Counting animals in the full moon light

The wildlife census based on the age-old waterhole technique was conducted at SGNP on Saturday. But sensing human presence on the machans around the artificially created drinking spots, most of the animals preferred to stay away in the thickets, barring a few langurs and some wild boar who ventured out for a drink of water.

Big light in the sky: The Supermoon lit up the night sky on the occasion of Buddha Purnima. Pic/Atul Kamble

At one of the watering holes in the core forest area of the Tulsi range, volunteers who manned the machan claimed that they had seen a leopard and its cub. “I was sitting on the machan along with another volunteer and a forest guard, when suddenly at around 1.35 am, the barking deer and the hanuman langur started giving calls, and it was evident that something was approaching us. Immediately, I heard the crunch on dry leaves, and I stood up on the machan and looked in the direction of the watering hole. At a distance of around 200 metres, a leopard and its cub were drinking water, and their eyes were shining in the dark. When I used my torchlight, it immediately disappeared into the bush,” said Hitendra Pachkale, a volunteer.

The beasts may have preferred to give the watering holes a wide berth owing to their algae-ridden contents. Moreover, the officers had failed to uniformly apply dry soil along the circumference of each of the holes, as a result of which many animals stayed away from their swampy surroundings.

Treading cautiously: The artificial watering holes remained mostly deserted during the course of the census on Saturday

A MiD DAY correspondent spent the entire night on one of the machans in the Tulsi range of SGNP, but only spotted a group of about five wild boar walking towards the watering hole nearby at around 10.45 pm. Sensing human presence, they soon made themselves scarce. At 2.30 am the following morning, leopard cries were heard at regular intervals, right upto 3.30 am. The leopard decidedly stayed away from human view.

“The leopard is a very elusive animal, and owing to its strong sense of smell, it can easily detect human presence in the area, and lurks in the shadows to avoid contact with humans,” said a forest guard.

One of the assistant conservators of the forest (ACF) from SGNP said on condition of anonymity, “Few animals appeared at the watering holes for the census. The waterhole census has been conducted over a stretch of two days, and the officers concerned will prepare the data sheet of the animals that were spotted near the waterholes. This data will then be forwarded to the superiors, who will compile the data received from all the ranges and arrive at the new figures.”

Biologist and wildlife expert Vidya Athreya said, “Instead of conducting such a census only once a year, the forest department should make it a point and organise them at more frequent intervals, as this helps in keeping a strict vigil on activities inside the forest. Involving the volunteers in this work is also a positive step. Instead of referring to these activities as census, it is better to refer to them as ‘monitoring,’ wherein an increased presence of forest officials and volunteers near watering holes in summer will reduce the presence of unwanted or dangerous elements.” 

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