View Full Version : Country notebook:m.krishnan

Saktipada Panigrahi
25-02-2012, 12:05 PM
The name of M.Krishnan is well known to lovers of wildlife. E.P.Gee describes him as an artist,an expert wildlife photographer whose motto must be 'every hair',and says that 'as a naturalist he has no equal'.He used his custom-built equipment for wildlife photography.

He was awarded Jawaharlal Nehru in 1968 to study the status of India's wild animals which has suffered considerable damage as a result of human encroachment on their habitat.Krishnan's fascinating report,with superb photographs,appeared as a series of articles in the journal of Bombay Natural History Society and later on as a book titled 'India's Wildlife in 1959-70' in 1975.

The ecological survey covered 35 larger mammals of Peninsular India.The book contains 171 pages and his observations supported by 242 photographs.I have quoted from his book on a number of occasions for sharing this treasure with our members and viewers.

The birth centenary of this great naturalist falls in 2012.M.Krishnan contributed "Country Notebook" to the Sunday Statesman.He kept several generations of the readers enthralled with his whimsical,brilliant prose and acute observation of nature.Beginning Sunday,the 1st.January,2012, every Sunday, Country Notebook has started appearing in the Sunday Statesman once again to evoke nostalgia among older readers and to acquaint younger ones with the work of a genius.

I shall chronologically quote only some excerpts/paragraphs from his re-published "Country Notebook" from time to time for our members and viewers.


Saktipada Panigrahi
26-02-2012, 05:23 AM
".....The koel is associated with spring inseparably in every Indian language.No bird has its voice so celebrated in romantic literature.There are other songsters in our country with more musical natures and more melodious throats, many others.I have heard the Shyama and the Racket-tailed Drongo in the same patch of forest,sweet,rich melody poured out in passonate song, and the Drongo's high clear greetings to the sun.The Magpie Robin, Laughing Thrushes and the Pied Wagtail, familiar birds all, have exceptional musical gifts and sing freely and charmingly.The Skylark's fragile ,pure voice comes down on field and fallow land in the countryside,the Fantail Flycatcher sings its tinkling little song in the mango groves and even the homely Bush Chat, sitting atop one's gate, is capable of a wild,welling joyous melody.How is that in a land where such birds around,the koel,musically far less accomplished, has had its voice so celebrater?
The answer lies in the association between koel and spring,and love and spring. Surely it is not musical virtuosity that typifies spring but a certain restlessness of body and mind, a fevered burgeoning of spirit.The cock koel's loud,mellow cresendo of 'kuil-kuil-kuil-kuil' and the hen's torrent of 'kekarees and kiks', and the many abrupt,startled calls that follow the passage of both birds from treetop to treetop, have the quality of unrest and disquiet that permeates the air in spring.And the persistence of its calls from dawn till darkness,and during the enervating heat of the noon when all other life is silent, the voice of koel further echoes vernal unrest.No wonder,then, that it has been so unanimously recognised and acclaimed as the voice of spring. However the romantic poetry seems to know the black cock koel only- the barred and mottled hen, with a no less eager voice, is not mentioned in any verse I know of.
..............The koel,as everyone knows,is not burdened with consequences of spring as almost every other bird and animal is.There is no nest to build, no eggs to hatch, no clamouring young to be fed and cared for.The male koel induces the nesting crows to chase it,and while they are engaged in pursuit the hen lays its eggs in the crow's nest, leaving their hatching and the care of the progeny to the foster parents.This being so, it seems to me that no other bird is better suited to typify spring, the season of love and desire.For a love unburdened with domestic cares at the end must be the freest and most spontaneous love,and in the koel's springtime we find this rare freedom." -M.Krishnan

Saktipada Panigrahi
26-02-2012, 09:45 AM
"......Naturally,few birds ever come to the palms(Coconut trees),except to perch on the great leaves,but recently a pair of Golden-backed Woodpeckers have taken to visiting their trunks.They do not stay for long on any tree,but fly from one coconut to another,settling squarely on the vertical boles as casually as other birds hop on to boughs.I find these woodpeckers fascinating.They look so ornate and outlandish,like birds out of a fairytale,and as they run easily up the sheer surface,or slip down it,with no change in their rigidly held pose but for quick,sideways transpositions,they donot look like birds at all.Their movements have that quality of change of place,without obvious,free use of limbs,that suggests clockwork.But whoever heard of clockwork birds that also call to each other in long,harsh,chattering laughs and have the plumage and mannerisms of the creatures of the fantastic brothers Grimm!
Actually these woodpeckers represent no exotic,romantic survivals,but extreme adaptation to a way of life.Their chisel-tipped beaks sound bark and crevice for grubs and wood-boring insects most efficiently,and their stiff tail feathers serve as props in their precarious stance.At first it may seem strange that things as flimsy as feathers should bear body weight of these woodpeckers(like weight of most birds)is surprisingly little,and tail feathers only help, in an adventitious manner, as a third leg.
Woodpeckers are so used to verticle surfaces that movement along them is normal and easy for them-they have been observed asleep,stuck on to a tree trunk.
The woodpecker clan is much given to contrasty colour,but no other member of this specialist family has the barbarous splendour of plumage of the Golden-back.The gold of its back is deep and glints in the sun,its crest is a pure crimson and its bib of white-dotted black and dark wings set off these rich tones emphatically.And its broad-winged,dip-and-rise flight,direct from tree to tree,is not what one would expect from a bird of its size,almost a foot long........."
(First published on 21.01.1951 in the Sunday Statesman)

Mrudul Godbole
26-02-2012, 05:28 PM

The excerpts are very interesting and document the behavior birds in a very detailed manner. It can be seen how minutely the author has observed the birds and that is the reason why M.Krishnan was said to be 'a naturalist with no equal'.

Thanks a lot for sharing this.


Saktipada Panigrahi
04-03-2012, 10:54 AM
"OTHER birds fly away.Or else they go about their business,unmindful of you,or sit passively,not knowing you are there.But the Spotted Owlet resents your prying into its affairs and takes pains to let you know that it does.It glares malevolently at you from round,unwinking eyes and bobs its round head up and down,the baleful yellow eyes still upon you and a torrent of gurgling,voluble swearing pours cut at you from its squat,softly-barred form.

All the owls are apt to resent close scrutiny but none so expressively as this owlet,though it is never dangerous as some of the larger members of the tribe can be.The Spotted Owlet's intimidatory display has been called clowning, because it is so small we can afford to feel amused at it impotent anger and bowing,bobbing clock-face.Imagine the bird magnified to the size of its larger cousins and the demonstration would seem funny no longer, it would serve to scare people then all right.
......Where there are aged trees,with knots and holes in their trunks, the owlet prefers a nice dark hole in the wood, sufficiently deep for daytime retreat and siestas.Not that it has the traditional owl's intolerance of light. Spotted Owlets come out at noon sometimes to hunt prey and it has been rightly said that they are crepuscular because they fear not the sun but the mobbing to which other diurnal birds subject them when they show up in daylight.

.....Owlets clutch at their prey with their comprehensive talons and catch them that way.Insects form their staple food, hawked in the air or pounced down upon from a look out post, but they take minor lizards also,and even little birrds and mice. I do not know why such a useful bird should be so widely abhorred but the curse of owl tribe is upon it and even today there are quite a number of people encompassing its destruction when it is incautious enough to take up residence near their homes.

.......I am afraid we do not know our friends.I find the quaint, semi-cubist looks of the Spotted Owlet charming and its noiseless flight and bold behavior interest me.Other may not have my tastes (may be mine are depraved) but surely a bird so useful about the house and garden and such an efficient check on obnoxious insects deserves to be encouraged and shooting it on sight is no way to encourage any bird."

(first published in the Sunday Statesman on 04.02.1951

Sabyasachi Patra
04-03-2012, 11:27 AM
Shri M Krishnan's writings is full of observations unlike some of the present day journalists who depend on pompous usage of words.

Tons of learnings for a beginner. Thanks Shaktipada ji for reproducing Shri M Krishnan's wise words.

Dipankar Mazumdar
05-03-2012, 12:04 PM
Saktipada ji,

Thankyou for sharing these wonderful pieces. My earliest exposure to the writings of Mr. Krishnan was when I was 8, by the story book " Bommakka ", the tale of a country buffalo who defended her herd against a tiger attack. That tale is somewhere deep within my psyche. The illustrations done in watercolour was by Shri Pulak Biswas.

I have unsuccessfully tried to get a copy of this book, I think my sons would love to read the tale.


Saktipada Panigrahi
12-03-2012, 06:14 AM
"............Never in any time of the year, not even in November, the moonlight so seductively brilliant,so full of luminous soft magic....When I think of it,the response of men(and women) to the call of the full moon saddens me: unmindful of the many rich lyric passages in every Indian language linking moonlight with erotic impulse,they lug their dinner to the terrace and consume it there; and this is the only reaction to lunar light I have noticed among my fellows.

But are the more natural birds and beasts equally uninfluenced or prudent ?

I am afraid I have more to ask than to say on this question.Though given to late hours and nocturnal walks,all that I have noticed can be said in a few sentences.Many night drives along hill-jungle roads have left me with the impression that wild animals are less prone to make manmade tracks on a bright night than when it is dark.This is only an impression,but other with whom I compared notes had it,too.Some birds ordinarily diurnal,are active under a radiant moon:this is a thing about which I can be definite.I have often seen and heard crows, lapwings and cuckoos( not the koel only but other cuckoos also ) on the moonlit nights- less frequently tree-pie,the cuckoo-shrike,common patridge and commoner village hen!

The stone-curlew is a bird of the dark,but is specially vocal on such nights and flies about then,and some water birds are simply affected.No doubt that activity of these birds is due to visibility being good---birds are much dependent on sight and can read print by a bright moon.It is well known that pigeons cannot fly in the dark and need clear light. I have tried releasing homers by moonlight but though tossed within a mile of their loft the results were discouraging: they want daylight.

Not all the animals are equally susceptible to call of the moon.What intrigues me is not so much the identity of all animals that are,as what they do when they are not under a round moon.Naturally,the assiduous prowler by moonlight will see many nocturnal creatures,if he is lucky--hare, fieldmice in plenty, jackals,mongooses,jungle cats,perhaps even a civet or palm civet--but he sees them on such nights only because the visibility is good : they are out every night but go unseen in the dark.It is difficult to gauge any exuberance in their behavior that one can attribute,reasonably, to the moon because beasts are silent as a rule and moreover they are self-conscious and will not stand being watched.But the birds that respond to moonlight are vocal, and they seem to be in high spirits................."-M.Krishnan

(This was first published on 18 February 1951 in The Sunday Statsman )

Saktipada Panigrahi
18-03-2012, 07:59 AM
"....I have opportunities for observing the gradual degeneration of Blue Rock-Pigeon from a throughbread to a mongrel.Away from mixed city communities and the lofts of the fanciers,the Blue Rock is true to its type-in places,it is true to its name as well,and lives among precipitous rocks.
...Such birds are proportionately larger (because of longer and less tightly shut tails) than domestic breeds that resemble them (say,the Homer) and stand lower to the ground.Their stance is somewhat crouched,and they run swiftly along the ground unlike domestic pigeons.I think their flight features are softer than the racing pigeons-they do not make that laughing noise when they take off quite so audibly.And their flight is distinctive,swift,direct and low in the air-they do not circle much and fly point to point.The wing action is less smooth than in Homers and more up-and-down,more like a Tumblers.

...When Emperor Babar stopped his conquest for a moment to comment on the differences in looks and voice between the Rock Pigeons of his native land and India,he was better placed than I ,for they were less interbred here then.

All breeds of domestic pigeons have evolved from the Blue Rock and if you allow half-a-dozen fancy breeds to mingle freely,their progeny will revert ultimately to the ancestral rock type.
...Wild pigeons are canny birds.A multitude of predators seek them in the air and on their breeding grounds.The fact that they are still numerous is proof of their wariness.But,of course one must remember how rapidly they breed.-M.Krishnan

(This was first published on 4 March 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)

Saktipada Panigrahi
25-03-2012, 07:47 AM
"........For the Roller is a sedentary bird at other times,respectable,even gentlemanly in a lazy sort of way.All day long it sits on some exposed perch,drab,squat and inert,indifferent to the blazing sun and breeze that ruffles its plumage.I have seen a Roller knocked off its balance and post by a gust of wind, pick itself up in air and resume its seat in the open in the most off-hand manner.

From time to time it comes out with a deep chortle (not a specially refined sound,but guttural enough to have tonal strength), but nothing breaks its bore,slumped repose otherwise.Even when it sights some passing insect and gives chase,bursting into dazzling blues with the spread of its pinions and tail, there is nothing hurried or indignified about its movements-it flaps lazily along on board, sapphire and azure wings, like some gigantic butterfly, takes its prey casually from the air and then flaps in way back to its pole.

What is gentlemanliness,after all, but a superiority to crude emotional displays(or its affectation when others are looking) ? The Roller has it even when feeding till late in March.

Then all at once it sheds its reserve,and becomes a thing demented. Love is a powerful influence,even in the highest animals it has been known to induce a sudden, abandoned silliness.The birds ,however,whose emotonal lives are not screened by reason or self-consciousness, it often reaches its climax of expression in aerial displays and melody.There is a quickening pattern leading upto a grand finale in their courtship displays, or else an undercurrent of audible, welling fervour.

But the courting Roller goes plain crazy, abandons its perch and flies about with maniac energy and aimlessness.It scours the heavens, not in soaring circles, not in steep,acrobatic loops, but just anyhow.The broad wings lose their good-nature flapping action and beat a pathless course for the bird through the air.At times it flies high and wild, when the colours of its flights and tail grow invisible and dark against the sky.So lost are the blues in the distance, so unlike its lubberly self is it on the wing now, that one who has not seen an ardent Roller before could mistake it for some other bird.

And not cntent with this exhibition of incoherent flight, the Roller sings-all the time it is flying-an incredibly hoarse voice, but usually it is discreetly laconic.In March ,however,it sings as it flies, and its song is even more pointless than its flight, but fortunately confined to a single note, a long-drawn, grating shout.

It climbs into the sky and dives recklessly earthwards, singing its harsh song unceasingly-on a stii day you can hear the courting Roller from half-a-mile away, and the increase in volume of the song alone is sufficient to tell you for its headlong descent.There are many unaccomplished musicians among birds, but few with such araucous or persistent voice.However, it is voice of love, inspired by the same feeling that prompts nightingale and the lark.

Luckily, the inspiration passes.Once it mates and nests-the event varies with place and climate,but is from April to July-the Roller settles down to the business of perpetuating the species, a thing that it does with its usual sang-froid, and it has no time for giddy flights and song.Later still you find it on some pole in the sun,so staid and sober tat you would have passed the bird by but for a deep-throated chuckle."

(This was first published on 25 March 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)

Mrudul Godbole
25-03-2012, 03:43 PM
A very detailed description of the behavior of a Roller. I have seen the Roller sitting in a strong wing not moving from the perch as mentioned in the post. Don't remember seeing it during the mating period, that would definitely be very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Manoj Bawa
29-03-2012, 12:05 PM

Have the writings been collated in a single volume/ book which can be purchased?


Saktipada Panigrahi
30-03-2012, 11:38 PM
Manoj Bhai,
Kindly go through the preamble in regard to "Country Notebook-M.Krishnan" posted on 25-02-2012. For more than four decades (beginning early 50's till 90's) he contributed to this column in the Sunday Statesman every fortnight.

His birth centenary of this great naturalist falling in 2012,the Statesman,Kolkata has been re-publishing these articles in the Sunday Statesman every week beginning 01-Jan-2012. I am now quoting select excerpts from these articles for the members and viewers of IndiaWilds.I ,like Shri Sabyasachi, used to wait eagerly for two weeks to read his writings since our school days.Now I have to wait for 7 days only.

Kind regards,

[ N.B:The Publication Division, Govt. of India brought out a small book titled-'Jungle and Backyard' in June 1961,(Second Edition,April 1967) containing only a very few of his early writings in the Country Notebook column. ]

Manoj Bawa
02-04-2012, 01:52 PM
Saktipada ji,

Thank you for the update.

I would then assume that you would be keeping the column and would it be possible to share scanned copies of the same? I will try and see if Statesman newspaper will allow me to scan the same at their offices.

With regards

Dipankar Mazumdar
03-04-2012, 10:43 AM
Dear Manoj,
No need to go to such extents, just register on http://www.thestatesman.net and search for " country notebook " you will get all the episodes being re- published currently.

Dear Saktipada ji,
Thankyou for reigniting the flame.

I recently purchased a collection of M. krishnan's writings " Nature's Spokesman" and was delighted to find " Bommakka " there. Although i missed Pulak Biswas's watercolour illustrations, none the less it made for a delightful read out for my young sons.


Dipankar Mazumdar
10-04-2012, 06:07 PM
Dear All,
I know I am intruding into Saktipada jis exclusive domain, none the less, This week's country notebook made an interesting reading. I am sharing for our members.

Voices of intolerance
m krishnan

I AM a good neighbour. In this overcrowded city, hemmed in on all sides with the houses of other men, I am impercipient. Especially do I take no note of the uproars that break out around me from time to time — I presume these are signs of life’s onward march here, just as the grating sounds from around the corner are tokens of the progress of trams and I am incurious. But on Friday morning I was awoken by such a varied and sustained din that overcoming my civic sense I rushed to the backyard and looked over the wall.
The hubbub came from a Cassia in the compound of my neighbour to the east. A number of crows and Rose-ringed Parakeets had assembled about the tree and in its top branches, circling round, settling and circling again, screeching, screaming, cawing and demonstrating at something that sat lumped, indistinct and immobile in the heart of the tree. The something was almost completely hidden by foliage and flowers — it looked large, whatever it was, and apparently it knew there was little calm outside the screen of leaves. I took a quick census of the demonstrators since the object of their attentions was invisible. The crows (mainly grey necks) kept flying in and out and were too numerous to be counted but there were about two dozen of them and there were 17 parakeets.
A surprising number, for although parakeets visit the neighbourhood they do not roost here and I had not thought the locality held so many of them. For a few minutes I had to rest content with watching the demonstration for the cause of it all gave no clue of its identity — I guessed it was a large owl that had strayed into the neighbourhood, incautiously.
Then unable to suffer the prying eyes and the many-keyed curses of the birds, it broke cover, climbing down surprisingly to earth, a young three-fourth grown Bonnet Monkey with half its tail missing, that raced across my neighbour’s compound and streaked up the wall and from it up the tall coconut tree in the corner of my backyard. Promptly the frenzied crows and parakeets shifted en masse to the coconut, and with a plainer view of their quarry demonstrated against it even more agitatedly.
There are no monkeys hereabouts — this one must have been a runaway from some gypsy’s troupe. From the coconut to the great wood-apple tree in my compound, from there through a row of coconuts to a mango and finally to the concrete parapets of my western neighbours, the fugitive took its wretched liberty, never descending to earth again, seeking the cover of foliage from the tormentors — and the birds followed every move in its progress in a vociferous mob. Only when that harassed monkey took to the housetops, abandoning green sanctuary and disappeared westwards to where there were no trees, did they stop heckling him.
Then all at once the chivying ceased, as suddenly as it had begun some half an hour earlier.
At first all this may seem trifling and hardly worth the record but I feel the incident is not without interest to the naturalist. For one thing, this was the first time I had seen parakeets demonstrating at a monkey, or any other creature, for that matter. Dewar, I think, mentions an instance of Rose-ringed Parakeets panicking at their roost when a hawk took one of them but this was something quite different.
Though there were many more crows there, the varied voices of the parakeets almost drowned their cawing and the crows seemed half-hearted in their heckling by comparison. They just flew in from neighbouring perches to the monkey’s tree, and then out again, but each parakeet, before settling, circled the tree on stiff-held wings with every long graded tail-feather outspread, heaping shrill curses on the unhappy macaque’s head; they sat in rows craning over to peer through the leaves at their quarry till their heads seemed disproportionately big on the taut, thin necks, veiling vituperation, almost toppling off their perches in their excitement.
I cannot imagine why these birds were so affected by the monkey — in the countryside where they lead an arboreal existence together, I have never seen them demonstrating at macaques. Anything out of place excites the birds of a locality and certainly that monkey was utterly strange in that setting but this does not seem to explain the obvious anger of the parakeets. The crows were merely a subsidiary force drawn to the scene of action by the parakeets — they were, as I said, almost casual in their protests.
Another remarkable fact was the complete indifference of other creatures present. I noticed that the numerous squirrel of my compound and a party of White-headed Babblers there just then utterly ignored the monkey and its tormentors. Palm-Squirrels and White-headed Babblers are notoriously more given to demonstrating against enemies and intruders than parakeets, but they showed no interest whatever.
Even more remarkable was the apathy of the human population. A gardener’s child threw a small stone vaguely in the direction of the monkey as it leaped from one coconut tree to another overhead but this was a purely formal gesture prompted by some dim atavistic obligation to throw things at fugitive creatures. After performing this rite, the child took no further notice of the monkey, well within his puerile range. No one else seemed even aware of the commotion in tree and air. One of my neighbours was shaving at a window seat and got up — I hoped he would step on to his terrace to see what it was all about — but it was only to get a towel before resuming his toilet.

This was first published on 22 April 1951 in The Sunday Statesman

Saktipada Panigrahi
11-04-2012, 07:05 AM
Bhai Dipankar,
Late Shri Krishnan is "Nature's Spokesman" and simply a "Religion" to any lover of wild life.We are all listeners to his eternal voices.It is so nice of you that you have advanced the posting by two or three days and spread his message much earlier.
Thank you so much.
Kind regards,

Saktipada Panigrahi
15-04-2012, 08:35 AM
"I CAME here early in April to keep my annual date with the southern summer.For a week all went well,slowly the budding heat burgeoned.Then suddenly massed clouds rolled up overhead and the rain came down in torrents.A passing shower,I said to myself,while it rained three inches and it passed.the sun burned fiercely in a clear sky the next day and the heat was all more apparent for the interlude.But since morning it has rained again today,the sky is overcast,the air cool,and it looks as though I must wait for my assignation.

Seating on my leaky verandah,I have been watching birds in rain.I happen to have Dewar's 'Birds of the Indian Plains' with me just now-he has a chapter on "Birds in the Rain" in the book,and perhaps he wrote it not far from here.I would like to observe something original about reaction of the birds around me to the shower,but such things do not go by preferences and I have to confirm Dewar largely.He said that birds enjoy the rains acutely,and in India it is rarely that they are forced to take shelter from it.

"They know naught of rheumatism or ague" they sit in the rain or splash about the puddles, delighted with the opportunity for a shower-bath,and afterwards there is a great shaking out of feathers and preening of wings and they are smart and fresh and glad. Dewar also comments on how the first monsoons bring feasts of termites and other insects for birds and nestlings, and softens terra firma for the probing bill of the Hoopoe.All this is true.An odd group of three Common Mynahs has been parading the gravel path outside for the past hour,wading into every puddle and splashing about, as if trying to drown themselves in the knee-high water,and still they are not drenched- their well-oiled plumage seems waterproof.

I can hear the neighing call of a White-breasting Kingfisher and know where it is-on the top of a Casaurina pole in the backyard. Far out, in a field beyond the road, a flock of Cattle Egrets alights on the dazzling wings, surprisingly white in this grey atmosphere, and quarter the wet grass.There are Crows on exposed perches all around, determined not to miss a drop of rain.The only birds I can see that donot seem too keen on a shower-bath is a party of White-headed Babblers sheltering under a mango tree.

Watching these birds, it is obvious that Dewar wrote about the reaction to the rain from accurate observation, but I cannot help feeling that he assigned a wrong motive for their behaviour.It is no craze for originality that makes me say this-it is that I can see no patent signs of joy in these rain-bathing birds.The lives of birds are ruled by instincts mainly and their responses and emotional expressions follow set patterns.

There is a Crow sitting on a dead limb of a Neem not 20 yards from me, and I have been observing it closely for the past half-hour.It has been sitting there dully, unmoving except to fluff its plumage or caw in a sad undertone from time to time-the illustration is from a leisurely sketch of its obliging model. Now if the crow is enjoying the shower,I must say it takes its pleasure sadly; Poe's raven could hardly have made a less sprightly picture had it been out there,on that branch.

