Jungle Retreat Wayanad: Wayanad, Kerala

Wayanad, Kerala
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Odin

Animals have an innate fear of humans, we have been hunting them for generations and they know that no good would come to them if they ever came too close to a man. Though a lot of animals visit our watering hole regularly, there are very few who feel comfortable out in the open grasslands that we have inside our farm. The Thirunelly Tusker, which is the biggest elephant in this area is one such animal and you can feel the arrogance oozing out of him when he walks around purposefully in the grassland, dismissing the lesser bulls just by his presence. Another equally majestic animal is who I call Odin the big Gaur bull. He is named after the one-eyed Norse God who gave up an eye in return for strength and wisdom, and yes, our Odin also had just one eye.

Gaur in Wayanad

Standing over 6 ft. tall, weighing more than a ton in weight, Odin in his prime was the biggest bull in this area.

Gaur in Wayanad

Massive Gaur bull named Odin, with just one good eye

He must be around 12 to 13 years old now, pretty old for a Gaur out in the wild and though he has lost much of his weight, he is still a formidable animal. I have been seeing him for the last 5 years, he’d come down during the evenings, graze by the edge of the watering hole before proceeding to drink his fill, he'd then look towards the cottages, hold his gaze for a while before moving back into the jungle. He was in his prime the first time I saw him, it was such a majestic animal with rippling muscles and an imposing gait. During my sojourns into the forest, I have seen him multiple times, grazing or resting under a tree. Most of the Gaurs would turn and bolt if they see a human approach, but not Odin, he would hold his ground knowing well that he had nothing to fear from a puny human. We both would look at each other, and we would keep a respectful distance before moving on.

Gaurs are not very vocal animals, that is especially true in the evenings. So when I heard the distress-filled bellow coming from the edge of the forest at 8 in the night, I knew instinctively that something was wrong. I had seen Odin grazing in the grassland in the evening, and though he was past his prime, he was still a formidable opponent for any of the carnivores. A leopard wouldn’t dare attack a male Gaur, the wild dogs would be resting by this time and the only animal brave and strong enough to take on a mature Gaur was the Tiger. Yesterday night we had heard the Tiger call from close to the farm and during the early morning trek we saw huge pugmarks of the resident male Tiger, could it be that Odin had finally met his match? Then we heard the grunts of the Tiger mixed with the bellow of the Gaur, my fear was confirmed, it was clear that the battle was on. By the time I took the night-vision camera and raced to the watchtower, a few of our resident guests who had also heard the commotion were already there. We used the torch to see if we could see anything in the night. Apart from the alarmed spotted deer, we couldn’t see anything in the grassland, but we could still hear the battle-royale from the edge of the forest. At times the grunts would turn into thunderous roars, so it was clear that the Tiger had failed to deliver the killing blow – Tigers kill their prey by breaking the neck. Now that Odin knew that the threat was upon him, it was clear that he’d be wary of another attack to the neck and as Gaur’s usually do when attacked, he himself would have gone into the attack mode. We could hear dry bamboo getting trampled under his weight as he was having a go at the Tiger using his massive horns. The Tiger had lost the surprise element as Odin knew that the attack was on, but the Tiger was still stronger, in his prime and the old Gaur bull had just one eye. It was too much of a handicap to give away – surely, there was only one outcome to the end of this fight.

After 10 minutes or so, the noise died out as quickly as it had started – only 2 things could have happened; Odin was dead or Odin, true to his name had outwitted the Tiger. If it was the latter, we knew that he’d come out into the grasslands once again because most of the animals felt safe close to human settlements. That is why you see spotted deer near human settlements inside the forest; the policy is – my enemy’s enemy is my friend. We waited with baited breath, hoping to see a weary Odin limp back towards the watering hole. But there was no sign of Odin that night, perhaps it was the end of the majestic Gaur bull that roamed the Thirunelly forests for so long. Roam he would no more.

After talking to the excited guests, and telling them about what could have happened, I retired to my room. I was feeling dejected about Odin’s plight – but that is nature’s way, survival of the fittest. Odin was probably no match for the big resident male. (Boy... how wrong was I!)

I knew I wouldn’t sleep well that night, and by day-break I was up and ready with my camera and my trekking kit, and thankfully it was not raining. So at first light I headed out into the forest to see first-hand what had happened during the night. I reached the edge of the forest and in no time I could see where the battle had taken place. There were pools of blood, but there was no sign of Odin or the Cat. I scoured around to see if there was a drag mark, the Tiger, if it had made the kill would have dragged the Gaur deeper into the jungle. Odin was close to 1000kg, so he was far too heavy for a Tiger to lift, so it’d have left a distinct drag mark on the ground. I went around the area hoping that I wouldn’t see the mark and I was relieved when I didn’t. I could see the ground was trampled, large bamboo clumps were broken like twigs, there were pugmarks and hoofmarks everywhere – it was clear that both the beasts had not backed out of the fight and they both had a real go at each other.

Gaur in Wayanad

There was blood everywhere, it was a titanic battle between the Tiger and the Gaur.

I decided to see where the animals had gone and it was not hard to find the two distinct trails, one of the Tiger and then of Odin and to my dismay, I could see that Odin had bled profusely as he moved deeper into the jungle. I kept following the track for close to 500 meters and then my heart sank when I saw the pugmark of the Tiger superimposed on Odin’s hoof mark, the Tiger had come back and had started trailing Odin once again.

I had to be extra careful now as I was tracking an injured Gaur bull who wouldn’t like my approach, worse still, The Tiger could have killed the Gaur at night and perhaps he was guarding the kill and he wouldn’t take kindly to my approach either. I inched forward, stopping and listening for any sounds that would give away the presence of either of these animals. The blood trail was easy to follow and soon I reached a swamp where Odin had rested, though there were chunks of clotted blood on the ground, it looked as though Odin was not as severely injured as I had earlier believed! The Tiger had also laid down perhaps 50 feet away from Odin, and they both had again gotten up and walked deeper into the jungle. I kept after them and wanted to know how it had ended. Soon I noticed that Odin had decided that he’d take a U-turn and come towards the farm once again! The Tiger had followed him as well, perhaps looking for another opportunity to strike! By this time I would have covered close to 2 KMs and with every passing step I could see that the blood trail was getting thinner and thinner, which was a good sign! We crossed some rivulets on the way and soon I passed the mota-teak tree (the big-teak tree) which is just a few hundred meters from the farm. Where was Odin heading, I wondered as I kept following the track and then I realized that it was just Odin’s track that I was following, the Tiger had stopped the chase and I couldn’t see the Tiger’s pug mark anymore. Retracing a few paces, I could see that the Tiger had turned and taken a forest path which went deeper into the jungle, perhaps he thought that he had no chance of surprising Odin again that night.

I continued on hoping to see Odin ahead of me and just as I broke cover and entered the grassland inside our farm, I saw the familiar figure of Odin, standing by the edge of the grassland grazing as though nothing had happened! I stood there looking at the old warrior, admiring his courage and will to live, he outsmarted and outfought the big male Tiger, the wily old Odin!

Gaur in Wayanad

Odin was bleeding thanks to the attack last night, but the wounds weren’t life threatening

Gaur in Wayanad

Old Odin with his battle scars

I coughed so that he knew I was near. He lifted his massive head and looked at me through his good eye! He knew it was me as he held his gaze and we made eye-contact for a few seconds before he lowered his head and started grazing again. I could see the injuries he had sustained, a big piece of the muscular rump that he had on his back was bitten off and there were clear bite and claw marks on his shoulder and back. A small piece of his nose was also torn off, but the big bull had proved once again that it was not time for him to go just yet. The Tiger had failed to get a grip on his neck and that had saved him.

True to his name, he must have lost an eye, but in return he is blessed with extraordinary strength and wisdom.

An interesting adventure from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil



A safari drive to remember...

It was 7:45 am and as you know, carnivores are most active between 5:30 am to 7:00 am and our hopes of getting a carnivore sighting were dwindling by the minute. Since it was a bright and sunny day, we knew that there was a chance of something showing up at the waterhole to quench it’s thirst, and so we patiently sat in the jeep, waiting for any signs of life. We could see a handsome Sambar stag approach the waterhole gingerly, it then bent down and drank from the pond, hardly 20 feet away from us.

