Sabyasachi Patra

Wild Animals in Central India

Wild Animals in Central India by A. A. Dunbar Brander

The book Wild Animals in Central India by A. A. Dunbar Brander was first published in 1923 and still remains as a classic and will continue to remain so, due to the imitable style as well as natural history moments captured.

Wild Animals in Central India

Wild Animals in Central India by A. A. Dunbar Brander

During the early 1900s, any white man worth his salt was expected to have a shot many tigers and the other so called dangerous animals in Indian jungles. As a white man as well as forest officer, Dunbar Brander had considerable hunting tales to boast off, however he didnt choose to write about hunting stories. Rather he gleaned pearls of wisdom from the various wildlife encounters he had during his 21 years of forest service and presented us a timeless classic book on wildlife found in Central India. He has written about wildlife in India, namely Sloth Bear, wild dog (dhole), Tiger, leopard, gaur, wild buffalo, sambar, swamp deer or barasingha, chital, barking deer, antelopes, wild pig etc.

His experiences are so vast and his observations about the denizens of Wild India are so accurate, that even close to a century later, we find those behavioural traits of animals described in the book to be true. For example,

I found his description of Sambars fighting with their forelegs and striking blows to his pet dogs with the forelegs in one of the incidents in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, far from the Central India where he observed such behaviour. Read:

Similarly, the aspect of a mother sambar being benumbed by attacking dogs formed a very plausible explanation to the behaviour that I observed.

Sloth Bear:

He has described some interesting and unique behaviour of sloth bears in Wild India. In one incident he has mentioned that when he shot a wild sloth bear they rolled down into each other and started a massive quarrel, mistaking the bullet wound to be caused by the other bears. This incident has also been quoted by the other well known forest officer of those times F. W. Champion and is included in the book Tripwire for a Tiger.

He has also mentioned that the sloth bear has a very interesting manner of raiding honeycombs. The sloth bear climbs a tree and in the cover of darkness knocks off one bee hive to the ground and then descends and eats it. the bees are handicapped by the darkness, and instead of following their nest, tend to concentrate round the place where it originally hung. It is common for a tree to contain a number of bees nests, and I have known a bear return night after night, dealing with only one nest at a time. He goes on to offer an explanation No doubt his long hair is a valuable protection, but all the same it would seem as if the little folk were sufficiently formidable to deter the bear from dealing with all the nests at one time.

Dunbar Brander also feels that since the Sloth Bear spends considerable energy to dig out small termites, larvae etc, the motive might not just be to satiate hunger but to appease the taste buds.

Soth bear and cubs in Rain

Wild India: Sloth bear mother carries its cubs on her back in the rain

One also gets a sneak peak into a bygone era. Burton mentions that in the first six months of 1864 rewards were paid for the death of 310 bears in the Central Provinces. Nevertheless the country has undergone a certain change during this period, which must be a factor in their economic conditions. The tendency of the open and privately owned forests has been to become more open, and the tendency of the fine protected government reserves has been to become denser. In addition, it is probably that many of the jungle products on which the bear depends, and for which man is also a competitor, are now more thoroughly harvested. These factors would all tend to increase the bears difficulties in obtaining food, and even if shooting were to cease entirely, it is extremely doubtful if they would ever again become as numerous as they have been.

These words appear prophetic, as today thousands of people enter the forests to get the various fruits like aamla, custar apple, berries and sell it in the roadside. And when the hungry sloth bear is found near a village it is badly lynched by the villagers.

