Kiran and Asha – Ray of Hope

 

We are in core area of Udanti part of Sitanadi-Udanti Tiger Reserve. This is my first encounter with ‘Wild Water Buffalo’. And here I am, face to face with some famous characters in wildlife conservation history – Chhotu, Mohan, Veera, Asha, Kiran…. There is long story but Kiran, the female calf is pride of Chhattisgarh. There was lot of rejoice and media flashes, when she was born about a year ago on 12 March 2015. You will soon notice that she is what her name is i.e. ‘ray of light’

Just to give you some background, Udanti Sanctuary was created in 1984 for conservation of reportedly pure breed of Wild Water Buffalo found in this region. It has several common names e.g. Wild Asian Buffalo, Indian Buffalo etc. I would like to make a special mention of its scientific name Bubalus bubalis arnee and Spanish name ‘Bufalo Arni’. Hai Ernie, take note.

The count of animals was 55 around the time Sanctuary was formed. It was a matter of concern. Unfortunately, left to itself, with indifferent management, the population dwindled to become locally critically endangered with only 7 specimens left in 2006-07. Incidentally, Wild Water Buffalo is an endangered species as per scientific IUCN assessment as well.

Wild Buffalo in most other places never realised that purity of gene is essential to have a status. The bulls did not control themselves. The result is ‘some 3,000-4,000 wild buffaloes in North-East States are said to have been “corrupted” because of crossbreeding with domesticated buffaloes!’ Similar situation is reported in East Asian countries.

The Buffalo is the State animal of Chhattisgarh and it was on the verge of disappearing! People woke up. This is nothing new in wildlife conservation in India. Efforts are made when situation has virtually gone out of hand. An ambitious rescue programme was launched in 2007 in collaboration with Wildlife Trust of India under the leadership of Dr Rajindra Mishra.

Incidentally, the gender issue has been weighting again the species – what was left was all bulls except one female when the rescue plan was launched. The female was pampered with best possible efforts, freshest grass, freshly prepared porridge, vitamins et. al. She gave the whole conservation lobby anxious moments – year after year, delivered male after male, in spite of being appropriately name, Asha i.e. hope. She delivered four bulls one after the other at the rescue centre besides one she delivered before the start of the programme. Delivery of Kiran by Asha, thus is indeed a ‘Ray of Hope’.

I watch Kiran and Asha with anxious eyes. Feel jealous with all the attention they are getting. They are not bothered. They watch me for few long minutes and then carry on with feeding. They have all the time and, action is slow motion.

I make an assessment how best to photograph these special animals – the situation is really bad with animals being in enclosure with chain link wire mesh of 2 inch diamond shape gaps. I notice that at one place in the enclosure gate, there is opening enough to insert my lens head. I bent on my knees and do the job. The late afternoon light is just right.  Animals are close enough that I am shooting across with 18-55 mm wild-normal angle lens. Kiran is curious to see the camera at close quarter and almost licks the lens! I have to ensure that she does not chew away the lens. Asha too joins. She also wants to taste the lens. “No. No. Nothing doing,” I tell them. I pull the camera out of mess of wire-mesh. This has been the opportunity to photo Asha and Kiran at close quarter and get portraits.

Name can be deceptive. Chhotu (small) is a big bull in the adjacent enclosure. He is Motu (fat) and Z black. Its beautifully curved horns are more than a metre in length! Chhotu is not pleased with all the attention I have given to Asha and Kiran. When I try to draw its kind attention for a shot or two, it goes further away. With great difficulty, I manage few photos of this all muscles guy.

I notice the whole lot of Buffalos in the enclosures are all looking in one direction with all concentration and doing nothing else. It seems they know it. They can smell and see also. It is a spot 50 metre away where two trackers are cooking evening meal in a huge cauldron – maybe 20-25 kg of porridge! This food appears to be favourite of the animals at rescue centre. They all anxiously wait for food to be severed, almost waiting at the dining table. Ramu, the tracker tells me ‘It should be right temperature otherwise animals would reject it.’ He is waiting the porridge to get cold enough to be acceptable to the Buffalos.