As we sat there enjoying the sight, all of a sudden, we heard the alarm calls of the spotted deer coming from the other waterhole, which was around half a KM from where we were. The engine came ON and we moved as silently as possible towards the source of the calls, which by this time had reached fever pitch! We were excited because multiple deer were calling all at the same time, and we knew that it was not a case of mistaken identity… and listening to the calls, it was clear that the source of the alarm was indeed a Tiger!

We reached the spot in less than 2 minutes and we could see the herd of deer looking into the thick grass, straining their necks, stamping their hoofs and continuing to call. I stood up on the seat and peered through the thicket only to see the grass and nothing more. Since there was no road to get any closer, we decide to switch the engine off and wait it out, hoping that whatever had caused the alarm, would come out sooner than later. The deer kept calling looking at the same direction, and it gave us a clear indication on where to focus as the three of us scoured the landscape intently for any sort of movement. And then we saw her behind the large fallen tree, with a half-dead wild boar in her vice-like grip! We could only see her partially, as she was crouched on the wild boar, pinning it down under her weight amidst the long dry grass.

Looking around, it was clear that as soon as she finished the job, she would move it under a tree or take it to the shade, and she’d do that not just to get out of the sun, which was quite harsh by now, but also to hide the kill from other animals and birds. The way she was holding the boar down indicated that the boar was indeed a full-grown animal and she would have difficultly dragging the kill through the bushes. Keeping this in mind, we looked around for any sort of game trail which she could take once she started moving. The prominent game trail towards our left wasn’t all that hard to find and we silently reversed the jeep so that we could see her clearly when… if she decided to come out of the grass.

Wild boars formidable opponents and notoriously hard to kill, and it took a good 15 minutes for the Tigress to make sure that the boar was finally dead. I remember watching her stand up, panting in the sun, and almost immediately her gaze fell on our jeep, as she stood there starting at us intently with her mouth wide open. We sat in the jeep motionless not to attract any sort of attention, and soon she decided it was too hot for her to be out there in the open. We saw her bending down, clamp her jaws around the neck of the wild boar, picking it up, and then, as though it was scripted well before, she dragged the kill to the game track and started walking straight towards us, with the dead boar hanging from her jaws!

I’ll let the pictures do the talking …

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

An interesting adventure from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil



Got 'em...!

Wednesday was an interesting day with alarm calls coming from the Northern side of the farm, it was clear that a kill has happened during the early hours of the day. Our resident female was with 3 cubs, and listening to the call, I believed that the Tigers had killed a spotted deer at around 6 am that morning.

I waited till noon, which is when Tigers are least active, walked the short 100 meters from our cottage, which is where I thought the kill would be, and after waiting patiently for a good 90 minutes, I heard the spotted deer calling from my left, perhaps a 100 meters away from where I was sitting. The calls were getting closer, it was clear that the Tigers were approaching the kill.

I waited for the calls to die down, and soon it did, clear indication that the Tigers were on the kill and had started feasting on what was left of the kill. I inched closer, the dry teak leaves making it hard for me to move silently, and soon, I thought I saw something "white" behind a bush. I sat down and peered through the bush and it was one of the female cubs, she was on her back with her eyes closed, and she had no idea that I was there. I spent a good 30 minutes looking at her, I was less than 30 meters from her and if I had taken a photo, the clicking sound would have alerted her. I didn't want to miss capturing her on film, and knew that the next move she would make would be to come down for a drink. Though there were a few waterholes around, I picked the one to the Western side of the farm. It was not the closest one from that spot, but I had a "feeling" that the family would choose this specific waterhole over the others.

I remember tiptoeing to the spot which was 100 meters away from the Tigers, 50 meters away from the watch tower, well inside the farm, and set I the camera trap hoping that my decision to place the camera in that spot would indeed be the right one. Thursday...

I went and retrieved the camera next morning, I was disappointed to see that it had taken just 1 photo and 1 corresponding video in the last 18 hours. I remember sliding the SD card into the card reader, with my dad and Anju standing behind me waiting anxiously.

There was a collective gasp as the photo slowly opened...

Tiger in Wayanad

An interesting adventure from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil



Camping out in the wild...

There is nothing better than camping out in the jungle and since I travelled alone that weekend to Wayanad, I decided to swap the comfort of my wooden cabin for the hammock near the riverbed adjoining the property. There are a few things I always keep in mind while camping out, the most important one is that I don’t go into protected reserves or national parks, because camping out in the jungle without permission is illegal. But as you know, our farm is surrounded by jungle on all sides and we are blessed with some water-bodies inside the farm that attracts all sorts of animals, and this gives me a chance to enjoy the wilderness without getting into areas I shouldn’t.

I was targeting one such waterhole this time, right at the northern edge of our farm, and this was one of my favourite spots to sit up on because of the excellent animal movement there. It also offered large trees where I could tie my modified hammock from where I would have an unobstructed view of the water-body and the riverbed below me, the undulating hills beyond. I usually start by 2 in the afternoon, so that I am there by 2:30, and since I camped out in the month of August, just after the rains, I knew that it’d be a clear night with very little chance of rain. I usually camp out very light, I’d have my trusted hammock with me, a powerful torch which I never use once I am there, my trusted camera, a pull over to keep the early morning cold away, a length of camouflage net to wind around the tree, a steel flask with coffee, a few biscuits and yes my mobile phone which is always in silent mode. I do carry a phone all the time and the fact that I am in the wild and there are wild animals around is not lost on me, and the phone would be my passport to safety if I ever got into a situation that was beyond my control.

After a hearty lunch, knowing well that my next full meal would be a good 20 hours away, I started my walk towards the northern edge. Manu (our naturalist) had been telling me about animal movement in that area, I thought to myself that it’d be a bonus if I did chance on a cat..but the opportunity to enjoy the wilderness by camping out was a privilege in itself, everything else was just a bonus.

Soon, I reached the edge of the farm and after placing my small backpack on the ground at the base of the fig tree, I scoured around looking for signs, looking for the visitors frequenting this area. I did notice that there were leopard prints near the water hole that was almost dry, perhaps the mom I have been tracking (and writing about) and I could see that there were 1 year old leopard cubs in the area as well! Perhaps it was the one I photographed a while ago!

Tiger in Wayanad

I could also see that the usual suspects were regularly visiting this area, it included the Elephants, Gaur, Chital, Sambar, the barking deer to name a few. I was glad to notice that there weren’t any fresh Bear prints, this was mainly because of the fact that I was planning to camp up on the large fig tree and I could see that the tree was with fruit! Bears are nocturnal and they love their figs. The last thing I wanted was a Sloth bear climbing up the fig tree that I was camping on, and bears being bears, there was a distinct possibility that it wouldn’t notice me till it was right upon me! No, I certainly didn’t want that to happen and though I hadn’t seen any fresh Bear prints, I was not about to take a chance. This is where the camouflage net came in handy, I took out the net which was 5 meters long and wound it around the fig tree ensuring that nothing crept up on me or elephants didn’t push it down that night.Most of the animals, if not all, would give a wide berth to a tree which is wrapped around in something artificial, such as the camouflage net I was using.

I wanted to make as little noise as possible so that I didn’t spook any of the animals that would soon make a beeline to the waterhole. Once the net was in place, it was time for me to go up the tree and set my hammock. The hammock was made out of thick polyester material, and just like my camouflage T-shirt and my Khaki pants, it blended in with the surroundings. It had a frame which meant that I could actually sit up as though I was sitting on a platform, with just my head protruding out, it also ensured that the hammock didn’t swing if I moved. There were enough branches with leaves on the tree and it ensured that the shape of the hammock was hidden behind the leaves to a great extent. There were a pair of thick horizontal branches around 20 feet up and after making sure that both ends of the hammock along with the sides were securely tied, I decided to get in and start my vigil.

