Wildbuzz: The ghost of sunsets past

What adds to a leopard’s stealth and ability to operate under the human radar is the fact that it hardly ever roars, snarls or growls when prowling the grey zones as the shadows of the moon lengthen or when resting and hiding during the day
A Leopard pugmark imprinted deep in the monsoon soil along the foothills.(Photo: Vikram Jit Singh)
A Leopard pugmark imprinted deep in the monsoon soil along the foothills.(Photo: Vikram Jit Singh)
Updated on Aug 30, 2020 02:18 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | ByVikram Jit Singh

A many-splendoured blessing of the monsoons is that spoors of wild animals are clearly imprinted on jungle trails and peripheral ‘grey zones’ used by both man and foraging beast. On a ramble along the Shivalik foothills, I stumbled upon a remarkably fresh leopard pugmark trail outside a village. It had rained the night before and the pugmarks of the nocturnal hunter could easily be followed hours later like lingering plumes of airliner emissions across the blue dome.

The leopard trail took the course of a cart/tractor track for a kilometre before diverting to dense thickets 50 yards off this well-used passageway hemmed in by crop and wild bush. The leopard was resting in secrecy in the thickets for the day after having been lured here by an abundance of wandering village dogs. A farmer was tilling his fields a 100 yards from the thickets while the posh European-style country house of a Chandigarh family was 250 yards away from the big cat’s bunker. What adds to its stealth and ability to operate under the human radar is the fact that a leopard hardly ever roars, snarls or growls when prowling the grey zones as the shadows of the moon lengthen or when resting and hiding during the day.

There was no alert or panic about the leopard in the area simply because no one knew it was there, right under the villagers’ noses. It had harmed no human, neither had it turned a notorious livestock predator. Fact is that instead of playing out its presumptive role as a rapacious, blood-guzzling maneater and child lifter, the big cat had taken due care to avoid humans like the plague or Covid-19. Frenzied reportage and media paranoia on Covid seemed to have been picked up by the wily leopard’s sharp ears and led to the cat enhancing its self-effacing norm of social distancing!

I sought a perspective on this invisible hunter’s astute ways from wildlife biologist and India’s leading expert on leopard-human conflict, Vidya Athreya. “Numerous leopards live amid the suburban settlements of Mumbai without detection. The leopard is a ghost, neither here nor there. Its presence in human proximity can go undetected for years till a chance happening takes place, such as a leopard killing a locality dog is caught on CCTV cameras or it is spotted in car headlights by late night travellers. There is nothing to get alarmed about. Livestock should be protected during the night and kept under vigilance when out for day grazing,” Athreya told this writer.

COURTIERS IN THE KINGDOM OF FLOWERS

A honey bee and (on right) a Hoverfly in the writer’s garden, Sector 19, Chandigarh. (Photo: Vikram Jit Singh)
A honey bee and (on right) a Hoverfly in the writer’s garden, Sector 19, Chandigarh. (Photo: Vikram Jit Singh)

Hoverflies are unsung and unrecognised but important pollinators of our gardens and crops. They are most often mistaken for honey bees, even by experienced Nature photographers. In the current season, the confusion between the two evokes the similarity between Flying ants and termites on wings (deemak).

The easiest way to distinguish Hoverflies is that they have only one pair of wings while bees and wasps have two. The large eyes and short antenna of Hoverflies also render them distinct from bees as also the fact that they don’t sting. Hoverflies are elbowed out of the petals by larger bees.

Ignorance is bliss and lends itself to poetic fancy. Pictures of hoverflies settling on flowers are incorrectly lent elaborate bee captions that elevate the humble flies to honey trails, birds and the bees, dangerous stings and other Shakespearean-like profound poetic references. But Hoverflies neither make honey nor hang about on hives. They roost on leaves. Hoverflies do not linger on a flower for a long time but are on the move constantly, hovering with sharp zigzag movements and have the ability to move abruptly and at the oddest angles. The Hoverfly has near-transparent wings and a lower body which is beautifully banded in black and amber.

vjswild1@gmail.com

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