Nor can I note any tokens of jubilation in the other birds out in the rain. Dewar says that the normally sedate mynahs shed their reserve when it rains and go mudlarking in the abandoned enjoyment.I am alive to the tonic properties of slush and downpour-it does one's soul good to get drenched and splashed with mud for all ponderous unlovely notions of self-importance and dignity are shed at once, and this sudden jettisoning and the feeling of lightness that follows moves one to frisk about and find life joyful.But I think the Mynahs I see are undignified only because they are bathing, bathing vigorously in two-inch water-few beasts or birds (bar all cats) look their best at their toilet.

Birds are wonderfully equipped for extremes of climate and weather.And they enjoy dust-baths.But that is not saying that they may feel no discomfort from clogging dust and secretions in their plumage.It is not only that their addiction to rain is an unreasoned response, an instinctive utilisation of an opportunity to wash away dust and water-soluble accumulations from their feathers and skins? That would explain their "non-enthusiastic" but sustained insistence on exposing themselves to the first rains after every spell of dry weather."-M.Krishnan

(This was first published on 6 May 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)

Saktipada Panigrahi
16-04-2012, 09:29 AM
Administrator is requested to kindly correct the date as 15-April-2012(instead of March) as the article appeared in the Sunday Statesman yesterday.
Kind regards,SaktiWild

Saktipada Panigrahi
22-04-2012, 10:57 AM
"The heat gains strength from day to day, inexorably.Soon it will reach its sure climax : already the mornings open, not brightly any more,but with a sultry frown, and by 10 o'clock most spririts flag and most voices are stilled.However there are spirits no heat can wilt and voices gaining fluency now.The Koel, which was stuttering in April, is in full, fervid song, and alone among the mammals Palm Squirrels cheep shrilly and maddeningly through the fierce day.

Not they are immune to heat.Often I see a Squirrel resting in leaf shade in noon, inert and flat on its belly along a bough, legs dangling down either side, strangely like some bloodsucker in its limpness of limb and attitude.Presently it rises, and climbs the branch to the roof my verandah and halts on a rafter under the flat,radiant tile.Then all at once, a series of long,startling cheeps rend the stillness,each accompanied by an upward flick of the bottlebrush tail.From somewhere under the tile of the neighbour comes an unswering volley of cheeps,and the duet is on,each chirrup cleaving its way through the quivering air with the physical violence of an arrow,and penetrating to the brain.I get up,and chuck the first thing handy at the grey form on the rafter, and it scampers away,jabbering shrilly-a minute later it is calling again from the roof of the garage.

Why do these creatutres assail the enervated midday silence with energetic voices,when even the crows are quiet? At no time are Palm Squirrels are shy or silent: They chatter intermittently through the day and even at night, startled into wakefulness,they jabber.However, at other times their voices, even in shrill alarm, lack the irritating power and rhythmic insistence of their calling in May.I think their long,loud spells of calling in summer have a sexual significance,but cannot assign a more specific cause.

For though I have often heard the summer duet of squirrels, I realise my observation is too meagre for certain inference or attribution.

Speaking of the Three-striped Palm Squirrel(the creature I write about), an authority says,"The breeding habits of these,the commonest wild animals of India,are imperfectly known."I know, from several years of living with these creatures, that these squirrels breed many times in the year and not always in summer.Only a week ago a baby squirrel, perhaps a few days old,wandered into my house,and I remember seeing baby squirrels, and watching adults carrying coconut fibre to the nest, at other times of the year.But I believe it is only in summer,mid-summer, these squirrels are given to long bouts of calling.

Moreover, I know that both does and bucks indulge in this calling, and that it is not always squirrels of different sexes that call to each other.Perhaps these duets have only a social significance,after all.It is well known that animals that live more or less together like to keep touch by the free and frequent use of their voices,and it may be that feeling suddenly alone and uneasy in the hush of noon the squirrels start their insistent chirruping to reassure themselves and to provoke the voices of their fellows.-M.Krishnan

(This was first published on 20 May 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)

Saktipada Panigrahi
01-05-2012, 09:53 AM
" I KNOW an aged tamarind at the foot of a hill, far beyond the line of cultivation. No other tree grows nearby,not even sizable shrubs-the sour leaf fall of tamarind inhibits vegetation in the neighbourhoods.Only stones and a few dwarf,woody,hard-bitten plants cover the ground beneath the tree; and here on a sunny afternoon, I have seen more bloodsuckers together than I have anywhere else-basking flat on every stone immediately outside the circle of shade,or crawling about within it.Even in wet weather,sheltering under the great dome of tree, I have been more acutely aware of the company of "garden lizards" than in any garden, though not in such unpleasant profusion as when it was sunny.

I have always wondered why bloodsuckers should foregather here in such strength, for the place is not especially rich in insect life or in anything else that is obviously attractive to these lizards.It is hard to get to know bloodsuckers, or understand their whims and prejudices, without being a bloodsucker oneself.They are different from other common creatures, so given to fits of passion and rage,distrust and imbecile behaviour.But then this is hardly surprising.They belong, properly speaking, to an age when we were not there, when great lizards roamed strange forests, flowerless and with green grooved trunks, and waded through primeval swamps.Dragons in myths and bloodsuckers in fact, are the survivals from the primitive part.

I used to think in my ignorance, that these creatures had survived in such numbers, when so many of their betters had perished, because they were not good eating-that like the Keatsian nightangle, they were immortal because "no hungry generations" trod them down! But I know now that predatory animals are less fastidious than I had thought.

Hawks kill and eat these lizards when they can, other birds take them occasionally, and mongooses and small carnivora reduce their numbers.Sometimes, it is true,the killer does not eat its victim, but the bloodsucker's looks provoke slaughter, however unpalatable its flesh.There is no survival value in not being eaten, if that does not mean immunity from attack.

In fact, the only protection the bloodsucker has, apart from its retiring disposition and formidable looks, is in its sorroundings, in the tangled, thorny bushes and fences that it loves, and into which it retires so promptly from its enemies.I do not know anyone on this before, but it is usually the male bloosucker that leaves this protective cover or strays far from it.Then, on the more exposed ground, the male tries escape first, but when no tree or bush is close by, it puts on an intimidatory display, it raises and lowers its flaming orange body endlessly on its livid legs and throws out its bloody jowls and dewlaps.

This display might well scare an impressionable foe, but the blackguardly Jungle Crow that attacks it has no susceptibilities.The bird hops behind his victim and with a quick, sideway tug at the tail, turns it over.The bloodsucker picks itself up, turns round and rushes open-mouthed at the tormentor, which side-steps the rush and repeats the attack on the long,obvious,unbreaking tail that is lizard's undoing.It is murder by slow degrees.Gradually the unfortunate creature is reduced to numb immobility,and the crow's assults grow bolder, till seizing the battered victim by the throat it flies away-to be mobbed by other crows.

Often,however,some thick-leaved tree at hand saves the bloodsucker.It is expert at putting a massive trunk between the onlooker and itself-it was only by reminding myself that I belonged to a higher stage in evolution and could not allow my race to be disgraced by inferior patience and cunning that I could get the sketch of a bloodsucker on a neem tree for the illustration (incidentally,it was a brilliant, pure chrome yellow, with a black half-collar and a little red at its throat ).Bloodsuckers climb spirally, a habit that baffles enemies (birds,especially) when they are on trees.

However,the males venture into the open quite often, resplendent in their frills and spikes and colour,and pay dearly for their daring.The ochreous females are bashful and sensitive to scrutiny as any pardanishin- they keep close to cover and they know ,somehow, when they are being watched.The age of pointed morals is as surely spent as the reptilian age (thank heaven), but it is fact that it is the modesty of the females that keeps the race of bloodsuckers still alive."-M.Krishnan

(This was first published on 17 June 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)

Mrudul Godbole
01-05-2012, 03:36 PM
I was not aware that they are also called as 'Bloodsuckers'. Thanks for posting this article.

Saktipada Panigrahi
06-05-2012, 10:34 AM
"WRITING from Jadavpur, near Calcutta, apropos the Postbag note of 3 June on Cuckoos and their onomatopoeic Indian names ,MCC says that the Koel or Kokila is often confused with the Indian Cuckoo( Cuculus micropterus-Bou kathokao in Bengali), though it is only the latter that belongs to same genus as the European Cuckoo ( C canorus) - which is also found in the Himalayas, Wordsworth's "wandering voice".He points out that the Koel is Eudynamis scolopaceus in Latin, and has no English name, but is still miscalled the Indian Cuckoo-he thinks this is becuse both are parasitic,both have calls that can be rendered "Cuckoo" both are associated with spring.

Well MCC is quite right over generic affinity of the Indian Cuckoo with the English Cuckoo, the bird that inspired Wordsworth and Logan:Incidentally, in Elizabethan days this bird had a different literary significance:

"Cuckoo,cuckoo!-O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!"

I have no wish to sidestep MCC's point and wander down the aisles of a literary causerie, but he mentions the Cuckoo in English poetry, and it is more difficult to write of the Koel without poetic allusions than of any other bird.

Not the nightingale,not the lark has been so celebrated in verse :the poetry of every Indian language pays lavish tribute of the Koel.Indeed, no classical Indian poet can write of love or springtime without mention of the bird.When I spoke of Koel as a cuckoo I meant only that you belonged to the cuckoo tribe-the parasitic Pied Crested Cuckoo and non-parasitic Sirkeer are both cuckoos, though neither belongs to the genus Cuculus.I would also point out that the name Koel (it is Kuil in South) is quite onomatopoeic as "Cuckoo". As for association with spring, the Madras area (where Koels are singularly abundant, as Dewar remarks) the bird is first heard in March,or early April, and persists through May,June,July and even August-and the memory of its voice lingers in one's mind till March again! The Koels call throughout the breeding season and the breed as long as the crows do.

However, MCC's main point was that it was wrong to call the Koel the Indian Cuckoo because the name belongs, scientifically, to Cuculus micropterus. That is quite so.It is even more wrong to call the Koel the Brain-fever bird (Hierococcyx varius), but this confusion of identity is also known. Indifferent observation,the love of cover of arboreal cuckoos,the lack of acquaintance with the tribe are responsible for such mistakes.Once the birds are known,it is impossible to confuse their voices.

In a subsequent letter MCC adds that he has been studying the voice of the Koel lately and has noticed that "the male has two distinct calls: one is a long' Ku-oo' utter solitarily under cover of foilage: the other is a short 'Ku' repeated an arbitrary number of times in the mellow and pleasant voice of the cock.The hen's voice is shrill and high-pitched and the only call is a quickly repeated 'Kik', sometimes having a trilling 'Kukkuk' in the end".He adds that the male and female usually respond to each other,though in the early hours of the morning the entire Koel population of a place seems to indulge ia a chorus.


The call notes of Koels have been well described in textbooks, but at the risk of treading much trodden ground I may add to MCC's succinct note.I take it the "Ku-oo" he refers to is the well-known crescendo of the cock,also syllabised as "Kuil-Kuil-KUILL", the "Koel,s fluted song" of Edwin Arnold.Both cock and hen indulge in a torrent of "kekarees" and "kik-kiks" when excited and alarmed, the hen's thin,high "kik" being distinctive.And the cock indulges in a longish shout,more like my conception of a war-whoop than anything I have heard at times.

There are less coherent calls,or rather these calls are stuttered incompletely sometimes,especially early in the season.According to Sarojini Naidu,the Koel has yet another call.She writes of

"the wild forest where upon the champa boughs the buds are blowing"(as these cussed flowers often will) and "Koil-haunted river-isles where lotus lillies glisten" and says the Koel sings "Lira! liree! Lira! liree!"
I have not heard this call.

It is the quality of fervid,restless excitement in its voice rather than any precise pattern of call or sweetness that makes the Koel the Voice of Spring.It is true that Koels call long before dawn, but MCC will keep awake on the moonlit night and listen, he wiill hear them calling at all hours of night.Let me end this note, so frequently in literary allusions,with a rendering of finest lines I know on spring unrest. The address to a lover who asks for a story:

"Now,when the roving moon is out,and the soft south wind blows:
When sleep is fled;
And loud loud Koels usher in each watch of the night-
Now is no time for stories."


(This was first published on 1 July 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)

Saktipada Panigrahi
20-05-2012, 10:40 AM
"THE Large Grey Babbler, or "Gangai", is a bird of open hillsides and wooded scrub, and by no means a 'rara avis'. Writing of it incidentally, Dewar remarks,"This is commoner than I thought.It occurs in most districts of Uttar Pradesh".
In the Dharwar area and adjoining Karnataka tracts, it is quite a feature of the countryside-its distribution in India is wide in not so arid places.But still I can find no mention of this babbler in the list of "Birds with Remarkable Cries" in books on Indian Ornithology, which is remarkable, for few other birds so dominate the locality where they live.
This is no dingy,unobtrusive bird,though it is a babbler and untidy and it is not shy.Almost a foot long,it is a warm,blotched grey,rufescent on the cheeks,with dark rounded flights, an eye-streak that is clear when one is not too close or far away, and a long tail broadly edged with white on either side,that is distinctive and most conspicuous in its frequent passage from bush to bush.It loves the open,and does not skulk in the undergrowth or hide in foliage- you cannot miss this bold babbler,because of its size and blaze-edged tail;and even if you do, no matter you will notice its fellows.For it is highly sociable,even for a babbler,and goes about in parties invariably, in a loose string whether on ground,in bush or in air.And then of course,there is its voice.One would need to be stone deaf and almost blind to miss this bird where it occurs.
There are many birds in our country with compelling voices,but they pass.Spring and the monsoons,resound in countryside with the voices of the cuckoos and rollers and even the hot weather at its peak stimulates certain birds,notably the barbets.However these voices are stilled when the seasons are past-even the koel is silent for six months.But rain or shine, the "quey,quey,quey" of the Large Grey Babbler is heard,in a chorus that persists right through the day.Only the night brings relief from their loud insistent calling.If we could record the total amount of sound by each bird in a year,I think this babbler would have the distinction of being the noisiest.
The call of this bird has been well rendered "a loud, harsh quey,quey,quey" and I suspect the native name ("Gangal") is onomatopoeic.But these renderings do not convey the whining rhythm of the voice-the nearest I have heard to it is the noise produced by a bull-roarer (the kind that has a clay cup with a tightly stretched membrane over its mouth,instead of a wooden block).I have also heard a motor car,stuck fast in mud,come out with somewhat similar sounds.The loud querulous whine of this bird's voice dies down and swells with a quality of mechanical repetition.And it is as untiring as a motor.

Like other babblers, the "Gangai" will unite in the face of a common danger, and since they are large and strongly built, hawks think twice before they decide to swoop down on a straggler.Once I saw a Shikara pounce on a Large Grey Babbler sitting on a bough, and the amount and volume of the victim's protests were astonishing.The Shikara was promptly 'mobbed' by the rest of the clan, the victim (which seemed uninjured) joining in the chase and only the superior speed of the hawk saved it.

These babblers breed in the summer,perhaps they breed again,later in the year.The nest is not placed high up, but it usually in the heart of a thick,thorny shrub of tree and well protected.The nestling sketched for this note was taken on 14 July.It was then probably a fortnightly old and just able to fly a few yards.Incidentally, the head is carried well up,with the crown flat, in the live bird-the Jay-like pose of the head in the sketch from the dead,adult bird is never seen,and was unavoidable in the sketch as the bird was stiff."

(This was first published on 5 Aug 1951 in the Sunday Statesman)

The Article contained a sketch(not produced here) with the following caption:
An adult sketched from a dead specimen.

Saktipada Panigrahi
28-05-2012, 07:03 AM
"What do you suppose would happen if you and half-a-dozen of your cronies were to dispense with all privacy for a week and spend the time together,each hour together,awake or asleep?Well,murder could happen,anything could with no decent interval of aloneness, but this is certain:at the end of the week,if you survived it,you and your fellows have acquired an abandoned laxity of dress and conduct.Bristly chins and lose,amorphous clothes are inevitable,and your conversation would have changed to a babble.Prolong it to a fortnight and you could never change back to your fastidious selves thereafter.

This is just what happened to the White-headed Babblers.They live too much together to keep up appearances,and they care no more.Actually they are not the frowziest members of the frowzy babbler family-that distinction must go to the Jungle Babbler.But their long straggling tails,their habit of hopping along with drooping wings,their lax plumage and weak flight all proclaim their caste,and they have the most unstable and querulous voices even among the babblers.

They cheep and chuckle thinly to one another as they go rummaging about and at times their conversation takes on a hushed ans secretive tone- one could believe they were whispering and plotting,except that no one whispers in a high,weak tremelo.Then suddenly, and for no cause, they break into shrill,angry shouts and peals hysterical laughter.There is a squeaky commotion in the bush, and a string of loose-feathered, long-hopping babblers emerges: the birds whirr and sail on rounded wings to the end of the garden,where they grow suddenly casual again and turn over dead leaves in their usual, haphazard manner.

Birds are highly emotional for all their strong instincts,but usually their responses are understandable and follow a set pattern.Few of them have the giddy temperament and moral instability of these babblers,the patent weakness of wing and wits.Perhaps I do them an injustice, for recently I saw a half-fledged White-headed Babbler sensibly and coolly in the face of real danger.This little one was sitting in a tangled hibiscus bush,somehow separated from the elders, when a pair of evil-looking crows noticed it and promptly commenced a combined attack.

An infant of another kind might have panicked and rushed out to the beaks of baby-snatchers, but this one knew when, and where,it was safe.It dropped into the close tangle of the lower branches where no thick crow could follow, and stayed put in spite of determined efforts to drive it out.Then all at once,and appraised in some mysterious way, a squealing, yelling,furious mod of babblers arrived and flung themselves on the crows, who "fled precipitately".

It is true that these birds can look like an old,faded feather mop with a few old quill pens stuck on at the tail end,true that they quarrel amongst themselves and have watery eyes and lunatic,white heads,but they have virtues that are not so common these days-courage,and unity in the face of danger.Every member of the wrangling clan will fling itself headlong at the raiding hawk that has seized a protesting babbler and as a rule the rescue is effective.There is a moffusil club somewhere-I think it is the Union Club,in Madura-that has a bundle of faggots in bas-relief over its door to symbolise the unbreaking strength that comes from unity.A party of White-headed Babblers would, I think,make a more decorative and truer symbol of this sentimemt".-M.Krishnan

(This was first published on 15 July 1951 in the Sunday Statesman)

Saktipada Panigrahi
04-06-2012, 06:42 AM
"NOT being one of those untiring souls that raise vegetables and tubers in the countryside, or even a lover of flowering bulbs in orderly rows, I have never had to wage a personal war against porcupines.But I see them once in a way,motoring at night,and recently I saw them twice in my way,and was again impressed with their peculiar and effective manner of retreat.

Of the animals caught in the beams of headlights step to one side of the road and stop,dazzled by the glare,as if not sure about their suddenly bright ground.But the porcupine makes an immediate gateway-there is a momentary pause and an outbristling of quills, sometimes even of a rattling of quills, and then the brute turns sharply and makes a beeline for a nearest bush.

A porcupine in flight is a remarkable and indistinct sight-I can only think of a clockwork phantom in comparison.The stumpy,fast moving legs are hardly visible beneath the quill-boosted body,and this ,coupled with the linear directness of retreat,gives it the appearance of thing on small wheels propelled by interior clockwork and the outspread quills make it go suddenly pale and blurred and large.Halfway to the bush,the apparition grows darker and smaller as the quills are allowed to fall back; it stops dead in the tracks,turns at a sharp angle,and bolts into another bush before one has the time to recover from this surprise move.

A wary beast and a cunning one is the "fretful porpentine", but of course its most peculiar feature is also its most obvious-the barrage of quills.

Those of us who own a small rectangular box with sides of parallel porcupine quills, or a porcupine-quill pen-holder can have no idea of the resilience of these miniature lances on the live animal.A quill plucked from a newly killed porcupine can be bent into a "C" and will spring back into shape when one end is released.The stouter and shorter quills on the rear(these are more white,and near the tail these are all white) are painfully sharp and strong enough to pierce deep into flesh.

I have never seen a porcupine attacking anything, but the story about it shooting quills at its enemies is just a story.Once I tried to irritate a captive porcupine into shooting quills at me, but naturally the poor thing could only retire to the farthest corner of the cage to escape my prodding bamboo.

Porcupine rush at their tormentors in reverse gear,and at great speed, spitting them through.It is obvious, from the lie of the quills, that they must charge backwards to make effective use of their protective armour.Like many other rodents,they have highly vulnerable heads.

Unfortunately for all concerned,porcupine flesh is much esteemed by predatory wild beasts.Both the tiger and panther will and eat porcupines-but extraordinary cases are on record of the great cats bring mortally wounded by the quills.I think I understand the mixed feelings of a feline sighting this spiky quarry.In my unsophisticated childhood, when I was sorely tempted by the vivid redness of the prickly-pear fruit,I had to face a similar problem!

The tracing from a photograph* illustrating this note is of peculiar interest.On enquiry of the person who shot this panther,and the one who took the photograph,I learn the beast was shot at night over a bait, and under conditions which made a clear view of the head or immediate recovery of the body impossible.It was found dead next morning,a few yards from where it had been shot,the porcupine quills were noticed only then.I am assured that a hard tug at the quills failed to dislodge them and that they were sunk an inch or more deep in the flesh-also,that the lowermost quill had penetrated to directly under the right eyeball, so that when it was pushed about the eye was moved.

There is an instance on record of a porcupine attacking a dead leopard (also,of the two animals inhabiting the same earth on the basis of armed neurality!) I am inclined to think that the leopard in the photograph was attacked after it was dead.Leopards(and all cats, unlike dogs)can turn their fore-paws around and clutch at things with them:I feel that the quills,painfully situated as they are, must have been disarranged or badly bent or even broken by the frantic efforts of the leopard to dislodge them,had it been alive when struck.Only the apparently undisturbed appearance of the quills makes me think this.Perhaps readers who have personal knowledge of the similar instances can shed further light on this not too obscure picture."-M.Krishnan

(This was first published on 9 September 1951 in The Sunday Statesman )

*Tracing from a photograph:
A porcupine's quills in the face of a dead panther

Saktipada Panigrahi
24-06-2012, 09:59 AM
"WHOEVER would think that Philip Sparrow,perky,cocksure and bumptiously dominant in the city,would lose heart in the countryside and become a mild and modest bird! It is windy space that works the change.The assertive,loud chirp is toned down by open air to a weak treble and,no longer sure of themselves in enhanced surroundings,the bird seek comfort in company.They go about in tight flocks,settling in a kit on threshing-yard and harvested field,gleaning and stubble together.And when they fly,high and long as they rarely do in cities,they keep together still and cheep to one another as they go dipping and rising overhead-their voices in passage,refined by tall air,have a tinkling,almost musical quality.

Now I know it is all wrong to judge birds(or beasts for that matter)by our own experience and to attribute human motives to them.But I believe in the "one touch of nature" that "makes the whole world kin",and am unaware of scientific evidence against the view that animals can experience feelings and emotions known to us.Surely a bird feels fright and joy and depression as actually as we do-their manifestations may be very different in a bird and,of course,it is utterly wrong to ascribe intellectual appreciation or sentiment to it,but it feels these things all the same.

Once on a beach near Masulipatam,I realised what loneliness could mean.I was walking along a vast expanse of flat grey sand,with a flat grey sea beyond,and there was no life anywhere around except for an occasional scuttling crab towards which I could feel any affinity.There was a level breeze blowing,no friendly bush or mound broke the dreary,grey flatness stretching away from me as far as the eye could see,and suddenly I felt puny and insignificant.My stride seemed bereft of progress and my tracks on the sand only deepened the conviction of my futile nonentity.I was a bug crawling hopelessly on,and I was quite alone in the gathering dusk.I have often been alone but that was the only time I felt the need for company.It seems likely,to me,that birds in open country are more gregarious from somewhat similar cause.I think that animals, in common with us, gain confidence in restricted settings.

