I had my first sighting of the endangered Wild dog/ Dhole (Cuon Alpinus) while we were frogging at Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. To the tourist who marvels at seeing a tiger, I say 'Have you seen a Dhole hunt?' A superbly coordinated hunting strategy turns these mere dogs into cold-blooded killers, where they single out a particularly succulent and delicious-looking Spotted deer/Chital (Axis axis), chase it while ripping off pieces of flesh from the prey. Weary from the chase and the consequent loss of blood, the poor deer collapses whereupon the pack descends upon it like, well a pack of fighting dogs. I did not quite witness all this action, but I was part of a case of mistaken identity in the buffer area. Now such cases, especially in the forest, can turn out to be lethal. Imagine someone identifying a venomous Bamboo pit viper as a harmless Green keelback!
Keerthi and I were accompanied by forest guards and a forest watcher as we scanned the area for frogs. Eventually we came to an open patch with short grass surrounded by forest along its circumference, which had earlier housed an entire village. One of the forest guards was telling us the story of a tiger he had seen the previous evening, and pointed to a clearing, "That’s where I saw the tiger". In hindsight, I wonder whether some individuals engaged in wildlife-related activities, especially tourism, speak about tigers and other megafauna to 'sell' better, if you know what I mean. We had by now turned our attention back to the jumping Fejarvaryas in the field and were trying desperately to catch those pesky frogs that have a knack for disappearing into the slushy grasses, when the second forest guard cried out, "Tiger! Tiger!" Surprised, excited, we looked up. Sure enough, in the far distance at the edge of the field, was a four-legged creature trotting in our direction. As it came closer, the guard shouted out, "Look look tiger!!!" (loud enough that the supposed tiger could have heard him- perhaps he was expecting a reply). However, something seemed amiss. Tigers do not walk with a spring in their step. Neither do they have bushy tails. What they do have are stripes. And a bulky body (remember Jim Corbett's 'Maneaters of Kumaon'). Realization dawned upon us- this is a much cooler animal! It is a Dhole!!! Woohoo!!! Excited and joyous, I stood there and saw the creature continue walking towards us. Irrespective of all the science I had read, watching a carnivore walk towards me aroused a deep hidden primal human instinct inside me. An instinct that screamed, "RUN!" Of course, I did not turn tail and embarrass myself. The dhole decided it was close enough to get a good look at the intruders, and seeing us wretched humans, threw up its nose in mortal disdain and made its way into the safety of the forest.
As dusk descended upon us, we gazed awestruck at the disappearing figure, while flocks of Malabar parakeets streaked brilliant blue across the darkening skies, hoping against hope that one day, we would secure the planet for the magnificent species it harbors.
Ramblings on wildlife sharing spaces with non-wild humans