Ramu is a middle aged, thin and short person. He is not afraid of entering the enclosure. He is one of the few persons, the animals allow close approach.  He severs separate pans of porridge to each animal. But as has been observed in human beings, each animal thinks the other has a tastier food and try to steal a lick or two, here and there!

As they are busy enjoying food, we quietly leave wishing them long life to breed and breed and breed without brooding on family planning…

Pushp Jain

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Meenpur Anicut Tiger

 

 

Can you see? I stress hard. Curse my eye sight for being poor. But I am wearing glasses. I know though, it’s no match to normal eyesight. The landscape is marshy with hardly few land marks. It is an expense of a broad nala (rivulet), with lush green grass, few small brush wood plants, one or two dry patches, four spots where water is visible. After about 150 metres, the nala turns left and there is forest beyond.

My friend, Jasbir (Mr J.S. Chauhan, the Field Director of Kanha) has seen it with a binocular. I also try with binocular but without luck. Jasbir tries to explain the location ‘look straight beyond the second small water patch behind a slightly dry bush.’ I try hard with full concentration. Jasbir again asks “have you located the place?” “Yes”, I say, just to avoid embarrassment, but slowly add “I cannot locate it.”

“Look, look now, it has moved its head a bit” Jasbir tells me.

“Oh! Yes, I can see.” I almost shout. A sensation passes through the body. I can see the top of the black ear with white solid circular patch and very small yellow of the head. Some movement of the animal, made it clear – yes, it’s a tiger, sitting behind the dry bush in a depression, probably pool, hidden from our view. I am excited. This is my first tiger, of the first ride, of this visit to the Kanha Tiger Reserve (in Madhya Pradesh State of India).

We now wait impatiently. There is a very good possibility of its rising and making a move for us to see it fully, and may be for a stretch of time.

It takes full 20 or so minutes since our detection that it gets up. The world of wildness is strange. Three-four spotted deer have been grazing, may be just a 25-30 odd metres further down from where we have been watching.  They merely jump away to give way in case tiger decides to take that route. No alarm call and no panic. Likewise, a peacock has been feeding even at a lesser distance on the right. The tiger decides to take that direction. The peacock makes a call and flies away in haste and settles on a tree about 50 metre away.

It is clear that the tiger has been sitting in a small pool as rear and bottom parts are wet and appear dirty.

Jasbir and Khare (Mr Surendra Kare, SDO, Kanha) hold a rapid mini conference and conclude that this tiger should walk on Andha Kuan (Blind Well!) road. We cross the anicut and stop at about 100 m.

We spend anxious moments, for the tiger is nowhere. Khare spots it. The tiger is playing a trick. It set down just 10 m off the road. It is waiting for us to pass by and give us a slip.

Poor chap. But the good part is, it has a plan and it sticks to it. It soon decides, ‘OK, do whatever you want but I continue.’

Tiger comes to the road. Leisurely it walks in front of us. It’s past six. The light is quite low. I do some video. Jasbir takes some photos at 3200 ASA! In old days of ‘Negative’ and ‘Transparency’ films this was impossible. Such high speed films were just not made. I still do not like to go above 400 ASA on my SLR.

It is now very much clear that it’s huge male tiger – as they say, king of the forest.

I ask Jasbir, ‘What is the name of this tiger?’ It so happens that in tiger reserves, some popular and regularly sighted tigers are given name. Jasbir is not very happy with the naming and gaming culture. Scientists are now giving more clinical name like, T 7, T15 … Giving such numerical names, to me sounds like insulting tiger. They should carry lordly names. In good old days, there used to be tigers called Sultan, Raja, Dhitoo…

For the sake of convenience and not to let this tiger remain anonymous in my memory, I call it Meenpur Anicut Tiger.

In between, the tiger would stop, look around, kind of inspect its territory and if necessary mark it, by releasing a spray of urine backwards on the stem of a prominent tree. This, it repeats few times. This is a mystery – which trees to mark, how many trees to mark and more important to have enough store of urine!