It was approaching 4:00 in the evening and I was inside the hammock, in a sitting position, facing the rivulet and the hills beyond. Looking up I saw the clear skies with not a spec of cloud, and I realised that I was in for a real treat as it was a full moon night!

Sitting there, cut off from civilisation, listening to the jungle sounds, the rivulet below – it had the most calming effect on me, it was sheer bliss –out there in the wild, with no one around, just me.. and nature!

The first hour was uneventful, but it was comforting to see that the herd of spotted deer hadn’t notice my presence as they came right under the fig tree to feast on the ripe fruits that had fallen to the ground. There were a pair of Gray Jungle Fowls wandering around completely un-alarmed and it was a clear indication that I was indeed hidden as long as I didn’t move much or make any noise. The other big advantage we have here is that there are no mosquitoes even after the rains, the presence of the mosquitoes would have made it hard for me to sit idle without slapping around when bitten. Soon, the light started fading and I remember switching off the camera and keeping it in one of the pouches inside the hammock. Soon, it’d be dark and I made a final check to ensure that I was going to be comfortable for the night, the torch was within reach and the flask of coffee nearby. The day light ebbed away from the Western sky, and a pall of darkness fell over the land, I could hear the nightjars flying around, as the birds of the morning gave way to the ones at night.

Uneventful – that is the word I can think of, as I looked at my watch, the glowing hands told me that it was past 9 pm already. I did hear something coming down for a drink, but the snorts told me clearly that it was a herd of Gaur, they lingered around for about half an hour before walking towards the meadows inside our farm for grazing. This must be the herd that we see bedding down daily in full view from where we stay! The moonlight was casting a brilliant hue all around, I could see the water below me glisten under the light, but the night was still, just the occasional call of the birds and the constant sound of water trickling over the rocks below me. I don’t remember when I fell asleep, but I do remember waking up with a jolt. When you wake up in the jungle, you are switched on from the word go, unlike how it is when in the comfort of your house. I lay there in the hammock without moving, my ears picking up the noise of something close by, so close that something was actually on the tree eating the ripe figs! I relaxed when I heard the flapping of the wings, it was the fruit eating bats enjoying a late night nibble! I lay there relaxed, listening to the jungle sounds and soon fell asleep, had an undisturbed sleep till the call of the jungle fowl woke me up and it was almost 4:45 early in the morning. I took a minute, soaking in the crisp, fresh jungle air and after listening for a minute to see if there was any movement around me, I slowly sat up in my hammock and looked around. The moon had gone behind the hills and I poured myself a cup of coffee, still warm thanks to the flask. I remember sitting there, leaning back on the hammock, a warm coffee in my hand, listening to the jungle that was slowly coming alive. I leaned forward to see if there was any movement on the forest floor, in the dim light I could see that it was deserted. I looked up at the tree and I could see the bats were already long gone. It was then that I thought I saw something move on the other side of the rivulet maybe a 100 feet or so on the hill in front of me. There was absolutely no noise whatsoever, but I was certain that I did see something move in the dark on the other side and I began to scan the hill in front of me.

And then I saw her silhouette against the violet backdrop of the early morning sky, she was sitting on her haunches looking away from me peering into the grasslands and the trees beyond. I watched her, as she sat there looking intently and at times bending down to lick her paws and legs. She looked very comfortable and relaxed and I sat motionless in my hammock 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard.

Tiger in Wayanad

Though she was at a fair distance away from where I was, it was clear that it was a female because of the size of the head compared to the body. I spent a good 10 minutes looking at her and I knew that if I moved or made noise, even though I was not close to her, she’d see me and slink away. Perhaps it was her pugmark that I saw near the waterhole, if it was indeed hers, there was a chance that the cubs would be in that area too! I was not expecting the cubs to come out, looking at the prints, they were small and in all possibility, the cubs would be in a safe den somewhere close by. I could see that she kept licking her paws intently, that got me thinking, perhaps she had made a kill during the night!

I wanted to take back the memories with me and I remember gently reaching to my left where my camera was in one of the compartments. I took a good minute to move my hand a foot to the left and soon the camera slid into my lap, the cat still sitting there oblivious of my presence. Raising the camera to my face, inch by inch, I put the mode on “manual” because the light was so poor that autofocus just wouldn’t work, got her on focus and clicked on the shutter button.What happened next amazed me. She was a good 100 feet away from me and the moment I took the picture, she turned her head and looked straight in my direction, she knew I was there!

Tiger in Wayanad

She kept looking at me for a good minute and I was expecting her to slink away into the darkness, as only a Leopard could, but to my relief, she soon lost interest in me and went back to looking straight at the meadows, completely ignoring me! I didn’t want to press my luck, so I kept the camera on my lap and sat there enjoying the amazing company I had!

Soon the morning rays of the sun started to drift in casting a golden hue over the hill. The leopard kept disappearing, only to appear at the other end of the hill. Then she’d disappear again and pop up where I found her the first time. I noted that for whatever reason, she didn’t leave that area, did it mean that the kill was nearby, or better still, did she have her den in the many crevices on that hill? By 6:30am it was very well lit and I started mapping every boulder and crevice that could be used as a den. There were 2 that caught my eye and I remember looking at each of these intently hoping for some movement.

By this time the Leopard had disappeared, but I kept scouring the hill in front of me, and then I saw him! He already knew I was there, he was looking straight back at me intently with his big unflinching eyes! He was about a year old, he looked more curious than alarmed.

Tiger in Wayanad

The cub didn’t leave the cave, as he continued to look at me, meeting my gaze. I did not make any sudden movements, and he didn’t seem to bother when I reached for my camera and took a few pictures of him. After an hour of sizing each other down, I saw a movement behind the cub, it was the mom and she came and sat right next to the cub, now there were 2 leopards staring at me from the cave!

Tiger in Wayanad

She started grooming her cub perhaps telling him that everything was OK! To my absolute delight, this seemed to give the cub the courage to come out of the cave, he did so, but not without casting glances towards my direction frequently, and I sat there without moving, meeting his gaze.

Tiger in Wayanad

Just as she had appeared from nowhere, the mom disappeared into the cave, and soon, I saw her waking on the ridge towards the farm. The sun was out and I could clearly see her shiny coat and rosettes in the brilliant morning rays!

Tiger in Wayanad

She lay down in the dry grass and it was clear that she was eyeing the meadows from the vantage point atop the hill. She didn’t look in any hurry, as she lay there lazily, occasionally glancing towards me before going back to scouring the meadows in front of her.

Tiger in Wayanad

She was perhaps 200 feet away from the cave where her cub was, she had decided that it was safe for the cub to be out there by himself, though there was a human around. Mind you, the cub was almost a year old and Leopards do grow fast, and a 1 year old cub is not entirely defenceless. We, the cub and I spent the morning looking at each other; he lay down on the rock right outside the cave till around 8:00 am. Soon the sun was up in the sky, bright and harsh, and the cub sat up on his haunches, looked around for a while and decided that it was too hot for him to be out there. He took a few steps towards the cave, paused for a second, turned back and looked at me before entering the cave and disappearing from my sight!

I live for moments like these, I was 100 meters away from a full grown female leopard and her cub and she had enough trust in me to leave the cub there in the presence of a human and wander off. Perhaps she realized that I wouldn’t do anything to break her trust and maybe that is why she continues to accept my presence even to this date!

An interesting adventure from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil



"Why didn't you take me with you!!"

News travels fast in this neck of the woods and if you know what to listen for, how to decipher the call of the animals, it can open up a fascinating new world, especially if you are a wildlife lover. I enjoy taking my camera and going for aimless strolls through our farm, aimless it might be, but always mindful of the fact that I am the guest here.

It was almost 7 am and I was getting ready to go for one such walk that morning and that is when I heard the alarm calls of the Langur coming from the Northern side of the farm bordering Tholpetty. As described in my previous post, alarm calls are often heard from in and around our farm, what was interesting this time was the intensity and frequency of the calls, something was indeed afoot, that too close by. The calls were made by the Gray Langur, (black-feet) and they, unlike their cousins (Macaques) were a lot more aristocratic and regal in their ways. They usually shy away from man and go about minding their own business, and their alarm calls resemble a throaty cough, ending in a guttural howl.

