We are passing through Reserve Forest Compartment no 910. This is among the best wildlife sighting areas in Gomarda. Forester friend accompanying me alerts me, “See Cheetal!” I can see two cheetal about 150 m away behind a layer of trees. As soon as we stop to see them, they dash off. I am happy to see that they are present. There is life in the forest, I mean wildlife.
During the tour, off and on, we come across Cheetal i.e. Spotted Deer in twos, four-fives and even herds of about 8-10 animals. As usual, animals like to maintain distance from homo-sapiens in such Protected Areas (PAs) – remote and with substantial anthropogenic pressures. Man-animal conflict is serious. In some situations, they are chased away from agricultural fields. There can be poaching pressure outside some PAs.
Cheetal is among the commonest deer of India. In some of the high profile Protected Areas, they are found all over in large number. In Corbett Tiger Reserve one easily see herds of even of 200-300 animals. In Kanha they are everywhere and pressure on meadows is so much that even the grass quality is deteriorating in some places and pockets in meadows are enclosed, excluding animals, to allow natural regeneration of grasses. On the other hand, there are PAs where one may not see even one animal. It is not that they are not there but the population is small and shy.
Cheetal at Corbett Tiger Reserve
Thinking of Cheetal, I can vividly member photographing Cheetal almost at a touching distance only recently in March 2017 at Panna. With the backdrop of famous Ken River, Cheetal go about their business. Stags have a good pass time locking antlers. There is loud noise when antlers strike each other and lock. There is lot of pushing and jostling. Is it for fun? May be, it is more serious business. Does are watching all this, though not apparent, but may be with deeper interest. And all this is happening just 10-20 m around us!
Cheetal at Panna Tiger Reserve
Coming back to Cheetal of Gomarda, we are out to search for bear in a potential area. It’s cloudy as it and its late evening. Here we run into a herd of about dozen Cheetals including large stags. I ask our driver to stop vehicle some distance before we are too close. The diesel vehicle is nothing else but noise. The herd immediately notices us but appears to be not shaken. In about two minute stop they do not run away. I ask the driver to move ahead to a more appropriate and closer point and ask him to switch off the engine. He thinks that switching off the engine would make them run. I say, “If they go, they go, we have nothing to loose.” But for a change they do not run away. We are now much closer. My SLR camera is of no use in such low light, but my mobile works! I take photos and even video with my mobile (You can see, the shared video is good enough for record.).
Minutes later, when it is felt that we are getting late for bear search, we start. It is at this moment that the Cheetals decided to run away. As I have stated time and again, the paradox is that animal do not run away from their worry, but cross in front of us – hopping one after the other. They could have easily run away inside the forest. It is my first close and really satisfying Cheetal watch in Gomarda as good as any prime Protected Area.
PS : Gomarda is a Wildlife Sanctuary in Raigarh District of Chhattisgarh State in India.