A Yearning to Save Wolves.

#Wolfprints

(This blog was written in 2016 when I began my pursuit of wolves)

I am smitten and this is unchartered territory for me. This whole yearning, trailing, nearly obsessive wolf thing, I got going here. Somewhere in my subconscious, I still carry this image of Farley Mowat transporting jerry cans of vodka in the guise of aviation fuel as he prepares to fly out in search of wolves alone, in sub-artic Canada. He lived like the wolves, urine marking his territory and eating mice when there was no caribou.

I can picture Jiang Rong*, the young Chinese student, during his harsh posting in inner Mongolia, stumbling on the pack of wolves that inspired his most fascinating novel in the thick of the Chinese revolution.

You may have heard of Mark Rowland, the philosophy professor, who kept a wolf called Brenin−posing as a pet dog−in the US for the whole duration of its lifetime. Rowland got away with it. Running and living with Brenin, nursing him through sickness, Rowland finally, gave him the noble burial he deserved and went on to write about lessons learned from the wild. I never wanted this book to end. That just about sums up my limited reading on wolves; all of which sound like romantic fiction but isn’t.

As much as I enjoyed these true accounts, by very real wolf adoring people, what set me off on the wolf trail is a mere conversation in a remote Himalayan village, which I had visited with my family. There were suggestions of smoking out wolves from dens and killing of cubs for a price. All hearsay but nonetheless, one conversation led to another that left me all the more bothered and restless. I have always been a sucker for the underdog. As you probably guessed, the wolf in my narrative is one and I think it deserves a second chance.

There was one problem. I was clueless on where to begin. For starters, I had never heard of a Himalayan wolf till then. I am neither qualified nor trained to a conservationist. But I am beginning to wish I were. It’s a sure pass to visit areas that are wolf habitats or off limit, and also work with experts in the field. It was too late for regrets. I made a deal with myself. I decided to go look for wolves and convince myself they exist before chasing ghosts. The determining factor would be actually spotting one. I needed a sign. The chances were bleak. No one I personally know has seen Himalayan wolves** or knows anything about them. Or, unusually, had any good counsel for me.*** Was I chasing rainbows? A few local folks in the area thought so. “It’s impossible,” they said. “You need to stay in one place long enough.” “Don’t believe what so and so says.” “You may see dogs.” “Come back next winter.” “I guarantee you won’t see one where you’re going.”

I had a single day, a single window to try and stay true to the wolf and myself. I turned a deaf ear and marched on regardless, in search of my elusive underdog. It wasn’t easy. On a cold evening, I travelled to an unfamiliar village, the base for my ascent to a high altitude lake at approx. 15000 ft. Starting out at 3:30 am, I trekked under a star-dusted sky accompanied by Kunga, a local. The territory was new to both of us. In no time at all, we were both cold and lost. I was clambering up−sometimes on all fours−a 60º scree slope that felt more like 75º. I moved on mindlessly, like a determined, migrating beast. By the time I ascended to the top, I was so breathless I wondered if was high-altitude or plain exhaustion that would kill me first.

#HimalayanWolf?
#HimalayanWolf

Then, in one instant, all thoughts and doubts were erased. I stood frozen to the spot. There, before me, in the first light of dawn, I saw running one after another across the dry lake, a pack of what looked like wolves. Not one but three or four. Could they be dogs? They certainly looked like wolves. Almost immediately, I heard a short bark to my right and then, a howl.

I felt the surface of my skin suddenly chill in response to my first wolf howl in the wild. I turned to see a solitary wolf, classically silhouetted on a rock, head thrust back towards the sky, communicating our presence to the rest of the pack. In a matter of seconds, they were all gone. Just like that. My mirage disappeared as rapidly as it had emerged leaving only footprints. Luckily my companion saw them too. We looked at each other, idiotic grins morphing our faces. I got my sign. A whole pack full! Suddenly, I was hungry for more.