For anyone who is used to tracking animals be it on foot or during safari drives, such alarm calls are like gold-dust, it shows the presence of a carnivore. Since it was the Langur calling, it could have been any of the cats – the spotted or the striped, it could have been a pack of Dholes (wild dogs), a large predatory bird, or even a large snake would get them into the frenzied state. I decided to investigate. Taking my camera (which by no means guarantees a good photo – as you will soon see) and changing into my trekking clothes and putting on my rubber soled shoe, I walked towards the direction from where the calls were coming from.

The calls were still loud and persistent; I had my hopes up as the calls were coming from multiple individuals and not just the Langur sentry. Their throaty calls reverberated around, it was clear that the jungle was alert. In the last 5 minutes or so that I have been walking, the callers had not moved, clearly indicating that what-ever the source of the threat was, was still there and in no hurry.

Soon, I was close to the Langurs sitting on the teak tree, I looked around, large teak trees everywhere with lantana bushes between the trees. The visibility was poor to say the least and if the Langur saw me coming, it’d start looking at me, and then whichever the animal – the source of threat was, would know something else was close by and it’d move away. So, as is always the case, it was important not to get seen by the caller.


When you are tracking an animal, it is always important to predict what the animal would do next. And in this case, the first step for me was to identify what the source of concern was. I did a quick mental math, I ruled out Wild dogs from the list of possible candidates, they are usually in a pack and they avoid staying out in the open for too long unless they have made a kill. I didn’t hear the commotion associated with a wild dog kill, they are messy eaters and they usually chase their prey over a long distance, and the whole process is usually very noisy and the jungle would be wide awake to the act. Here, apart from the Langur’s relentless calls, it was eerily quiet. I ruled out the treat being a large predatory bird, there were egrets and herons in our open meadows going about their business. If there were large predatory birds around, the egrets and herons won’t forage out in the open in such a casual manner. We have had terrific Leopard and Tiger sightings inside the farm of late and I was hoping that it’d be one of the big 2 and if it was indeed the case, they wouldn't linger around for much longer in the teak forest, because the sun was making its presence felt and it was getting very warm.

As this was inside our farm, I was very familiar with the area and I have frequented this part many, many times. There was a small ravine with large trees on both the sides about 400 feet towards my left and there was every chance that the animal would soon get up and walk towards the shade, where there was ample cover and water. That is what I expected the animal to do, but as you know, with wildlife, it is almost impossible to predict what would happen next. But since this was the most practical option I could think of, I decided to tip-toe to the left and skirt around the teak trees towards the ravine.

The Langurs hadn’t seen me yet, the calls kept coming, which was reassuring that the source of the “danger” was still there. As I crouched and moved to the left, the progress was slow because the ground was carpeted with dry teak leaves which would crackle and give away my presence at the faintest of touch. I carefully tiptoed, making sure that I left the leaves and twigs well alone. The teak trees soon gave way to large evergreen trees, and I could feel the distinct drop in temperature once I entered the evergreen shades. I wanted to find a vantage point overlooking the small rivulet in the ravine, so that if anything did come out, I’d be in a good position to see it without it seeing me first. The name of the game is to spot the animal before it sees you and the only way to do that is to find an area that is camouflaged, be completely silent and motionless and hope that you get lucky – it is easier said than done.

Soon I reached the wooded ravine, I could hear the birds calling, the langur at a distance continued to call, telling me that the “threat” was still visible to them and had not moved. I felt confident that I would be able to find a spot that’d give me ample cover, as I scoured the area for rocks or large trees to hide behind. I didn’t want to be more than 50 feet away from the rivulet as I was expecting the animal to come down the ravine offering me a good photo opportunity. I climbed to the other side of the ravine which had a healthy growth of lantana and the Christmas bush – both giving me ample cover to sit under, with the rivulet 25 feet below, in front of me. I sat down on a small rock between the bushes, and there was a large log right in front of me, which gave me additional cover and it also doubled up as my camera stand. I prepared to wait it out, it was almost 8 am by then, the Langur’s were still calling and I was confident that the animal would come down from the other bank, walk towards the rivulet and I should be able to see it as it came down for a drink before it saw me.

Everything was set, I was sitting hidden in the bushes, which gave me ample cover and I was hoping when the animal started moving towards the rivulet, the Langurs would do the same, indicating the path taken by the animal. Langurs do tend to follow the threat and it is rightly considered as one the best alarm givers in the jungle because of its persistence that too from its vantage point. The simple logic the Langurs and Chital have is – the enemy I can see is better than the enemy I can’t, and so it is not uncommon to see the jungle folks following the carnivores at a safe distance.

The next 1 hour would be crucial. If the animal did come down for a drink, it’d happen in the next 30 minutes or so as it was getting warmer by the minute. I had my camera with the tele-zoom lens ready resting on the log facing the ravine below me. It was important that I was ready for the shot without having to move my camera. Any sort of movement, no matter how well camouflaged I was would give away my presence and that is the last thing I wanted. I took my camera phone out and had it as a backup. I was happy with the setting, everything was in place and I sat motionless, my senses completely alert, waiting for the carnivore to walk down from the other side of the ravine any time now.

I must have waited motionless for a good 20 minutes... and then... I heard it for the first time! I thought I heard something brush against the leaves, but the sound came from my left hand side and not from the other side of the ravine. It was a very gentle sound, a sound that is made when you brush against a bush ever so gently and it didn’t feel as though it was made by a large animal. The initial instinct was to turn to the left and look in that direction, but any such sudden movement would have given away my presence. I sat motionless and alert peering to the left through the corner of my eye without turning my head. I could still hear the Langurs calling from afar, coming from 200 feet in front of me. What could have moved from my left – and it felt as though it came from very close. Then I heard the sound again, this time it sounded like a gentle scuffle through the bush, not more than 15 feet or so from my left. I remember slowly turning my head towards the left, the phone in one hand, the camera and the heavy lens still facing down, resting on the log. It took me a good 20 seconds to turn my head ever so slowly and look towards the left .... and then I saw him looking back at me, 15 feet away with those big, beautiful, inquisitive eyes of his. I didn’t break the gaze, neither did he, we both looked at each other for a good few seconds. I didn’t want to make any sudden movement as it would have scared him away, but I had to capture this priceless moment. Reaching out and taking the camera from the log and bringing it to my eye level would have spooked him and he’d be off in a flash. The only option I had was to try and take a photo with the phone and hope it’d come out half decent. I was already holding the phone, I slowly lifted my phone which was in the camera mode, turned my hand left and brought the phone camera to face him. Since I moved the phone in such a painstakingly slow manner, it didn’t seem to bother him, as he kept looking at me with a puzzled expression. The setting on the phone was such that it’d focus on the point where I tapped on the screen. I didn’t want to look at the phone and break the eye contact with him. With the phone facing him I tapped on the centre of the screen, hoping to capture those precious moments.

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

The Leopard cub was not more than 6 months old, it had a very inquisitive look and was as surprised as me. After the first few seconds, it lifted its small head so that it could get a better look at me and then it realized that it was his mortal enemy hiding behind the bushes. Without giving me a second look it slinked away into the bushes and disappeared as only a Leopard could. The calls were still coming from afar, it was clear that it was a family with young cub(s) as the Leopard mom would not be too far away from cubs this young and the Langur, in all probability was looking at the mom while I was looking at the cub. The Golden rule in the wild is to avoid the cat when it is with its cubs or when it is with a kill. It doesn't end well usually for both the cat and the man. The Leopardess would be fiercely protective and she’d take the cub and move out of the area. That is the last thing I wanted to happen, I broke my cover, got up from my hiding place, and without giving a second glance towards where the cub was, I walked towards the right, making a beeline towards my Cottage.

In less than 10 minutes I was back in my balcony trembling with excitement, as the Langurs continued to call alerting the forest.

