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The Singinawa Video
Tiger Sighting at Kanha National Park

October-1st 2016 –

Ours was the first vehicle to enter the Kanha National Park,Madhya Pradesh and , it wasa fantastic feeling, especially because it was also the first safari of the Season. We three naturalists were with our guest Ms.Mili Sham, jokingly telling her that taking more than one naturalist along could be a disaster and she just might end up seeing nothing.
Our safari began at six in the morning, the lush green jungle was so refreshing. We were welcomed by large herds of spotted deer, locally known as the Chital. Before we knew it we spotted a small bird trotting in the middle of the jungle - surprisingly it was the Forest wagtail which is a passage migrant. Interestingly this is only species of wagtail found in Central India, which wags its tail sideways, contrary to other wagtails which wag theirs up and down. We were lucky to click a few images of this bird and observed the details through our binoculars. The forest wagtail has a characteristic wing and breast pattern, and a prominent, long, whitish stripe that extends from each eye towards the back of the head.
The morning hours also gave us a chance to see a number of Gaurs, Sambars, Barking deer, Barasingha (also called the Swamp deer) and a variety of other species of birds.
Continuing with our safari, while driving along a small hilly road called the chotachattarpattar, at around 8am we were taken by surprise by a sudden encounter with a male tiger coming out of bushes. By now there were a few other vehicles around and they informed us that this particular male was running away from another dominant male. The Tiger could now be clearly spotted as it was out of the bushes and we began to click a few photographs, while also observing his behaviour through our binoculars. The tiger was regularly marking its territory by spray marking the trees, scrape marking the ground, sniffing the trees, and grazing or rubbing his cheek on the tree bark, usually what all tigers do.
But wait, suddenly to our surprise, the tiger started displaying some unusual and probably never seen before behaviour! This male tiger stood up on its hind legs, started hugging the tree, and licking the tree several times. He would glance around in between, looking for the rival male. Then again he would start hugging the tree and looking around like a curious cat .The Tiger then started walking along the road, sat in a nearby small stream to quench his thirst. We noticed that he soon repeated the same behaviour of hugging and licking the trees for a while. A few minutes later we saw the rival male tiger walking the same path and spray marking the very same trees, probably trying to re-establish his territory. What a treat the morning safari had been for us!!
After getting back to the lodge, and being still intrigued by this behaviour of the tiger, we shot off a few emails with relevant photographs to a few of our friends and experts, wanting to know more about this unique behaviour of the tiger. We were not very successful in getting information on this but got a lot of different opinions. We also spoke to Dr.Raghu Chundawat, a wildlife expert who has studied extensively the tigers of Panna National Park, Central India This is what he had to say and I quote “This may be an individual behaviour of this particular tiger and unless we get more solid data we cannot conclude about this behaviour “ Tigers are one of the most studied mammals, yet as more and more naturalists and biologists step in to work in the field, we keep getting newer and more fascinating details each day reminding us that the natural world is full of wonders and we have barely touched the tip of an iceberg! The safari trail not only left us full of excitement but also left us a little wiser.
There is no doubt that our Safari season had begun with a bang and we couldn’t have asked for more. We had great sightings of birds, mammals, and yes the unique tiger behaviour! David Raju

HIDDEN PREDATOR

In the interiors of the jungle at Kanha National Park,the major focus is on spotting one of the Big Cats while driving. Each and every alarm call of the wild will attract you towards itself and makes you look around the area and scan for any predator around.
During my drive with Julia and Clarissa at the Kanha Zone, we were looking for one of the Big Cats. We were trying to follow the tracks, listen to the sounds of the jungle as we were moving around. Suddenly something attracted us ,I just stopped the ignition and there was silence all around for a few seconds ,we heard an alarm call of the Spotted Deer somewhere close. We decided to proceed further as we were close to a bridge where a tigress was spotted recently. I moved the vehicle slowly towards the bridge and stopped there. The spotted deer was constantly looking towards the big grass clump and giving the alarm call. We took our binoculars and started scanning the area but there were no signs of any cat around, still the calls were on and everyone in the vehicle was excited and was eagerly looking around the area.
Surprisingly, at a distance of around 50 meters we saw a Monkey (Langur) trying to jump out of the grassbut was dragged again towards the grass. It was a confusing situation for everybody, as we were not able to see what was there behind the grass. Monkey was again jumping and trying to survive, but was helpless.During this activity the spotted deer was still on with the alarm calls and we were sure that there was something big behind that grass patch.
Suddenly we saw a long muscular bodywhich appeared over the grass and was constricting around the Monkey. What we saw was a huge Python hidden behind the grass. It had a strong grip around the Monkey and we could barely see its body apart from the hands and the legswhich were only visible. We were able to see the tail of the Monkey waving while the Python was constricting it.
This entire scene lasted for around 15-20 minutes. Finally all the efforts of the Monkey stopped and we could see that it was dead.
Unfortunately, looking at the time we had to move from there as we had to cover other parts of the park and we thought of coming back to the same spot while we would exit. By that time the Python was easily visible as it had shifted a bit towards the water and the Monkey was still in it’s tight grip and would have been swallowed after we left the spot.
It was overall a fantastic experience for all and for the guests it was the first time they had seen a kill in the wild.
Thanks Sachin Sharma Naturalist Singinawa Jungle Lodge Kanha National Park.

