“Mama, what does Papa do in office?”
“He scares monkeys, darling.”
What are the strangest jobs that involve wild animals?
Every morning when I get to Shastri Bhavan, my office, I hear the sound of a man hooting. He hoots off and on the entire day. His job is to scare away monkeys. The monkeys run when they see him, but whether it’s because of his voice, or the large stick he carries, is a moot point. As soon as he moves away they come back and sit on the ledges of the upper stories of the building – and outside my window, where I feed them. Illegal langur kidnappers go from building to building (less so now because I have them arrested) and tie up their langurs on the gate to keep rhesus monkeys at bay. Some humans are paid by temples to dress up as monkeys to scare the others away.
Snake milkers are people who extract venom from snakes and other reptiles for medical applications, for the treatment of minor heart attacks and preventing blood clots, and for anti venom serums that can be used if a person is bitten by a snake. A lot of venom is needed every year, and the milker has to spend all day catching and squeezing a snake’s mouth open so that he can push snake fangs into a plastic container in order to milk them. Being bitten is not unusual. In India, the Irulas in Tamil Nadu, who were snake hunters for snake skin, were taught by Romulus Whittaker and Harry Miller, to collect venom and sell it to the snake institutes. In 1978, an Irula Snake-catchers Co-op, owned and operated by the Irula tribals, was formed with Romulus as the Technical Advisor and permissions were given to catch snakes and bring them to the Snake Park in Guindy where they are milked.
Brazil mosquito researchers, fighting malaria, must study the biting habits of the mosquito that spreads this deadly disease. In order to study these insects, Brazilian scientists offer themselves as bait. In the early evening, when mosquito activity is the most, a mosquito researcher sets himself up inside a mosquito-netting tent with a gap at the bottom. Mosquitoes fly in and get trapped inside, where the researcher sits. As they bite the legs, he or she draws them into a mouth tube and then into a container, catching up to 500 in 3 hours (which means at least 3000 bites). Many researchers get malaria.
An Avian Vomitologist is employed by entomology laboratories to collect vomit samples from sick birds, to analyse the avian flu pattern. This means moving through fields and forests in search of vomit.
In 2014, the Giant Panda Protection and Research Center, in China’s Sichuan, announced its worldwide search for panda cub caretakers. Contenders faced several elimination rounds before getting the job. The ad stated “Your work has only one mission: spending 365 days with the pandas and sharing in their joys and sorrows.”
Better that, than working in China’s bear bile centres. Bears have a permanent tube fastened to their gall bladders, and the bile gatherers have to make sure the bile comes out and the bear, though in extreme pain, does not die. The bile is collected in jars and sold for the Chinese quack medicine industry.
Or even the rabbit ‘hair-pullouters’. The Chinese and French grow rabbits in tiny cages. Every six weeks the hair pullers get them out, spread eagle them on a table with straps and then pull out bunches of hair while the rabbits scream. Amusement comes from hitting the rabbit to make it shut up. What does your illiterate Papa do? He tortures rabbits the whole day for a very small amount of money.
Movies that need insects employ an insect wrangler. These individuals grow ants, cockroaches and flies for films and exhibitions, and get more exotic insects depending on the movie order. The wrangler directs the insects during filming, by motivating them with food or pushing them away with air etc. He has trained them to respond.
In Thailand there is a whole industry of jewellery made of butterfly wings (you can see them on sale at the airport). There are people who actually tear the wings of live butterflies and quickly push them between plastic covers edged with a gold lining. Add a hook and voila – earrings!
That is in the same league as snakeskin catchers who pin a live snake to the board and then strip its skin off. This is made into shoes/wallets/handbacks for the very rich and stupid. Crocodile skinners do the same. Their job is to catch the mouth of a baby crocodile and bind it. Hammer a nail into the neck which paralyses it and then strip the skin off. For every guy who eats a live grasshopper on reality shows as disgusting as Fear Factor and Survivor, there are people who are paid to do the same thing in real life. These masochists are called Gross Stunt Testers and their highly paid job includes doing everything that’s gross, like eating worms or cockroaches. The film and television industry employs them to test disgusting items, such as bugs and fluids, to make sure it is safe for others to consume on camera, in order to avoid lawsuits.
Professional elephant painters and dressers are hired to paint and decorate elephants during the festivities in Kerala. Sri Lanka has official outfitters for the elephants taking part in festivals. Each elephant has to be measured, and custom made outfits are made for the body, trunk, ears, and tail of the animal. The drapery has to fit snugly to the elephant’s hide, instead of being tied on with rope. The elaborate creations take around two months to make. The outfits are bought by wealthy families and donated to the temple. Captive elephants are transported across the country to take part in these festivals. Every year at least ten elephants revolt under the heat of these dresses, the noise and the beating of the mahouts, and run amok. They are either killed immediately, or punished for months with beating.
Till a few decades ago leech were collected to draw blood from patients for therapeutic reasons. Leech-gatherers waded through dense leechfilled areas and allowed them to latch onto their legs and suck, losing tremendous amounts of blood. When they were covered with leeches they waded back and took them off. One short life and look how we waste it. On very enlightened Guru told me thirty years ago that Earth was the designated Hell for all the sinners of the Universe. One look at these jobs that we create and I can believe it.