It is not everyday that you get a chance to see the most elusive cat, that too on foot. I was prepared, my camera ready, but the wild has its own ways to surprise you. I didn’t expect the cub to make an appearance, nor did I expect to take a photo with my phone, especially since I had my camera set and ready. I went through the photos, and in that exhilarating moment, I ended up taking shaky and out of focus photos, but I couldn’t care less, I had just seen a Leopard cub inside the farm – what an absolute privilege. I leaned back in my armchair in the balcony facing the meadows, the Langur’s were still calling, and it was then my wife came to the balcony and enlightened me pointing in the direction of the call – “something is out there, the calls have been coming for an hour now...” I nodded in agreement.. something was indeed out there, I gave her my phone with the photos. I closed my eyes and leaned back with a very content smile, waiting for the initial shriek of disbelief followed by the barrage of questions... why, what, how, where... followed by the usual one with a frown – “why didn’t you take me with you...”

An interesting adventure from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil



Shh... you are in the jungle

Imagine!

You are in a semi open jeep, tarpaulin top, sides open. It is 7 am, you are inside the jungle on a safari drive. It is just you and the jeep driver, familiar to you by now, it is the 5th time you both are out in the jungle. You reach a watering-hole, you sense that the jungle is very tensed, you exchange nervous glances with the driver, who is equally alert. The driver switches the engine off, you are listening intently, it is silence all around, pin drop silence. Something is afoot.

All of a sudden, you see him staring at your jeep from behind the bushes, perfectly camouflaged, not more than 25 feet away. instinctively, you grip your camera, the light is perfect, but you don’t want to make any sudden movements, you don't want to scare him away. You wait for him to settle down. He doesn't. He shows his displeasure by looking at you and your jeep intently. You match his gaze, it is a battle of wits, you are not willing to give in, no matter how intimidating it is. He makes the first move, he gently lifts his left paw and places it gingerly in front of him, still looking intently towards the jeep. You, as silently as possible, switch your camera on. He pauses, looks in your direction with one foot extended, waits a good minute before deciding to walk forward.

He takes a few more steps towards you. You gently lift your camera to your eye, without making any sudden movements. Wrong lens! 400 mm, he will fill the frame! He keeps coming forward, curious, never breaking his gaze from the jeep, he is just 15 feet away from you. You have him on your view finder, focused. You wait for the right moment, he turns to the side, and then you click. Big mistake! He turns his head, looks at the jeep, he has clearly heard the click and he is not happy. You see his eyes widening, his pupil shrinking in size, he starts to frown, the jaw drops ever so gently, the upper lip starts to curl up... you know what is coming. Then, you hear something that strikes terror in your heart, you hear the thunderous growl from the most feared predator of all from less than 15 feet away. There is nothing between you and him apart from a flimsy iron bar. It is your 108th Tiger sighting, you think you have seen it all, but deep down you know you are petrified. All you want to do is to get out of there...you whisper to the driver... “chalo” (go)

Tiger in Wayanad

An interesting adventure from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil



I look forward to Fridays…

Friday 2:00pm is usually when I am in my car with my family en-route to our farm in Wayanad. This Friday was no different. The presentation on work force efficiency kept me busy all week and I was able to send it out by 12:00 noon. Reached out to my team, and after ensuring that nothing was burning, I walked to the basement car park, got in and drove the 4 KMS to my house, where my wife and kid were eagerly waiting. The vehicle was ready & filled and off we went to the outer ring road, then to NICE road and we were finally on the Mysore-Bangalore highway en-route to Wayanad. As always, we had packed the sandwiches to have on the way because we didn’t want to stop mid-way for lunch and then miss out on reaching the Nagarahole forest check-post which closes at 6:00pm sharp. Thankfully, the road was relatively traffic free and we managed to cover the 180Kms till the check post in just less than 4 hours. We signed the name in the Nagarahole register and after exchanging pleasantries with the guards there, started our last stretch of 50 kms to our farm, through the jungle!

The usual suspects were there, the elephants, gaurs, chital in abundance… and after the thoroughly enjoyable 32km drive through Nagarahole, we reached the Kutta side, and soon we were on Tholpetty road towards Thirunelly. Our farm is 15 minutes away from Tholpetty sanctuary gate and by the time we reached the farm, it was almost 8:30pm. After parking the car and making sure that the in-house guests were all comfortable and everything was in order, we settled in. The caretaker came up with a mug of warm coffee, and told me that there were elephants in the field. Taking the torch from him, I directed it towards the field and yes, there were 2 of them probably 50 meters or so from our house, on the other side of the electric fence. After enjoying the sight for a few seconds, not wanting to disturb their peaceful presence, I switched the torch off and decided to hit the bed early after a very homely dinner.

The alarm calls of the Chital woke me up, it is nothing new, we hear it multiple times every day, the calls were coming from the west and the calls were non-stop. I sat up and listened, it was already 8:00 am and I had over-slept as I had plans to go birding early in the morning. Opening the door, I walked out to the balcony and listened, the calls kept coming and it was clear that it was a confirmed sighting and not just a false alarm which is often the case.

The weather was good, no rains, sun was out, and I didn’t really have anything urgent to tend to, so I decided to go and have a look especially since it felt as though the calls were coming from inside the farm! Changing into my silent walking shoes and earth coloured clothes, taking my trusted 100-400L lens, putting the phone on silent, I told the caretaker Manu that I was going to see what the commotion was all about. Manu then mentioned that he thought he heard a low growl in the wee hours followed by a constant sound of something hitting the ground and he said that it went on for a good 3 to 5 minutes – a point I noted. As I checked the direction of wind to ensure that the deer wouldn’t get my scent, I thought about what Manu said – about the sound of “something hitting the ground”, as I silently tip-toed and skirted around the lantana bushes towards where the calls were coming from.

I inched forward silently and carefully, pausing every 10 seconds or so to realign my direction based on the alarm calls. The calls kept coming at the same frequency, I was getting closer. I had already walked close to 200 meters from the house and it had taken almost 30 minutes to cover the distance, but the last 20 to 30 meters were always the trickiest. I had to ensure that the deer didn’t see me, if it did, it’d stop calling and I would have no way to realign my GPS on the cause of the alarm. Worse still, if the deer ran off or stopped calling, the source of threat would also get very suspicious and slink away.

I was very much within the boundaries of the farm and I leaned against the large rock which hid me from the deer which was perhaps 20 meters ahead of me on the other side of the rock. The calls kept coming, the deer was not moving and so it was clear that whatever had spooked it was still there and not really bothered about being out in the open. It was 9am, and the sun was up in the sky and I was starting to feel the heat. This is usually when the carnivore, the source of threat would think about taking refuge in the shade because of the heat.

The deer would give the alarm call if they see/sense something that could harm them and the source of threat could well be a Tiger, Leopard, Wild Dogs, Sloth Bear, Large Snake or even a Large Eagle. It would also call if it sees a human close by and since it was coming from inside the farm I knew that there would be no humans around there, so I counted that option out. A Bear wouldn’t stay in the same place for more than 30 minutes, it is a very busy animal and it is always looking for something to eat and always on the move. So it was unlikely that it was a bear. Was it a predatory bird? Probably not. When the deer has fawns, and if they are in the open, then there is a remote chance that a Black Eagle would swoop down to try and take a newborn. This was not the time of the year when the deer would have fawns and when they don’t have fawns, they won’t call seeing a Black Eagle. So that was another that I cut off my list. That left me with the big 3 – The Tiger, Leopard or Wild Dogs. I strained my ear and listened intently at the calls, there was one every 10 seconds or so. If it were the Wild Dogs, it’d usually be in a pack and more often than not, the deer wouldn't wait around and call knowing well that there could be other dogs close by. The calls were very high pitched, the deer has different calls for different threats, the pitch varies depending on what has spooked them, in this case everything pointed to the fact that the source of the threat could indeed be a Cat! Now the question was, was it the striped one or the spotted?

If what Manu said was indeed true, the low growl and the sound of something hitting the ground at regular intervals, then it was an open and shut case. A leopard had made the kill in the early hours and it had killed a chital and now it was back at the kill. You’d only hear the sounds of hooves hitting the ground – which is also called “drumming” during a Leopard kill, when there is a throat/choke hold and the long-legged animal was still trying to escape. The Tiger kills by breaking the neck and there won’t be any drumming as the kill is instant. If the inference was right, then the source of threat was a Leopard and it was somewhere close by. Now, the question was, how do I look for the most elusive cat in the world before it sees me!

