(For Naomi Nwogu and Mrs. Adetoun Mohammed)

“Papa Bear…” Amanda called out to her father. It was a name she called him by when she was teasing him or wanted something from him.

“Yes, my panda!” he replied, between munches of succulent bamboo leaves. They could hear birds chirping as they flew from tree to tree, like travelers looking for a perfect inn to spend the night. The ants went about their businesses like traders who knew no difference between night and day. For these little creatures, it had been a busy day at the Becheve Nature Reserve on Obudu Mountain Range, a place that had become the home of a giant panda and his daughter Amanda.

The sun was setting and white clouds covered the golden face of that heavenly body like a veil shielding the face of a bride. That evening, the sun finally won the day-long tussle with the rain. Their hide-and-seek game had tossed the forest into turmoil as creatures ran for cover when the rain poured and came out when the sun was up, only to repeat the process.

“Tell me a story Papa Bear” Amanda appealed, making a face as she stretched on the wooden bed and the black patches around her eyes appeared to be enlarged. She was bored. The rain disrupted her plans of going to the grotto by the waterfall for a swim in the afternoon. Two squirrels returning from the treetop fruit mall were eavesdropping and sat on a big tree branch pretending to rest. They wanted to hear the story too. 

Papa Bear cleared his throat, drank nectar juice from a bamboo cup and sat by his daughter.

“Along time ago,” he began, “animals from around the world volunteered to protect the forests. They were called The Amazonians. The Amazonians met to determine which forest was in danger and would send volunteers to protect it. Mama Bear and I were sent from Asia to Sapele forest which was disappearing because of illegal loggers and poachers. It was in that forest camp that you, my beautiful panda was born.” Amanda smiled and nudged his shoulder with her head. He smiled and continued the story.

“When you were two months old, the Amazonians in Sapele held a secret meeting. The meeting was about strategies to stop deforestation without resorting to violence. No animal was supposed to divulge the information until the Amazonians met with conservationists in Benin. Unfortunately, two parrots went to a tavern for a drink and they bumped into loggers and poachers. As chatty and attention-seeking creatures, the parrots whispered to these enemies that the animals held a secret meeting, and after a few sweet treats, they divulged the resolutions of the conference to them.

“That night, the loggers ambushed the forest camp and though we tried to defend it, we were ill-prepared and easily overpowered. Mama Bear took a bullet during the raid. Too weak to run, she put you into my arms and made me promise that I will do everything I can to protect you. She did not make it.

“I ran with you for seven days until we came to Boki High Forest, but they did not let us in. The animal kingdom had been lied to, they were told that Sapele Amazonians betrayed other animals, thus we were banished from all natural sanctuaries.

“We wandered further north until we got to the Obudu Mountains. At that time, it was a wasteland with fallen trees but at least we had a place we could call our own. We lived on whatever we could scavenge.  You were lean, sad and always hungry my panda, so was I. To comfort you, I always sang a song, a song you still love to listen to.

“A few days after we arrived, we woke up to see tiny creatures gathered before us with their tools. They did not look strong, but they wanted to help, and were united. The mushroom, the queen of the fungi kingdom took the lead. The fungi chopped trees and the dead leaves into bits. The beetles and termites used their tiny mandibles like chainsaws with which they further ground the particles. Other insects joined the party: tilling, ploughing and ridging. The most delicate of them all, the earthworm, broke down the hard, barren soil and took the nutrients further into the soil.

“We all toiled for days and months and ate the little we could find. When the soil was ready, I planted seeds from my Amazonian pouch, a seedbank we often carried to help regenerate forests. The rains were kind that year and watered the soil; plants sprouted and in no time, Becheve forest was reborn.”

“Wao! That is a touching story!” Amanda exclaimed. Her eyes had lit up and she fought a tear. Other creatures had gathered to listen too. The agama lizard nodded as if someone had asked him to confirm the story. Fireflies danced around the pandas, their undersides beaming as stage lights shining on performers during a play.

“You are my hero, Papa Bear” the young panda said.

“No daughter” he replied “these our little friends, the fungi, the beetles, the termites, the earthworms… all of them are the unsung heroes of the natural world, the team of life. Without them, we would not have survived, nothing would grow”.

“Thank you, little ones,” Amanda said, handing a tender bamboo leaf to the termite queen. Her servants received it on her behalf and the creatures started retiring for the night.

“Good night dear friends” the pandas told the departing creatures. Soon, Amanda was left with her father.

“Papa Bear, sing for me that song as a lullaby,” Amanda begged. At first, her father hesitated, then cuddling her, he began to sing:

Baby mine, don’t you cry
Baby mine, dry your eyes
Rest your head close to my heart
Never to part, baby of mine

Little one, when you play
Don’t you mind what they say
Let those eyes sparkle and shine
Never a tear, baby of mine

If they knew sweet little you
They’d end up loving you too
All those same people who scold you
What they’d give just for the
Right to hold you

From your head down to your toes
You’re not much, goodness knows
But you’re so precious to me
Sweet as can be, baby of mine

All of those people who scold you
What they’d give just for the
Right to hold you

From your head down to your toes
You’re not much, goodness knows
But you’re so precious to me
Sweet as can be, baby of mine

Baby of mine

(Song Credit: Baby Mine, in the Disney movie, Dumbo. Photo credits: Pexels and Pixabay)

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