Nights at Singinawa Jungle Lodge- the story of the Gliding Squirrels

The 110 acre expanse of wilderness that is Singinawa Jungle Lodge encompasses Sal forests, riverine forests, grasslands and thick bamboo forests. This varied habitat provides a healthy habitat for the animals of the buffer zone of Kanha Tiger Reserve. We can proudly see that we have extended the buffer zone by another 110 acres with our planting and habitat modelling over the years. The wildlife to their time to trust us but recently the results have been great. The three resident spotted deer herds, multiple troops of Langurs and the large sounders of Wild Boar were the first to trust us. They roam freely through the property, sometimes walking between the cottages at dawn, dusk and at night. The secretive representatives like the Barking Deer or the Indian Muntjac, Gaur, Rhesus Macaques and Sambhar are seldom seen as they restrict themselves to the Bamboo patches around our water holes, coming out at twilight hours to satisfy their thirst. They are more often heard (when the cats come visiting) than seen. This healthy herbivore population was bound to attract carnivores like Leopards, Wild Dogs and sometimes even the beautiful tigress that patrols this and the surrounding forest patch. It was exciting to get these beauties on camera in our grounds. It was definitely a moment of delight for the entire team as all our efforts were paying off.
 
As exciting as these encounters and sightings maybe, the true benefit of this healthy environment within our boundaries lies in the fact that this is the best opportunity to study the nocturnal life of the region. These animals are seldom seen as the park is open only from dawn to dusk. What happens after that was always a mystery. Apart from the random glimpse on the main road on the way to the lodge or park, there was no concrete basis to study these special members of this ecosystem. The regular setting up of camera traps and random night walks at various times of the night were scheduled to try and see what we get here. It got more exciting than we anticipated.
 
The Black-naped Hares were the first find as they seemed to be all over the property. It was the easiest catch, something even guests encountered on the way to their rooms after dinner. As exciting as the Hare were, we needed a bigger challenge. We started off with a great find, the mass roosting of Fruit Bats or Flying Foxes on the banks of the Tannaur River. They use the planted Pine trees ( planted by a local nursery) and their thick foliage as cover from the sun during the day. They would fly to the river at dusk for a drink before heading out for their night feast. This kept us excited for a good few days but we needed to find more. The area around the Leopard Rock dinner spot seemed to be the hub for a pair of Indian Crested Porcupines (We also learnt that the collective noun for porcupines is ‘a prickle of porcupines’!!!Nice right!!!). They were caught on our camera traps and tracks were found at our waterhole but they haven’t been seen yet despite all our efforts. We probably need a better strategy to outsmart these sharp quilled and sharp witted members of the forest.
 
These two were really exciting catches. We also had multiple visits from a Jungle Cat, who probably came in looking for our Hares, adding to the night’s exciting list. The tracks of the rare Bengal Fox were seen on the sandy banks of the Tannaur River. This one probably uses that trail to get from their well-hidden subterranean den to the fields, looking for crabs, scorpions and small rodents en-route. These exciting catches were a real treat for our efforts but one question always kept bothering us – ‘Where were the Civets’ ?
 
