It is afternoon and we are driving from Kisli to Kanha. As we are about to reach Kanha camp complex in middle of the forest, we see a herd of Indian bison, which is also called gaur. It is busy grazing and none of the animals even lift head to see who is passing. I do not mean there is anything particular about us, which they should notice but in general, minimum a wild animal does is to glance at a person or vehicle. Many of them run away or hide.
I have seen bison at Kanha but infrequently. I have never seen them grazing so indifferently, with such attitude and so close to camp. I feel like stopping for shooting, but we are already late for lunch by two hours and my friend, Jasbir Chauhan tells me “Do not worry.” I am, though, not sure whether I should worry or not, for the missed chance.
Later, this evening, we again run into a herd of bison in middle to the forest in an opening in the Sal forest. It’s very good late afternoon light. But, except for one cow, none other look at us. Rest of the herd is engrossed in eating, largely head down. This animal too after a brief side glance gets busy in eating. I am watching the herd with a long face, when a very good opportunity came by way of a calf emerging from middle of the herd and looks straight into our face, virtually telling us, “Here I am, take as many photo as you want.”
While shooting the calf, I realise the Park is littered with bison, literally. I particularly take some photos of young bison, whenever we run into a herd.
One particular young guy is all set to give portrait shots – almost holding breath and stopping chewing a straw in its mouth – cool, I get a perfect picture.
Wherever we go, we find bison – not one, not two but large herds. It is not that we do not meet solitary animals – yes we do. Larger bulls are generally found alone.
Incidentally, there is one place in Kanha, which is known as Bison Ghat – a large plateau, and among the highest in this region. During my umpteen visits, I have never seen bison on the plateau though. Almost as a ritual, I always visit Bison Ghat at least once during a visit. Presently, while descending from the top, on a narrow winding track, I notice a mother bison feeding her calf. I hint to the driver to stop immediately so that the feeding is not disturbed. The calf takes its own time to be done – it appeared a long time though it may actually have been two-three minutes only. While the mother walked forward, the young guy looked back at us as if saying “Thank you for your patience.” As we move forwar,d we find there is a whole lot. A gathering of moms with young ones of all age – few months to several years old. Its close quarter as the road is narrow, forest thick with bamboo clumps and hilly terrain. Luckily, there is no big male around.
I have seen young bison less than a month old to sub-adults. The variation in colour of young ones is proportionate to age. A very young calf is light, orange-brown. As they grow older, the colour keeps on getting darker and darker until the mature adult is Z-black. Likewise, the unique feature of a bison, that is, white stocking too keep getting whiter and whiter from pale white.
What is amazing is the lustrous and thoroughly clean coat nature has gifted to the bison. It needs no beauty soap or shampoo, white stockings are whiter than any detergent can wash… A bison herd grazing in a grassland surrounded by wood makes perfect picture in camera as well as in mind…
Export of Bison from Kanha to Bandhavgarh
Kanha’s thriving population of bison has been good enough for the management to agree for export of animals to areas deficient in the species. A few years back with the backing of South African expertise and techniques, and local innovations and experimentations around 50 bison were relocated from Kanha to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in two batches in January 2011 and March 2012.
Bandhavgarh had a small population of about a score of bison till 1995. Later, only one bull remained for few more years. Soon none was left. The bison relocation plan was mooted by the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department in 2008.
(Story is based my visit to Kanha on 29 April-1May 2016)