Naturally all diurnal creatures grow less jaunty as daylight fails and seek safe retreats,but I think the roosting of these countryside sparrows is significant of what I have been saying.They do not retire in pairs and parties to spend the night on a rafter or a lofty bough, but crowd in hundreds in a tangled bush or some low, much-branched tree, so thickly together that the foliage seemed suddenly doubled in the dark.Dozens huddle in rows along twiggy boughs,each now possessed of a confluent,coonobitic unity by the bodily contact of its birds.There is no prolonged hubbub at these roosts, as there is at the roosting trees of other birds.There is a confused chirping as the sparrows come in and settle,then the chirps go thinner and subdued till they fade altogether.By the time it is dark there is hushed silence,and the birds are huddled and immobile-but many of them are awake still.

Other birds also roost thickly in bushes,in scrub.Mynahs,Bee-eaters,Munias,Grey and White Wagtails, all crowd into bushes or trees at sunset,often in hundreds.These same birds,in the less open habitat of cities and towns,are less massively sociable when roosting: there are exceptions,but on the whole they are definitely less sociable in urban settings.

I believe it is too open,limitless expanse of the countryside that makes all these birds pack solidly together,as night draws in.There is safety in close numbers- or a sense of safety.However,the facts remains remarkable that sparrows,the most self-assertive and cocky of cosmopolitan creatures,should be so diffident,tentative and constantly together in scrub.-M.Krishnan

This was first published on 21 October 1951 in The Sunday Statesman
Republished on 24 June 2012

Saktipada Panigrahi
02-07-2012, 09:19 AM
"The warm, brown-grey ball of fur that went scudding across the carpet with two excited children in its wake reminded me of my schooldays. Not that an infant hare graced school or home then, but in the massive,oppresive collection of 'selections from classics' that we had to endure was a delightful account of pet leverets by Cowper-I remembered,through 25 years, the only lesson that had not been an infliction.Naturally,my recollection of it were non-detailed:I only recollect the pleasure it had given me, and something about this little captive brought Cowper back to mind.

The little one was barely a week old, but already it could outrun its pursuers with ease-the lack of cover and the open space in the room was against it,though, and the children cornered it between the walls.Moreover it feared little of humanity, being too young and inexperienced.It had to be fed its milk but ate "karike" grass, the favourite food of hares in this part, with relish(the wild outspread grass has been identified for me by a Forest Officer as Cynodon dectylon). The prick ears were black outside and there was a patch of black on the neck-it was a baby Black-naped Hare.

Natural history books tells us how the hare is born with its eyes open on a hostile world and can run within a short time of its genesis. How this is a provision of kind nature to a defenceless, exposed infant. They also tell us how well a hare can run, with a speed and manoeuvre, but say little about the risks it runs all its life. I doubt if any other beast is food to so many mouths. Mongooses, jackals, wild cats,even leopards, all stalk and hunt hares in scrub and open jungles-eagles and hawk-eagles swoop down on them by day and when it is dark great,hush-winged owls are quite capable of kidnapping young hares.

Hares are not prolific breeders,but still the continued undiminished.Their sharp senses and versatile speed no doubt serve them well. It is remarkable what an instant gateway a sitting hare can make-the quick kick against the earth of the hind legs, with the length of the foot from toe to hock, giving it a flying start. When going all out the livered kicks of the hind legs propel it onward in a low, long bounds, at times through spiky cover; but of course a hare can take a high jump right over a small bush if it wants to.However,speed is not the only escape that hares seek-I have often seen them escape by slow caution, too, and by staying inconspicuouly put.
Then an intense clamourous beat of this small area, known to contain the hare commenced. After a while I stopped and became a still silent watcher. Presently the hare came creeping back, its long ears turning around in almost circular orientation to catch the bewildering shouts from all sides, each slow, forward step taken gropingly, as if it was lame in all its legs. It did not see me but crept on, and so tense and anxious were its looks and movements that I clean forget my duty and stayed frozen.

After reaching the end of cover, my friends turned back, disgusted with the inexplicable escape of the quarry.

"Anything come on your way?"one of them shouted ,sighting me.

"Not a mouse," I lied with smug truth, as I crossed over to join him, and the hare lay down in safety of the twice-beaten bush."-M.Krishnan

This was first published on 11 November 1951 in The Sunday Statesman.
Republished on 01 July 2012.
*Excerpts:Two paragraphs not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
16-07-2012, 10:35 PM
Our fox is a true fox,as much as the English and Himalayan red foxes.Only it is grey,and much smaller, no bigger than a big domestic cat.In fact,from some distance and in the uncertain light that it likes, one could make it for a well-nourished,somewhat leggy cat-but whoever saw a cat with such a fluffy tail or which was so sprightly!

The little fox lives in open places,in flat country not overgrown by forest and scrub jungle.All day long it sleeps in its deep,cool earth in the sandy soil,secure from the heat and glare.And at dusk it comes out and is transformed at once from an inert burrow-dweller into a frisking,puckish thing with a rich,black brush as long as its body and feet that seemed to rebound from the air.Its high-pitched,quickly repeated call quivers through the darkening air,announcing its emergence.It takes a good look around,then begins the grim business of keeping its slim body and merry soul together,almost playfully.

It slinks along,crouches,pounces and dances around,chasing beetles,lizards or field-mice.Watching a fox at hunting,one is more impressed by lightness of its feet and amazing ability to turn at sharp angles at speed than by any serious purpose;but of course it hunts for its living.In a way,a fox is more dependent on its hunting skill than a jackal or wolf,for it does not smell out and feed on carrion or have the aid of pack-mates.However it is also true that its prey includes things that call for no great effort or cunning in their hunting,beetles,crickets,the teeming swarms of gauge-winged termites issuing from the earth after rains,even melons and other fruit.

It is when the fox is escaping from an enemy that you see how nimble it is on its feet and how masterlfully it can jink.No other creature can turn aside from its course,when going all out,with the spontaneity and ease of the little fox,and this manoeuvre upsets the pursuer.Up goes the quarry's fluffy brush,as the chasing dog bounds in for the finish,and the fox has turned at right angles and gained several yards while the dog is still trying to recover from the impetus of its rush.And thanks to its small size,the fox can dart into any burrow that lies handy,and squeeze through narrow gaps.It is rarely that a fox is overtaken and caught.

But however safe it is on its quick feet on the ground,a fox asleep in its earth can be dug out and bagged,literally,in a gunny bag and sometimes this sad fate overtakes it................

One authority says," In its consistent destruction of rats and land crabs,it does real service to the farmer.and,besides these,it hunts a good many small creatures that do agriculture no good." I wish it were possible to get by some means,effective protection for this useful and delightful creature, but with wildlife preservation in the state in which it is now in our country,I can only wish."-M.Krishnan

This was first published on 9 December 1951 in the Sunday Statesman
Republished on 15 July 2012

Sabyasachi Patra
21-07-2012, 09:23 PM
Unfortunately, these foxes are hunted. Loss of habitat is also another reason for their dwindling numbers. This series is so nice, that I feel tongue tied. He is a great inspiration.


Saktipada Panigrahi
30-07-2012, 10:28 AM
"Now that winter has set in, even in the South darkness come early and the day no longer turns to night with that dramatic suddenness beloved of Anglo-Indian writers of romantic fiction. From six O'clock till seven almost,there is a clear twilight that deepens slowly into obscure night. And now is the time to look for greater owls, for the cool grey evenings bring them out prematurely.

Our owls do not say "Tu-whit-to-who", nor mope and complain to the moon- the lesser ones velp,chatter and shriek with demoniac gusto and the great owls hoot in deep, resonant voices that carry far.None of them,I think,has so unearthly as the Brown Fish-Owl. Soon after it emerges from its daytime retreat, its hollw boom comes floating down the dusk, startlingly sepulchral and near-sounding; later in the night, it sits bolt upright on its perch and chuckles in a muffled, snoring grunt. No doubt this bird is responsible of the evil reputations of certain countryside paths by night.

This is one of our biggest owls, dark and mottled, with a heavy cubist build and a square, eared head. Its squat, erect silhouette hardly suggests a bird, in poor light- once, a friend and I mistook it for a monkey slumped on a rock. The fish-owl haunts ravines, watercourses, resting by day in the secret heart of some ancient clump of trees. It is no city bird, but at night it often visits village tanks or sits on rooftops staring percipiently into the darkness from enormous, round eyes.

The fish-owl is distinguised from the great horned-owls by its flatter "horns" and the fact that its legs are unfeathered and naked. Its feet are strikingly like osprey's,covered with gripping scalesand meant for the same purpose, for holding slippery prey. However,it does not plunge headlong into the water after the fish but sails over the surface on hushed wings and lifts its prey out. Though it is much given to fishing, fish and crabs and such aquatic creatures do not constitute its sole food. It is known to prey on birds and small mammals and I believe it occsionally hunts fair-sized quarry, like rock-pigeons.

I used to know a colony of Blue Rock-Pigeons that had their home in a large natural grotto in a river-rift george. Almost all the pigeons dis appeared from here suddenly, and a fish-owl was seen about the place at the same time. I realise that this is highly inconclusive evidence, and that it might well be that the departure of the pigeons had nothing to do with the entry of he owl on the scene-perhaps others, more comprehensive in their observation, can confirm or dispel my suspicions.

I know of another instance of a pair of Brown Fish-Owls haunting the abode of pigeons, but I am almost sure that in this case the racing pigeons within were not its attraction. The owls used to come to sit on the domed roof of the loft, on a level with my bedroom window, and lying awake I have often watched them flying soundlessly about in the dew-drenched moonlight, returning periodically to the loft. I think these nocturnal fishers were drawn to the place by the small tanks around it. The way they flapped their broad wings rapidly, threshing the cold, luminous air to rise vertically without the hint of a swish was uncanny; they also used to sail around on spreadwings. Perhaphs they were courting, if such sapient-looking birds can descend to such frivolity, for they indulged in much pointless flight.

It is said that the silent flight of owls help them in locating the quarry by its sounds, besides providing a warningless swoop down to the kill. There seems to be much in this, for they have marvellous sight by dimmest light, hearing is an added advantage when the prey is in thin cover.Obviously, a bird flapping its wings noisily can hear little besides its own flight, and since all owls do quite a lot of hunting while coasting around, the silence of their down-lined pinions must be of real value to them. Perhaps fish-owls are more dependent on sight than others of the tribe, and that is why they have such big eyes- but it is a mistake to think that aquatic creatures are silent; fish break the surface of the stream audibly, and even crabs can be heard if there is hushed silence all around."-M.Krishnan

This was first published on 23 December 1951 in The Sunday Statesman
Re-published on 22 July 2012

* 'The Statesmam' may kindly be substituted by 'The Statesman' in the heading by the Moderator.I sincerely regret for the oversight.

Sabyasachi Patra
30-07-2012, 12:05 PM
Nice to read this about the Brown Fish Owl. Shri Krishnan's observations are very sharp. We often we click images, however, we just look for a few attributes like sharpness and colour etc. People forget to see and show the body parts that are different. In this case he has written about the feet being similar to Osprey's for gripping slippery prey. Amazing. So much to learn from him.


Saktipada Panigrahi
26-08-2012, 11:21 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: Freebooters of the air:M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman19August2012
Looting KITES are quite a feature of our bazaars and city markets and I know a restaurant in a park, in the heart of a big city, where these birds have grown in so audaciously slick and habitutes prefer the dull tiled-roofed varandah to the charm of repast in the open with colourful shrubs around and grass underfoot. These freebooters of the air come a close second after crows in the list of urban fauna, but there are KITES in the country, too.

There, with no meat stalls and crowded eating-houses, kites work harder for their living and are far less offensively familiar. They take to scavenging for their food, a more strenuous and less fashionable profession than picking pockets in cities. And in the remote countryside I have known kites actually hunts their prey.

I know a lake in such a place where I have seen kites fishing. They sail low over the water and clutch at the slippery prey on the surface with their talons, often without success. Here they are awkward apprentices in comparison to the many expert fishermen around, birds equipped with long stabbing beaks or long, wading legs, other specialised features or at least the boldness to plunge headlong into the water. Elsewhere I have seen kites chasing maimed quarry or flapping heavily among swarming termites, which they seized ponderously in their grappling-hook feet.

Once I saw a crowd of kites on the ground, in a forest glade. They had feasted with vultures and were preening themselves after the glut, before roosting. And once I saw a kite hopping along the grass gawkily in the wake of grazing cattle. Hunger had driven that bird into a fresh inroad on the path of degradation, but apparently a kite on terra firma can only lose its balance when when it tries to clutch with one foot at ebullient grasshoppers.

That is just as well, for these birds have sunk sufficiently low. They are so common that we do not notice them, and we do the occasion is often too annoying for us to appreciate their air mastery. Swifts and falcons are faster and more dashing, vultures more effortless in their soaring, but for sheer manoeuvre on spread wings the kite is unbeatable. No other bird has its slick skill in theft- its noiseless descent on the unsuspecting victim and grabbing with a comprehensive foot. The kite has a strong hooked beak and a powerful build- it is surprising that it has not developed, beyond petty theft, to thuggery and murder, with its equipment.

But perhaps that, too, is just as well. Those who raise poultry has no love for this bird as it is, and if it took to a more adventurous and violent way of life, the hand of everyone must be against it, in city and in village. And that would be no small waste of national energy considering the kite population of our country."- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 2 March 1952 in The Sunday Statesman

*First two paragraphs not reproduced.
*The sketch of the bird not reproduced.

After a few days, the Article may be shifted to Page1 and placed before the article titled 'Mixed diet' dated 26 August 2012 to maintain Chronological order.

Mixed diet :M.Krisnan The Sunday Statesman 26 August 2012

"DURING the past month I have again observed koels eating the poisonous fruit of the Thevetia, quite half a dozen times.I can add little to my earlier report (3 February) on this strange addiction, but they seem to to choose ripe fruit invariably, fruit that get detatched from their stalks easily, after two or three pecks.Ripening is a process that involves chemical changes and it is possible that this alters the proportion of the poison, Thevetin, in the pulp; but this cannot quite explain koels consuming these drupes with avid desire, and no subsequent regrets.

I have not seen any other bird or beast evincing the slightest interest in the fruit of the Thevetia during this month, when I watched the trees more narrowly than usual, but an observer (whose interest was stimulated by my record of koels eating the drupes) tells me that he saw a Common Mynah pecking at one of these fruit on the ground. The fruit was brought to me, and showed beak-gouged holes, but since koel-pecked fruit fall to the ground with similar marks, it was not conclusive proof.
However, the observer tells me that he saw his mynah peck at the drupe several times, and eat pieces from it. I intend no sort of scepticism, but would like verification of this instance; perhaps some readers can provide it.

The Squirrel's diet is a topic that goes to my childhood.This was a smug squirrel, sitting up with a fruit in its forepaws, the primer from which I learned my Tamil; it stood for the first letter of the alphabet, and its successors, I learned that that the squirrel (I mean the common, striped squirrel* that enters our homes and lives so freely) is a harmless, lovable vegetarian that lives on fruits and nuts.Nurtured on this sort of natural history, I received a rude shock when I discovered (in my boyhood) that sqiurrels would eat eggs with relish.I need not have felt so perturbed over this unnatural lapse from vegetarianism: there is a large section of humanity that considers eggs vegetable.

Years later, while trying to grow maize in my backyard, I found out the truth about the squirrels. They have a fiendish passion for sprouting corn, and will dig up and savage several rows in no time. Enthusiastic horticulturists can provide a list of rare buds and growing tips especially fancied by these vandals.

However, I recently noticed a redeeming feature in the diet of these rodents.Some weeks ago a long patch of earth made its appearance in the brickwork of my verandah wall. I resolved at once to demolish it the next day for white ants a menace where I live. That evening I saw two squirrels feeding off the new-formed store.They broke the crust of earth with repeated shoves of their noses and licked up the termites as they tumbled out of their roofless homes.There was a methodical lack of haste, almost a rhythm, in the termite-eating of those squirrels-they demolished a few square inches of the crust, then stopped to feed, then extended the breach.But after a while they seemed to tire of this slow repast and scampered away. I saw them the next day at the termite-crust, and again a few days later.In a week they almost demolished the entire patch, but there were tunnels and thick areas beyond their noses, and I left nothing to chance.One cannot afford to where I live.

Incidentally I heard squirrels calling at noon-a long, sustained "cheep-cheep-cheep"-to one another in the first week of March, and also heard the monotonous, ceaseless "tonk" of the Coppersmith that day. Summer has officially arrived in these parts somewhat prematurely, as it has in many other places."-M.Krishnan

*Sketch of a Common striped squirrel

This was first published on 16 March 1952 in The Sunday Statesman.
Republished on 26 August 2012.

Saktipada Panigrahi
04-09-2012, 12:20 PM
"THERE are three wells around my compound, just outside, in the territories of neighbours.The brackish water deep down in them is not potable, but my neighbours use it for their kitchen-gardens. They have dug irrigation channels from the wells to the plots of vegetables, with steep earth banks and miniatures dams to regulate the flow of the precious fluid. Frogs, tadpoles, water-boatmen, mole-crickets, and a variety of worms, grubs and flying insects inhabit this region and recently a White-breasted Kingfisher* has taken up residence in my backyard from where it can command a comprehensive view of the aqueducts.

It has many perches here, and shifts from one to another, but its favourite seat is at one end of a clothesline, in the shade of foilage. It sits inert and slumped and seems wholly lost in moody introspection-but in fact it is watching for lesser life in the inundated field of vision. Other birds that sit up for their prey adopt a similar attitude in vigil, rollers, bee-eaters, buzzards. The concealing value of such repose is obvious even to colour-sensitive human eyes. I have to look about me to locate this kingfisher in spite of the dazzling contrasts of maroon and blue and white in its plumage. Vivacity, even a perky stance, undoubtedly catches the eye; our dusky robins prove the truth of this.

This kingfisher has little fear of men, or else it is so absorbed in its watch for small fry that it does not notice my ponderous approach. If I do not make straight for it but observe a certain circumspection and silence, I can get to within three yards of its perch without alarming it (incidentally, what matters is a slow approach without jerky movement rather than silence-the bird seems indifferent to my whistling). It is then that I see how brilliantly it is coloured, and it is wide awake for all its slouched stillness.

I venture too near and it is away in a vivid streak, with a hash cackle. The great sword bill, sheathed in immobility and shade when the bird is sitting, flashes redly in flight, followed by the blue and white of the wing and tail. It flies straight to the well, then dips sharply and alights on the well-post, and is once more lost in dejected reverie.

The government, trying to induce the rice-eating peoples of the riceless South to sample other grain, could well this bird for its emblem, for it has renounced the limited diet of its tribe and taken to more varied and cosmopolitan fare. Its build is the build of a kingfisher, and its great bill is the authentic implement of a fish-hunter, but hundreds of generations ago it grew independent of pool and stream and finned prey, and often it lives far from water. It feeds on any small thing that it can seize in its big bill and batter to death-lizards, insects, grubs and worms, tadpoles, and even fish on occasion.

In summer it hunts the vicinity of wells, not for the sake of fish in them, but for the creeping and crawling life that the moist earth attracts. During the monsoons, when the water stagnates in roadside ditches and dips, I have often seen this bird fishing for tadpoles and minnows in the puddles-but the monsoons have not often been with us lately. The five successive years of drought that have afflicted this area must have fixed the tendency to hunt land-living prey even more firmly in the White-breasted Kingfishers here. This is the only Indian kingfisher that has developed this terrestrial bias, but in Australia there are kingfishers that have forsaken the water completely.

There is one peculiarity about this kingfisher that I have noticed, and that I am quite unable to explain. Sometimes it flies into limited settings, into a room or verandah or shed, and then it seems quite helpless and flatters weakly about, suffering itself to be caught where other birds could have escaped with ease. So weak is it on the wing then, so torpid and slow, that it seems acutely ill, or else quite dazed. I have caught White-breasted Kingfishers in this way thrice or four times, and I have known others catch the bird in similar circumstances. It lies unprotesting in the hand, and the amazing lightness of the bird (birds are much lighter than we think) lends further probablity to the feeling that it is very ill- but toss it clear into the air, and it flies briskly away, to resume its hunting. This kingfisher nests in long, narrow tunnels in the earth, and one would think that it is used to restricted spaces. Perhaps it is sudden fright, at being cornered by men, that is responsible for its lassitude on such occasions."-M.Krishnan

This was first published on 23 March 1952 in The Sunday Statesman
Republished on 2 September 2012

* Sketch of the bird not reproduced here
**In the heading, the date may please be read as 2 September 2012

Saktipada Panigrahi
09-09-2012, 11:19 AM
"I HAVE just returned from a drought-stricken suburb where only the tangled grey of spiky shrubs relieved the flat, baked brown of the landscape. The trees were few and far between, the grass was withered and such life as there was clustered, open-mouthed, around a few deep wells. Even the crows and goats seemed reluctant to leave the delightful shade of the village neem trees, which were in flower, but walking across the desiccated open I found a drier life in possession. Brown grasshoppers rose from the brown, sparse grass underfoot, there were finch-larks in the fields, bloodsuckers ran splay-legged to cover the fences at my approach and, at long intervals, big Grey Shrikes sat austerely on the bush tops, very much at home in that desolate setting.

A pair was together, from which I concluded that these stern birds had weakened already under a seasonal urge. The Grey Shrike loves its own company and keeps relentless vigil over its territory, allowing no kith and kin to violate its privacy. But then summer comes spring is not far behind, and for a while it relaxes its strictness and suffers a mate. It sings a sweet, tinkling song and then that no one would expect from looks and habitual laconism; but even then it is not given to flutterings and fluffy displays; it comports itself with a dignity and restraint exceptional in the love-silly world of birds.

I always thought this shrike one of the most aloofly distinguished of our birds. There is the hint of silver in the grey of its plumage and the big, square head,the top-heavy build, the heavy, hooked bill and broad, black eye-stripe all convey not only the suggestion that its love of thorn-scarred wastes and its unsociable habits confirm. Other shrikes that live in somewhat similar places have similar natures, but somehow the tribe has earned for itself an undeserved reputation for blood lust.

These are the "butcher birds", a tribe repugnant to the sentiment of Western writers of popular history. Quite recently I read an American description of a typical shrike, where the bird was damned with all the lurid exaggeration that the writer could command, as kill-crazy, callous, bloodthirsty murderer that lurked in bushes and throttled innocent little birds. I have never been able to understand the importing of human concepts of virtue and morality into a study of natural history, in all seriousness, but even granting that this is good form, I cannot see how shrikes are any the more bloodthirsty than other birds that watch for their prey from a perch and pounce down on them.

Such birds usually hunt insects or other small creatures, but occasionally they tackle more substancial prey, weak enough to be overpowered but not sufficiently small to be swallowed in a mouthful or killed at once-nestlings, large insects with tough shells, or lizards. Birds better equipped for rapine, sparrow-hawks for instance, can kill sizeable prey quickly, but shrikes have to use much force to still the struggles of the occasional large victims, and there is no question of cruelty or blood lust involved. In fact, far from killing madly in excess of their needs, shrikes have developed the prudent habit of impaling surplus catch on thorns, against a rainy day, and it is from this peculiarity and not from their murderous violence that the name "butcher birds" has come to them.

Incidentally, I have never seen the Grey Shrike's larder in the warm plains, though I saw a lizard neatly impaled by one of these birds in the hill station. The number of things I have not seen are very many, and proves nothing, but it is possible that in the hotter plains, where putrefaction is rapid, shrikes are not much given to stocking larders?"- M.Krishnan

*Sketch of the bird not reproduced.

This was first published on 13 April 1952 in The Sunday Statesman

Saktipada Panigrahi
20-09-2012, 11:19 AM
"CROWS are sitting in pairs on treetops, late in the evenings. They choose a foliage-free bough, high up, and for an hour before dark they sit close, indulging in caresses with their bills and saying low, sweet nothings to each other (of course, crows have a language-Seton claimed to know a bit of it). I have seen dozens of these courting couples in the past week and there is no doubt that the local grey necks have exchanged a communal life for a connubial one. Shortly they will nest and rear their young and young of the Koel, with loving care-incidentally. I have yet to hear Koels here (where they are plentiful) in spite of the premature onset of summer; apparently their love-life of the crows.