Nagarahole, Tholpetty, Thirunelli area has a large share of Tigers and it is not surprising why Naragahole is called the Tiger capital of the world – it has the highest density of Tigers anywhere in the world. It was past 9, the calls had been happening for more than an hour and if there was a Tiger around, it wouldn’t need another invitation to come and see if it could get a free meal. So if it was a Leopard in a Tiger “infested” forest, with a kill to defend, and the fact that there was a kill, was getting publicised by the deer, the only place it’d feel safe would be where a Tiger wouldn't be able to get to it easily – on a Tree!

Now, leopards are creatures of habit, it has its favourite tree to perch on, regular paths it’d use and regular watering holes it’d visit. Since I knew the farm like the back of my hand I started thinking about the trees in that area that a leopard would find inviting. There were 2, and one was 30 meters or so from where I was standing – large, wide and tall, ideal for a leopard to perch on. The calls were coming from that general direction and I came out of my hiding and inched closer to where I thought the tree was. Keeping all the “theory” in mind, it was worth a try, I moved from one large tree to another, hid behind it, waited to ensure I was not spotted (no pun intended) and did the same again. The ground was wet thanks to the rains a day back, so there were no dry leaves to crackle and give out my presence. I was 20 meters away, the calls were still continuing, the deer hadn’t seen me and the cat, assuming it was indeed the cat was perhaps still there.

I remember standing behind a large white-teak tree that hid the tree where I thought there was a chance of sighting the cat. I switched the camera ON, adjusted the lens and gently leaned forward inch by inch and that is when I saw him.. stretched magnificently, eyes closed with no care in the world…

Tiger in Wayanad

My camera does not make a clicking sound when I take pictures, the click would give my presence away in the jungle. But after the first few shots, the Leopard lifted its head, turned around looked in my general direction.

Tiger in Wayanad

Tiger in Wayanad

I stood motionless hidden behind the tree. I waited with bated breath almost certain that I’d see the face of the Leopard looking back at me, from right next to the tree that I was hiding behind, after all, it was a curious cat and it moved like the ghost.

Luckily, that didn’t happen, after a few nerve-wracking minutes, I peeked back and it was still there, on its perch,relaxed. I decided not to push my luck and retraced my steps back to the house, delighted that our visitor was very comfortable inside our farm!

Leopard in Wayanad

An interesting adventure from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil





A drive back …

The drive back after a safari drive is something people don't really look forward to, after all, the action is over and most of us would be browsing through the pictures taken during the day. There isn't much more to see anyway, or is there? We were coming back from one such drive and that is when we saw a fleet of cars parked one after the other at the side of the road. Rolling down the windows which was up thanks to the steady drizzle, and in a hushed tone we asked the first car why they were waiting and a beaming young lady told us excitedly that they had just glimpsed a Tiger cross the road and move into the bushes! At the expense of facing her ire, I asked again, this time more directly - "did you actually see the Tiger or…" before I could finish, she replied "Oh yes, I.. think.. we saw the tail when it went inside that bush 2 minutes back".. pointing towards a lantana bush at the side of the road.

There were 5 of us in our car, all wildlife lovers and there was a collective gasp when we heard the young lady say the word "Tiger".. that magical, mesmerizing word …. "Tiger!"

After thanking the pleasant young lady we drove a few meters and slowed down to analyse the situation. There were a few things we could have done. Join the queue and hope the Tiger would make an appearance, if there was indeed a Tiger there; or drive on and hope that we wouldn't miss the action any more or we take a step back and assume that there was indeed a Tiger there and think logically from a Tiger's perspective on what its next move would be. We decided to take the last approach.

It was past 6, the light was fading quickly, and it had rained all afternoon. The young lady had said that they saw the Tiger, and if the Tiger was indeed there, what was it doing on the road? The key question we had to crack to have any chance of sighting the Tiger was - Why was it there? There were a few obvious thoughts that went through my mind. Was it going for a drink? After all, the cats would laze off under the shade to avoid the bright sun in the afternoon and then go for a drink in the evening? That thought was quickly dismissed because it had rained all afternoon and there would be enough puddles to drink from without having to go in search of a watering-hole, which is what it would do during peak summer, when there was no water around.

Why else would it be moving around? Perhaps it was getting ready for a hunt? Perhaps not! No Tiger would come out into an open area, such as a road when it was preparing to hunt. Tigers, just like leopards are stealth hunters and they use the cover provided by the bushes and rely on their natural camouflage to take their prey by surprise. This being the case, it would indeed be very unlikely that a Tiger would walk on the road in full view, announcing its presence especially when it was planning on a hunt. Think about this, if a human was able to see the Tiger, every other animal would have already seen it - as we say - you will see the Tiger when it wants you to see it. So if the Tiger is showing itself, it was unlikely that it was looking for dinner. So we ruled that option out as well. I recollected the thoughts again - it was not looking for a watering-hole to cool off or drink, neither was it looking to hunt and no Tiger would go for an aimless walk that too on a rainy day! So why else would it be here, IF it was indeed here?

Another thought crossed my mind. Tigers, like most carnivores are territorial and in my experience they are usually active during the breaks between the rain. That is when they come out and scent-mark their territory - they keep doing this as the rain would wash the scent away. More often than not, most of the animals use the path of least resistance, so when there is a perfectly nice road or a path, and if there isn't too much traffic, you will see animals using the road or the path to move around and scent mark near-by trees or rocks. Well, that was a possibility indeed and after sharing my thoughts with the others we decided to explore along those lines - scent marking!

So the Tiger, as told to us, had crossed the road from our right to left and there were 5 cars waiting in a line waiting for the cat to come out. Towards our back, the road extended in a straight line for maybe 100 meters and towards our front, the road took a sharp left after 20 meters or so. In my experience, it was unlikely that the cat would come out especially when there were these many vehicles waiting, so we decided to continue moving forward slowly keeping an eye out to our left, which is where the cat would be. We were also on the lookout for trees, rocks or stumps which would be ideal for scent marking if you were a Tiger and believe it or not, it is not that hard to spot the tree where animals scent mark frequently. Tigers use the same trees or stumps to mark their territory and usually the scent marks would be around 3 to 4 feet from the ground. These trees would have a distinct stain, usually darker in colour and more often than not, these would be trees with a smooth bark, as Tigers have the habit of rubbing against these trees and they wouldn't do it against a tree with a rough bark. Keeping all this in mind and conveying to the others as to what to look for, we started driving ever so slowly peering to our left. 20 meters or so later, the road turned sharply to our left, and we took it leaving the waiting queue of vehicles behind and out of sight. The road after the turn was a straight one for a few hundred meters and there was not an animal in sight. It was completely deserted. We drove slowly for the first 200 meters or so looking for signs of scent marks on trees or rocks. The lady in the car had told us that she saw the cat around 5 minutes back, it was logical to assume that the cat would have travelled anywhere between 1 to a few hundred meters; as you know, they can cover a fair bit if they wanted to! We drove a bit more, looking at the left hand side at all times, looking into the bushes to look for any movement - and that is when we saw the distinct signs of the scent marks on a white-teak tree; the white-teak tree has a soft bark, a lot of animals use the white-teak tree as a scent marking post. One thing you don't do is get out of the car when you are in the jungle, you have to respect the wild at all times. The dark patch on the tree around 15 feet away from the road got us all excited and we knew that the slightest of noises would drive the cat away if it was in the vicinity and so most of the communication between us happened using sign language using our hands and nodding heads.