Tigers fondness for wild boar and porcupine meat:

Tigers, when disturbed on their kills, will usually abandon the same without protest; but if the kill happens to be a pig or a porcupine, they will often defend it, and it is not safe to drive a tiger off one of these animals. Whether this conduct is due to their being inordinately fond of this fare, or whether the difficulty they sometimes experience in killing these creatures enhances their value, I cannot say; but this attitude of the tiger, which I have personally experienced, cannot be due to mere coincidence. Moreover, the tame tiger which I kept was always most reluctant to abandon a piece of pig meat. He, of course, had had no experience of killing pigs, and this would make one inclined to think that tigers were particularly fond of the flesh

Tigers love wildboar meat

Wild India: Tigers love wildboar meat

Tiger and balance of nature:

There is an outlying patch of forest in the Hoshangabad district which always contained a few tigers when I was there in 1906. Some years after this, they were all shot out, and the forest being isolated no others wandered in. I visited this tract again in 1917, and the surrounding villages were simply overrun with pig and nilgai. Many fields had gone out of cultivation. To enlarge a couple of tiger in this forest would be a great boon to the local people. This is not the only instance of the kind, and the extermination of tiger in such places should not be permitted.

Distribution of Black Buck in India

Dunbar Brander starts the description of Black Buck with the following line The black buck is the commonest and most conspicuous antelope in India. They are found from Cape Comorin to the base of the Himalayas, and in the Punjab from the neighbourhood of the Jhelum as far east as Lower Assam; also in Orissa, and in the coastal region of Midnapore. They are not found east of the Bay of Bengal, nor in the Gangetic Delta, the Malabar coast or Ceylone. One can realise that in less than a hundred years the once numerous black buck has been thoroughly decimated and now remain in only a few pockets.

Black buck in grassland habitat

Wild India: Black buck in grassland habitat

Dunbar Brander on Speed of Black Bucks

Dunbar Branders description about blackbucks speed and other behaviour is very interesting and it has been subsequently quoted by many authors.”It has been previously stated that they are the fastest four-footed animal in the world, and although they can be stalked and rushed over a short distance by a hunting leopard, they soon draw away and the leopard abandons the chase. Moreover, the black buck can keep up his pace almost interminably.

No African antelope possesses the speed of the black buck, and I am informed that all those inhabiting ride-able country have been ridden down on horses much inferior to those which have been pitted against black buck. The cheetah is a common African animal, but his attention is divided between a large number of different antelopes, whereas in India this is concentrated almost entirely on the black buck or the Chinkara, an animal possessing almost an equal fleetness. Is it possible that this factor accounts for the development of the phenomenal speed, and that endurance has been acquired to escape from the more persistent and tireless wolf?”

“In the rains in soft ground buck get bogged, or pick up clods of earth on their feet, and under these conditions I have killed them with dogs, but given fair conditions I have never seen thoroughbred greyhounds take a turn out of them”.

Black buck hind

Wild India: Black buck hind starting to run

And on the flying leaps of the blackbucks while fleeing away: “…..there had been a slight shower and the space between the perfect slots when measured showed that when extended the buck covered 19 to 22 feet at each stride”.

On speed of Black bucks in miles per hour:
“I once saw a buck beat a Ford car which was “all out” and must have been doing at least 35 miles an hour. It is believed that black buck are capable of maintaining a speed of over 40 miles an hour for a considerable distance”

This book is so interesting that I am tempted to quote many more paragraphs from this book. However, I am resisting the temptation of and allowing our readers to discover it themselves.

Lastly, in the preface of this book, he has written For about six years I practically ceased to shoot, and it is to this period that I am chiefly indebted; one can see so much more of an animal, and under such different circumstances if one is not intent on killing it. Ofcourse, it is very clear that a hunter will try to pull the trigger at the earliest opportunity and not wait to observe the behaviour, it is also true that if the hunter doesnt get a clear sight of the vital organs he will not shoot and will wait. During this waiting period his mind will be occupied with the thoughts of killing the animal rather than watching its behaviour. Hence learning of natural history is limited. This should be carefully noted by the photographers who get tensed about shutter speed, aperture, ISO, angle etc while trying to photograph the animal and hence fail to notice and learn animal behaviour.

The “Wild Animals in Central India” by Dunbar Brander is 296 pages including index page and is made available by Natraj Publishers. It is priced at Rs. 425.This book should be part of every nature lovers book shelf. Highly recommended.

Sabyasachi Patra
Follow me: