What goes around comes around.
A Gaur had grazed grass along River Denwa meadows, early noon it had browsed a few shrubs before rest, later it nibbled a few Indian Ebony fruits in the evening and decided to spend the night near the grasslands where elephant rides take place. Here it spat a pile of dung while grazing in darkness. The next morning I came for a walk with guests, after a hundred steps we arrived at the Gaur dung which began to crumble and saw dung bits wriggling too. Our eyes picked a ball as big a Ping-Pong ball rolling away, behind this hard and moist ball was a beetle pushing it upside down.
We watched and wondered how it navigated itself while rolling a ball possibly 4 or 5 times or even more than its own weight; Swedish researcher Marie Dacke investigates with various experiments on an African Dung beetle that they used Milky way galaxy to navigate on straight lines from the pile. Some dungies have other mechanisms of navigation depending on species and what dung they take on…Yes, some are choosy about the dung! They prefer the doings of an herbivore since they offer nutrient-rich dung with delicious vegetable matter, some beetles may not touch any other herbivore’s droppings if dedicated to a particular one. Imagine a horse walking into our forests and dutifully taking a dump, the dung beetles might not touch it at all. Even a lowly creature can choose!
Another pile of dung close by sat pensively, but under this cake a busy dung beetle equipped with a shovel on the head and axes on its thorax drilled a tunnel. Not all dung beetles roll their dung, some Geotrupes like this one drilled a tunnel to save itself from being mobbed by other beetles and predators and wisely it had carved chunks of dung into the tunnel and perhaps planned to lay eggs in them.
The King of the dung who rolled that piece of Gaur dung on a straight line was interrupted by my inquisitiveness. It ceased the march at once and circled the dung ball twice to check who meddled. It enthroned itself on the dung and performed a dance on its hind legs, while doing so dungies orient themselves to riddle out their bearings. Having known its northings, the King continued the roll to the edge of a meadow to find soft soil. While holding on to the ball it dug and went beneath the ball. In few minutes the ball jagged into the tunnel slowly. The good deeds of the dung beetle churned the plant material back to the soil for composting. Whatever goes around with this lowly King definitely comes around .
In June Daria flew from Moscow to Nairobi, in few hours she prepared things to do list, one that topped was Masai Mara. In the vast stretches of Masai plains where the horizon merges into hills of Tanzania, a stream cut through greened by trees and on one of these trees lazed a leopard whom the guide pointed to Daria. It looked right into them, a leopard in a Lion dominated plains crowned the guide, but Daria wasn’t as excited.
The large fig tree table at Forsyth Lodge hosted the evening with whisky, Daria reminisced the Masai leopard but continued that, ‘I wish the leopard was on ground’. ‘Most leopard sightings in Satpura are on ground, resting either on termite mounds or on rocks’ I praised. As Daria was building her hopes of finding a leopard on ground, a herd of Chital within lodge perimeter threw warning calls.
Evenings later we drove to buffer of Satpura Reserve, Adhaar is an ambassador of this area and our local guide; an instinctive spotter. Our Gypsy ambled up a stream that had pockets of water and sandy bank for spoors of animals, Often a leopard imprints a paw during this hour when the shades of the forest turns darker, when the first nightjars make their sally, when the crickets mic-check, when Vega shines through the leaves and our pupils dilate to see the forest floor. Adhaar infected his excitement of spotting a leopard.
‘On the ground Daria!’ I whispered.
She fires a few pictures at it, and the leopard walks parallel to the road, the road is a gully, the ground eventually rises either side. After a shy protest, the leopard stops behind a bush and crouches. Sensing the leopard’s unperturbed posture, we gave it a couple of minutes keeping the engine on. After preaching everyone to avoid sudden movements we snailed for a better position. A patch of grass carpeted in front of the leopard rolling till the edge of the road and there was enough light for few more pictures but I insisted Daria to take binoculars while I could flirt with her camera. Another five minutes passed and the ghost with the rose walks into darkening bushes and merged. Adhaar and I planned to counter the leopard on an adjacent track, we checked with Daria and gang if they’d be alright while squeezing through the monsoon blanketed forest road. They gave an apprehensive ‘okay’ but when the Gypsy heaved towards a Giant wood-Spider web, Pramod urged to turn around and stick to main track. But we knew another road parallel minus the rankling bushes and tidied spider webs, as we hit the end of this road where it junctions, the same spot-lit leopard walked heads up toward our jeep. It dared ahead of the Gypsy and Daria had her fill of leopard until now.
We later discussed on possible reasons for often seeing a leopard on ground which might be the infrequent movement of Tigers and Wild dogs in our safari area who may compete with leopards, also the terrain being rocky and steep in the highlands and plains undulate which suits for a big cat that is versatile. And I was glad that Daria could find her Leopard on ground.
Our briefings before a walk in Satpura is around Sloth Bears, and most guests who walk would expect to see birds perched or mammals running away or the smaller creatures like spiders, dragonflies, butterflies, scorpions or interesting shrubs and trees, what excites in their wish list to see would be a colubrid. We were walking up a gradient after crossing a dry stream,
‘Have you seen a teak skeletonizing moth caterpillars leaving nets on large leaves?’
Even before she could catch the tail of my question a flurry of black furry boulder took from a tree. I turned to hush Sobha and Vinay but the bear did it with a snort and put a good distance from us and sat down.
We the people and the bear were awestruck, we the people bunched together and Bhurelal the park guide with his bear-safety kit of pressurised horn, pepper spray and a heavy bamboo staff stood as the bulwark. The bear looked at his feet and at the puzzled herd of Gaur ahead of us. He was calming, he might have been preparing for a siesta. River Denwa was at its brim, the backwater had some froth and it surfed at the forest behind the bear like mousse. If he had to scram away, river-bank away from us was ideal or barge towards Gaur ahead of us or unexpectedly rather expectedly at us! After nearly five minutes of watching each other he stomped along the river-bank away from us and he stopped again looking at the Gaur and us.
Sobha and Vinay investigated the tree where the furry liftoff took place, we learnt that the grass and weed were bent and the earth was exposed enough for a bear to bum in, several bent grass blades were dry as though frequently used. The Chironji tree stood like a mast for a climbing ziziphus’ thorns that sucked itself into a cave for the bear. No claw or neb mark as any usual signs of a bear could be investigated nor was any dropping except a brave frog’s poop. Are we really in the living room of a bear!? The bear watched unwelcomingly from the Denwa creek.
Often feared to be aggressive, Sloth Bears are animals that operate mostly during dark hours or gloomy weather, possible reasons could be to avoid disturbances from people and other animals while digging termites or sucking up fruits, other reasons could be for bees being inactive during night which is a part of their social-insect-cuisine. But a dark animal burying sensors into earth by closing eyes- although not a great eyesight, but a pair of nostrils picking acute smells yet buried with innate stoppers on. A person running into a bear unwarily like Sobha and gang would surprise any animal including humans, who when surprised would either take flight or fight. Imagine what a wild animal could do with four inches long claws, piggy-backing year old cubs, flabbergasted and having history lessons from grandparents or bear-talks of cubs picked up by Kalandar men for entertainment!
Sobha and gang decided for the safety of ourselves and the bear and Bhurelal’s job to take a detour, around the Gaur herd with much vigilance to not wake another bear!