After looking at the mark for a minute and making sure that it was indeed the scent spot, we thought about our next step. There was thick growth of lantana plants on either side of the road and the animals make "tunnels" through these plants to move around unnoticed. The next logical step was for us to find a well-used "tunnel" and see if the cat would come out through the tunnel, into the open. We had already travelled close to 500 meters from the waiting line of cars, and looking around, we saw what we thought was indeed a well-used game path on the left hand side. This game path was perhaps 50 meters behind us, so putting the car in reverse, we decided to gently move back so that we didn't obstruct the Tiger if it was to come out. We reversed the 50 meters and got a good look at the game trail coming through the lantana bush out into the open, it looked well used indeed and it was leading towards the tree where we saw the scent mark. We reversed a bit more so that we didn't obstruct the Tiger from going about doing what it wanted to do and kept a safe distance from the game trail, decided to try our luck by waiting there for a few minutes. Logically, we had a good chance of seeing the Tiger, but logic and wildlife usually don't go hand in hand. The jungle was silent, no alarm calls, and after the rains, we knew that even in the unlikely event of the Tiger stepping on a leaf of twig, there won't be a crackling noise, but we kept our ears and eyes open, we didn't want to miss the opportunity if it presented itself. It was almost 6:30 in the evening and it was getting dark, which meant that the professional camera and lens were of no use any more, so we had our trusted mobile phones out and decided to wait and try our luck. Apart from the gentle hum of the engine, we were completely silent. A minute went by, there was no sound from anywhere apart from the cicadas welcoming the night. The road behind and ahead of us was completely empty, no vehicles, no animals, nothing moved… and then from our left, through the game path under the lantana bush out she came, with no care in the world…

Have a look at the video below to see what we saw...



An interesting adventure from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil





Cattle lifter of Thirunelli

I thought it was a just a courtesy call, when the phone rang at 7:30 pm that day, with the display blinking the name Nambiar Uncle who incidentally was Panchayat president (someone similar to the Mayor). Boy, was I wrong! I answered with a hello, but he was in no mood for pleasantries and all he said was "The Tiger has killed again, could you come with me to Appapara" to which I answered I am on my way.

In 10 minutes, we were on our way to Appapara, which is the closest village to Jungle Retreat Wayanad, just 1 KM away, with a few tribal huts and nothing more. We reached there by 8:00 pm and by that time an agitated crowd of local tribal folks armed with spears, bows and arrows had gathered. I followed Mr Nambiar to the crime scene and we could see a young lady sitting on the ground looking lost. Seeing us, she got up and narrated the incident. It was around 7:00 pm and she was standing in her compound talking to her neighbour. Her kid, a 3 year old boy was playing right beside her. All of a sudden she saw the clothes that she had hung to dry, move wildly, and she went to inspect why they were moving because there was not much wind. She moved the clothes to one side, and then she saw a big male Tiger walking past the clothes, towards the cattle pen. Picking up her boy, she ran inside the house, locked the door and started screaming at the top of her voice. She could, from the open window see the Tiger moving towards the cattle pen and on reaching the pen, it took a swipe at the door with its massive paw, tearing the bamboo door into shreds. The next sound she heard was the neck of the cow breaking and then there was silence for a few seconds. Unfortunately, the calf of the now-dead-cow was also in the pen and the calf panicked and started bellowing. The Tiger jumped on the calf and broke its neck like a twig, all this in full view of the petrified mother and child behind the bamboo walls of their hut!

Hearing this commotion, the tribesmen came with fire-torches, bows and arrows, they started throwing stones and rocks at the pen to distract the Tiger, which they successfully managed to do. The cat disappeared back into the darkness leaving behind 2 dead cows, but not before pausing at the entrance of the pen and taking a good look at the men, who by now fled back to safety.

Pictures are not for the fainthearted…

Tiger in Wayanad Cow's neck broken by the Tiger

Tiger in Wayanad Calf's neck broken by the Tiger

While we were standing there waiting for the forest officials to come, the Tiger decided to show its displeasure by emitting the most thunderous roars one could imagine. Clearly, he was hungry and angry. A large fire was quickly lit in the middle of the compound to deter the Tiger from coming back, and the crowd huddled together with the spears and arrows at the ready. The Tiger kept calling at regular intervals and it was clear that the cat was circling the tribal colony where all of us stood petrified. After an hour or so, the calls stopped and by that time the forest officials had come to face the ire of the tribals. After much deliberation, it was decided that a cage be erected and to tempt the Tiger, with the calf’s body placed inside the cage. A plan was quickly hatched, the cage was bought in from the range office and by 1:00 am the cage was in place with the body of the calf placed inside it.

Now we all knew that it was very unlikely that the Tiger would visit the colony once again, especially after the disturbance that had ensued, but for the lack of a better option, the cage was erected close to the colony. Then started the waiting game. I remember sitting in the open veranda/balcony of one of the tribal huts facing the cage which was perhaps 80 meters or so away. I wasn’t alone, was accompanied by a forest guard and a tribal man with bows and arrows for protection. We decided to take turns in keeping vigil, but none of us slept for the first 2 hours. Soon the chill set in and before we realised, the three of us were fast asleep.

I remember walking up with a jolt to the sound of the metal door clanging against the cage. Something was trapped inside the cage! Surely, it can’t be the Tiger or was it?! It was around 4:00 am and we didn’t want to shine the torch, nor did we want to go to the cage. We decided to wait it out till it was bright enough for us to go and check. The three of us didn’t sleep much after that and at the break of dawn, we went to investigate why the trap had sprung. To our disbelief, there was the famed cattle lifter of Thirunelli trapped inside the green metal cage. He was not happy seeing us and started charging us from within the cage, only to be stopped by the metal bars. We didn’t want the Tiger to hurt himself and so retreated back to the tribal hut and informed the forest department about the catch.

By 6:00 am, the forest officers came and tranquillised the cat. The cage was opened and it was noticed that the Tiger had actually ate almost the entire calf which must have weighed at least 40 kg! On closer inspection, it was evident that the Tiger was an old male, well past his prime and its canines were worn out and it also had a festering sore on its front paw. The age, combined with the worn off teeth and the injury was the reason as to why it couldn’t hunt its normal prey such the Chital or the Sambar deer. It had turned its attention to easier prey such as cattle. This was the 14th cow that he had killed in Thirunelli area and he would hunt in these jungles no more, as he was transported to another forest range a few hundred kilometers away where I am sure, he'd be up to his old tricks.

Tiger in Wayanad Tiger in the cage next morning

An interesting adventure from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil





Identify this rare flower

There are a few of us who are lucky, and there are a few who are very lucky! Ill let Praveen, our guest who saw this rare flower, that too from the matchan, narrate the entire incident that happened on a lazy morning a few weeks ago

It was late October, Tuesday morning as I remember, we... me and my wife stayed in the wooden cottage as we usually do, and by 6:30 in the morning we came out to the balcony and saw that there were some elephants in the grasslands. We went to the watchtower which is at the edge of the fencing close to the watchtower, but the elephants saw us coming and moved further back. So no scope for good shots. There were some deer and they kept grazing, completely ignoring us. Soon Babu, the resident boy came to the watchtower with coffee and we sat there enjoying the views for 10 minutes or so. There was no sign of alarm, the deer was grazing peacefully and then my wife thought she heard a sound from near the watchtower, she turned and looked and saw Orange and black stripes.

Tiger in Wayanad

Thankfully, she did not call out to me, she tapped my shoulder and we both peered down to see the cat focused on the deer. Maybe I should have waited, but I decided to take a photo and the clicking sound made it look straight at us. Maybe it knew that we were there already, maybe it was not bothered by our presence, but the clicking noise unnerved him... or her and it walked back into the bush. It was not more than 15 feet away from the foot of the watchtower. The deer kept grazing oblivious to what we had seen as both of us sat there in sheer disbelief!

Tiger in Wayanad

An interesting adventure from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil





She'd roar no more...

Tigers don’t usually give away their presence by roaring, after all, they rely on stealth and they wouldn’t want the prey to know about their whereabouts. There are a few instances where a Tiger would call / roar, it’d call regularly during mating season which is between November and January, and it is quite common to hear the mating calls of the Tiger. These are not roars; these are long-drawn moans rather than the blood-curdling roars. You do once in a while hear the real roars, that is true when there is a territory dispute or when the female is defending her cubs or when it is a shouting match with an elephant, who’d match the roars with thundering trumpets! But during that fateful night in late April, the roars we heard weren’t for any of these reasons.

