CHAUBURJI Has any Lahori ever wondered as to why one sees an ever-increasing number of crows, kites and vultures instead of the large variety of exotic birds and small wild animals that once co-existed with the inhabitants of this city. The answer lies in the fact that the trees and the turf that lent this great metropolis its name as the 'City of Gardens have fallen prey to the mindless proliferation of concrete and an uncontrolled dumping of garbage. There was a time when the sprawling pipal trees provided refuge to the exotic green pigeon or harial and red fluted bulbuls flitted amongst branches of the neem singing their beautiful song. A pair of these birds nested in the tree that grew in our lawn and regularly entertained us by snatching pieces of bread tossed to them, in mid air. Then there were the hoopoes or hudhuds that could be seen industriously probing the grass with their long beaks looking for insects and one would often spot the grey horn bill with its distinctive call hopping from branch to branch amongst the high leafy canopies. Almost unheard is the piercing sound of the koel as dark monsoon clouds gathered on the horizon and one rarely spots the green plumage of the 'bee eaters that once adorned electricity cables, in long patients lines waiting for their prey. In the migrating season, trees would teem with tilliars in their distinctive black plumage and ash white breasts and dusk would bring out scores of large 'flying foxes that spent the daylight hours roosting upside down in the Lawrence Gardens. Summer evenings would be the setting for a breathtaking display by hundreds of fireflies, and monsoon rains coaxed out the elusive velvety red beetle known as bir bahuti, which when caught and put in a bottle containing white rice, turned it a subtle red. Vanished too are the tiny comics of the rodent world - the grey striped squirrels that scampered up and down tree trunks suddenly pausing to stand on their hind legs to look around, as if expecting ovation from an audience, and gone are the chameleons that clung to tree trunks bobbing their heads up and down like old men in vehement agreement. Children targeting these harmless lizards with stones would often cover their mouths with one hand because of an old wifes tale that 'if the reptile counted their teeth it would seriously harm them with its venom. These and many other species have disappeared or are fast doing so as habitats are destroyed and random dumping of garbage in and around the city attracts large numbers of carrion feeders that drive smaller birds and animals away. Talking of animals, I am reminded of a pair of leopards in the Lahore Zoo called Noshi and Raja. These two magnificent specimens of the carnivore world were donated by a leading citizen of Lahore, who retired as a senior bureaucrat. The cage housing these animals was from time to time transformed into a stage that attracted a large crowd of amazed onlookers. The principal character in the drama used to be a tall good looking, well dressed man, who would appear on the scene escorted by the zoo veterinarian. The leopards would drop whatever they were up to and rush to the visitor as he entered their cage. Purring like a pair of domestic felines, Noshi and Raja would rub themselves against what can best be called 'the Beast Master and shower him with undisguised affection. This unique individual had the same power over some of the other animals in the zoo and was frequently called to assist the veterinary staff in administering treatment to difficult 'patients. He was once asked to assume the office of the curator, but politely refused the offer on the grounds that he was happy the way things were. The writer is a freelance columnist.