The grey-headed House-crow is the commonest bird of town and countryside, and so varied in habit and intelligence that it is always interesting to watch. More than one observer of Indian bird life has devoted an entire book to it and still how little we know about it! Does it pair for life? Nothing definite seems to be known on this point. The one sure way of finding this out would be to ring a number of crows with distinctively coloured rings and watch them over years- strong metal rings would be needed, as these birds have powerful and clever beaks and will peck at and remove rings made of celluloid or similar material. Both birds of a pair must be distinctively marked- I used to know a white-flecked crow and watched it nest in successive years, but could never be sure if its mate was the same each year. Grey necks live in a flock in the off-season, when not nesting, and roost in company. It may be thought that this sociable winter habit would be conducive to promiscuity in pairing, when the breeding season comes again, but need not be so- there are monogamous birds with a gregarious habit.

One thing I am fairly sure of, after watching House-crows and Jungle-crows for years, is that the former are far cleverer in the wing. They are less clumsy in build and movement, though less powerful, and on the whole I think they are more intelligent than their jungly cousins. It is in fight, however, that their superior skill is obvious. When the termites swarm and both kinds of crows are feasting, the grey neck's comparative air mastery is clear.

A House-crow will shoot up from its perch, chase a fluttering insect on quick flapping wings and take it surely- it is more given to hunting winged prey in this manner than most people think. Moreover, some grey necks are noticeably more expert than others.

Recently I had the occasion to verify the truth of this.

I was sitting at a table in an open-air cafe on a beach one evening and was offered a plate of "chaklis"- which I thought unfit for human consumption after sampling. After my usual thrifty habit, I looked around for non-human habitues to whom I could donate the burnt, twiggy, garlic-spiced dish. There was a thin dog with soulful eyes watching me and, further away, there was a pair of casual grey necks, apparently more interested in a tete-a-tete and the seascape than in me. I turned my back on the dog, for I find yearning canine eyes beyond my will power, and tossed a bit of the "chakli" into the stiff crosswind. The crows jumped into the breeze and one of them caught the morsel deftly in its beak- they never take things in the air in their feet- and swallowed it in mid-air. I tossed another bit high and, as if by magic, five crows shot up after it.

Presently there were well over a dozen of grey necks. I kept on tossing the twiggy inducements into the breeze and when the plate was empty I ordered another. I learned much from this brief spell of flighted offerings to the crows. In spite of their packed numbers, they never collided in the air and only once was one of the several fragments thrown up together allowed to land. One crow- I am certain of it as I never took off my eyes off this bird- was far cleverer than the rest; its interception of the parabolic trajectory of the morsels was sure and easy. It did not swallow its first catch and went for the next bit as well without dropping the first one, repeating the astounding performance till it had four bits crosswise in its beak. Then it was forced to retreat for a brief spell of swallowing.

All the crows were grey necks- Jungle-crows don't care much for the strong crosswind on the beach. I would much have liked to prolong this tossing experiment, but when the second plate of burnt offerings were finished I noticed that everyone in the cafe, including the waiters, was staring at me in undisguised amusement and this forced me to call for the bill and leave in a hurry. Perhaps some other day when I can summon a less self-conscious mood, I may complete the experiment."- M.Krishnan

*The sketch of the bird has not been reproduced here.

This was first published on 4 May 1952 in The Sunday Statesman

Saktipada Panigrahi
24-09-2012, 06:53 AM
" HIGH up in a towering casuarina, a hundred feet above the ground, the Sea Eagles had built their ponderous nest. It was wedged firmly into the trifid, ultimate fork of the trunk, a firmly-knit stack of thick twigs and dry branches, looking more like a pile of faggots than anything else. It was hollow on top, though I could see the depression from the third-storey terrace of the building from which I watched, for the eyrie was well above the level of housetop but the way big nestling disappeared from view everytime it waddled to the centre from the rim of the next showed as a hollow.

The sea was not a mile away, perhaps not even two furlongs by air. One of the parent birds mounted guard on the treetop, a few yards from the nest, while the other sailed away on a foraging expedition. These were White-bellied Sea Eagles, almost as big as a vulture and much more shaped in build, with slaty-brown backs, the head, neck and underparts white, sail-like wings broadly edged with black, and a short, fan tail. The adults looked strangely like overgrown gulls, the grey and white in the plumage and length of the wing suggesting a gull, but they sat in the manner of eagles, upright on the treetop, talons gripping bough firmly. The wings projected beyond the brief tail in repose, their tips crossing.
Through my binoculars, the bird was startlingly near and clear; I could see the grey, hooked beak, the powerful talons, even the dark apprehensive eyes. It was watching me intently, with obvious distrust. Thereafter I cared to do my watching from the shelter of a pillar or the parapet, not too obviously.
Off and on, for a fortnight, I watched these sea eagles, and learnt not very much about them. One of the adults is slightly the larger; I thought this was the she-eagle. This one it was that stayed near the nest, watching most of the time. Much of the scouting for food, for the entire family, fell to the lot of the other eagle. Sizeable fish seemed to form staple diet, though once a forager returned with a long, dangling prey that looked like a sea snake-but probably it was only an eel. The grown birds fed by turns, after parting with a large piece to the offspring. There was a patrician lack of haste about the feeding and flight of these eagles that was impressive: who would believe that it is these same birds that flog the air above the sea with untiring wings and chase each other in giddy flight, clamouring raucously all the time, earlier in the year!
The youngster was about three-quarters the size of its parents, and much more cognizably eagle. The feathers on the head and neck were not white and sleek as in the grown birds, but streaky, pale brown, and the stood out in hackles. The body was a dark, mottled brown- the colour one associates with raptorial birds This fledgeling progressed rapidly during the fortnight, and when I saw it last (on 1 May), it was standing on the nest-platform and flapping its wings gawkily, though it has not yet essayed flight.
The food-laden return of the parent bird was the signal for crows to gather around the nest, or fly over it. Not once I see them profit by this watchfulness: they never dared to get on to the nest, to try to snatch a morsel, though they would sit all around, close by the tree. At times one or the other sea eagles would leave the nesting tree and sit in a neighbouring one (also a casuarina), and when this happened the crows mobbed it immediately.Apparently, away from the location of the nest, they were not afraid of it. Frequently they forced to big bird to take wing and fly away from their attentions, with a harsh, mettalic, reiterated call, but once I saw the eagle dive at two crows that were annoying it and send them scattering for dear life.
I was told by the gardener of the house, that these sea eagles had nested here for years, that every year they reared their progeny on this same nest, that he did not know what happened to the youngsters when they grew up but the old birds remained there right through the year. The nest looked as if the accretion of many years had been added on a structure that was originally no small thing. We estimated that it was a rounded cube, about four feet each way. Even allowing for interspaces and hollowness of its top, it must have contained over hundred sizeable pieces of wood, and have weighed about 200 lbs. How did these seafaring birds acquire the large, dry branches that formed the cross-beams of the eyerie? Did they pick them off backwaters, or did they wrench from greenwood, as Jungle-Crows do? I cannot answer these questions, or find someone who can, but it seems reasonable to suppose that much of the nestling material was, originally,flotsam."-M.Krishnan

*The sketch of the nest and birds not reproduced here.
The article was first published on 18 May 1952 in The Sunday Statesman

Mrudul Godbole
24-09-2012, 12:20 PM
Very interesting description of this rare bird. Saktiji, do they build a new nest everytime? Is it the same couple who nests there or it would be different as it is mentioned that the gardener said the birds were nesting there for years. Thanks for sharing.

Saktipada Panigrahi
25-09-2012, 03:18 PM
Madam Mrudul,

The elegant White-bellied Sea Eagle is the largest raptor in the Sundarbans. It is a resident and common bird and breeds here. It is more common in the southern part (core area) of the reserve towards estuary.The watch tower at Netidhopani just inside core area has also been closed for tourists.
The Sea Eagle is also seen inside buffer zone near some particular locations (Panchamukhani,Gomdi) with some luck. It does not like disturbance and moves high up in the air with the approaching launch and flies towards deep inside forest may be towards its nest.Sometime it is joined by another. It is seen in a particular area throughout the year and one may have a chance sighting of its nest on a tall tree far off from the river. It does not build its nest anew each year. However, it has to be reinforced naturally.
These birds usually remain partners (called mates) for life. My naturalist friend closely associated with the Sundarbans immediately confirmed it.
Kind regards,SaktiWild

Saktipada Panigrahi
07-10-2012, 02:57 PM
" I REMEMBER watching a display by India's first jet-propelled aircraft, along with a milling crowd. There was a little boy by my side who was most informative- he told us the difference in flight and motive power between these planes and ordinary ones with propellers, pointed out peculiarities and explained the relative speeds of light and sound to a dear old lady. Thanks to the young scholar, we all knew at what speed the jet-fighters tore through heavens, looped loops and zoomed high again, and I joined in the general expression of wonder and applause.

But now, well away from this little boy and arithmetically-minded crowd to whom 600 mph meant so much, I don't mind confessing that I was not thrilled, specially. Yes, it was a fun watching those planes perfom those evolutions, and no doubt they were faster than the ones I have seen before, but they conveyed no sense of magnificient achievement of space to me. For one thing, their speed, as they went far above, was an abstruct thing that needed thought, even sophistry, for its appreciation; and even when they came near and were patently dynamic- well, they were engines, just big, loud engines, and their power and speed was mechanical, chemical and inhuman.

It is the living, mascular speed of animals that impresses me, even a squirrel dashes for safety. That is a speed I can appreciate, a quickness I can envy and marvel at. If you like speed, and want to see something sustained in its effortless, rythmic impetuocity, you should watch a herd of black buck going all out for a few miles- there is tangible real speed for you.

Black buck are the fastest things on legs in India, and perhaps anywhere in the world. As Dunbar Brander points out, even the now extinct hunting leopard can not match the buck for speed, though swifter from a standing start and for the first few furlongs, the hunting leopard is purely a sprinter and soon get spent. Black buck can keep their pace for 10 miles or more and when going flat out can attain 60 mph- a superb speed, not reached by any motor vehicle so far over the ground they inhabit. The muscles of black buck is like catapult rubber, and its hooves are not hard but elastic, its wind is almost inexhaustible and its vitality amazing.

No other animal I know of can keep going with such ghastly injuries, not even the great cats. In particular I recall a gravid doe (does are usually faster thn their overlords)that had lagged behind, and had a leg blown clean away by a bullet meant for the buck. The gun and I got into a jeep and went after the wretched thing to put it out of its misery. The black-cotton soil was very flat and permitted a very fair speed, but for two miles the crippled doe kept running far ahead, while our pity turned to wonder and admiration, before it fell exhausted and was shot.

The buck have a curious habit that is often their undoing. After outdistancing the chasing enemy easily, they turn at an angle and run across the path of the pursuer, so that by anticipating the mood and changing his direction slightly the gun can frequently get to within range, as they cross in front. Dunbar Brander suggests that this habit might be due to the desire of the buck to prove that they "have the legs of the enemy". Quite a likely explanation, but at times I have seen chased buck turn, not across the line of pursuit, but away from it. They seem to run in a curve, once they are clear of immediate danger, and they persist in their curved course once they are set on it. Naturally, this explanation leads to the question: Why do they have this running in a curve? That is also a habit shared by certain other animals, and a circuitous explanation occurs to me- but let's not have it.

Black buck are unquestionably among the most beautiful of world's beasts, and are exclusively Indian. Once they lived in vast herds all over the country, but are fewer and more local now. In certain places in South India for example, they are dwindling steadily and must soon be extinct unless immediate help is accorded. It is true that the slaughter of buck by "sportsman", irrespective of sex, numbers, or laws, is largely responsible for this dwindling, but there is a more pernicious though less immediate cause. Black buck live in open country, always, and such terrain is most easily cultivable and, so,most cultivated. Buck do not take to desert conditions: they must have green fodder.

A substantial part of their diet consists of grasses and plants like the wild bitter gourd (whose fruits they love), but living in the midst of crops (their original homes having been brought so largely under plough), they often help themselves to food crops. This, while providing a ready excuse for shooting the crop-raiders, leaves them to nowhere to go. The animals of the open will, I think, be the last to receive any recognition from those interested in the saving of our wonderful, vanishing wildlife, one of our richest national assets.

The fauna of flat country require plenty of living space, adequate grazing and a certain remoteness from cultivation if they are not to be tempted. These conditions are unlikely of realisation in India today, when every acre of land is held precious, though sometimes left fallow and often so poorly tended that it yields a negligible return. In any case, I think the beasts and birds of open country must look to the black buck for their salvation, for it is one claimant for protection among them whose arresting looks and swift charm might succeed in attracting notice."- M. Krishnan

*The sketch of fleeting black buck not reproduced here.
This was first published on 22 June 1952 in The Sunday Statesman

Saktipada Panigrahi
29-10-2012, 01:27 PM
"NOSTALGIC memories flooded in on me when reading Vic Rosner's account of Four-horned Antelopes in The Sunday Statesman of 20 July; memories of eight years spent in a Deccan hill range where these antelope were almost common.

Those hills are flat-topped and covered with light deciduous jungles and lush grass- they are amongst the oldest hills in the world, scarped along their shoulders and with boulder-strewn crowns. The rainfall averages about 36 inches a year and the area holds sambar, pig, panther and occasional tiger, but no bear (though bears lived here once upon a time). I mention these details as Chousingha (Four-horned antelope) abound in these hills, and their distribution is somewhat capricious.

There are Chinkara in the rocky, open country immediately outside, but they never come up the hills; and the native Chousingha never strays into adjoining Chinkara territory. I was struck with this strict addiction to beats. Few people realise how vital suitable grounds for wild animals, how quickly they perish when driven out of their homes into strange countries.

The Chousingha is unique, Not only it is the only living thing, bar freaks and fakes, with four horns, but it has also adopted some of the habitats of deer, living in the woodland habitat favoured by deer. Those who want information about this remarkable antelope will find it in Dunbar Brander's 'Wild Animals in Central India'. I will not quote from the classic- and Vic Rosner's excellent article leave me with very little excuse for the writing of this note.

However, I may justify this in some measure by referring to the Chousingha's abilities as a jumper. Except for the largest ones, antelopes are nimble on their feet and in Africa (the true home of the tribe) there are little antelopes that leap high and effortlessly and live in steep places. Our Chousingha is our own, and distinguished from all others by the buck's four horns, but it is related to the African duikers.

The Chousingha has a high stepping action and carries itself with a crouch- it is higher behind than in front, and walks in cover habitually. Its hooves are long along their treads and slightly splayed, ensuring a firm grip on sheer surfaces. Altogether it seems equipped for climbing up and down and moving furtively and fast through the undergrowth. However, it can jump when it wants to.

I have seen a doe clear a seven-foot hedge with utmost ease, almost taking it in its stride. I was posted as stop in a frantic beat for a pair of Chousingha that had slunk into a patch of thick bush. The doe came galloping straight at me, saw me very late, spun around at right angles and with the same movement rose into the air and clear the hedge by my side. On other occasions I have seen Chusingha in flight go sailing over obstacles in their path, like bushes and small boulders. It is well known that this forest loving antelope bolt at considerable speed when alarmed, though they usually pull up and go into hiding pretty soon. But their leaping abilities seem to be less known.

Its love for undergrowth and steep rocky slopes offers the Chousingha a certain natural immunity from the shikari. There is not much risk of this most remarkable little beast being shot out, but man can threaten it in another way, incidentally. During my last visit to that Deccan hill range I noticed that it was getting rather thin on top, and I, who have personal knowledge of such things, know what that portends- I know it surely, in my scalp. The incipient atopecia that I noticed will thrive on neglect and spread apace. Then the deer and Chousingha go, from lack of suitable cover, and human indifference will kill them more ruthlessly than the gun can. But let us hope that I am mistaken, that man's ancient and primitive love for forests is really resurgent today, that it will move governments and survive their routine."-M.Krishnan

This was first published on 10 August 1952 in The Sunday Statesman

*Sketch not reproduced

Sabyasachi Patra
31-10-2012, 06:25 PM
Wow! Wish I see a chousingha leaping. Never knew it had this ability. I wonder what is their total population in the wild these days.

Saktipada Panigrahi
13-11-2012, 05:17 PM
"LIFE has grown wet and plastic during the past week. Visitors bring in footloads of mud, which they scrape against the stone steps or distribute over the verandah- being given to pretty joys, I note with satisfaction that when they go away the sodden gravel leading to my gate shakes of at each step from their shoes and that I have gained soil. The ditches flanking the road are turned into brown rivulets, and the dip in the field beyond, hardly perceptible in September, is now a miniature pond.

All these wetness is different from the somewhat formalised depictions of wetness that we are so used to. There would be white glints and dimpled blue patches in an artist's picture of these October puddles and flooded drains, and turbulent streaks of red, perhaps, to denote the freshets. Actually the lowering skies yield no highlights; everywhere the water is a torpid, deep umber, thick with mud and squirming with infant life. Almost as if by magic, innumerable mosquito larvae and tadpoles have appeared in the pond of the field, even little fish. Life began in the slush, according to biologists, and the slush is very fecund still. As I bend over its squelching rim to peer into the peer's teeming depths, I am conscious that I am not alone.

Another huddled watcher is on the other side, acutely aware of me. My cautious advent had driven it to several yards away, now it seems on the point of flight. I retreat to the roadside and squat immobile, and the Pond Heron returns to the water, step by deliberate step, its apprehensive head stretched out in front of its long neck. It stops at water's edge and is immediately harder to see. The extended neck is doubled up and drawn in between the shoulders, so far in that the bird is neckless; the streaked brown of its humped back and yellowish greys of its legs and beak blend with muddy background. It walks carefully into the water, lifting each foot clear of the surface and carrying it forward through the air before immersing it quietly again, and now its neck is again outstretched- it is withdrawn once more as the bird halts, and take its stance in the shallows.

For long two minutes it stays utterly still, only the hard, yellow glint in its eye betraying the avid life in the dull, slumped body.

While fish that pass by,
Till the destined fish comes in,
Great is the heron's dejection

- says a cynical couplet, in Tamil. Presently, and without the least warning stir, the dagger-billed head shoots down on the extensive neck, a tadpole is lifted deftly out of the thick water and swallowed in the same movement. At once the neck is drawn in, and the morose, huddled pose is resumed, so quickly and completely that I could have sworned that its waiting had been unbroken had I not watched the movement.

The "Pond Heron" or "Paddy Bird" is probably the most familiar of our waterside birds. Wherever there is not too rapid water, a puddle or a pond or any shallow stretch, you will find it there, an unmistakable little heron with dingy plumage, a humped back and sulky habits. When alarmed it emits a harsh "kra-ak" and is instantly transformed into a dazzling creature on broad, white wings- its pinions and underparts are white, but hidden except in flight by its earthy mantle, and in flight it seems an all-white bird. Americans in India used to call this heron the "surprise bird" from the sudden contrast between its drab, unobtrusive repose and flashing whiteness of its flight; I believe the name is no longer in fashion.

Though roosting and nesting in company, pond herons are unsociable by day. They are lone hunters; occasionally you may see three or four near one another, but they never seek prey in common, and even when going home to roost do not join together in large flocks. They are strong flyers, and though they look rather like Cattle Egrets in size and whiteness when on the wing, it is easy to tell their firm, quick wing beats from the lubberly action of the egrets.

Incidentally, all herons fly with their necks tucked in. Wordsworth's-

And heron, as resounds
the trodden shore,
Shoots upward,darting his long
Neck before

- might be quite true of a heron shooting up into the air in alarm, but once it settles down to flight the neck is not darted before, but is doubled up and drawn in- that, in fact, is the token by which one may know members of the heron tribe from other waterside birds on the wing."- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 19 October 1952 in The Sunday Statesman

#Sketch of the bird not reproduced here.

Sabyasachi Patra
22-11-2012, 11:53 AM
The description of Shri Krishnan is so lovely, the imagery so vivid, the scene dances in front of my minds eye. Flawless observations and lucid style. One can learn from him that to write or photograph wildlife, it is not mandatory to go to the jungle. I am writing this because yesterday I was talking with a friend from bangalore who told me that he had been to Jungle Lodges in Bandipur and he was cramped in a jeep with four other people all of whom had long tele lenses, each elbowing the other to get more space. We all can learn from Shri M. Krishnan.

Saktipada Panigrahi
21-12-2012, 04:28 PM
"I USED to know a Mahratta head-mali with decided ideas on seemliness. He would come to work in a crisply-starched khaki coat and a magnificient turban of tiger-striped mull, and was superior to messy digging or work on rough shrubs- such things he left to underlings. Each day he would spend hours on the lawn, quartering it systemetically to locate weeds, inspecting each blade of grass with a dignified, critical decline of his beturbaned head. I have never seen a man look and behave more like a Hoopoe.

You will not find hoopoes away from open spaces. They seemed to suffer from a mild form of claustrophobia, for though given to perching on trees and the occasional reconnaissance of shrubs, they will not enter thick cover and are happiest pottering about some stretch of unconfined turf. What they like is short grass, and just now with plenty of it in garden and scrubland, hoopoes are common birds.

Most of the time they are on their feet, looking for grubs, worms and insects in the grass. The zebra-patterned wedge of the horizontal body and tail hides the trotting feet, so that a curious, clockwork effect marks their movements. Other low-to-ground creatures, whose short legs are hidden by the bulk of the body, also convey this impression, but perhaps it is most noticeable in the hoopoe. The jerky mannerisms of the bird and its habit of scuttling over the ground in brief dashes, accentuate this illusion of mechanical propulsion.

The very full crest is spread out into a flamboyant fan, and suddenly shut tight into a spike counterbalancing the curved line of beak, this gesture being repeated again and again, as if to relieve the tedium of the long, pedestrian search for food. There are many birds with highly emotional tails, but here it is the head which wears the crown that is uneasy. The folding and unfolding of the volatile crest express the entire emotional range of the bird, and each passing mood.

I have seen a hoopoe indulge in this play with its crest six times within a minute, for no reason I could discern, but there are rules regulating its conduct on certain occasions. When the bird probes the earth in search of prey, or when it takes of from the ground, the crest is shut close, and just before alighting from flight it is fanned out as fully as it can be.

Some of the most fantastic frills and fancy touches are to be found among birds- great casques, racket-tails, grotesque wattles and spurs, streaming pennants, bright bibs and redundant tail-coverts- as a rule these barbaric ornaments are associated with love, and are on display during courtship.

But the hoopoe on the lawn is as strikingly decorative as any bird of strange plumage, though it is fulfilling a daily need and being useful to us- how rarely does beauty go with routine need and utility! As the bird moves forward on invisible feet, the slanting sun touches it, turning the fulvous sienna of its breast and crest to liquid gold, revealing fully the emphatic contrasts of the black and white in the back. Then suddenly the crest is shut and the bird shoots up on slow, fluttering, broad wings, patterned even more rhythmically than its body.

Yes, hoopoe has claims to remarkable looks, and like others with such claims it is at its best in public. For its domestic life is a shocking contrast to what one might expect from a bird so richly plumaged and such a patrician love of lawns. It nests in some recess, may be in a crevice in the roof of an outhouse; the less said about the foul mess that is its nursery the better. The phrase is often used in a prefatory way, to hold forth at length on an unsavoury topic, but I shall be literal- I shall say nothing about that nest."

- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 25 January 1953 in the Sunday Statesman

#Sketch of the bird not reproduced

Saktipada Panigrahi
24-12-2012, 03:44 PM
"FOR the past month. I have been hearing the thin, high, petulant "Ki-kiyu" of the SHIKRA and occasionally I have seen the bird in the dazzling midday sky- whirring along on quick, blurred pinions, then sailing in an ascending circle on still, round wings, the long tall spread like a half-shut banded fan. There are two of these hawks about that call and answer in the same querulous tone, though they seem to keep a certain distance apart.By these tokens they are a courting pair that will later nest somewhere near, probably in the clump of mangoes a quarter mile away.

