Walking in Bear country
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!