PERCH FOR A STAG
Skeletal remains in the jungle do whisper the proverbial dead man's tales. If remains are quite intact, it is natural death or big cat/stray dog kills. If heavy bones are found cleavered, which no predator in our Shivalik jungles can possibly manage or have a taste for, it indicates poaching.
One of the best examples of this was a scatter of bones I found at Siswan dam and identified as a boar from the skull, dentition and small limbs. An improvised fireplace tucked in the bushes near the bones smoked the truth out - poachers had enjoyed a boar barbecue! The boar's lower jaw was blasted off due to explosive booby-traps that poachers set on game trails. If dog savagery has been at work, the victim's skull/snout carries bite marks. On rare occasions, a poacher's wire-trap can be found clinging to a decaying limb.
SALUTE TO THE SPIRIT
The tricity residents moaned, groaned and sniffled each time day temperatures dipped below 15 degrees Celsius. Their piteous outpourings could well have been heard till the proverbial ends of the earth! But here were nine intrepid explorers and two World-Wide Fund (India) representatives - the bulk of them South Indians who had never before felt even the chill of zero degrees - braving -25 degrees this January just to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Snow leopard at 14,000 feet at the Hemis National Park, Ladakh.
Karnataka WWF director Hari Somashekhar says: "No extreme pain, no extreme gain or extreme satisfaction! Sighting a snow leopard is only a bonus and surviving the harsh -20 to -30 degrees and coming back safely can be considered the real triumph." One participant, Sneha, was moved back to the ICU at Leh after she contracted pulmonary oedema while Nagendra was operated for a frozen appendicitis.
Ask Hari, what personal indignities did the explorers brave? Stink: Balaclavas covered the face to keep away frostbite. But these stank unforgivingly with humans breathing hard into them at oxygen-thin altitudes. Not to forget three layers of socks, unwashed for a week, the innermost one putting pigs to shame! Baths: None in the week the explorers were on the high ridges. Pooping: Pealing off four layers of clothing, 10 minutes only to answer nature's call to avoid frostbite setting in and piercing porcelain rumps like a needle. Aim had to be precise while squatting on Ladakhi toilet planks set over a small hole! In fact, pre-dinner chat would focus on sagely counsel and sharing innovative pooping styles!
Icing on the cake: Camp cook, Tsring Dorjay, prepared pizzas, noodles and steaming momos (both veg and non-veg) and the luxury afforded in that frozen, tree-less jungle was that the dish was never repeated. Dorjay braved all odds and baked a cake in a pressure cooker and even conjured up icing with a leopard pugmark!
The group swore to come back again to savour this "experience of a lifetime". Cheers!
A significant addition to the list of birds found in the tricity hinterland is the first photographic record of the White-crowned penduline tit at the Dhanas Lake, which lies ahead of Panjab University, Chandigarh. This small bird, which is described by ornithologists as a "rare visitor" in winter to north-west India or otherwise as a "vagrant" to India, was clicked by Navtej Singh on January 18 at the lake. This species, which summer breeds in Central Asia, is a speciality for bird-watchers at the Harike wildlife sanctuary, Ferozepur, Punjab, where it is sighted more consistently in winters. Its habitat is normally reedbeds, acacia trees in riverine forests and irrigated forest plantations.
Other rare records of this tit include a few from Gujarat and the Okhla bird sanctuary, Delhi.