Ordinarily, the shikra is not given to high jinks and public appearances, for it lives by thuggery and thugs do not proclaim themselves. It lurks in obscuring foliage, waiting for the unsuspecting victim to approach before pouncing down on it, and when it goes from tree to tree- its passage announced by shrill twitters of little birds and alarmcheeps of sqiurrels- it keeps low and flies direct and fast. Even when it goes coasting the fields, as it does at times, it hugs the contour of each dip and hollow and takes good care to keep below any line of trees so that it may arrive unexpectedly at the next field.It is capable of determined pursuit and speed over a short distance, but furtive means and attacks from ambush are what it favours.

But just before it pairs and breeds, it takes freely to the air and goes soaring on high. Its harsh, grating voice then changes to a high frequent "K-kiyu", a call that is exchanged all day from the wings and even from perches between the courting pair. To human ears, few bird calls are more expressive of tantalised impatience at a slow, tedious progress of love imposed by nature! However, the call is used at other times. I have heard an angry shikara, attacking crows, repeatedly indulge in this call- it seemed louder and less plaintive then, with a challenging ring in it, but this was probably because I heard it from so near/ When the sun sinks behind the trees and night is imminent, sparrows and other small birds flock to their roosts and the shikra is well aware of this opportunity.

It lies in wait, huddled in some thick-leaved trees, and if a little bird alights nearby it makes its plunge, flinging itself bodily through twig and leaf. Often enough the quarry escapes, and then the hawk may fly swift and low to another tree, or lurk on in the same ambush. There is no rule governing its behaviour on such occasions, except that it fails quite frequently in itsdusk hunting. One February evening I followed a shikra from 6.25 p.m till close on 7 O'clock- it made three attempts to snatch its dinner in that time and, having failed, flew away over the horizon when it was almost dark.

The shikra is capable of fine courage, too, when there is need for courage. It can tackle mynahs and birds almost as big as itself, as the old-time falconers knew well, and it will fight even larger birds on occasion. Once I was watching a shikra eating a bloodsucker on the branch of a neem, when first one jungle-crow and then another came up and settled on a branch close by. The hawk resented their covetous glances and their sidling closer, and abandoning its prey it flung itself at the intruders with a torrent of "Ki-kiyus" - I was amazed at this onslaught, for the crows were larger birds and by no means incapable of fighting, moreover there were two of them.

So impetuous was the attack that all three birds came tumbling down in a frantic ball of black and barred feathers, that rolled about on the ground below for a moment before resolving itself into two crows that fled for dear life and an angry, open-beaked hawk. Both crows must have been grabbed simultaneously, one in each taloned foot, for this to have happened, but incredible as it may seem, it did happen.

I would much like to tell you how the victor returned to the hard-won meal and consumed it in triumph, but in fact this incident ended more like a story. For while the hawk was routing its enemies, a third crow made an unobtrusive appearance on the scene, by a rear entrance, and flew away with the dead lizard, even more unobtrusively!"
- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 8 February 1953 in The Sunday Statesman
#Sketch contained in the article not reproduced

Please post this one as the last word has been edited.

Saktipada Panigrahi
30-12-2012, 11:23 AM
"EVERY evening at half-past six, the CATTLE EGRETS fly southward over my roof to their roosting trees by the water.They go past in a broken string, five or six in a compressed Indian file, flying low, then a long break, then five or six again following the same diagonal course over the roof and trees, picking up threads of the flight that went before. Their flight is round-winged and leisurely, heads drawn in, yellow beaks pointing forward and black legs trailing behind: the full curved wings never stroked in vigorous flaps but moved in a unhurried rotary action, like boats rowed slowly with broad, bent oars.

There is grace enough in their slow white flight against the slaty sky, and a steady aim, but no hint of power or speed. Twelve hours later, soon after sunshine, they are back in the sky again, flying no longer in a set direction but circling in small parties, for they are now seeking feeding grounds. Their flight seems even weaker now, as they row around indecisively on hollowed, dazzling wings, gliding occasionally before settling in some field. They look even more like curve-winged white birds of Japanese screens in the sun than they did at dusk.

Bird flight can be very deceptive. Butterfly-winged hoopoes are capable of steep speed when pursued and long-distance migrants, like wagtails, often have a weak-seeming dipping flight. But the lassitude of wings of cattle egrets is not illusory- they have not even fugitive speed.

It is true that the cattle egret is far less dependent on frogs and fishes than its cousins. It belongs to the tribes of egrets and herons, professional anglers, and has the wading legs and dagger bill of extensive neck of the fraternity, but it lives mainly on the insects of green field. It is a pastoral bird, much given to following in the wake of grazing cattle; it is adept at seizing grasshoppers and other insects that their hooves scatter, and everyone has seen it picking ticks and flies off cattle. Still it has not lost its tribal love of water, as its nesting and roosting trees will show, and occasionally it reverts to angling for tadpoles and small fry at puddles.

One would think that the birds that seek their meat in the air, like the peregrine, would find this slow-winged egrets easy prey, but I believe it is not often that a cattle egret dies this way. The POND HERON, which flies faster and higher, sometimes meets this fate- the ancient Tamil curse, "May you fall headlong like the pond heron struck by shahin", is best on the fact. For one thing the cattle egret never flies far except going out to feed and when returning to the roost, and even at such times it flies low- the hunters of the air prefer prey that will seek escape in flight, providing a depth of air below to make giddy swooping safe. Moreover, when the air is cold and slow, early in the morning and late in the evening, that cattle egrets undertake their flights- birds of prey are rarely on the wing then, for they like plenty of light, and warm air currents for soaring.

I must make it clear that I make no suggestion of intelligent apprehension, or dominant motive, in saying this, but I have been watching peregrines lately, and it seems to me that cattle egrets choose their journey safely. There is no need to presuppose reasoning in a bird for development of a habit that is beneficial to it, but, of course, it is quite possible that the flight habits of cattle egrets have nothing to do with the habits of birds of prey."
- M. Krishnan

This was first published on 1 March 1953 in the Sunday Statesman

#The sketch as contained the article not reproduced
A small portion marked (...) not reproduced

Mrudul Godbole
24-01-2013, 02:53 PM
Amazing observation of the details of the flight pose of the egrets. It is interesting to know that even due to its slow flight it is not preyed by birds of prey. Thanks for sharing.

Saktipada Panigrahi
03-02-2013, 04:05 PM
"SUMMER has taken us by surprise in these parts. Usually this advent is both gradual and sudden; it creeps up through February and March with occasional halts during showers, and then in April, leaps in with a formal little pounce. This year, however, the pounce was early and savage. In the last week of March we were congratulating ourselves on a slow summer, in spite of dry weather, when one day the temperature shot up by almost 10 degrees, overwhelming us with a grasping lassitude. The optimistic, their senses enervated and lax, talked of a heat wave- but with the coming of April and little abatement in the heat, it is clear that this is no passing wave, but summer in all its glory.

And, quite possibly, it is also spring, the loveliest and least defined of seasons in our hill-dotted plains. We know when it is the rainy season- it is when the monsoons arrive, and their tardiness or prematurity only changes its timing. There is a brief winter in December; even autumn, if one goes by a certain mellow serenity in the air, is a definite season in many places, about October. But when is it spring?

The vernal season:

Mere botanical knowledge cannot answer this question, and knowledge of the flowering peaks of garden plants is even less helpful since we are not concerned with a horticultural season. Spring has symptoms celebrated in the classics, and it is futile considering it apart from its classical background. The setting of a gentle fragrant southern breeze, a restive amatory urge and blossoming of certain trees and the voice of koel are the accredited tokens of the vernal season. The gentle southern breeze is a reality more refreshing than poetic fancy can ever be, as those who have been out on a sweltering day in April will know, but it is local in its balmy range.

Other trees like 'Asoka', and even shrubs like 'jesmine', are listed in description of spring but undoubtedly the 'mango' is most symptomatic of them. And this year, in places far apart, I found the wild mango in lavish bloom in the middle of February, when the numerous koels of those tracts were resting their voices for a while! Nor are the Hindu festivals more specific in fixing the season- right from Holi (end of February), to the Tamil New Year Day (in the second week of April) each of them has some vernal connotation.

Peak in flowering:

Perhaps this gives us the clue. Spring is an extensive season, marked by a florescent urge in nature. The herbaceous vegetation is in bloom for many months, but probably December-January marks a peak in their flowering. By March most herbs are drying up, and from February to June a number of forest trees burst into flower with dramatic extravagance. The voice of the koel, also representative of the season, varies with locality as much as the flora, but I have never heard the cock in full voice before mid-April. Spring proper seems to begin before summer, and to coexist with its earlier months.

Not all trees that flower in summer are conspicuous, and some, like the 'neem', commence to bloom in February and go on till April. The chaste, white blossoms of the neem are used in vernal festivals, but it is red flowering of certain forest trees that seems most expressive of sultry, provocative spring. Some of these red-flowered trees are traditionally associated with the season, and quite three of them are known, vaguely and descriptively, as "flame of the forest".

Recently I was in a block of jungle which has its own character, no doubt, but which is so wholly uninfluenced by climatic extremes or any attempt at forestry that one can take its naturalness for granted. The jungle was dry and brown, most of the trees leafless, but there was vivid declarations of spring here and there. All the three trees are called or miscalled "flame of the forest" are found here- and hotter flames as well. Forest fires, unchecked except by the conformation of hills, water courses and prevailing winds, take toll of the under-shrub every year. There was an extensive fire on the night of my arrival here, a magnificent and saddening sight.

The 'Asoka (Saraca indica)' is the most delicate of all red proclamations of spring, and is intimately associated with the season traditionally, but the tree is not to be found in the jungle. From early in February the 'Indian Coral tree (Erythrina indica)' was in blossom- an ugly tree, to my eyes, too florid and thick-branched, but the pure scarlet of its flowers is probably unmatched for brilliance. The Coral's bloody crown is enhanced by lack of leaf- but then, most trees flowering in the heat are leafless. The true "flame of the forest", 'Butea frondosa' is unforgettable when seen in the jungle. It was later in bloom than the 'Erythrina', but by mid-March it was in full flower and, of course, without leaf. The rounded crown of orange-red flowers, with dark calyces, looks Chinese vermilion against the sun-brown hillsides, seen from afar- somehow, in an avenue, the tree never has scope for its vivid charm. The 'Gul Mohur (Poinciana regia or delonix regia)' was still in leaf when I left. In May it will be in extravagant bloom, its flat flaming crown spread on outflung branches, blazing fiercely in the forest. This, too, required a wild setting for its flame- I have always thought it a pity that people should plant it along the roadside. Incidentally, the 'Poinciana' has no association with spring in poetry or tradition- but the flamboyant 'Butea' has.

I will mention only one other tree that I saw here. Late in February we were going up a hill-road laboriously. A recent fire has scorched the earth, there were heavy, black rocks on either side, and the sparse jungle was brown and seemed withered beyond redemption. Round a bend in the road we came suddenly upon a group of 'Yellow Silk Cotton' trees- three crooked little trees, with burnt, gnarled trunks and tortured branches, the very tips of which alone were purple and turgid with life, and bore great, opulent yellow flowers of the purest aureolin, with hearts of red-gold stamens. I cannot describe the contrast of gracious, unstinted beauty of those flowers against that ground of charred and twisted desolation- we stopped wordlessly in our tracks to stare, unmindful of all else. To one blessed with greater faith than I, the experience could have been a revelation; surprised by such loveliness, a poet could have found a lasting joy in the sight, in a recollective, Wordsworthian manner.

But after the first glad stare, what came to me was no sense of rapture or thankfulness, but only a sharp memory from a painful past, when I had been at the foot of the systematic botany class. I turned to my comrades in triumph; "Cochlospermum gossypium," I announced to them, with finality. However, they did not hear me, or if they did, they were wholly insensible to the bathos of my remark- they just stood there, staring. There are times when the impercipience of others is merciful."

- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 12 April 1953 in The Sunday Statesman

Saktipada Panigrahi
17-02-2013, 11:31 AM
"IN a story that I read recently,the climax is reached when the narrator, in his boyhood, has to cross a haunted pathway in the dark. The suspense mounts as he nears the place. Then, unable to face it, he turn away from the horror and walks backwards, his senses taut with apprehension. "My ears were pricked up, ready to listen to the slightest rustle. A leaf dropping, the NIGHT HERON darting into the still night with its shrill call 'tweet, tweet, tweet' would have seen me dropped on the ground."

Having done most things the hard way all my life, I fear I will have no easy death, but even I would get a pretty considerable jar were I hear a night heron rise into the obscure silence with a shrill "tweet, tweet, tweet!" But were its cry far more eerie, a sudden, raucous, floating "w-a-a-k!" from above, I wouldn't turn a hair, for that is the bird's call.

In many Indian languages, the night heron's name is onomatopoeic- in Tamil, for example,, it is called "Vakka". Perhaps it is most identifiable of the lesser herons and egrets, a dumpy heron with a black crown, nape and back. There is a silky crest of long black feathers drooping over the humped shoulders, but neither this nor the colour of the back is visible as one views the roosting bird from below or eye level, though the black crown is prominent. In fact, it is after sunset when the sky turns a neutral tint, that one usually sees night herons, and in that light it is a wholly dusky bird with even the characteristic white of the under parts a lighter shade of grey.

However, it is not by observing details of plumage that one knows this bird- the heavy, dark contours of head and beak, the blunt hollowed wings rowing a steady path through the dusk, and the hoarse, airborne "w-a-a-k!" are unmistakable.

Being nocturnal and crepuscular, night herons spend the day in heavy repose in their chosen roosts. But when they breed, they are day herons as well, for the ceaseless yickering of the young drives the parents to seek food for their insatiable brood throughout the night and day. Breeding is a wearing pastime with most birds- with night herons, it is positively exhausting of all concerned, including neighbours.

Usually the breeding sites and roosting trees are well away from human habitation, and often near water, but the birds do not hesitate to locate their nesting colony in a built-up area if other conditions suit them. In June 1946, a colony of some 150 night herons nested in mango trees in the backyard of a house in the heart of congested Madras- there was a tidal creek not far away and a sluggish canal right at the back, ample inducement to the hard-worked birds to pitch on the spot.

The sustained clamour of the young and continuous arrivals and departures of the adults rendered sleep almost inpossible for the occupants of neighbouring houses. After futile private attempts to move the birds, the residents lodged a complaint at the local police station. Our unsung police force, which are capable of dark feats of public duty, rose nobly to the occasion. A constable with a shotgun visited the scene of the offence and fired a few rounds into the loud and thick trees, bringing down a number of birds, and the rest of the colony took wing in a hurry, never to return to the homestead.

In contrast to this feverish whole-time activity of the breeding night heron, I must add that occasionally the bird sleeps soundly through the night, in spite of its name- when the hunting has been good in the evening and early hours of darkness. One of the most vivid recollections of my youth is the capture of a slumbering night heron on the parapet wall of my house, around midnight.

It stood on one leg, its head lost in its huddled shoulders and fluffed plumage. It was so fast asleep that when I switched on my powerful terrace lamp, right above it, the sudden glare failed to get through to its drowsing senses. Only when I took it in my hands did it awaken with a loud croak of protest. I held it as one holds a pigeon, with its flanks and feet pinioned between my fingers so that it could not use them, but it got away by an undignified and smelly manoeuvre, being abruptly and fishily sick.

Best to let sleeping night herons sleep."
- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 28 June 1953 in The Sunday Statesman
*Sketch of a flock of three birds in flight not reproduced.

Saktipada Panigrahi
06-03-2013, 06:58 AM
"To one familiar with the India's fauna the choice of Sarnath lion capital as the national emblem must seem somewhat remote. Even to one familiar with Indian art and the Mauryan period this must seem far-fetched. Only those who know the political history of the country during the last decade can find justification for the choice.


The lion is by no means an unfamiliar animal in Indian stone, and the lions of the south may be safely taken as typical of the Indian conception of the animal. That they are far removed in time or place from Sarnath and the Mauriyan period does not detract from their value as types- their is sufficient fundamental affinity between South Indian and the undoubtedly indigenous Mauriyan figures.

Strangely enough, none of the critics mentioned seems to have compared Asoka's lions with other lions of our art. Such a comparison reveals striking differences at once. The Sarnath lions are slimmer in build and have noticeably thin necks in a front view, their heads are smaller and the tongue-of-flame patterning of their manes of typically Indian lions and Yalis are rendered in formal, circular curls, or else in parallel wavy lines. The large eyes with natural similitude, the unfurrowed forehead and nose, the pronounced down-face and the squarely angled lips are all foreign.

The feet are even more revealing than the heads- in their taut modelling of muscle and tandon, and specific, detailed depiction of each toe and nail, they are very Greek. The innermost toe, raised well off the pad and attached laterally, somewhat in the manner of a dog's dew-claw, is a feature of the feet of the greater cats- this detail is displayed in the feet of the Sarnath lions, though the half-sheathed nails are semi-heroic and not natural. Show me a single undoubted Indian lion whose toes are anything like equally realistic and I accept the defeat.


Lion is a magnificient animal. Its looks and proportions are so superb that art can do little to improve upon nature in adopting it as the symbol of kingly might and majesty.Many countries have exploited the leonine figure effectively in designing their symbols of State- but not the carvers responsible for the highly polished, svelte lions of Sarnath, they just had no appreciation at all of the beast."- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 19 July 1953 in the Sunday Statesman

1) A few paragraphs
2) Sketch of Sarnath Capital Lions (tracing from a plate)
3) Sketch of Typical Lion from a South Indian Lion corner piece

Sabyasachi Patra
07-03-2013, 05:41 PM
This shows his meticulous observations. Most of the times we don't give a critical look at our national symbols as they have been ingrained in our minds since childhood days and we take those for granted. Similarly, the sculptures in our temples also don't attract our attention. I guess our bureaucrats and politicians are too busy to notice this writing when it originally appeared.

PS: I wonder if Nehru mentioned anything about the Sarnath lions in his Discovery of India. I think I need to read it now.

Saktipada Panigrahi
10-03-2013, 10:25 AM
" WHERE the water is shallow and not too still, in estuaries and by sand-spits and the margins of lakes, the LARGE EGRET seeks its patient living. It is a solitary bird and likes a fair stretch of knee-deep water - but so do other waders more sociably inclined. Even when it finds a quiet creek, away from ibises and spoonbills and storks, it is rarely altogether free from the companionship of its cousins.

From these cousins it is distinguished by its size and carriage. Our egrets differ from herons in being all white - one of them, the Cattle Egret, has turned pastoral and moreover it does not belong to genus Egretta. But the Large Egret, the Smaller Egret and the Little Egret are all waders and all white, with exquisitely dissected plumes adorning them during the breeding season.

It is not easy to tell the two lesser egrets apart at a glance, highly sociable birds both and often found in the same places. Indeed, the difference between them is especially slight when they are not breeding, and the Little Egret lacks the Smaller Egret's distinctive, drooping, nuptial crest. The yellow feet of this bird contrast sharply with its black legs and are conscious in flight, but this may not serve to distinguish it always. However, there is no mistaking the lone Large Egret.

If you see a gleaming white bird, the size and shape of a grey heron but more daintily made, stepping warily over the shallows by the shoreline, you may safely put it down as a Large Egret. Its long, slim neck is thrust well forward and even in repose it stands less upright than a grey heron - when it walks, the horizontal leaning is more pronounced and at times the bird seems almost on the point of toppling over!

Not that it is ever in danger of losing its balance. It is a canny bird and knows that fish and tadpoles and such underwater things that it hunts, are suspicious of sudden splashings. So it lifts its black feet clear of the surface and moves carefully forward through the air before setting its legs down gently through the water again: it cranes forward and prospects the shallows ahead and, when the prey is near enough, a lightning plunge with the poniard bill secures it.

After summer, this deft bill turns from black to yellow and with the plumes of love fallen, the humped back and abruptly tapering end of the tail are plainly visible. A Tamil poet who lived some 2,000 years ago has likened the shape of an egret standing huddled in the water during the rainy season to the bud of the water-lily - from afar and from June to November the simile seems strikingly true to life.

Incidentally, the aigrettes that were once so much in demand among fashionable ladies in Europe are the nuptial plumes of egrets - the Smaller Egrets being the most abundant provider. The plumes were collected humanely, without injury to the valuable birds, at egret farms near villages. With aigrettes going out of fashionable in the West, probably on account of a false sentimentality, egret farming has ceased to be thriving industry. The birds, however, continue to thrive and are rarely disturbed at their breeding sites by villagers, who consider the water fouled by a nesting colony excellent for the fields."

- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 9 August 1953 in The Sunday Statesman

*The sketch of the bird not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
07-04-2013, 03:07 PM
"Lord, suffer me to catch a fish
So big that even I,
In telling of it afterwards,
Shall have no need to lie.

So runs the Fisherman's Prayer. With two words substituted for "catch" and "fish" this could also be the prayer of all big game hunters. Many of them, of course, may be unaware of the wish in their hearts- till the have bagged something near record size.

I am no big game hunter; only a naturalist. The difference does not lie merely in my comprehensive lack of skill with gun and rifle. I am apt to find a smallish tiger quite as exciting as one that would be (when dead) a clear 10 feet between pegs and, worse still, a jackal equally interesting on occasion. The compensation for my lowly estate is that I am unlikely to magnify the proportions of an animal that I watch or of one, shot by someone else, that I measure or weigh. this personal and defensive preface is necessary because I am writing of the most versatile and varied of big game beasts, the leopard or panther (the terms are synonymous now, and the Indian and African leopard, identical specifically).

Which is the record specimen of the panther? This is a question that is simultaneously easy and almost impossible to answer, with certainty. If newspaper reports can be trusted, the Hyderabad monster puts all others of its kind, and almost all tigers to shame. According to a news agency report widely circulated in South India, Mr. MK Vellodi, then Chief Minister of Hyderabad, bagged a man-eating panther at Narsapur on 13 May 1951, that was 10.5 feet long.

However, if we are to limit ourselves to prosy facts, the question is hard to answer. In assessing the size certain difficulties arise with panthers that are less difficult with other creatures, including the tiger. For even where length between pegs and weight are both available (which is unusual), the length of the tail varies so much in panthers that unless it is also specified one can get no idea of the bulk of the specimen. Dunbar Brander, a most trustworthy authority, says the tail may vary in length from 28 to 38 inches, and since it is independent of body size, one can never say that even a 7.5 foot panther is a large specimen without knowing the length of the tail.

Again, weight is affected by the condition and whether or not the panther has killed and fed recently. A big panther weighs about 150 pounds, and some 25 pounds of this weight may depend on whether it is gorged or unfed- in a tiger there would not be the same proportionate difference on this account.

After stressing the variations in size and coat that can obtain in panthers, Brander says, "Purely jungle leopards, those living entirely inside the forest and never resorting to open country and villages, are often of larger size and adopts the habits and ways, and to some extent the colourisation, of tigers. They have yellow tawny coats, relatively fewer spots and rosettes, and are distinguished by jungle tribes as 'gol baghs' or 'spot tigers'. An average specimen of this type "measured 7 ft 5 in and weighed 152 lb".

This distinction between the larger and heavier forest-loving game killer and the panther haunting the purlieus of villages has been reiterated by most subsequent writers. A recent note in a scientific journal refers to this difference and mentions a panther " 8 ft 5.5 inch in length" (between pegs?). Rowland Ward, I think, records longer animals and one that weighed 160 lbs. I remember reading somewhere of a nine-foot panther- but probably this measurement was very much round the curves.

I have measured the length, between pegs, of certain large panthers shot in the Deccan during the past 10 years, and where there were facilities for accurate weighment I have weighed them. Here are the details from my notes.

Two males shot within 15 minutes of each other on the evening of 14 September 1947, from the main bus road near Chilkanahatti measured 7 ft 1.5 in (tail 32 inch) and 7 ft 5 inch (tail 36 inch) and weighed 132 lbs and 121 lbs after 24 hours- neither was gorged. The first of these was a very powerfully built old beast, with a big domed head, a close dark coat and no white and all on the face or throat, even the chin and jaws and inside of the ears being yellow ochre. He crossed the road in the light of the setting sun right in front of two experienced shikaris, a few minutes before he was shot, and both identified him as a tiger!

