Rakali, Ratty and Rikki

To: 'Steve Holliday' <>, "" <>
Subject: Rakali, Ratty and Rikki
From: Geoffrey Dabb <>
Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2016 06:50:37 +0000

Thank you Steve. Excellent, you are right of course.  I had overlooked that musky little creature.  We can put bandicoots of the rodent variety to one side.  The Hindi ‘chuchunder’ connection made clear in the Wikipedia piece  is quite conclusive.. 


From: Steve Holliday [
Sent: Friday, 22 July 2016 4:11 PM
Subject: RE: [canberrabirds] Rakali, Ratty and Rikki


I loved the Jungle Books in my younger days but haven’t been a fan of any of the movie versions I have seen over the years. They do seem to insist on having Orang-utans in India. The Disney version did have some catchy songs though.


An alternative suggestion for the identity of Chuchundra..



My aged copy of Prater’s “The book of Indian animals” also says that the Musk Shrew is often erroneously referred to as a Musk Rat and that “this is the large shrew which enters our houses at dusk or after lamplight running about the room seeking insects”


From: Geoffrey Dabb
Sent: Friday, 22 July 2016 12:14 PM
Subject: [canberrabirds] Rakali, Ratty and Rikki


Since Maurits expressed his preference for the ‘Rakali’ option I cannot help thinking it makes a better personal name (as in ‘Rakali the Water Rat’) than a species name (as in ‘Brian the Rakali’). Apparently it was introduced not so long ago to foster a more positive attitude to this native species. Confusingly,  I notice it is frequently used as a plural (as in ‘Rakali are common at the St Kilda breakwater’). The practice of giving personal names to animals goes back along way:  consider aboriginal dreaming stories for children.  Another famous example is Wind in the Willows, although the personal names there are rather impersonal  -  like ‘Mole’ and ‘Toad’.  There is the affectionate ‘Ratty’ for an alleged water rat, although  a little misleading as the intended animal is presumably a vole. ‘Voley’ does not have quite the same ring.  The best known suite of personally named animals is probably to be found in Kipling’s collections of short stories known as the Jungle Books.  I had earlier thought I might lead you into a huge generational chasm here  -  but, no, - I find that The Jungle Book (2016 film) ‘tells the story of Mowgli, an orphaned human boy who, guided by his animal guardians, sets out on a journey of discovery while evading the threatening Shere Khan’. 


I might be getting more generationally adrift if I focus on one of the Jungle Book stories – the sentimental tale of Rikki-tikki-tavi, the mongoose who saves an English family living in India from a malevolent pair of King Cobras. This, I would have thought, had a rather pre-baby boomer tone to it but even here I find the resurrecting power of Hollywood is at work.  There is a 1975 animated movie featuring of all people Orson Welles delivering the voice of Chuchundra, the Muskrat.  From my early reading of this I always remembered ‘Darzee the Tailorbird’ who has quite a prominent role.  There is of course an Australian Tailorbird.  (I remember some people using the name for the cisticolas at Waigani Swamp.  I think it was probably more a Sydney name for the cisticola.)


I was puzzled by Chuchundra the Musk-rat, as there seemed to be no animal of that name in India.  Chuchundra lurks in and around buildings by contrast with his relative Chua the (presumably Rattus) Rat who lives in the garden. I now think Chuchundra was a bandicoot.  Accounts of the Indian Bandicoot or Bandicoot Rat match what we know of Chuchundra and his apparent haunts.  Moreover that animal’s name comes from the Telugu name ‘pandakokka’, and was only later attached to the Australian marsupial.  Why then did Kipling call Chuchundra the Bandicoot a muskrat?  Clearly enough, I think, for his   American audience.  When he wrote the Jungle Books in the 1890s, for children, he was living in Vermont.  A muskrat, with which he would then be familiar, would have seemed near enough, and something understandable by his intended audience. In the 1920s muskrats were introduced to the UK and have become a feral pest.


I had a graphic I was thinking of appending to these thoughts but it might be a bit difficult for those working with a small screen, as so many people do these days.  These day it is unfashionable to look at anything between the tiny screen in one’s pocket and the giant screen on which you look at The Jungle Book (2016)  -  perhaps in your home cinema when the DVD is available.  



<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the Canberra Ornithologists Group mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the list contact David McDonald, list manager, phone (02) 6231 8904 or email . If you can not contact David McDonald e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU