Sabyasachi Patra

Wild India | A Close Encounter

Wild India | An Encounter with a Wild Malabar Giant Squirrel

It was about 6.30 am in the morning on the last day of my field visit to Wayanad and Nagarhole. The last night I had stayed in a coffee estate and about 6.30 am I entered Nagarhole from Kutta. After driving for about ten minutes, I found a Malabar Giant Squirrel about five or six feet above the ground on a tree trunk. There were a few tribal kids excitedly pointing at it from a distance.

Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica) is arboreal in nature.

Nagarhole is devoid of villages, except for this hamlet where about seven or eight tribal families have been resettled. I quickly parked my Tata Safari. My two cameras were lying on the seat in the middle row. I turned and picked up my camera ready to shoot.
My Canon EOS 1D Mark II Camera had my 400mm f2.8 L IS USM lens with a 2xII TC attached, so I could have got a close up shot even if I had photographed from my Tata Safari. However, without shooting through my window, on an impulse, I opened the door and ran towards the Malabar Giant Squirrel to shoot it from close quarters.

The previous day I was trying to click a Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica) high up in the tree but was not happy with the results as the light level was pretty low. There have been several occasions before when I had tried to photograph Malabar Giant Squirrel but was not excited with the outcome.

I moved in close to the tree and tried to photograph it at eye level as it was about 5 feet up in the tree. The Malabar Giant Squirrel instead of running away, came down the tree to the ground.

Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica) on the ground

So I knelt down and tried to photograph it from a close distance. It was virtually close to the minimum focusing distance of my lens.

Wild India | Malabar Giant Squirrel close up

I had never seen a wild Malabar Giant Squirrel so close to me. I was lying on the ground to click it and it was running around on the ground. A tourist vehicle came and halted near me. I could see the look of amazement in their eyes. The Malabar Giant Squirrel then started moving towards the car. Immediately the tourists rolled up the windows. They were scared and the car immediately raced away.

Wild India | Malabar Giant Squirrel on the road in Nagarhole

The Malabar Giant Squirrel started coming closer and closer and all the time I was trying to move backwards as it was coming within the minimum focusing distance of my lens. It then jumped and climbed on top of me. I was stunned, however I kept absolutely quiet, as you are supposed to do when a wild animal or reptile climbs on you. Then as it became comfortable, I could slowly make my movements.

Malabar Giant Squirrel on top of Sabyasachi’s lens

First the Malabar Giant Squirrel climbed and sat on top of my lens. It was sniffing the camera. It then started nibbling the camera strap. I started feeling anxious that my camera strap will be shredded into pieces. Within seconds the strap can get disintegrated, so I calmly and very gently coaxed the Malabar Giant Squirrel to move away from my camera. It then climbed on my shoulder and head.

Then I heard the sound of camera clicking and realized that my assistant is clicking photographs.

Wild India | Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica) nibbling my camera strap with Tata Safari in the background

I tried to force out a smile, as the Malabar Giant Squirrel doesn’t use nail cutters. 🙂 I was getting scratches on my hand and neck. Just to protect my neck, I moved my hand. I guess it was more of involuntary reaction.

Trying to protect my neck from Malabar Giant squirrel scratches

The kids were now excited and had come close to me and were shouting. One of them tried to grab the Malabar Giant Squirrel but it made some angry noise and the kids ran away. I slowly sat down on the ground, as its claws were digging deep into the skin. I knew that quickly I need to get some antiseptic. The Malabar Giant Squirrel probably got a hint as I tried to lie down on the ground, so it came down on the ground.

Arboreal Malabar Giant Squirrel (ratufa indica) on the ground

The kids again tried to come closer and again the Malabar Giant Squirrel this time climbed up the tree. It perhaps had enough of humans and moved high up into the tree.

I sat down on the ground for a while and then the enormity of the situation dawned on me. I was happy that a wild animal which is primarily arboreal had come down and climbed upon me discarding all its fears of human beings. I felt blessed.

If you have any comments and questions about Wild India | A Close Encounter, then you can ask by commenting below.

Sabyasachi Patra
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