I should mention two remarkable animals from Sandur hill jungles. Both were chance-met males, shot from the road very near human settlements. The first, shot about sunset on 13 June 1948, was 7 ft 7 in between pegs and was a low, longish panther, obviously old and with the right lower canine broken. It had the most remarkable coat I have ever seen on a panther, with the hair soft and somewhat fuzzy- the ground colour was no shade of yellow or brown, and in most panthers, but a light warm grey, and there was no line of solid spots down the spine, the markings consisting mainly of large rosettes, some of them double rosettes with an inner cluster of fine spots within the outer circle. The illustration* is from a rough sketch of the beast.

The second panther is probably a record, for South India at any rate. It was shot on the night of 25 July 1951, by the Yuvaraja of Sandur, and had a tucked in empty stomach. Length- 7 ft 8 inch between pegs (lowest of the three measurements), tail (root to tip) 35 inches; shoulder to toes of forelegs, 33 inches; girth behind forelegs, 36 inches; weight 158 lbs. The colouration was normal.

The interesting thing about these four panthers (and other large animals from the same areas) is that none of them was a pure game killer, a forest-loving "gol bagh". All four were shot very near villages, from the main road, and three were definitely known to prey, occasionally, on village cattle and dogs. In Karwar, where there is real forest (there is only bush jungle in Chilkanahatti) the few panthers I have seen were small and long-tailed- two males I measured were 6.5 feet, and very light, with beautiful, dark coats.

Whatever may be the general rule in Central Provinces, the "gol bagh" distinction does not appear to hold in the Deccan, and it is unsafe to specify any colouring as being typical of panthers of any region. Heredity seems to play a much larger part than environment in determining the size and colour of the panthers of any area. Sufficient food during the period of growth (and even afterwards) is a vital factor of course."
- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 22 November 1953 in The Sunday Statesman

*The sketch of the leopard not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
21-04-2013, 01:37 PM
" BLACK birds, as a rule, are glossy. Look at the King-crow, the Racket-tailed Drongo, the Cock-koel and Robin - even the homely crows have a shine to their darkness, like a glace-kid shoe. Some black birds are even more fancy, the sheen of their plumage having a iridescence; the Hill-mynah's black is shot with flashes of purple and green, the little Sunbirds have a gem-like purple glow, and many other birds have a watchspring-blue gloss to their blackness.

But the cock Pied Bush-chat is not like that. Its black is shineless and gentlemanly, and sets off the patch of white in each wing and above the tail so neatly and brings out stubby little figure so trimly. Its mate is even more sober in attire, the colour of sun-baked, brown clay.

It is scrubby country, given to spiky, stony vistas framed by thorn-bush, that the Bush-chat likes best; and here it will often take up residence, with its mate, around one's home. So will many other birds, but I think that none of them can impart to a modest cottage set in a plot of wasteland and the same sense of cheer. I should know, having lived for years in such a dwelling.

For seven years, a pair of Pied Bush-chats lived close beside me, till I left. Each year they built their nest in the vicinity, in a cleft in the kitchen wall, in the roof of my goatshed, and once in the axle-hole of an enormous, handleless, stone roadroller that lay permanently unrolling on my wiry "lawn" - that brood, I remember, came to grief soon.

Robins, many Wagtails, Sparrows, Bulbuls, Sunbirds - all sorts of birds would come to the curious, low circular wall that enclosed my house or to the aloes and the few hardy bushes that I succeeded in cultivating.

But it was the Bush-chats that were the permanent residents and I was glad this was so; they were such quiet, self-assured and confiding tenants, unlike the giddy, fidgety visitors.

During summer and even during the cold weather (especially in December) the cock bush-chat would take its stance atop the terrace, or on a mast-like strip of plank from a packaging case that somehow came to adorn the roof of the goatshed, and sing his glad brief song - a loud clear rising whistle ending on a note of untamed sweetness.

Listening to it on a sultry afternoon, I have often felt convinced that there is more to birdsong than scientists know yet, and there are times when a bird sings merely because it can and feels like it.

I know that scientifically-minded people will shake their heads sadly over this little tribute to a lost friend; they will tell me that it is a projection of my own emotions, a sickly and unworthy sentimentality that is responsible for this note.

No matter. I knew these chats for years and they did not - and if science is the elimination of all feeling and perception and an unwillingness to believe what is not printed in a book, then I have no use for it."

This was first published on 20 December 1953 in The Sunday Statesman

*A nice sketch of an Oriental Magpie Robin in b/w not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
07-05-2013, 06:14 AM
" THROUGHOUT India and even far beyond, where the country is sufficiently dry, stony and scrub-jungly, you will find a brownish, much-streaked bird with enormous eyes trotting over pebbly riverbeds on long yellow legs, scuttling through the scrub, crouching low and merging instantly with the earth.It is a bird of many aliases, all of the descriptive and non-flattering.

It is the Stone-Curlew, the Thick-knee or the GOGGLE-EYED Plover, it is the "bastard-florican" of Anglo-Indian sportsman - I have even heard it called "bastard-florican". However it is ornithologists that have been least kind to it. Formerly it was termed 'Oedicnemus scolopax', but apparently it was felt that the second, specific part of the name was too easy; so now they call it 'Burhinus oedicnemus'!

Thick-kneed-goggle-eyed-bustard-plover-stone-curlew would be completely descriptive. The bird has the three-toed, yellow running legs of the bustards, and carries the body horizontally; when it runs, with quick, mincing steps, its head low, in a line with the body. By day it is inactive, especially when the sun is bright and cover scanty, but as the light fails it emerges singly and in pairs, moving on quick, silent feet through the scrub looking for insects.

The obliterative plumage is almost invisible in the dusk, but you may hear it, for with nightfall it grows vocal and often keeps calling till quite late, especially when the moon is bright. And listening to its wild, high, repeated "curlew, curlew", a call suggestive of desolate, wide wasteland, you know at once why it is called the Stone Curlew.

In places it is only less common on the night road than the nightjar. When caught in the beams of incoming car, it scuttles to the shelter of the nearest bush and stays put beneath it, only its big, black-and-yellow eyes betraying it- or else it flies swift and low for a short distance, the white bar in each wing clearly displayed, before touching ground again and scuttling away. It never flies high or far when disturbed, for it is a ground bird that trusts its thick-kneed legs, but I have heard a pair flying fairly high and calling to each other in the cold, clear moonlight.

Often a bird disturbed at night on the road will fly alongside the car or right over it, before turning away, somewhat in the manner of the nightjars. Once i caught one from an open lorry, putting up my hand as it came skimming over, and what impressed me was the way it went limp and yielding in the hand, and its surprising lightness. Most bird lack weight remarkably in the hand, but I think, the Stone-Curlew (it is definitely larger than the partridge) is exceptionally light, even for a bird.

I would like to know more about the courtship of this earth-loving bird, whether that is terrestrial. Does love inspire its wings at anytime or was it just the moonlight that exhilarated the birds I heard, more than once, flying high? Growing curious on this point I questioned a number of people who lived where these birds are common. They could tell me nothing, but directed to a gang-foreman whose knowledge of the fowl was said to be considerable. After missing a few opportunities, I met this expert at last, and this was what he told me, "Yes, they can fly, but that's not the point. Sometimes they fly a little, and sometimes a little further, but mostly they like to run. The point, however, is this: try them cold in a sandwich."

Unfortunately, I am a vegetarian and can add no personal recommendation, but that was the expert advice."
- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 24 January 1954 in the Sunday Statesman.

*The beautiful sketch of a pair of the birds is not reproduced here.

Mrudul Godbole
07-05-2013, 11:21 AM
Nice article. Liked the way Mr.Krishnan has quoted the expert advice given by the fore-man at the end :). Thanks for sharing.

Sabyasachi Patra
15-05-2013, 11:45 AM
Very interesting incident. I would not have thought of catching a curlew. However, I had thoughts of catching a peacock. When I was in class 7th, a peacock had come to our colony. Since the Principal's house had a much larger compound, it was moving around there and was perched on a wall and was calling loudly. I could creep close to the wall and was about 3-4 feet away. Our neighbours screamed that the peacock will gouge my eyes which scared me and I turned back.

M. Krishnan's prose is beautiful. Love reading it. Thanks for sharing.


Saktipada Panigrahi
03-06-2013, 01:54 PM
" I was far from the recent earthquake that rocked eastern India, but a correspondent has asked me for opinion on appoint. " Several people to whom I have spoken mentioned that just before the earthquake the other day birds in their respective localities were unusually active and restless," he says, and asks if there is anything in this or if I think the observations of his informants is suspect. He adds, " After all, birds are usually active here by 5 o' clock at this time of the year. Dawn is about to break. The earthquake took place at 5:13."

A truly interesting point, but I must confess that I have no experience of earthquakes. However, I think I know the answer to this query. No, I do not think there is any point in suspecting the observation of a number of independent witnesses. And why should these people ascribe the excitement of the birds that they noticed to an apprehension on the oncoming shock rather than to the everyday dawn? That is the question, really, and it provides its own answer.
Tumbled out of bed at a too early hour, a number of people noticed an avian activity that they usually miss, or else half hear without seeing, through drowsy curtains- naturally, in the confusion of their rude awakening and shock following it, they subconsciously exchange the priority of avian excitement and the earthquake which they presumed was the cause. This seems a reasonable explanation to me, because my faith in humanity does not permit me to believe that a number of people in different localities (unrelated even by membership of some faddist cult) were all up and about at 5 am on 22nd March, solely out of deplorable habit.

However, it could be that the birds did really apprehend the earthquake. In spite of the vast experimental work and the voluminous theories on the instinctive behaviour of animals (especially birds) that feature recent science, we are not very sure of the scope and directions of their perceptions.

In his detailed and authoritative note (in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, Vol. 50, No.3) on the Great Assam earthquake of 1950, EP Gee has only this brief observation to make on bird life, "It is difficult to estimate the destruction caused among birds. Occurring as it did under nightfall, when birds would be roosting, the earthquake must have paralvsed some of them in fear and swept them with the forest to their doom." The possibility of birds having advance intimation of seismic disturbances does not arise in this case. Mr.Gee estimates the loss of terrestrial wildlife must have been staggeringly heavy.

We know that birds are sensitive to atmospheric conditions like heat and humidity and to light. They are usually reliable harbingers of seasonal changes. In many parts of India, the arrival of Pied Crested Cuckoo foretells rainy weather, and each year I date the official commencement of summer by the stern ring of purpose in the noontide voice of Coppersmith. Cannot birds also foretell, by a few minutes at least, a heavily brooding earthquake?

That brings us back to starting point, and again I am acutely conscious of my ignorance. It seems to me that here there is an unforced occasion for the technique that was my standby through so many university examinations, when no inkling of the answer to the question inspired me. I know nothing about earthquakes, but so what? I KNOW ABOUT FOREST FIRES. Let me tell you about forest fires.

Many of the forest fires I studied were major conflagrations that swept across entire hillsides devastating thousands of tons of desiccated fodder grass and even valuable timber. There were no firelines in those hill-jungles.

Following painfully in the wake of some of these fires, looking for the animal victims, I found only one dead snake. It was very dead and it seemed likely that it had died of burns and nothing else, for it was in a patch of scorched grass. Heat is one thing that can kill a snake at once and all along its length.

The other animals have seemed to have escaped, in spite of the pace of the wind-sped fires. The literature I have read about forest fires (largely fictional) suggests that in the face of blazing common danger mutual animosities are forgotten (a thing that is not at all unlikely, for the confusion of large beat, predator and prey sometime emerge side by side) and if there is any water nearby, the animals make for it. It was during a comparatively minor scrub fire, far from water, that I had the good fortune to witness the way animals react to sudden and swift danger.

I was with a party of guns having the bush-dotted cover beaten for pig. The scrub was level and clad only in ankle-high grass in the more open places, but clumps of bushes and rock dotted flatness and along the dry, sandy stream beds there was heavy cover (mostly belts of wild date palm). There were pig in the beats, but somehow they sensed where the guns lay in wait and avoided them, a few affording shots that were ingloriously missed. As we drove to the scene of the last beat it was long past lunchtime, everyone was tired and hungry, and tempers were frayed.

One of the beaters noticed the fire first. It was advancing towards us on a wide front, coming very fast and low. There was a patch of fairly open cover between us and the fire, and this ran past the road on which our cars were halted, some half-a-mile downwards- by retreating rapidly the guns could get to the end of the patch and be ready for the fire-beaten animals.

To me (who does not shoot) that seemed a mean thing to do, and I told my companions so.I also referred to the truce between wild beasts that is said to prevail during fires and floods, and drew obvious inferences. They left me behind in a lorry, with only its massive driver for company(a man whose rugged bulk lent the three-ton chassis a certain slimness), and departed in haste to their evil assignation.

Our lorry was safe, in an open plot of sand, but I have an old-fashioned dislike of being blown to pieces, and so laboriously climbed a tree some 30 yards away. The driver whose mass and philosophy discouraged simulation, sat in his seat with stoic resignation.

The fire was approaching at a great pace and was now quite near. It was a hasty, light-footed fire that hurried low over the crackling grass, leaving bushes in the patch unscathed, but the smoke rendered visibility confused. I watched narrowly for escaping wildlife, but saw nothing. Then the fire passed us, jumped across the road and soon racing away from us. It was then I noticed something scudding through the unburnt grass towards the line of fire and smoke. A hare leaped effortlessly over the flaming grass and bounded away through the burnt stubble towards a green bush- a minute later I saw another hare repeat the move.

Then a small leopard (it was known that the beat might hold a leopard) came streaking through the line of fire and crossed the burnt grass into the green cover in a grey flash- one of the guns told me later that he had also seen it, and both the driver and I had a clear view.

Nothing else came our way, but what we had seen was remarkable enough. The beast seeking escape from the flames actually ran into it and past the line of fire, so gained the safety of burnt grass and green bush cover. It was much the sensible thing to do in the circumstances- perhaps animal react differently when the fire is slower and deadlier, as in forest fires I cannot say whether intelligence or instinct guided their escape, but doubt if I would have had the sense to do what they did had I been caught up in that fire. I may have realised the safety of rapidly burnt grass only after the fire had pursued and overtaken me."
- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 4 April 1954 in The Sunday Statesman

*Two paragraphs not reproduced here.
**The sketch of a hare leaping over the flaming grass not reproduced here.

Mrudul Godbole
13-06-2013, 01:45 PM
Very informative article. It shows that animals do have a instinct which guides them during natural calamities. Thanks for sharing.

Saktipada Panigrahi
06-07-2013, 03:08 PM
[Page 1]

"THE "lynching" of one of their kind by Common Mynahs and Jungle Babblers, and the execution of a Crow by crows, have been reported in the correspondence columns of The Statesman recently, and an explanation invited. The resigned passiveness of the victims has been remarked and a comparison to courts of justice suggested.

I have read similar reports of avian tribunals but shall not refer to them as the "court of justice" is bad, both in fact as in law. I do not object to the comparison because there is no considered justice in these assaults by birds on one of their feather. No serious student of jurisprudence will pretend that rabid injustice has not been dispensed at human judicial tribunals. There have been many bloodthirsty courts in our history where procedure was a farce and everyone knew the verdict before trial opened, but they were content to pronounce the sentence - its execution was left to others.

"I'll be judge, I'll be jury,"
said the cunning old Fury:
"I'll try the whole cause
and condemn you to death!"

Lewis Carroll tactfully refrains from what Fury did to the mouse. It is as one interested in law, not as a naturalist, that I object to the comparison!


Having made this helpful contribution, I make another as a naturalist this time. No explanation can cover all intraspecific attacks of individuals by groups, in gregarious birds. Such attacks are known among gregarious mammals also, but are most often noticed in birds. In the old days a moralistic explanation was sometimes advanced that it was a punishment of the culprit by plebiscite, intended to secure social welfare. We know now that birds are quite incapable of moralistic thought or self-conscious appreciation of communal good. That explanation must go.

My point is not that there can be no explanation; there can be many. But first we must consider what we know of avian social life, for in trying to explain these attacks we are trying to understand bird behaviour better than birds themselves.

Clearly no question of sexual motive or extraspecific hostility is involved in these attacks. Crows and Mynahs are intelligent as birds go, but we can safely rule out the motive of conscious punishment of a crime. Birds have no critical intelligence. In fact, their social life is totally independent of an intellectual comprehension of rights and duties. Is it because of their freedom from imposition of the carping, petty, analytical intelligence that rules our lives so inexorably that we find birds fascinating?


In a bird clan social function and communications depend largely on patterned urges and responses, which may be visual, vocal, tactile or based on some other sense perception. But we do not imagine for a moment that because communication is not based on intelligence but on instinctive and emotional gestures birds are automatons. On the contrary, so many circumstances condition this "emotional language" (as Dr.Tinbergen puts it), so personal and intimate can these expressions and reactions be that no scientific observer can deny the existence of a bird mind capable of much varied and sensitive apprehension. Thanks to the recent work of scientific naturalists, the idea that birds (and even lesser animals) are automatons whose lives are merely a chain of rigid, mechanical actions has been fully exploded.

Certain of these responses are released by specific "gestures" (I use the term loosely to indicate both visual and acoustic signals), called "releasers". Releasers are of special value in the social behaviour of animals, particularly in their intraspecific fighting where they may serve to promote or inhibit hostile effort. In gregarious birds, these gestures often become highly personalised and are used only between birds knowing one another. Let me quote Tinbergen on this point: "Not all communication, however, is based on releasers; there are certain complications. As we have seen, many social animals respond to species' social releasers only when provided by certain individuals, which they know personally. In such cases, personal connections, established through learning processes, confine the reactor's responses to signals from one or a few individuals only; they still respond to the releasers of the species, but only after they narrowed their attention to particular members of the species."

That is the barest possible background against which we can try to understand these intraspecific attacks. In none of the instances reported by correspondents to The Statesman is there any detailed account of the circumstances anterior to the attack. We do not even know that the individual that was attacked by the group belonged to that group - though of the same feather, it might have belonged to another group. Among birds that go about habitually in company, such as Babblers (or Mynahs during certain periods, while feeding), the company is strictly limited. No outsider is tolerated, usually. Here we may note that birds are able to recognise members of their own party exceedingly well.

Contd.to [ Page 2]

Saktipada Panigrahi
06-07-2013, 10:14 PM
[ PAGE 2]
(continued from Page1)


Territorial feelings may also account for hostility towards intruders. In July 1951, I was staying at a forest bunglow and the gate of the compound seemed to limit one side of the domain of a party of LARGE GREY BABBLERS - another party of these highly clannish bird inhabited the scrub beyond the gate. One morning, a Babbler from the scrub crossed over to the compound and was promptly mobbed by the bunglow party. The assault was technical; a voluble, excited attempt at encircling the gatecrasher, which retreated to the scrub in haste and was not pursued - there was sufficient threat in the attempt to constitute an assault in law. In could be that if that intruder had come far enough in, if it had not been so near the gate that escape was easy, there would have been more action.

Flight from what hurts or threatens is such a natural and widespread reaction among animals that the victim's lack of attempt to escape does seem surprising, at the first sight. However, it could be that it does not respond to the threat gestures of its antagonists (this preliminary display by the attackers has probably been mistaken for deliberation before attack by the older naturalists) because those gestures have no compelling force or "meaning" to it, because they do not release either flight or appeasement responses in it. Of course, encirclement, confusion and bodily injuries caused by actual attack may all be reasons for the victim's apathy - illness or injury prior to the attack may also be causes. There is no intelligent appraisal of chances of escape or acceptance of the inevitable - if that bird were capable of intelligence, it could escape.


A group attack can, of course, be directed against a member of the group. There is usually some safeguard to prevent actual fighting in gregarious animals and threat gestures are often sufficient to assert rights. Fighting out of sexual rivalry or over rights of precedence is confined to the rivals and the rest of the clan takes no sides but where a basic "right" is violated the protesting bird summons clan aid and usually gets it. Lorenz describes the amusing behaviour of jackdaws when a stronger bird tries to usurp the nest hole of a weaker member of the colony. The aggressor assaults the rightful holder and appropriates the site by sheer force; the dispossessed bird indulges in a proprietorial "zicking" call which soon changes to an outraged "yipping"; this brings all the jackdaws within earshot to the nest, jostling one another and yipping furiously and this sudden babble usually breaks up the fight, "particularly since the original aggressor participates in the yipping!" Lorenz explains how this is not a cunning move by the miscreant to divert suspicion from itself by crying "stop thief" with the rest, but an uncontrollable reaction - he adds. "I have often seen cases, however, where the aggressor was very definitely recognised by the advancing members of the colony and was thoroughly thrashed if he persisted in the attack."


It is likely that some such communal disturbances, initiated by the outraged calls of a bird defending some usually conceded "right" against an aggressor brought about the "lynchings" reported. But the culprit need not have indulged in violent aggression - its culpability may be accidental and beyond its control.

That brings us to the CROWS. I have heard the theory that an injured or a sick bird is some times executed by its clan and that this is a communal safeguard, for obviously an incapacitated bird must be a drag on the clan and can not perform its duties by the next generation efficiently. There is, of course, no suggestion of conscious action in all this - the birds act instinctively in this manner. This is not a variation of the "court of justice" idea and is scientifically sound, but still it is a speculative theory.

I have seen crows pecking a crow to death - I am sure many others have witnessed this happening. I can not attempt any explanation of the murder because I did not observe the incidents that led up to it and had not studied those crows closely enough to know their identities or their relationship to the victim, i.e, it is my ignorance of the "facts of the case" that obscures my understanding. However, I am happy to provide an example to the contrary from my own observation. I have seen a party of crows trying to rouse a member that has fallen to the earth with man-inflicted injuries. They flew low over it, repeatedly flying just over its prostrate, struggling body, evidently trying to induce to follow them; later, they alighted and settled around it, cawing agitatedly; they approached close and then hopped away. That wounded crow took nearly 15 minutes to die and only when it was quite still did its companions fly away.

I trust I have at least explained why there can not be any one explanation of intraspecific mobbing and how it is useless to theorise unless all the facts are known, especially those anterior to the attack. No little bird can tell us the truth about these things because, as pointed out already, we are attempting to understand motives far beyond avian understanding. However, our knowledge of bird behaviour is much sounder and more comprehensive than what it was, and an expert observer can often account for an avian mobbing - perhaps much more certainly than we can explain why human mobs sometimes react as people did during the recent Kumbha Mela."


This was first published on 11 July 1954 in The Sunday Statesman

A sketch of an avian court and another of a party of crows sitting around an injured member not reproduced.
The Article came out as as a single one , I have divided into two parts for convenience.

Saktipada Panigrahi
14-07-2013, 11:14 AM
......... [ PARAKEET ]

"During the 40 days it spent in my prison, I gained the impression, slowly, that it was a very old bird. It quite refused to make friends with humanity and was idiotically scared if anyone went near its cage, but it was indifferent to the cat - curiously enough, the feline was equally indifferent to the cage.

Parakeets fly swiftly, but they are essentially climbing birds. Since my bird had no tail, there was no feathers to obscure its legs as it clambered about and I was able to study its climbing technique closely.

Most birds have rigidly set feet, with three toes pointing forward and one behind, but a parakeet can reverse its third toe and most often its feet have toes in opposite pairs, the better to grasp with. Moreover, its upper beak was not firmly joined to the skull as in other birds but is capable of a certain play - this gives that massive, curved, overhanging book-bill a measure of delicacy and "feel" that that is invaluable to a climber. A parakeet always goes beak foremost, whether climbing up or down.

It is said that when a parakeet goes to sleep, perching on both feet, it is a sign of poor health and that a bird in good health will perch on one foot. I can testify to the truth of this from observation. After the first two weeks (when it used both feet),# my bird slept perched on one foot. I have the definite recollection that whenever I saw it asleep it was perched on its left foot, with the right foot drawn up, but I can not say that it never used its right foot for perching. Had this occurred to me yesterday, I could have verified my suspicions, but you know how it is with these things - this has occurred to me just now, five hours after releasing my bird ! "
- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 15 August 1954 in The Sunday Statesman

The last three paragraphs have been reproduced.
The sketches are not reproduced here.

