bringing down four ‘mallards’ one of which fell close to me. I splashed my way to the wounded creature and held it while my uncle rummaged through his jacket for the knife. It was at this moment that I found myself gazing into the pair of tiny eyes looking back at me with fear and supplication. The image haunted me for the remaining part of the trip, forcing me to abstain from any more killing that day and thereafter. I think I have now become a perfect nuisance for my vet (notwithstanding the fact that this good man has never indicated so), by frequently appearing at his door at odd hours, cradling birds, cats and canines for treatment and adoption.

Take for example, the cat that my son found lying injured on the road one stormy night. He brought it home and woke me up at a time when I had just fallen asleep. It was around an hour after midnight that I appeared at my vet’s home and after profusely apologizing for the inconvenience, drove with him to his clinic. It took two days to get the cat purring and another three to locate the owners. I found them unconcerned and not the least bit worried about their missing pet. Angry beyond words, I took the cat back to the vet and asked him to arrange its adoption with people who cared. The story had a happy ending and I am pleased to report that the animal is happy and well cared for in its new home.

Another night many years ago, I came across an injured horse lying in the middle of the Islamabad Expressway. It was apparent that the animal had been hit by a speeding vehicle and the impact had shattered its hind legs and pelvis.  I also realized that these injuries were beyond repair and the most humane thing to do was to put him out of his pain. Once again, I made a desperate call to my vet, who agreed with me and advised me to call the police. As I waited for the cops to arrive, I saw a second horse appear from the trees and walk up to the injured animal. The new arrival paused for a few seconds beside the accident victim and then began nuzzling it, while neighing in the most plaintiff manner. When I went home that night, I lay awake in bed thinking about what I had just witnessed – an amazing illustration of compassion.

One morning, three years ago, I found a Yellow Fluted Bulbul half dead of fear and fatigue in between a stack of garden chairs, where it had taken refuge from whatever had threatened it. I discovered that the bird also had a broken leg, which needed immediate attention. It took almost three weeks for this crested ‘warbler’ to recover and lose its fear. One sunny day we decided that the patient was well enough to be set free. To our surprise, the bulbul flew around the house and then perched itself on our bedroom window ledge. It then fluffed its feathers and gave us a bird song, the likes of which I had never heard before. I still maintain (in spite of odd looks from my family) that the performance was the feathery creature’s way of thanking us for the kindness we had shown it.

My ongoing experience with animals is a gift from God for it has revealed some amazing aspects of animal behavior and taught me abject lessons in trust, loyalty and courage. I am grateful to my Creator, Who has also blessed my children and grandchildren with the same compassion for, “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.”  

The writer is a historian.