Not to mention, but at one place we notice tiger crouches and lowers its back portion to relieve itself. The process seems to be somewhat painful as the animal quite visibly shakes its entire body violently to let the stuff pass out. Jasbir thinks loudly ‘Constipation?’

We have been watching the Meenpur Anicut Tiger close to twenty five minutes for about 500 metres.

Finally, at one place, it moves away from the road and goes tangent and we can see it cross a dry nala about 70-80 metre inside and disappears in the forest as well as approaching night.

I think, ‘Where is he going?’

‘Is it to some suitable place to hunt?’

But, spotted deer have been grazing just near where it has been sitting. Jasbir points out that it appears to be well fed from the look of the belly.

‘OK, water?’ But, that too was available where it has been sitting.

‘Is it out for a stroll?’

‘Is it out to look for a girl friend?’

‘Is it out to secure its territory?’

Many questions come to mind. It is difficult to answer all these unless one can read tiger’s mind. So said Rudyard Kipling

‘What of the hunting, hunter bold?
Brother, the watch was long and cold.
What of the quarry ye went to kill?
Brother, he crops in the jungle still.
Where is the power that made your pride?
Brother, it ebbs from my flank and side.
Where is the haste that ye hurry by?
Brother, I go to my lair to die!’

 

Pushp Jain

 

A 4 G site without 4 G connectivity

There is not a soul around for miles. Cool breeze is blowing. Rustling of leaves makes music. Wind flowing through trees makes song.

 

There is vast expense of undulating meadow with patches of woods here and there. There is dense forest beyond.

 

I am sitting comfortably in the veranda of a cosy, luxurious, tastefully furnished Forest Rest House. I can see 180° of meadow around. There are langurs busy feeding or chasing each other. They become conspicuous when one or two of them drop down from a tree with a thud and make dash to some other favourite tree.

 

Lazily, I look towards my right. Without a sound or sign, a group of 7 Cheetals crosses the dust track in a file from one patch to the other, about a 100 m away.

 

Straight in front of me is a huge tree outside the fence of the FRH.  About 40 feet above the ground, I see a big honey comb. I take a closer look with a binocular – yes, the work is in progress. I can see about 2 dozen bees humming around.

 

The place is a dreamland. One ends up in slumbering in the sofa on veranda and dream – goodness, beauty, joy… This is Adwar in Bisonghat Range of Kanha.

 

These days, 4 G advertisement is conspicuous. The clear idea is that remote and out of this world parts of the country – Himalayas, Rainforest, North East..- have connectivity of 4 G. Adwar is 4 G site but luckily without 4 G connectivity.

 

There are two suits – decor is classic. British time furniture, raised bed with mosquito net, dressing table, brass taps…Some very old crockery and a ceramic water filter are prominently displayed in the dining hall.

 

And here we are in the dining hall, all set for breakfast. A lavish, royal breakfast is laid out, which includes Continental – milk & cornflake, omelette, fruit juices and fresh fruits (papaya, apple, grapes…); Desi – parantha and subji topped with Rasagulla (sweet, syrupy fluffy balls of milk based product).  After 15 minutes, the final course is desi masala tea – pure milk in which tea leaves and some herbs e.g. cardamom have been boiled and ample sugar added. (I am telling all these details to water you mouth.)

 

I must add here that this luxury is because of the grand host – Jasbir Singh Chauhan, the grand man of Kanha.

 

Jasbir tell me that there used to be a forest village by the name Adwar around here. It was part of Kanha Tiger Reserve and was relocated after the Project Tiger scheme of Government of India was launched in 1973 to consolidate tiger land.

 

Adwar must have been an important place for the British, to build a Forest Rest House here – probably for timber from forest around. Or, maybe, they too liked the song and music. This rest house was in a very bad state and has been restored by Kanha team – major effort has been that of Mr Bhura Gayakwad, Range officer, under Jasbir’s guidance and advice.

 

Incidentally, Adwar village continues to find mention even in Census 2011 data, though it was relocated long ago. Also, one jewellery making company in New York is using Adwar name – Adwar Casting Company – most appropriate, Adwar landscape is indeed a jewel in nature.

 

Pushp Jain