When you are in the jungle, you sleep light, even the slightest of sounds would wake you up and you are fully alert the very next instant. I remember looking at my watch when I first heard the roar that night, the time read 1:20 am, as I lay in my bed, imagining and wondering why the mighty cat was roaring. I expected the roars to die down in a few minutes, and it was clear that she (it was a Tigress as we later found out) was not exchanging pleasantries, and listening to the roars, we could make out that she was far from happy. I remember walking to the window, listening to those amazing roars, the entire jungle was silent, and that is the effect of the angry roars from a Tiger/Tigress. When the roars continued even after a full 15 minutes, it was clear that something was not right and I remember calling the forest office which was just more than a kilometer away from our farm. The deputy ranger was up as he answered my call on the second ring itself and he said that he could also hear the roar and that it was coming from very close to our farm. Since it was late in the night, we decided that it was better to wait for the first light before venturing out to explore. The deputy forest ranger did mention that it could well be because she was stuck in mud and was unable to move –thought I didn’t question him then, I very much doubted this theory at that point of time.

The calls went on till around 3 am, and one thing I noticed was that the power of the call was slowly fading away. Was she actually stuck in a mud pit, unable to free herself? The only way to know for certain was to go in search of her at first light. Needless to say, I was unable to sleep, I remember lying in the bed making a mental map of where the Tigress could be and how best to approach her without alarming her. It was clear that she was around a kilometer to the North-East of the farm, the terrain would be easy to cover because much of the walk would be through the teak plantation. There was a Tribal colony in that area and perhaps we could go there and get a tribal tracker to track her down for us if we had difficulty doing it ourselves.

By 5:30 am, I picked up the Deputy forest ranger from the ranger’s office and drove back to the farm and at first light, by 5:45 am, we started our walk towards where we thought the Tigress had called from earlier that morning. By 4 am, the calls had died down to whimpers and soon it had ceased calling, but we were hoping that the Tigress would still be there, and so we were careful not to alarm her by our approach.

The deputy led the way and we’d stop every now and then to listen for a few minutes for any movement or alarm calls, but the early morning jungle was eerily silent that day. Our target was a ravine which held some water, perhaps the Tigress was there, resting and so keeping the wind direction in mind, we moved carefully towards the ravine. The walk was uneventful and we soon noticed that the river-bed was dry and there was no sign of the Tigress there. The roars had come from around this area, so we decided to walk through the game trail to try and see if we could pick-up any signs of the Tigress.

Tracking in April, just before the rains, is very hard because the earth is dry and so there won’t be any pug-marks to follow. We had to look for broken branches, brushed leaves or grass or even stones that were displaced due to the movement of the animal. The progress was painstakingly slow and we had to ensure that we didn’t keep our feet on the dry teak leaves which would crackle and give away our presence. There was no help from the animals or the birds, no alarm calls or any sort to aid us in our mission.

We had walked for about a kilometer and since we didn’t have any indication as to where the Tigress was, we decided to go towards the tribal colony and quiz the people about the whereabouts of the cat. We were pretty certain that they’d have heard the call all night and perhaps they had a better idea of where the Tigress was. It was a 15 minute walk from where we were and so we took a 90 degree turn and headed in that direction. Since the walk was through the teak plantation, we had good visibility because there won’t be undergrowth in a teak plantation. 5 minutes after we took the 90 degree turn, we reached a small clearing and we could see a wild boar standing ahead of us staring intently at something behind a large Lantana bush. The boar knew that we were there, it’d look at us and then it’d again turn its gaze towards something behind the bush. The Lantana bush was around 10 feet high, 20 feet wide and it was very thick close to our side and so we couldn’t see much into the bush. We both stopped in our tracks and stared into the bush, which was about 40 meters or so from us towards our left. The boar was standing right on the track that we were walking on, and apart from glancing at us, it’d lift its snout up trying to smell what was behind that bush. It was clear that the boar was very nervous, it’d take a few steps back and then come again sniffing, only to jump back and start all over again! This went on for a good 5 minutes and we kept looking intently at the bush and the boar. Something had spooked the boar and it was trying to figure out if it was a threat to him or not.

We didn’t want to continue walking ahead, because the bush was very close to the game trail that we were walking on and whatever was hiding behind that bush would see us coming before we saw it and we’d be at a disadvantage. We exchanged glances and decided that we’d skirt around the bush so that we could have a better look at what the bush was hiding without getting too close to the bush. Without taking our eyes off the bush, we retraced our steps a good 100 meters back and making sure that there was no movement from the bush, we turned left and went inching ahead to see what was out there.

Teak trees are hard to climb because they don’t have lower branches to assist in climbing, so we had to walk closer to the bush to get a better view. We were perhaps 30 meters away from the bush and we could see the boar still standing on the game-trail looking at the bush. It was clear that whatever had caught his attention, was still there. And then we saw what we were searching for. We thought we saw a dark orange object lying down and it was completely motionless. We looked at each other, strained our necks to get a better view and after looking at it carefully for a minute, we could see the unmistakable black stripes on the yellowish-Orange coat behind the Lantana bush. We both froze, and kept looking at the Tigress as she lay completely motionless ahead of us. The initial reaction was to retraces our steps, go back to the forest department and come back with more men to try and see what had happened. As we were considering our options, a common crow which had been sitting on a tree close by all this while decided to swoop down and landed right next to the Tigress! No animal or bird in their right frame of mind would do that. The crow walked right up to where the Tiger was lying and didn’t seem the least bit bothered. We decided to take a few steps back and clap our hands to see if the Tigress would react. We were around 40 meters away from the Tigress and if she woke up, she’d not charge the 40 meters and she was more likely to slink away in the opposite direction. At least that is what we had hoped she’d do. Gathering our courage, we clapped our hands once, but there was no response from the Tigress. We took a small stone and threw it at the bush, we could hear the stone hitting the lantana branch and falling down, and still there was absolutely no movement apart from the crow taking to the air and the boar running off into the jungle.

There was something seriously wrong and we decided to get closer and investigate. Step by step we inched forward, clapping and at times throwing stones into the bush. We were greeted by total silence. It took a good part of 30 minutes for us to cover the next 30 odd meters and we were now just around 10 meters away from the Tigress. We could now see her clearly, lying face down and she hadn’t moved in the last one hour. I picked up a stone and threw it gently at her, and the stone hit her rump, bounced off her and still there was no response from her. It could mean only one thing, the Tigress was dead. I knew something was not right when we heard her call hours back, those angry calls which had given way to whimpers that one wouldn’t associate with such a powerful animal. The calls had gone on for a good 3 hours in the night and in just 5 hours, she had died – we wondered what the cause of this tragedy was! What we saw next would remain with me for a very long time – it was perhaps one of the worst sights I have ever seen. We moved a bit more closer and my heart sank when we saw the cause of her death. She was caught in a snare! We could see that there was a small metal wire wound around her waist and it looked as though she had struggled all night to free herself from this metal snare, which instead had tightened around her the more she struggled. I remember sitting down next to this magnificent animal which lay a foot in front of me, and I felt drained and helpless. In front of me lay a magnificent young Tigress perhaps 4 years old, she was in her prime and she had met this untimely death thanks to us humans. She had struggled so hard that part of her left hind leg along with her tail was cut off.

When we go into the jungle, it is not uncommon to find such snares kept around well-used game tracks. It is meant to snare a spotted deer or a wild boar, but snares are indiscriminate and on this occasion, it had snared a beautiful female Tigress in her prime. The answer to “who” kept the snare is a very open one. It could have been any of the locals residing in that area looking for meat for dinner. The deputy forest ranger was visibly shaken and promised that he’d find the culprit and book him for the crime committed. I wished and hoped that was the case, but it’d still not bring this beautiful Tigress back to life.

I remember sitting close to her, stroking her coarse hair, she was still warm to touch, but lifeless. She’d roar no more…

Tiger in Wayanad



Tiger in Wayanad



Tiger in Wayanad



Tiger in Wayanad



Tiger in Wayanad

A sad incident from the jungles of Wayanad.
Anil