A male parakeet received deep wound on its left side (the kind of wound described as a 'stab injury' in medico-legal books) by a crow during night and was profusely bleeding. Krishnan got up from bed and with the help of flashlight located it in his compound, picked it up ,treated it and kept under his supervision for 40 days and then released it when it was found fully fit.
Use of 'both feet' was during the first two weeks of the treatment and recovery phase.

Saktipada Panigrahi
08-08-2013, 11:13 AM

"THE warbler tribe is the most numerously anonymous of all birds. There are several hundreds of them - wren-warblers, willow-warblers, tree-warblers, fantail warblers and just warblers - all smallish birds, most of them quite tiny, all more or less of dull feather. They are inconspicuously grey, brownish or greenish, much given to playing hide and seek in bushes and no less given to warbling or to feeble call-notes. It is not hard, once you have the hang of family characters, to know a bird as a warbler when you see it. Further identification, is a matter for the warbler specialist, and even he likes to have the bird in one hand and the textbook in the other.

It is surprising, therefore, to find that one of the most familiar and easily identified of our garden birds is a warbler. It is 'Orthotomus sutorius' - if it fails to mistify you, I might as well use the common name and call it the 'Tailorbird'. There are few gardens in India, however, modest, that are not graced by the presence of a pair of tailorbirds.

True, there are other warblers that look like the tailorbirds; there are Ashy Wren-Warbler, for instance, another small, slim, energetic bird with a cocked up tail and the habit of flitting airily about bushes. It is more grey or dark brown on top, in any plumage, than the olive green tailorbird, though both are of a size and shape and both have pale undersides, but it is not by their looks that you tell them apart, not even by the cock tailorbird's tailpins, because these are shed after the breeding season. The wren warbler makes a curious, quickly repeated snapping noise, faint but audible and unmistakable - if you hear a tailorbird making this noise, put it down as the Ashy W-W.

Tailorbirds have many calls, among them a rapid "chick-chick-chick-chick" (I think this is an alarm call or rather an alert). A loud monosyllabic "Tweet" and a louder two-syllabled "Towhee". No other bird of that size has such a bold loud voice. And if you watch a tailorbird while it is calling, you will see a transverse black bar appear and disappear on either side of the neck with each call.

The beautifully sewn nest is, perhaps, even better known than the bird. One would think that suck a work of sartorial art is the true and unique hallmark of the tailorbird, but at times the Ashy W-W builds an almost identical nest, also slung within stitched leaves. However, if there are eggs in the nest you can tell the builder at once. The tailorbird's eggs are speckled, and wren-warbler's are a deep, shiny red.

The very first nest with young that I watched was a tailorbird's, in a Hiptage bush just below the varandah of a house. Sometimes these birds build their nests close to human life, even in a potted plant on the varandah at times. So bold and confiding are they that they will continue to feed their tiny, wide-gaped young while you sit and watch the process from two yards away, provided you keep utterly still and don't stare too rudely. No other nesting bird is so easy to watch.

Off and on, for the past two years, I have been watching a pair of tailorbirds that frequent my garden. They are there all day, and I think, all night as well quite often, for I have often seen roosting in a yellow oleander bush late in the evening. They seem to like my neglected and rank garden, and to feel very much at home, but though there are plenty of insect life here to feed them and their broods they have never nested within my compound walls. Where large-leaved creepers and bushes are available, tailorbirds prefer to nest in them, and there are few such plants in my garden.

I have taken great pains (what a lie!) - it calls for none to allow the plants here to run wild and fight it out among themselves, and I am reluctant to interfere with the perfectly natural growth, but I think that one of these days, when I can find a lusty seedling and energy, I will dig pit by my kitchen wall, fill it with something less inhibiting than the clay soil of my compound and plant a 'Hiptage' seedling there for the tailorbirds to nest in."


This was first published on 7 November 1954 in the Sunday Statesman

*One sketch of a Tailorbird with cocked up tail has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
27-08-2013, 11:22 AM

The comparison with Col Corbett's thrillers is inescapable. It must be said in Anderson's favour that he attempts no one-handed shooting or other fancy manoeuvres, but he is not Col Corbett's equal as a naturalist and nowhere in that class as a raconteur. His narrative style is workmanlike and lacks that sure feeling for suspense and drama, that uncanny communication of atmosphere and circumstantial detail, that are Col Corbett's own. However, Mr. Anderson has been equally lucky in his escapes, and his book raises several interesting issues which may be briefly considered here, for they are features of recent Indian Shikar literature.

For instance, there is the question of calling up man-eaters. I believe that Col Corbett's 'Man-eaters of Kumaon' was the first book to describe the method. This method usually provokes skeptical banter in Shikar circles, outside them as well. I have even read of the predicament of the bandicoot-hunter who finally decides, when sittings up and traps and poisoned baits have all failed, to call up the Night-Raider of the Nether Regions, only to find he can not because, in his ignorance of the N-R's sex, he does not know whether to use the coarse, rasping grunt of the male bandicoot or the softer grumble of the female. But though I wrote this passage myself, I have never been able to understand why people should doubt the feasibility of calling up tigers and panthers.


Actually, the calling up of other animals has long been practiced in India and outside. The birch-bark trumpet used by North American hunters to lure the bull moose within range, and the use of leaves pressed to the lips by primitive tribes in India to produce sounds like the distress-calls of fawns to attract hinds (this will also attract wild dogs) are ancient examples of calling up. The greater cats, which "mate as fiercely as they kill", are highly excitable and aggressive during that period. However, their hearing is exquisite (that of the tiger has justly termed "microscopic") and it is doubted whether anyone can imitate them well enough to deceive them. I do not think this is always necessary, particularly in calling up man-eaters.

If you can bring yourself to bark like a dog, working up a good, staccato fervour into the barking, you will find (as I have found) that you can provoke a violent response in canines both at home and abroad. It is not that the dogs mistake you for one of their kind, for they can see you. But something in the infective urgency and strangeness of your behaviour moves them powerfully. Could it not be that a tiger in a state of fretful excitement is sometimes moved to seek out a human imitator out of sheer irritation? It is significant, in this connection, that slightly wounded tigers are said to respond to calling up as readily as those seeking mates.

There is another possible explanation, even if one will not concede the possibility of a tiger mistaking a human voice for a mate's. Mr Anderson's book illustrates this second explanation admirably. In his account of the Yemmaydoddi man-eater, he tells how he attracted the tiger to himself by tapping a branch in simulation of a woodcutter - and in telling of the "Man-eater of Jowlagiri", he says the tigress was kept till dawn (when there will be light enough to shoot by) in the vicinity of a shrine which housed the author and his companions by his giving her the answering call of a tiger and also by the prospect of dinner, since she knew there were men inside the shrine. Granted that his calling up after dawn failed to deceive the tigress, it could be that she came up to him attracted, as was the tier of Yemmaydoddi, by himself."



This was first published on 14 November 1954 in The Sunday Statesman

(1)The Article was re-published in two parts in The Sunday Statesman on 11.08.2013 and 18.08.2013 and I have reproduced only a portion of it.
(2)Sketches of 'A tiger actually killing a bull (taken from a machan)'
and 'The killer of Jalahalli' not reproduced here.

Sabyasachi Patra
27-08-2013, 12:43 PM
I have no doubt about Col. Jim Corbett's ability or the ability of a few hunters to imitate the call of a tiger and other animals. Jim Corbett was teaching jungle warfare to army men. He has written that among other things, he used to teach "how to make calls to imitate jungle sounds". (My Kumaon - Uncollected Writings - Jim Corbett, page 24).

I have read in many shikar books about shikari's imitating tiger calls. One of them, Shri Gadadhar Ray from Odisha had written in his book that he wanted to know whether he can imitate the call of a tiger and hence he hid in a bush and called like a tiger when he saw a cowherd along with his cattle in the jungle. Immediately the cowherd picked up his stick and tried to beat at the bush and simultaneously calling his buffaloes for help. He somehow could shout at the cowherd to stop and extricated himself from the bush. Later he said that he became bold enough about his ability to imitate a tiger and had called at a tiger during mating season. He had also mentioned the ability to imitate distress call of birds which is termed in odiya as (peen peenya). Shikaris put sticky substances in bushes and make this call to attract birds who immediately start calling listening to such sounds and get their legs or wings stuck.

I am ashamed to recollect some childhood experiences, but nevertheless I am doing it, as it will throw some light on the behaviour. I used to try and imitate simple bird calls like that of cuckoo, different dog sounds etc.

Whenever a cuckoo used to call from a nearby tree, I used to call back and the cuckoo immediately responding at a slightly higher pitch. A slanging match used to start with each trying to outdo the other. It finally used to stop when the cuckoo reaches the top of its voice, as if it is screaming and then it stops. I used to laugh that I won as I had made the cuckoo stop calling. The cuckoo used to call after some time again and I used to start the war again. :) I have no idea if the cuckoo used to think that I am a competitor or it thought the impersonator should be shouted down. Nevertheless it used to happen.

I could easily yell like a puppy dog and get a response from my own dog which never tolerated other dogs. So when Shri Krishnan says that canines get annoyed, I agree with him. Today, if there is any authority who can claim to correctly call like a tiger, then I have the wherewithal to examine it scientifically.

People often doubt the ability of persons. A few scientists today, envious by the reputation of Jim Corbett, obliquely question the authenticity of his ability to read pug marks. All I can say is, when you have to be in the jungle on foot and your survival is at stake, then one will learn ways and means, be it finding food or water from plants or how to avoid leech bites, remove ticks to avoid sores, treat scorpion bites or imitate calls of wild animals and birds.

Saktipada Panigrahi
08-09-2013, 12:42 PM

"THE winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on earth", but the official opening of the vernal season is still months away. And when it does open, it will be very unlike what English poets say it is in England.

'In the spring the wanton lapwing gets
himself another crest;
In the spring a young man's fancy lightly
turns to thoughts of love.'

It is not at all like that here. There is no seasonal limit to the fancy of our young men, and our lapwing has no crest, not even in midsummer when it is the peak of spring in India.

It is different altogether from the English lapwing, though related in a cousinly sort of way. Birds of the same English mane, in diverse countries, are not necessarily of the same feather. The robin, for instance, is a wholly different bird in England, in America and in India - in fact, most countries have their own distinctive robin. The sparrow-hawk, the grackle and the chat may be only distantly related, or even unrelated, to their namesakes in other lands, and I mention these three merely in an illustrative manner. However, lapwings everywhere belong to the plover group.

All of them are long-legged and light-footed, and broad and lazy of wing, though capable of strong flight - it is from their flapping, lubberly wing action that they get their tribal name. But there are several kinds of them in India. The one I term "our lapwing" is the Red-wattled Lapwing, commonest of the tribe, the handsome, familiar "Did-you-do-it?", that is one of the few birds to figure in our legends.

Its call, admirably rendered by the words "Did you do it?" is quite distinctive, even when the black-and-white head and neck, red wattle and yellow legs are unseen. The only other bird for which it can be mistaken from a distance is the Yellow-wattled Lapwing, its younger brother - but the latter does not ask the querulous question, "Did-you-do-it?" as it rises into the air in alarm.

The Red-wattled Lapwing is not an especially sociable bird (incidentally, there is a sociable lapwing); it is usually by itself or with its mate, though as many as six may be seen together on occasion. It is essentially a shorebird, fond of the shingle margins of lakes and drying riverbeds, but equally at home on plough-land and in jungle clearings. It runs easily about on its neat, yellow legs, looking for its living in the sand and shingle and clods. And its knowledge of human intentions is uncanny.

It is noticeably less distrustful of humanity when on plough-land or the bare, pathless throughfares around villages where men are on their own ground, but nowhere does it permit a near approach. Sitting in the open, in a dry nullah, I have watched this bird for quite ling periods - it would invariably take wing in loud alarm at my approach, but soon alight some distance away and gradually walk nearer. But any movement, such as the creeping behind cover of a man with a gun towards duck in a lake or some other quarry, is instantly detected and blatantly advertised - the bird circles above the lurker, brandishing the white bar in its slow wings, as if to direction to its strident alarm. I may be imaginative, but when a lapwing proclaims the stalker in this manner its call seems to me slightly longer and more insistent in each syllable and definitely more urgent - a "Don't-you-see-him?" rather than anything else.

Naturally, shikaris have little love for the bird, and its Tamil name, "Aat-kaatti-kuruvi", is remarkably descriptive - "the bird that points out men", literally translated.

When you see a pair of lapwings on a pebbly shore or field, and one of them flutters right in front of you, be sure the eggs are somewhere near, a clutch of three or four pointed ones, pointed ends inward in a scrape in the earth, and so like the pebbles in their mottled indetermination that you are not likely to see them till you step on them.

Incidentally, you need not look for them where the fluttering bird was - they are likely to be near where its mate was.

Countryside legend credits the lapwing with the habit of sleeping on its back, so that it may catch and hold up the heavens in its feet should they collapse and fall while it is asleep. The legend has been interpreted by scholars as one illustrative of grotesquely exaggerated conceit; their comment is to the effect, "As if such a small bird could hold up in its feet something so huge and heavy as the firmament!" But I believe the legend could be more truly taken as one symbolic of the bird's wariness.

No naturalist can assert that the lapwing does not sleep on its back, for who has caught it napping? At night, the bird is even wider awake than by day, and I should think its sudden call is one of the most reliable of nocturnal alarms, telling the listener that something is moving nearby, unless, of course, he himself is the cause. I have rarely heard the bird when it was quite dark, but when there is moonlight it calls frequently, and I have heard it by such faint light that though I knew from the sound that it was flying directly overhead, may be 20 or 30 yards above, I was not able to see it."
-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 20 February 1955 in The Sunday Statesman

#The coloured and beautiful sketch forming a part of the article not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
06-10-2013, 09:51 AM

"THE Pied Wagtail is a very likeable bird, wherever you may meet it, unconcernedly reconnoitering the village pool, almost within reach of the dhobi wrecking your clothes upon a rock, tripping along the banks of suburban ponds, or sitting atop a city gable piping its high, sweet songs. What can you want in a little bird to like it? Trim, pied looks, a friendly tolerance of humanity and a gay bearing - it has them all. But though it is the largest of our wagtails, the only resident one and the least frailly built of the lot, it has the rather weak, loose-jointed appearance of its clan when you see it in town or village, and the way it keeps on wagging its tail like a puppy makes you suspect it of mental incoherence as well. To know the bird really, you must see it in its native haunts, beside a rock-strewn, turbulent river.

Recently I watched a pair of these wagtails for an hour beside just such a river. We had spent the morning in strenuous work and had adjourned for our basketed lunch to an ancient, cool, dark stone pavilion, right at the water's edge. The river roared past in a broad, foaming torrent, hurling itself headlong against the rocks that jutted out of its course here and there. The larger rocks were miniature islands, topped with dry sand and rushes, and on either side the river was likewise flanked with black rock, white sand and rank green rushes.

After doing justice to the meal, we stretched ourselves on the rock floor of the pavilion. A hundred and fifty yards away a statquesque osprey was sunning its bedraggled plumage on a stone pillar on the farther side of the river, and I lay watching it idly. Suddenly, out of the tail of my eye, I saw something come skipping and dancing across the water, and turned around. Two black-and-white birds were coming across from the opposite bank, making directly for our pavilion. They flew low in their dipping, rising passage, skimming the surface, one behind the other and at each perfectly synchronised dip it seemed as if the angry current would engulf them and suck them right in. I knew they were only Pied Wagtails, just a pair of common birds, but no Bird of Paradise could have looked more fairy-like in that setting. Many times that afternoon I watched them cross and recross the river, or go flitting from one rocky island to another.

The sheer buoyancy, airiness and abandon of their flight so much at variance with the heavy turbulence of the water underneath - such a contrast in moods!

In such haunts, these wagtails no longer seem weak in build or manner. For one thing, they spend much less time trotting about the sand and rock and are much oftener on the wing - the undulating flight of all wagtails is pleasing to the eye, the flight of this one being specially pleasing, as with each wing beat the bird seems to grow suddenly brighter and larger, as the wing is opened and more white is displayed, and then to fold neatly into itself.

As the wagtails came skimming and swinging over the water, they piped joyously to each other. The quick calls clear above the river's incessant, sullen roar. This flight-call was quite different from the usual long-drawn whistles or the cock's song - it was a sharp, eager call, jerked out of the bird every two yards of its flight, commencing, I think, just while it was rising from its dip. It could be that it was only the cock that piped, but I thought, I heard both birds.

They visited the pavilion several times, but it was only after a while that they discovered the rice grains scattered on the unhewn boulder just beyond the pavilion steps, where one of us had been amusing himself feeding the fish in the rapid water below. It was the cock, the blacker and more dapper of the two, that found the rice first. It pecked eagerly at the grains, unmindful of my presence two yards away; then it flew across to where its mate was, its quick piping calls fading as it went further, and presently returned with the hen. Both fell to on the rice with zestful pecks.

I spoke to them, in surprise. "Do you know," I said, "you shouldn't do that, according to the books - you are strictly insectivorous!"

They just wagged their tails easily and in unison without bothering to explain, and flew right away, having eaten up every grain of rice on the boulder. "

This was first published on 10 April 1955 in The Sunday Statesman

*The sketch of the bird not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
21-10-2013, 11:07 PM

Nowhere, I think, has the elephant been understood with more sympathy than in our art. Our master carvers were quick to perceive both the droll, ponderous mass of the great beast and its pliant grace, and familiar with its peculiar anatomy in movement and repose. There are hundreds of superb elephants in our sculpture, from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, belonging to various periods and cultures - at Sarnath, Sanchi, Ellora Halebid, Mahabalipuram, Madura, Travancore.

It would be hard to name the best dozen elephants in our sculpture even if one were familiar with them all, which I am not. But I hazard the guess that among them would be the young tusker in bass relief shown here. Observe how the sloping forehead, thick tusks, short-coupled body and unfolded ear of the still youthful tusker have all been faithfully remembered here - obviously the beast is almost full grown, but has many years to "furnish" in, before it attains the full majesty of its maturity. Where and across which wall or pillar does this restive adolescent pace, the limbs on each side moving together to give it the characteristic rolling gait of an elephant in a moody hurry? That is for you to guess.


This was first published on 17 April 1955 in The Sunday Statesman

*Only 2 paragraphs reproduced here
#Images of sculptures not reproduced here

Saktipada Panigrahi
24-11-2013, 10:47 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: A change of fare- M.Krishnan :The Sunday Statesman 3-November-2013
(Sparrows Hunting Insects)

"ANY third form text will tell you why the sparrow has such a thick bill. The better to eat seed with, of course. Most finches have stout, short bills that come in very useful in getting the grain off the ripening crop and in battering people know, the bird is not born with this seed eating bill. The infant sparrow is horribly naked and helpless, just a blob of greedy, pink flesh with a wide, soft, yellow-rimmed gap for a mouth. It cannot thrive on hard seed. So its fond parent brings it grubs and insects with all appendages removed so that it might grow apace on softer and more readily ingested fare.

Many other seed-eaters, besides sparrow, also feed their young on an insectivorous diet. But sparrow and weaver-birds are, perhaps, more adventurous in their hunting when they have young than even some insect-eaters. The size of the quarry these stout-built birds will tackle then is truly astonishing. They will pounce upon fat, big grasshoppers and batter the prey to pieces till only the soft body, free of all chitin remains.

Once I watched a hen sparrow kill a large green mantis quite as long as itself. Thebird began the attack with a few sharp sideways pecks that disabled but did not immobilise the insecct; the matis flew around desperately, its hunter following every turn and twist in the air, driving in a peck at every landing, till it was no longer capable of flight. Then followed a slow process of dismemberment. The killing, from the attack to beheading, took almost 15 minutes.

When you see sparrows hunting insects you may be reasonably sure they have broods. I used to think this an infallible sign of a loud nest somewhere at hand, but am less sure now. It is about this time of the year this sparrows are most given to nesting, but for the past week I have been following activities of three sparrows hunting insects steadily and I have watched them sufficiently closely to know the fact that they have no nests or young.

These are grown birds, a cock and two hens, but all of them look first-season birds to me. Beyond a lack of fullness in the cock's black bib, and a certain uniformity in the grey-brown of the hens' plumage, I have no reason for thinking that they are not quite mature but that is feeling I get. From the morning till nightfall the haunt the open garage and the many eaves of the two houses next to the cottage where I am now. .................................................. .........#

Sparrows in this place, by the way, are rare birds. These three start their hunting with the earliest light, and are busiest in the mornings and late afternoons. One of them hangs in the air on quick-beating wings below a skein of cobweb, very much in the manner of a sunbird hovering before a flower; it clutches the skein in a foot and flies away till it is dragged clear of the roof, then just lets go (as we couldn't if we swept it aside - the web will cling to our fingers) and darts up into the cleared space for a quick peck. The bird descends to the ground with a spider in the beak, which it pecks at once and then gobbles up, before resuming its hunting. I think it is the small spiders which spin neat little tents of white across pits in the wall that the birds hunt oftenest, but I have often seen them tugging at the long, dust-laden festoons of cobweb, silvery grey against the dark paint of the roof.

Another sparrow is looking for termites. It pecks at a crust on the garage wall, hovering on quick wings an inch from sheer mortar, and then pecks up the termites that emerge. The way it goes up and down vertically, chasing a termite on the wall, displays a deftness of wing that one would not normally credit a sparrow with.

I can give no list of the insects and arachnids these birds hunt, but once I saw one of them catch some prey in the air - this was the only aerial hunting I noticed. And I have even seen them chasing the small grasshoppers on the withered grass, though I don't remember seeing one caught. It could be that living in a place where their natural food is scarce (as is shown by absence of seed-eaters here) the birds have been driven to seek strange meat, and it could be that when they are more mature they will learn to foraging far for grain, but all this does not really account for the quite remarkable adaptability that these young seed-eaters show in getting their sustenance, and their efficiency hunting fleeing quarry."
- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 15 May 1955 in The Sunday Statesman

*The beautiful sketch of a sparrow hanging in the air on quick-beating wings in hunting mode is not reproduced.
# A few lines omitted.

Saktipada Panigrahi
22-12-2013, 09:51 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : The Sunday Statesman: 22-December-2013

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" The Indian Tiger is famed all over the world. When the people of other countries think of our wild beasts, they think of the tiger at once, and everyone knows this animal in our country. It is even to be found on our 10-rupee notes. But it did not always live here and there is good reason for believing that it belonged, at first, to the cold northern parts of Asia and came to India long, long ago.

Even now, after so many hundred years of living in India, the tiger does not like our blazing sun and lives in thick forests where it is shady and cool, and hunts by night. It is also very fond of water and is a fine swimmer.

However it has lived so long that we can rightly call it ours. It is also found in many other Asiatic countries, in Manchuria and Burma for instance, but there are no tigers in Ceylon.

It has been said that the magnificently striped coat of the tiger is useful to it when it goes hunting. The stripes, it is said, look so like the streaky, upright light and shade on the tall grass that the animals it hunts missed seeing it. I must say I have never thought this true. For one thing, the tiger hunts by night when the light is so poor that the pattern of its coat is not to be clearly seen and when there is no strong light and shade, moreover a tiger stalking its prey takes very great care not to show itself till it is near enough to pounce. Tigers have marvellously sharp hearing and good sight, especially at night, but their sense of smell is not so sharp.

There are no black tigers, but there are white tigers, near Rewa. These are not pure white, but very pale, with the stripes in pale brown.

And not for the important question. If a lion and a tiger fight, which will win? Honestly, there is no sure answer to that question. A large lion and a large tiger are equally matched, but most people think the tiger will win, size being equal.

It lacks the protective mane of the lion, around the throat, but it is more agile. An American professor has tried to answer this question by going into all cases where the two beasts have fought, in captivity, but it is not a fair way of answering it. We do not know that in such cases both fighter was full-grown and in hard condition.

The lion and tiger have mated in captivity. The cubs are called ligers if their mother is tigress (the fater being a lion) and tigons when the mother is a lioness and the father a tiger. The liger is even bigger than its parents when grown but there there is nothing remarkable about it. It looks rather like a maneless lion with faint tiger marlings at places, and is wholly a man-made beast. That is why I have not drawn it for you in the tailpiece, but have given you a half-grown tiger cub instead.

