There are days in a jungle that only promise tracks of several animals; recent ones to couple of days older. On such days a sighting of an occasional Sambar or a sprinting Nilgai extracts an admiration which it deserved for the whole season. Their adaptations and muscles in winter-coat would match Hercules on that day, their camouflage would be toasted as the greatest evolution of genes and their plight to find food and water would be glorified to that of a seven-summit-mountaineer. It was such a story day when two of my best friends from Bangalore railed to see what sort of job I did in Satpura.
It began with a cheerful discussion on trees, the birds, the Tiger beetles, trail of ants, and the efficient management in Satpura’s buffer forest. This talk was interrupted by a bear’s track that was recent, it had sharp edges as good as prints by homebound cattle. The human-like paw impressions of a plantigrade foot time punched the start of the bear’s day. We drove hell-bent for a black figure in bushes and waited by a waterhole. A last homebound bullock did a royal walk and had its fill.
We drove back to double check the track but fell for a 3-inch wide Python’s track trailing into bushes, snaking a nullah and cutting the jeep-track at several spots. Just when we couldn’t snake any further where the reptile could, a Langur struck distress call to announce the prowl of a big cat and marked the setting sun behind River Denwa. We swam the vehicle through an ocean of lantana weed and arrived at a little peninsula where the monkeys were distressed. We were close to the call and the only path out of the thicket that blanketed the tip of the peninsula ploughed to us. Nowhere could the ‘cat’ have escaped, but the treat of a face to face with a big cat was savored by a pair of Sambar on a parallel peninsula of Denwa backwaters that honked their loud distress.
The chase was exhilarating, the 4×4 was engaged to tune the adrenalin of the alumnus of classmates. We eventually spotliit the rocks and crannies looking for a porcupine. An Indian Thicknee put itself on a rock and used the spotlight beam to fiddle insects. We geared to the exit calling it a drive, I decided to show the night sky through a well wooded forest. I pointed at Orion, Sirius, and Perseus and as I advanced towards Andromeda, a snort behind our vehicle came to her rescue- A porcupine!
I flashed the light at the porcupine on the flanks of the jeep-track, behind it were two other pair of eyes. The rare Porcupine hurried towards our jeep and the other two pairs hesitantly glowed from the flanks. The shivering quills of porcupine stopped just behind the vehicle, a leopard cub that had flushed it out made its bold chase after a second thought. The Porcupine must have felt safe close to the vehicle, but innocence of the leopard cub didn’t give it a break, the rodent flounced its way into the bushes grunting and took refuge of a nullah. The adult Leopard who had been waiting at the flank followed the chase. We heaved back and forth the track but the snorts and the eye shines had married the darkness of the starry night.
The chase had happened so quick and close that all of us were opaque to our cameras! I had my video mode set on the camera and didn’t hit the record button out of excitement. But one of us managed a phone click! That is a consolation for tracking the bear and journey with Python and patience practice with the ‘cat’ flagged by Langurs and to gazing at constellations. We lived happily ever after with stories of jungles that we learned, toasting for the chase by leopards that uncloaked the secretive porcupine under starry night.