*Pseudonym

**The Himalayan wolf is a newly discovered species distinct from the Tibetan wolf. (Wikipedia)

***I am extremely grateful to Mr. Chauhan, Range Forest Officer at Kaza who encouraged me to make the effort and also to Spiti Ecosphere for providing me volunteering opportunities to interact with locals and understand their perceptions towards wildlife.

The most humungous Himalayan caterpillar I have ever set my eyes on, resides right at my door step.

The mouth of an Himalayan caterpillar up close with cobra-like markings

To say I am surprised by the size and length of this caterpillar is an understatement. It’s about the same length as a pen and thrice as thick. Appearance wise, it would do very well in a creepy sci-fi movie.

I was pottering around my flowers beds when I noticed some movement.  What I mistook for a rather limp looking piece of a bamboo trellis, turned out to be the fattest and longest caterpillar I have ever set my eyes on. It was gnawing away at a leaf and would freeze if I went up too close. After a few fuzzy takes and some patience,  I caught it make a slow move.

Caterpillar hanging upside down whilst feeding on a leaf
Caterpillar hanging upside down whilst feeding on a leaf.

Much to my disappointment, it had disappeared the next morning. It might have camouflaged itself a little better after its encounter with a giant creature -meaning me! I would have loved the chance to document it spin itself into a silky cocoon and watch the complete metamorphosis. I was told by Peter Smetacek, India’s leading lepidopterist, that this one will turn into a spectacular large Hawk-moth.

Do comment.

Watch out for my video. With the local internet speeds pretty much as slow as my caterpillar, it will reach you in a week or two.

Here it is, as promised:

See more of my nature videos on:http://bit.ly/LalithaKrishnanonYouTube

Follow me on @lalithainsta

Related articles.

http://www.woodstockschool.in/hovers-like-a-hummingbird-looks-like-a-bee/

Caterpillar to butterflies/moths.

#Caterpillars #HimalayanMoths #IndianButterfliesAndMoths #Ranikhet #HawkMoths #FloraAndFaunaOfUttarakhand #NaturalWonders #AnimalBehaviour #Insects #cocoons

Why you should visit a nature reserve closer to home.

 

Invite an expert and take your family along.

We have a saying in India, “the home-bred chicken is as ordinary as your daily dal (lentil)”. If you have a nature reserve or green and wide open spaces in your backyard, you’re likely to take it for granted. You don’t visit it because you think it’s not going away. That’s how I felt about Jaberkhet Nature Reserve (earlier known as Flag Hill), which is only a twenty-minute walk from my home. I walk the forest trails often but not often enough. I visit the reserve to click photographs without quite observing or consciously listening.

Recently I joined an organized walk with expert environmentalists from two different fields: Chris Hails and Dr. Gopal S Rawat. Chris Hails who works at the Director level for WWI in Switzerland was recording bird sounds at the JNR while Dr. Gopal S Rawat, Dean, Faculty of Wildlife Sciences,  Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, was walking us through the local ecology of the area.

It was a rare opportunity and privilege to walk with these two very knowledgeable people besides being a great way to spend a morning.  I began to hear and learn new things every step of the way. The  JNR* has undergone an astounding transformation in a short span of time. Revived species of plants are visible everywhere. The forest is resounding with bird calls.  One sees a variety of scat. The reserve takes on a different look every season. Right now, the Rhododendron trees are adding vivid bursts of red to the hillside. JNR is also home to various animals and birds that we didn’t know existed in our vicinity but for camera-traps that have digitally captured them. Seeing is believing!

I came away with a deeper appreciation of the space I share with wildlife and more respect for conservationists like Hails and Rawat, and their fellow environmentalist Sejal Wohra, who runs the reserve with a lot of passion and sparse funding. Moreover, it made me realise that the onus of preserving wild spaces like this rests equally on people like me and you – the community. 