We decided to regularly walk the grounds at night looking for these long-tailed short-legged cat-like prowlers, especially around fruiting figs and the flowering Mahua trees. We were focussed on seeing the Palm Civet, a fruitarian and occasional carnivore as they are easier to find than the rarer Small Indian Civet. The Palm Civet spends the day in tree hollows, coming to the forest floor at night to feed. They are also known to be very active amongst the canopy when the bounty is plentiful. The canopy also acts as a refuge when they are disturbed, so when they see a carnivore or any such hindrance, they often climb the nearest tree and hide amongst the foliage. Thus, most of our focus was restricted to shining our torches amongst the tree branches. On one of these walks, we got the eye shine that we were waiting for. The animal was hidden amongst the leaves of a Kossam tree ( Schleichera oleosa) so all we could see was an eye shine. As we cautiously stepped closer, we saw something we definitely didn’t expect. The animal suddenly decided to fly to the next tree. What was this we saw!!! Definitely not a Fruit Bat as the eye-shine was too strong. And the animal did have a long tail. We approached the tree where we thought the animal had landed, our heads buzzing with thoughts and questions of the various possibilities. Could it be what we think this is?? In our property??
 
As we reached the tree we noticed that the animal was on a low perch. The view was much better this time and there was no doubt that we were looking at a Indian Giant Flying Squirrel ( Petaurista philippensis). A Flying Squirrel!! Just a few metres above us!!! We were ecstatic!!!
 
The grey coat, long dark tail, slender long feet, long claws designed for the perfect grip and the distinct flap of loose skin along its flank, the gliding flaps. Unmistakable!!! The animal stood there watching us for a long time, giving us time for a few clicks before it decided to go further up the tree and glide on. When in flight, we could see that there were two sets of flaps on each side- One that ran between the fore and hind limb, and the second that ran between the hind leg and the tail. This additional flap is the main difference between a flying squirrel and a giant flying squirrel; apart from the obvious size difference. This flap helps them glide further and sometimes even short distances amongst the middle canopy.
 
Though widespread in most of peninsular India, these squirrels are now facing multiple dangers, mainly from loss of habitat. The chopping down of tall mature trees makes it hard for them to find a suitable tree hollow to rest for the day. Apart from this the constant planting of introduced tree species like the eucalyptus and the excessive collection of forest fruit for local demand have put increased pressures on them from various angles. They are now restricted to small pockets where healthy habitat remains intact, letting them thrive in peace.
 
Keeping all these factors in mind, it is absolutely incredible and satisfactory beyond measure that we have been able to find them in our premises. We found a second one in no time next to our water tank adding to our joys. The task now lies in finding the hollow that they use ( it might be harder than we think). That will ensure that we keep that sight well protected and monitored to better understand these extraordinary creatures of the night. We went looking for Civets and we got a few Flying Squirrels. Maybe we’ll find a Pangolin next time. We’ll definitely keep you all posted if we do.

Chousingha

Have you ever seen an animal having Four Horns?A small light brown antelope found in Deciduous forests prefersa tree and savanna habitat. Looks similar to ‘Chinkara’but bears distinct four horns, makes them the only mammal in the world bearing four horns known as ‘Chousingha’.
 
This smallest bovid in Asia weighing about 15 to 25 Kilograms often lives near water. It uses the same defecating sites regularly; this probably serves as a means of territorial demarcation or might be for communication purposes.
 
They are split in Three Subspecies: Tetracerus Quadricornis, Sub-Quadricornis and Tetracerus Quadricornis Iodes.
 
By IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) these come under the list of endangered animals. These rare denizens are considered vulnerable and uncommon.
 
Study done on Four Horned Antelopes suggests that invasive weed Lantana Camara can directly reduce habitat availability for the species by changing the habitat type and structure hence making these bovids vulnerable. You need a seasoned field Biologist/Naturalist to spot these areas, as these animals lives in Transition Zones or Ecotones and are shy, they can merge with the surroundings well.
 
As in Kanha National park a lot of measures have been taken by the forest management for eradication of lantana camara. As an outcome of these methods the four horned antelope population is stable and they are in safe heaven, but as they reside in distinct habitats we need keen eyes and in-depth knowledge of habitats to spot the areas with weeds.
 
Seeing these bovids we get astound as they evolved between 8 to 9 millionyears ago and changed the least since the origin. We should say that these creatures are "living fossils” and are following the basic law of nature “survival of the fittest” for ages.

Tiger in the Mist

It is now that time of the year, when its misty and cloudy during the morning hours.
 
This morning I decided to fulfill my dream to photograph a tiger in the mist and as destiny would have it ,fortune was on my side.
 
I went to the Bishanpura patrolling camp ,where in the past I had seen fresh tiger pugmarks  practically everyday in the morning . However  this morning I did not see any pugmark so the park guide suggested us to stay there and wait for some   alarm calls so that we could know the movement of  the big cat.