Place: Jim’s Jungle Retreat
Quarterly Update: Imran Khan
The sweltering summer months of May & June will soon give way to dramatically different weather. The rains, when they arrive with torrential force in the hilly terrain of Corbett, will play havoc with the road networks within the park, providing much-needed respite from human intrusion.
The first few showers also trigger breeding patterns of the area’s herbivore and avian species. A new green envelops the trees, while the undergrowth turns lush with sprightly shoots and new food resources. Dry riverbeds and channels now course with tumbling, muddy waters, deep pools and dark necklace-shaped cloisters of fish fingerling.
However, this period is of major concern for park authorities. With the collapse of its internal road network, the rains also bring a most vulnerable time for the park, when anti-social elements are bent upon damaging nature in several ways. Indeed, tourism forms an important conservation tool at this time of the year, the safari-goers keeping check on illegal activities.
Closing the park has ecological significance, no doubt, as it provides significant time of undisturbed peace for wildlife. However, a limited presence of visitors actually acts as a deterrent to anti-social elements. A raging debate over the pros and cons of human interference has finally given way to a controlled visitor presence in the park during the rainy months. This could be of vital importance in providing tourist and forest guard patrolling in some areas of the park.
The Jhirna tourism zone, about 2km from Jim’s Jungle Retreat, is open the entire year. We also await a decision on whether night safaris will be allowed in the park. The authorities seem to have concluded that limited night drives with forest guards in every vehicle would be beneficial to the park’s dwellers, providing much-needed patrolling at a dangerous time for wildlife.
OF DEER HAREMS AND BIRD NESTS
As the village folk get busy with their seasonal planting, either paddy or soybean crops, the determinant being the extent of rains, rutting calls of stags can be heard with increasing frequency within the forest depths. Rains also bring with them squads of insects, their presence in the dense vegetation forcing animals to take refuge in open areas, especially in the teak plantations and on highways.
Animal sightings are therefore great in open areas during safaris. Corbett’s ungulates such as deer, boars and antelopes, get busy with their breeding, a cycle triggered with the first few showers of rain. Male deer like the cheetal and sambhar make fabulous displays of their antlers, to seduce and entice, by garlanding them with the profuse vegetation of the monsoon. Except for the kakar, or the barking deer, most deer species are now forming their harems. (The kakar pairs with one partner each season.) For the rest, fighting males make big displays of their dominance, locking antlers with any challenger, making this one of the most common sights.
Many of the smaller birds are also breeding at this time and in a few weeks from now mother and chicks will be a common sight. The profuseness in ground vegetation and a rising insect population provide ample feeding opportunity to insectivorous birds at this crucial breeding time. Quails, patridges, pheasants, raptors, owls, parakeets, barbets, etc. are seen with their chicks in the beginning of the season while many of the cuckoos are busy finding other bird-nests to lay their eggs.
This also is the time to look for new nests on the ground. The Eurasian thick-knee, one of the most conspicuous birds on the ground, gets busy distracting the attention of jackals approaching towards its nest by putting a wing under one of its feet as if it is injured.
TIGERS & TUSKERS
With the nullahs and other water courses cutting forest roads and highways across, flash floods are increasingly common.
Solitary elephant tuskers begin their courting rituals now, determined to fight to protect its harem. During the monsoon, elephants herds, their dominant male at the centre, move together in search of fodder. The Jhirna tourism zone produces excellent elephant sightings during this time. The excitement builds when loner makhanas– giant but tusk-less males – try and join a herd but are strongly rebuffed.
Tigers have no fixed breeding time and they may breed anytime of the year depending upon the availability of prey and water. Plenty of water keeps them cool during this sultry weather. But due to the vegetation’s denseness and excess water availability, tiger sightings begin to slow down. However, our walking safaris in the forest alongside Jim’s Jungle Retreat have fetched excellent tiger sightings in the past.
Meantime, as the rains fill up snake burrows, forcing them out, there are plenty of young frogs to feast on as they too begin to emerge from newly-created monsoon ponds. King Cobra and python sightings increase at this time. A recent sighting of a King Cobra killing and swallowing a Monitor lizard happened just about a week ago and was witnessed and photographed by one our guests, Manik Kaur Harika. Thanks much for your photographs! A rare sight indeed.