A Dog’s Day
We had been wading for an hour on a trail that passes through a Dhole pack’s home range, and just then a vehicle trotted bringing news about the dogs around. I checked with Giovanna and Alfredo if they would be okay to go off the forest-roads and look for the Dholes and for Manan it was needless to ask, he had leapt ahead on his giant legs! We showed up at the block where the Dholes were first reported but by then the alarmed Langurs stayed quiet, the safari vehicles had a rough idea of their whereabouts yet uncertain, and the paw impressions were bagged by vehicle tires, the watchful birds also kept their secret. Calling it a consolation we abandoned the pursuit and Giovanna and Alfredo had a long day after their Satpura trip and running with the pack might take more time. While returning to catch the pick-up boat I heard a humming around my ears; it was Manan, who persuaded me to lure the Italian couple into the pack and bend their itinerary. After a two minute thought-process, I spoke to the couple on pros and cons of delaying their planned schedule and tracking the pack. ‘If it is for Dholes I don’t mind missing the cave paintings or the Sanchi site’ Giovanna sparkled. With that assurance, we dogged after the dogs. Most hunts by Dholes were done during dawn, and now that they hadn’t moved much for the last one hour, could they be around rocks lazing under dappled soft light through teak and Kullu gum trees, away from the herd of safari vehicles around a block, we anticipated. While on foot, we could brave into pugdundees snaking the section between parallel roads. We trekked up a hillock where sandstones had peeled, here were some tracks of dogs on dug-open soil and were recent. By then the vehicles had let go the warrant for the pack and could the whistling hunters have made it an opportune to walk ahead? ‘Let us walk to the parallel road ahead and check’ commanded our guide Kailash. No sign of dogs here but Langurs up on a tree watched their biped visitors and looked alert. Kailash suggested to take on the large sloping rock leading back to the cliff, and we nodded around a thorny vine to catch up with enthusiastic Kailash; ‘Kutte’ and he pointed at a Dhole on a boulder! It stretched its body while watching us and another Dhole’s tail bounced behind it. In the minute of their distraction towards us we heard a growl and a thud, Giovanna and I at lead saw a leopard flee down the tree. One of the dogs jumped on the leopard but the big cat’s fleet of fear couldn’t match the dog’s grip, but the pack ran after in squeals and cackle, it set the quiet jungle into a brazen pack chase applauded by Langurs. We paced up but the sounds were distant till it sank. A Sambar’s honk confirmed it several hundred meters away. This leopard must have been squatted up a tree by the dogs for quite some time and this pack of dogs has treed up a leopard second time in a week! Living with co-predators in a well-protected forest that has enough prey, water and cover is to manage time of activity and space for a home. It was Dhole’s opportunity now to instil fear into leopards until Dholes become vulnerable to them during the denning season. Giovanna and Alfredo shall wait to wonder when the tables turn, and Manan shall keep humming around Satpura to maintain this game of life unfinished.