There is a whole world out there, in the dense Sal forests of Kanha. A world far removed from you and me. Fascinating stories dwell here just like in the human world. Wildlife and nature peacefully co-exist, and mankind meddles. For better and for worse.
These snippets attempt to look beyond what we witness on jungle safaris, and try to capture the essence of life in the wild.
1. I will follow you into the dark.
When we spot a pair of jackals run off into the fields of Kanha, our naturalist can’t help but speak of their love. Jackals lead monogamous lives, and once they find a mate, it’s till death do them apart. In a jungle like Kanha, with predators as fierce as the tiger and as illusive as the leopard, life is tough. Yet if a mate dies, the survivor refuses to take on another mate, leads a solitary life, and eventually succumbs to grief. Who would’ve counted these scavengers among the romantics?
2. Keep off the grass.
I have to admit I didn’t care much about spotting Barasinghas in Kanha National Park, until I heard that this is the ONLY place in the world they are found! Watching the black and golden-bodied males with velvet antlers, our naturalist lamented about them being endangered species. The villages within the national park would let their cattle lose, who fed on grass all day. Unlike other species of deer, the Barasinghas only feed on a specific type of grass, which the cattle wiped out. The destruction of their natural habitat led to a fast decrease in their numbers, down to a meagre 600. The forest department has now relocated the villages, and is trying to redevelop the grasslands.
3. The need for speed.
Zooming on our safari jeep along the paved road in the buffer zone of Kanha National Park, our Aussie companions noticed a couple of cows sniffing a small body on the road. We reversed the car, and found a dead palm civet; the victim of a road kill. It’s a perpetual conflict in these areas; you need paved roads to ease transportation of goods, and to aid the forest department in curbing poaching and protecting the wildlife habitat (Read: Wildlife Tourism: Are We Saving The Tiger?). That means an obvious intrusion in this forested terrain and unintentional, untimely deaths of wild animals, like this beautiful civet. May her soul rest in peace.
4. The misogyny of creation.
When we think of tigers, we only think of majestic creatures that fear nothing. What moved me was hearing that once tigers mate, the male leaves the impregnated female to fend for herself. She must hunt even 4-5 days before the cubs are born, after which she retires deep into the forest or in a cave to deliver. For the next three months, she hunts to feed herself and the cubs, and must protect them from male tigers, including the father, who often kills them for fear of a powerful competitor. Is that proof that misogyny is at the very core of creation or am I being too dramatic?
5. A computer engineer in the forest?
Meet a computer engineer turned naturalist, Chinmay, at Kanha Earth Lodge. His tryst with the wild started when he became the go-to guy to rescue snakes from the houses of villagers; his promise was to get the snakes out of the house alive and save them the curse of killing these mythological creatures. He’s fought “snake charmers”, who he mentions fool people by forcibly removing the venom gland of snakes and force-feeding them raw eggs through a tube to keep them alive (why were we never taught that in school?). He’s even survived a cobra bite, but that’s a story you have to hear in person. He then fought everyone who told him he couldn’t make a living off his passion for the wild.
Have you been to Kanha or any other forests in India? What fascinating stories have you discovered about life in the wild?
Note: My trip to Kanha was made possible by Pugdundee Safaris and Kanha Earth Lodge. Opinions are always my own.
Any contributions to my travel fund (in kind or otherwise) will be highly appreciated!