Visitors to my humble premises are often curious about the assortment of bird feeders and terracotta containers that adorn trees and rocks. I get strange looks, when I tell them that these are meant to provide sustenance to the wild life that lives in and around my abode. This connection with the animal world is hereditary since my late father would often save some bread after lunch and feed the bulbuls that lived in our Lahore home. This practice was unique in the sense that these birds had become almost fearless and sometimes took food from his outstretched hand. The most fascinating part of these ‘beaked banquets’ was, when scraps were tossed in the air and ‘caught on the fly’.

When I decided to spend my retired life in the hills around the Federal Capital, I was rated as a lunatic by family and friends. I was told I would need neighbours and social contacts. I responded by saying that urban amenities were only a short drive away and retirement meant peace and quiet. Very soon, I discovered that I did in fact have neighbours – lots of neighbours, who did not require an invitation to visit me as much and as long as they wanted.

The first callers were reported to me while the house was still under construction, by my ‘chowkidar’, who woke me up in the middle of the night with an excited demand that he be armed with a gun. It turned out that he had seen a pair of big cats and spotted their pug marks on a wet piece of ground, which had been earmarked to become a lawn. I was fortunate that my dear friend, the late Obedullah Beg or OB (of television fame) was staying with me and eagerly accompanied me to the sighting. There were indeed pug marks of a ‘guldar’, which was later confirmed by the wild life people. It appeared that my half done residence, stood astride the route taken by the nocturnal visitors to hunt for goats and dogs in the nearby village. We spent the next few nights sitting up to see the magnificent animals ourselves, but failed to do so.

To our surprise we found that another predator had a free run of our place. This was a species of long eared fox, one family of which lived in a hole close to the construction site. I often caught this creature in the full glare of my headlights, where it would stand stock still for a few moments before bounding into the surrounding shrubbery.

One day, while driving home, I saw a large sized creature with extra-long ears appear in front of the car. I braked hard to discovered that I was looking at a grey wild hare (the last time I had seen one, was on an English country road near Coventry). Instead of turning back or crossing the road into the bushes, the rabbit’s wild cousin turned and began running ahead of the vehicle. It was my grandson’s shouting to stop lest ‘the bunny’ die of ‘fatigue’ that prompted me to brake and allow the hare to disappear into the night.

There is a pair of mongooses that has taken up abode in our compound. The first indication of their presence was a racket of alarm calls raised by the bird life that inhabits trees around us. It was the next day that I saw them perched on a large rock licking their paws and soaking up the sunshine. A little later my cook informed me that snakes around the house had mysteriously disappeared. It was then that I decided to befriend my little furry friends. I began by leaving tit bits on the rock, where I had first seen them. For the next few days the ‘Mynas’ had the party of their lives at my expense, then one day they raised their alarm calls and flew away in the middle of a meal as two little furry heads appeared on top of the rock to eat a well-deserved meal. My guests now gawk at the sight of, what is now a large mongoose family, sitting or even standing on their hind legs on top of ‘their rock’ waiting for their daily feast. These creatures have rid my garden of pests and dangerous reptiles and I plan to give them a permanent place as members of my house hold.