Nature reserves and green spaces are vulnerable and do disappear to make way for “developmental” projects for several reasons. When that happens, species disappear overnight. So please, if you haven’t already, do visit a nature reserve or forest/lake/natural open space close to you. Pack a picnic lunch. Learn about species you share the habitat with. You may well be surprised by who and what resides so close to you. Take your friends along. Donate. It’s easy. Volunteer. It’s a little harder but certainly doable. Contribute in any way you can. Start a club. Share on social media. Keep your backyard and enjoy it too.

*JNR is a part of an initiative set up as a private partnership between the owners of the land (the family of the Late Shri J P Jain) and Sejal Wohra (Programme Director WWF-India). Thanks to their joint efforts JNR is a perfect example of what can be achieved with the cooperation of locals and the know-how of professional environmentalists.

viru
The local villages are involved in the protection of the reserve. Tree lopping and cow grazing have altogether stopped. The local are receiving training and employment and have turned into protector of the forests

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If you would like to get involved with JNR write to sejalwohra@gmail.com or visit http://www.Jaberkhetnature.com

 

 

 

When Street Dogs Attack Wildlife

Dogs on the hunt

nilgai

I was out with friends in the Little Rann of Kutch on 18th Jan 2016,  exploring the sanctuary for Asiatic wild asses and birds, when we came across this beautiful lone Nilgai (Indian Antelope) standing perfectly still. It was a great photo-op. As I zoomed in I noticed its eyes were focused at a point somewhere behind us.  Thinking it odd, we took our shots and moved on. Before we knew it the Nilgai turned around and started sprinting away with two dogs in hot pursuit.  Very soon a third dog joined the hunt. The chase continued for a quite a while. The antelope was tiring but the dogs looked like they would go on forever. As much as I love dogs,  I mentally rooted for the Nilgai.We didn’t quite expect to see wild dogs or a hunt. I did a second take when I realized these were strays. The sanctuary fringes a village. Never before have I seen strays attack wildlife.  There was nothing friendly or domestic about these dogs. They were plain wild. There was something wrong with the whole scenario. It wasn’t the same as watching a wild animal hunting another wild animal!

We kept our eyes on the animals till they disappeared from sight. What happened to the Nilgai? I’ll never know but I’m beginning to think something more needs to be done with managing strays. The incidents of humans being attacked by strays are multiplying. Now they seem to have found new hunting grounds.

Watch the chase here on YouTube: Street Dogs Chase Wild Nilgai

The Body Language of Himalayan Langurs

Meditating Langur

Himalayan Langurs look almost human. You only have to observe them to see the similarities. It’s another matter Langurs behave a lot better than some people I know! They possess the intelligence to leave you alone if you let them be: and don’t normally steal your food or snarl as you pass by like the Rhesus do.

In fact, they seem to know to coexist with the different species that inhabit high altitude terrain unlike most of us; and as I discovered, will even pose for a photograph now and then. I find them fascinating but am no longer surprised by their good behaviour.

I found this "Meditating" Langur looking comfortable in a yoga pose He was perched on the deodar for the longest time looking like he hadn't a care in the world while his whole troupe was foraging in the trees below.
I found this “Meditating” Langur looking comfortable in a yoga pose He was perched on the deodar for the longest time looking like he hadn’t a care in the world while his whole troupe was foraging in the trees below.
Mama. Just another day in her Langur world!
‘Mama’ Himalayan Langur. Just another day in her Langur world!
On a Rhododendron diet. The funny part was howhe/she was eating the flower petal by petal  like  it was a Michelin star dish to be savouring slowly.
On a Rhododendron diet. The funny part was how he/she was eating the flower a single petal at a time like it was a Michelin star dish to be savour slowly.
This little Langur was keeping watch perched on the ramparts of an old Portuguese fort called 'Cabo de Rama',in Goa last week. There were a bunch of them - like their Himalayan cousins...keeping to themselves.
This little Langur was keeping watch perched on the ramparts of an old Portuguese fort called ‘Cabo de Rama’, in Goa last week. There were a bunch of them – like their Himalayan cousins…keeping to themselves while keeping watch.
Langurs of the Plains
Langurs of the Coastal Plains

Marlon Brando of Dogs

Chingoo

know.

Another dog blog!

Can’t help myself when it comes to these three mutts. The loves of my life – Chingoo, Kajal and Chokli.

                [Unacceptable monkey-behaviour, according to Chingoo]
[Unacceptable monkey-behaviour, according to Chingoo]

   There are moments when Chingoo’s killer instinct surfaces and then he surprises us with his gentleness. Once a troop of 3understandsus monkeys decided to party on our tin roof, antagonizing the dogs to no end. I let them lose; Chingoo went berserk. Next thing I knew, he was pursuing the simians round and round the house with an infant monkey in his mouth; with me yelling “Drop it” in hot pursuit while wondering if the last Rabies shot I took was still valid. Things quickly turned around. It was the turn of the monkeys to act tormented. They screeched the place down and finally, Chingoo let go, of  ‘baby-in-the-mouth’, without so much as a scratch. Reunited with their kidnapped ilk, the hysterical primates promptly did the disappearing act in a blur of grey.

[Watching the Langur watching him]

[Khaleej Pheasant]

           [Chingoo and Kajal]    Chingoo has a great trust in humanity except, for the delivery guys. [For which he can be forgiven.] He used to take it upon himself to escort dog-friendly folk to their homes or on their walks. He learnt his lesson the hard way. He returned home one day, brutalised, the bone on his leg showing through the wound and two front teeth missing. Betrayed and all shook up, he wouldn't leave my side for days. He became rather quiet. It took him a while to  get over his fear of people. That's when I decided 'absolute' freedom might not be such a great scheme in the long run.

                                                            [Chingoo and Kajal]                            Except for delivery guys, Chingoo takes kindly to humans. He used to take it upon himself to escort dog-friendly folk to their homes or on their walks. He returned home one day, brutalised, the bone on his leg showing through the wound and two of his teeth missing. He was pretty shook up by the experience and wouldn’t leave my side for days. It took him a while to get over his fear of people. Perhaps, ‘absolute’ freedom is not such a great scheme in the long run.

[Kajal=Khol]
[Kajal=Khol]
The outlined eyes, part of Kajal’s genetic make-up that Chingoo inherited. Kajal is a gentle and elegant middle-aged lady who loves her creature comforts besides being the best rat catcher I’ve known to date. She catches and then releases the rodent, sparing it a torturous death and us from dealing with a gruesome carcass. Kajal’s winter fur is as soft as goose down, I often think how cool it would be to knit it into gloves. Collectively, our dogs shed enough to lace the air, our food, and every surface of our home. They would indeed make great gloves. If I only could harness it, instead of ingesting it.

[ Kajal with a friendly calf]
[ Kajal with a friendly calf]

[Chokli as a pup]
[Chokli as a pup]
I found Chokli abandoned in a ditch on the hillside. Mistaking her yelp for a bird call, I whistled. I knew I had found a survivor when she crept out of a bush and yelped back a reply. I was instantly drawn to her hyena stripes, the glint in her bright beady eyes and the white ‘socks’ on her paws. She was one smart little stray. My husband called her a pocket edition. She may have been petite but she charged like a speeding bullet every time she saw a monkey, dog or cow. Fear was not part of her canine vocabulary. She baby-sat Chingoo when he was a pup and let him swing by her tail till he got heavier and bigger than her.

[Chokli]
[Chokli]
Chokli was also way more alert than both  Kajal and Chingoo. While they dreamt through the night; fluttering eyes, stirring paws et al, Chokli’s pointed ears would cock-up at the mere hint of a sound. She died prematurely because of a careless vet who overdosed her with antibiotics for a  fungal paw infection. She is missed.

[The threesome in better days]
                              [The threesome in better days]

Related content: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaddi_Kutta

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Himalayan_Sheepdog

http://mastiffdogssite.com/Himalayan-Sheepdog.php