That is only part of the reason. Here is the whole truth. When I had drawn the tigress in the bamboo jungle (in the headpiece-that is to show you the pattern of the coat mainly) I showed it to a fellow artist and he said many unkind thing about my tigress, how she lacked muscle and tigerishness and looked so like a striped cat. Stung to the quick by this, I have drawn a unique tailpiece for you - no one has dared to attempt a tiger (even a half-grown one) in this pose before. Here is a tiger catching a mouse! Tigers, when famished, have been known to eat frogs, and I don't think an young and inexperienced cub is above pouncing on a mouse. Moreover, my drawing will show you how a tiger (like all true cats) can turn its arms and pads inwards, and even upwards and grab all things with outspread claws. You may ask, "But where is the mouse?" No, it is not crushed into nothing between the tiger's paws. Being inexperienced, the cub missed the pounce and the mouse ran far away, well beyond this page."


This was first published on 28 August 1955 in The Sunday Statesman

# Two sketches have not been reproduced

Saktipada Panigrahi
29-12-2013, 01:08 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : The Sunday Statesman 29 December 2013

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"THE CROW-PHEASANT is an unhappily named bird for it is neither crow nor pheasant but a non-parasitic cuckoo, the sort that takes posterity seriously and builds a nest instead of foisting its eggs on others. It is as big as a crow but with a longer tail, black with metallic greens and blues glossing the highlights and round wings of pure chestnut, a bird that is unmistakable once seen or heard. It skulks in dense cover or hops about treetops, a habit not at all reminiscent of the crow, and its weak, low flight is no more corvine. But a general resemblance to a crow is there and so the first part of its name is understandable, but why "pheasant"?

Dewar and many other European ornithologists have justified the name on the ground that, as it skulks long-tailed through the undergrowth, the griffin is liable to mistake it for a pheasant. But I suspect that few novice sportsman have bagged a crow-pheasant by mistake. Pheasants are not common all over India, as the crow-pheasant is, and moreover though this cuckoo spends quite a lot of its time on the ground it is wholly unlike any gallinaceous bird in its deportment and gait.

I have the feeling that a much sounder reason lies behind expert justification of the name "crow-pheasant", the subconscious recognition of the uncouthness of the only other English name this bird has, Coucal. Incidentally I am unable to discover the origin of the name "Coucal"; perhaps it is African, for the African crow-pheasant is also called by the same name. However it is a useful word for those planning crossword puzzles.

The vernacular names of this bird are equally incomprehensible. In Tamil names, "Shambakha-paksi" and "Sembothu" are uninterestingly causeless, but in Kanada it is called "Sambarakagi", which, translated, literally means "Spice-crow". Once I asked a Kannadiga why it was named so and he explained the reason - because it looks rather like a crow and because in cooking its flesh, which is valued medicinally, it is wise to use plenty of spices!

This is the bird that comes out with a deep, solemn "whoop, whoop, whoop" from a clump of bamboo or some thickly-grown corner of the compound, or even from treetop on occasion. The call, most often heard in the morning, at noon, or at sunset, is unmistakable but hard to describe in words. Dewar calls it a "low, loud, sonorous whoot, whoot, whoot, the kind of call one associates with an owl - I must say though the commas he has used to punctuate the call are more indicative of the intervals than the usual hyphens. I have never been able to find anything owl-like in the call. Lowther gives a much nearer rendering, a deep, booming whoop-whoop-whoop, pleasant to listen to, sometimes mistaken for the cry of the black-faced Langur monkey. The resemblance to the normal whoop (not the alarm call) of the langur is there, but no one who has heard the crow-pheasant is likely to mistake its voice for any other creature, bird, beast, or reptile.

Every large, old-fashioned garden is likely to attract the crow-pheasant, especially the ones planted with a clump of bamboo in a corner; it is equally common in groves and large public parks, well-wooded avenues and in the purlieus of villages. As per old South Indian traditions, the bird is one of the hereditary enemies of snakes, and for once tradition is true, for it will kill and eat small snakes, besides other small reptiles, frogs and insects. I have seen it eating a banyan fig and perhaps it supplements its hunting with occasional fruit.

I know a rather curious but true story about this bird. I don't think it is one of those birds considered especially auspicious by native superstitions (such as the King-crow or Roller, the sight of which, when one sets out on an important errand, assures success). But some of us started the legend about the crow-pheasant in a small illiterate community, purely for a joke. In a few years it had caught on and spread, and I was solemnly assured by a native that it was exceedingly lucky to see the bird when starting on any mission or quest. When questioned, he informed me that he heard about this omen from his father who, no doubt, had it from his father - which conclusively established its authenticity."

This was first published on 4 September 1955 in The Sunday Statesman

*The nice sketch of the bird has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
05-01-2014, 09:48 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: VOICE OF THE DUSK: M.Krishnan : The Sunday Statesman 05-January-2014
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Voice of the dusk

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" WHEN the sun is set and outskirts of the village is lost in the gathering darkness, the NIGHTJARS wake up from their daytime repose and bestir themselves. There is much 'chuck-chuck-chuckering', calls melt together as the birds begin to answer one another and ghostly forms circle around on wings that are soundless, whether sailing or flapping. One evening last week I sat on a clearing outside a village, still as a rock beneath me, watching the circling and settling nightjars, almost invisible in that light even on the wing, and listening to their voices.

Those who associate fluty tones with birdsong will be pleasantly surprised at the soft rhythm of these voices of the lonely dusk. There is no resonance or "full-throated ease" in a nightjars call, it is a subdued 'chuck-chuck-chukr-r-r-r' that has been justly likened to the sound of a stone sent scudding across ice. But it has a sure rhythm in it that is all the more enchanting for its lack of emphasis; it is so much or so naturally the voice of uncertain greyness. He who has not been alone and listened to the chorus of nightjars and has not inhaled the sudden perfume of the wild night-flowering jasmine does not know the charm of dusk in the Indian plains.

However, as I sat listening to the nightjars that evening, more prosaic thoughts passed through my mind. Some two years ago, when I wrote in these columns about birdsong at dawn, a correspondent has suggested that it was some actinic property in the early night that stimulated birds organically to sudden and unhappy song - I had heard the theory before, but I have been observing the vocal behaviour of birds whenever I could during the past two years and am now convinced that actinic stimulation (the theory is really as old as Vedas) cannot account comprehensively for birdsong in our country.

Crepuscular birds, nightjars in particular, greet the coming darkness as diurnal birds greet the dawn, with wings and voices. More strictly, nocturnal birds are vocal and very active for a brief spell after emerging from their daytime retreats and gregarious day-birds, like sparrows and mynahs in September-October, are specially noisy and keep shifting around till it is quite dark when roosting and some like crows and lapwing, invariably call and fly when the moon is bright. It was such things that I thought of that evening.

When it is quite dark and night has definitely arrived, the chorus of nightjars dies down and the birds appear to drift away from the open gathering ground. Their huge eyes are admirably suited to seeing through the dark, just as their softy-barred plumage and owlishly silent wings, and the ear to ear gape of their mouths, are suited to their hunting of night-flying insects. However, as anyone who has travelled across the country roads at night knows, quite a substantial part of the night is spent by these birds on the ground, squatting in the dust of the roadside.

You see a pair of ember-red eyes in the glare of your headlamps, eyes that seemed buried in the dust of the road, then you see the mottled, indistinct form of the bird squatting low and then, as the relentless tyres are about to crush it under, it rises on soundless wings to go floating ahead of the car, or low overhead, the sudden white bar on each wing proclaiming its identity.

Sometimes it flies so low overhead that you feel you can reach up and pluck it out of the air - in fact, I have known a nightjar so captured. And not always is its last-second swerve infallible; once I saw the bird hit the side of the mudguard and fall back on to the road.

Motorists who know only the hard-surfaced and tarred main roads will probably be less familiar with the bird, but sometimes it is to be seen even on such roads when the scrub adjoins the roadway and there is dust enough at the sides. Why it sits so constantly on the roadways I do not know; other birds, like finch-larks, also love the earth-road, and perhaps the loose-plumaged nightjars likes a frequent dust bath - or perhaps it finds the road convenient for the hawking of insects. The only thing I can say is that if I had to spend much time reposing on the road, I too would prefer the cushioning dust to the metalled surface.

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 2 October 1955 in The Sunday Statesman

#One photograph not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
05-02-2014, 03:58 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: Puff Ball - M.Krishnan : The Sunday Statesman :2-February-2014

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Puff Ball

( Iora )

"PUNDITS have been puzzled by the IORA's taxonomical position, whether to place it with the Bulbuls or the Orioles or in a class by itself, but no one has ever doubted that it is one of the most charming of our garden birds. In the breeding season the dapper little cock wears a vivid livery of black and yellow - the hen is on less attractive, all the year round, in green and yellow. The cock has a variety of loud, clear calls, some of them remarkably like a human whistle, and its courtship display is justly celebrated. It shoots up into the air and descends on slow wings - "all at once the long, white downy plumes that keep its ribs warm will start out on each side, then, like a white puff ball dashed with black and gold, it will slowly descend, quivering and glittering in the rays of the morning sun".

However, it is the nest and the hen that I write. Let me quote "Eha" again, on the nest. "A beautiful piece of work, a little cup, the size of a small after-dinner coffee cup, compactly woven of fine fibres and bound all round on the outside with white cob-webs." It is as dainty and almost as white as best china, but of course it is much lighter, being made of fibres and gauzy cobweb, not heavy clay.

In September this year I found a Iora's nest in a mango tree, some 13 ft. from the ground and in the ultimate fork of the lowest bough. The only way to get on terms with the nest, for photography, was to build a machan-hide beside it on four stout poles, but I had no time for elaborate constructions so used a packing case on the top of a stool, which gave me almost an eye-level view when I stood upright upon it. However, there were difficulties. The cock, which took the afternoon sessions at the nest, would not come anywhere near while the undisguised photographer stood by. But the hen, which covered the eggs during the forenoon and at night, was a close sitter and was prepared to suffer my proximity, so long as I keep quite still and had a dark-khaki bush-shirt over my head.

There were other difficulties. The tall library-stool and rickety legs, the packaging-case had very limited stability and I weigh close to 160 lb - a combination of circumstances ill suited to one another. In fact, in the attempt to rise gradually on my toes so as to get the lens level with the nest, I came down precipitately, but after assuring myself that both camera and self were whole, I learnt the excruciating trick of the feat. Throughout the hen sat tight, indifferent to my ludicrous fall. Its only response to my nearness was to turn in the nest so as rudely to present its tail to me, however, I shifted the stool and altered my angle of approach.

You should have heard the hen calling to its mate, which keeps within hearing distance, when it was cock's turn to take over - a torrent of quick, musical notes that seemed, to the human ear, to be fired with impatience. This call was also used when the hen, returning to the nest spotted me on my precarious packing case, head and camera bowed and the sweat running in a steady trickle down my chin. The temptation to look up at bird was great, but very soon I learned the wisdom of wanting till it was well settled in the nest before raising the camera.

On the evening of 14 September there was sudden downpour. A friend wondered how the little bird and the frail exposed nest could survive the drenching. Later in the night, the rain changed to an exquisitely fine drizzle and a cold wind set in. At 10 pm I visited the nest, with the paraphernalia for flash photography. The nest gleamed whiter than ever in the beam of my torch, but where is the bird? I mounted the packing-case and gradually stood up - and saw a remarkable sight. A soft deep pile of white topped the nest, like a roof of silk-cotton - that was the hen covering the eggs, so lost in the fluffed out down that no trace of head or wing or recognisable bird feature could be seen. After taking my photograph I climbed down, but accidentally touched the bough in my clumsiness.

At once the lid of the fluff rose up till it was a ball of fluff with just a tiny bird-face visible on top, then slowly the down-feathers subsided till the Iora was recognisable as a bird, though still much puffed out. Then it hopped on to a twig above the nest, puffed itself out again till it was once more a ball of fluff and went to sleep. The head and feet, and even the twig beneath the feet, were completely lost in the down, and the bird looked like a larger, puff-ball nest above the cup-nest in the fork that held the eggs.

I retired quietly hoping the bird would return to its nest with my departure. At 1 am when I furtively revisited the nest, the puff-ball was still on the twig above the fork and I took a photograph. The fine drizzle had stopped, but it was quite cold and as I got into bed I could not help feeling guilty, thinking of the exposed eggs. I need have had no qualms, for early in the next morning I found the hen on the nest again and in the afternoon just before I left the place, I watched the cock take over, and settle firmly on posterity."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 20 November 1955 in The Sunday Statesman

Saktipada Panigrahi
23-02-2014, 08:31 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: The Shawk :m krishnan :The Sunday Statesman: 23-February-2014
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The Shawk
(Lesser White Scavenger Vulture)
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"A FEW miles from Mahabalipuram, celebrated for richness of its curvings, is a shrine no less celebrated among the pious. Tirukkhalukunram (I follow the spelling of the railway guide) is one of the 16 (or is it 60?) holy places of the South. It is a temple perched on top of a small, rocky hill, lacking the grandeur of other Southern hilltop shrines. But every day it is graced by the visit of TWO SAINTS IN AVIAN GRAB.

Rain or shine, shortly after the noon invocation, a portion of sweet, opulent prasad of jaggery and milk, ghee and rice, is brought out by the priest and placed on a shelf of rock. And two large white birds materialise from the skies and partake of the offering. They are, of course, not birds at all but saints in feathers, most rigorous in their penances and rites.

Each morning they wing their northern way to the Ganges for a dip in its purifying waters, then they fly all the way back to Rameswaram for a further dip in sancity, visiting Tirukkalukumram in time for lunch. Local traditions give the names of these two punctilious saints, and further particulars.

Unfortunately for those with romantic inclinations, these birds have no claims to looks, in spite of their whiteness and the sail-like spread of their black-pinioned wings. They are not even kites, as the railway guide calls them, but are Scavenger Vultures, perhaps the least prepossessing of our birds. On the wing they look handsome enough, circling with effortless ease or swooping along the skyline at a terrific pace, breeze-borne.

But the weak, yellow beak and face, the dirty hackles and the clumsy, waddling gait proclaim their ugliness when they are on the ground and near. In their youth they are less hideous, a decent dark brown all over, but even then you can tell them apart from kites and other brown birds of the sky by their wedge-shaped tail. I do not remember the saint-names given to them at Tirukkalukunram, but can give you their aliases - the Neophron, or, more specifically, Neophron percnopterus ginginanus, Pharaoh's Chicken, the Lesser White Scavenger Vulture, and, according to Eha, the bird known to Mr. Thomas Atkins, as "The Shawk".

The last name, I think, is derived from the bird's habit of frequenting heaps of garbage and ordure. If I am right in my etymology, it is a name truly indicative of this vulture's disposition. Wherever there are mounds of manure or other assorted filth, offal and refuge lying around, you are likely to find the Neophron. It is commonest outside the city and industrial centre, where there are broad acres of what the engineers call "rubbish", and around the hilltop shrines and country marketplaces. It is a very useful bird, indeed, and no one who realises the public good that scavengers do will ever dream of looking down upon it.

Incidentally, it is not only at Tirukkalukunram that it is sacred; it was venerated in ancient Egypt. Unlike most other birds of its profession, it is not gregarious, but usually goes about with its mate, in a close pair. Like all vultures, it is long-lived and has wonderful powers of sight and flight.

It is likely the pair at Tirukkalukunram have long been residence, and it is a fact that they are most punctual in their attendance at the shrine. But there is nothing remarkable in all this. Many birds have an instinctive sense of time, and these vultures deeply appreciate regular provision of food I have seen several pairs of these birds in and around Tirukklukunram, so that it is quite conceivable that when the seniormost pair dies, their territory and prasad is taken over by the pair next in order of precedence among local Neophrons - that way one can understand how, for generations, these birds have been attending the shrine each day, and set up the tradition of immortality. Irrelevantly, it occurs to me that the phoenix must be some sort of vulture.

I can even testify to the fallibility of the daily visits of the pious birds. One day, in the winter of 1935, no birds turned up at the feeding rock, in spite of the priest's loud invitations and widely waved arms. No vulture of any sort was visible in the skies, and I concluded that a cow must have died on the hillside beyond, that day. The priest made no comment, beyond pointing to the slight drizzle that there was, but an elderly gentleman by my side volunteered a complete explanation. He was a native and assured us that the absence of the birds was most exceptional; in fact, they were absent only when some major sinner, who should never have been admitted to the precincts, was there. And I must say I did not like the rather pointed look he gave me."


This was first published on 15 January 1956 in The Sunday Statesman

#One beautiful coloured sketch of the bird in flight has not been reproduced

The last posting on 23-02-2014, 05:10 PM may kindly be deleted.

Saktipada Panigrahi
18-03-2014, 02:24 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: The Brahminy Kite : The Sunday Statesman : 16-March-2014
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"AN elderly gentleman from the borders of Hyderabad (Deccan) who has lived as a gentleman should, spending his ample leisure in open-air pursuits, assures me that he has known the Brahminy Kite successfully used in falconry, that, properly trained, the bird can bring down middle-sized quarry both in the air and bush.

Now, the Brahminy Kite is powerfully built, more like an Eagle than a Kite, and if the size is the criterion, it is large enough to bring down a pigeon or a partridge. Moreover I went into the matter not only with my landed informant but also with his equally elderly, equally sporting tenants and there was good evidence that at least one local falconer has trained the bird successfully for hawking. Falconry is no longer practised in those parts, for the landlords are now preoccupied with deprriving legislation and their camp followers with that hateful thing, working for a living.

But in my many talks with these old-timers I felt satisfied that the sport has flourished there only 20 years ago. The country is ideal for it, being dead-flat and bush-clad Red-headed Merlins,, Kestrels, Shikaras, Tawny Eagles, Short-toed Eagles, Harriers, a buzzard or two and an occasional passing laggar represent the local raptors, but I was told that in the old days Peregrines were imported, and a big, bold, peafowl-killing bird which, to judge from hearsay, was nothing less than the Bonelli's Eagle.

I am no falconer. In fact, my acquaintance with birds of prey from the other side entirely, that of a man who kept racing pigeons for years and so had to watch the skies anxiously and to get to know their killers. But thinking it over, it seems to me that heavily built as the Brahminy Kite is, it lacks the dash and speed of wing to provide anything more than novelty to the sport of falconry, especially when there are many nobler birds available.

Mind, I do not say it lacks the heart. The Brahminy has been called a coward by many ornithologists, a chicken-raider that will not face the mother hen, a snatcher of small fry from the basket of the fishwife. That opinion, I feel, is not scientifically sound. We rarely make allowance for avian values and individual variations in judging a bird's "character". Many of the eagles, which this kite resembles in miniature in build and flight, also live mainly by scavenging and piracy. Moreover, the Brahminy Kite may be quite aggressive on occasion.

Once, feeling curious about contents of their nest and trying to get a closer look, I was attacked with such determination and persistence by a pair of these birds that I had to beat a hasty and undignified retreat, though I knew I was critically watched by three small boys. Though it is true that this kite gets its living picking fish and other things off the surface of the water and by robbing successful but smaller hunters, it can and does kill snakes.I have seen one with a four-foot rat snake in its clutches, but it could be that the snake was killed by some villager and later picked up by the bird.

That brings to the question: Is this the Garuda (omit the terminal "a" for most North Indian languages and add "n" after the terminal "a" for Tamil), according to mythology, is the most feared enemy of the snake tribe, the bird whose very name strikes terror in the hearts of the denizens of the subterranean Nagaland. Throughout South India the Brahminy Kite is called "Garudan" and even in paintings (paintings of no great antiquity, say about a century or two in age) this bird is shown in depictions of mythological description of the Garuda. However, the Crested Serpent-Eagle, the Short-toed Eagle and some hawk-eagles are much more given to snake-slaying than this kite, and are much nearer iconographic descriptions of the Garuda.

Be that as it might, I find an unforced occasion for quoting here an old Sanskrit verse that has always appealed powerfully to me (in spite of my comprehensive ignorance of Sanskrit!), so tellingly does it expound the power of circumstances:

'Do not associate with the lowly;
If you must with the mighty, make
For the cobra, having Vishnu's
Inquired fondly after the Garuda's
health!' "


(This was first published on 11 March 1956 in The Sunday Statesman)

# A painting of the bird in flight with its nice wingspread not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
24-03-2014, 12:12 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: Little Cormorants : The Sunday Statesman: 23 March 2014
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" ONE way or another, I have been seeing quite a lot of the Little Cormorant in the past few months. Not that it is rare or shy. If you know its haunts you may see it in hundreds, for it is highly sociable and goes about its most personal affairs quite publicly, unlike most birds. Only, it is so very much a water bird and I am so terrestrial that I have had limited opportunities for observing it, till recently.

Of course, it is not little. Its name does not refer to its diminutive size, but only to larger cousins. I should think it is heavier built than a Kite, though on the wing it looks smaller because of comparatively shorter wings and a short stiff-feathered tail.

In the evenings the cormorants would come home from feeding grounds to their nesting-trees in the water. In wave after wave of close, quick-winged flights. Most of them came from the West, at sunset. A thin, black, pulsating line would cross the flaming horizon, then another and another. By the time the first flight has passed overhead with a swish of stiff pinions, the next would be halfway across, rapidly resolving itself into birds from a quivering black line and then a pattern of rhythmic black dots shrinking and growing in unison as the wings were moved in perfect coordination. Even when the birds were right above, flying low, one did not see them as so many cormorants but only as a formation - there was that sameness of looks and matched movement in them that makes it so hard to pick out one soldier from the company at a marchpast.

Isolated flights would come in from time to time throughout the day. Most of these went straight to the nesting trees and vanished all at once as the birds settled. Occasionally, a flight would come hurtling into the tank, hitting the water over a wide area like a scattering of heavy missiles from some old-fashioned cannon. These " water-crows" (an English name that is a verbatim synonym of the Tamil name) swam and dived and fished with easy speed, but were less effortless in taking away from the water,splashing along for a few yards before being airborne. When they left the tank for their feeding grounds,they went singly and in small parties so that one hardly noticed their departure, though their return in packed company was almost dramatic.

In the evenings they roosted on the topmost boughs in hundreds, darkening the trees before the night. In flight and repose, they kept so much together, in such numbers that one could not see the birds for the flock.

The young were almost grown up, and sufficiently by themselves for close study - but I knew better than to try anything so messy. Cormorants work hard, frequently flying to distant waters to satisfy their voracious children, and the young are usually chock-full of small fish. And when they are closely studied,there is a conclusive movement of their thick, snaky necks and the contents of their bulging crops are sort out in a stream on the observer beneath!

Incidentally,in nearly two dozen nests I saw there were only two young per nest (often the bough supporting the nest, for the juveniles were now well able to clamber about), except for two nests that each held three. The pairs, and the sets of threes, kept close together when they moved out to the ends of their boughs, seeing me approach. Yet the 'Fauna of British India' says the number of eggs per clutch is from three to five, and earlier in the season I saw at least three eggs in nearly every nest I was able to inspect.

The good book also says, of the genus 'Phalacrocorax' to which the Little Cormorant belongs, that the second primary is usually the longest - note that in my photograph of a cormorant in overhead flight,the third and fourth primaries of the left wing (i.e., the wing to the right side in the picture) are the longest; the tip of the other wing, blurred in the print, has been touched up and so cannot be taken into consideration.

It was as I was watching the paired young from a safe distance that the great idea came to me. I had a loaded camera and by sheer chance two flash bulbs in my pocket - earlier the day I had to photograph a human infant and had used the flashgun to catch the fleeting expression. Here was opportunity, to be seized by the forelock, mane or tail for a truly unique photograph.What I had to do was to creep near a pair of young birds without alarming them, then move in quickly and focus before the rising lumps in their throats reached their beaks, and record the reaction literally in a flash I gave much thought to preliminaries. Reluctantly, I set the shutter to the fastest speed it had, though that meant a wide stop and loss of depth of field - else I could not freeze the shower of small fry as it fell.

I selected a pair of young on a nest low enough for my purpose - the water round that tree was waist-deep and singularly filthy, but one does not get record pictures by sheer cleanliness. I turned my face the other way and slowly, ever so slowly, backed my way till I was near enough for the part demanding rapid action. As I adjusted the focus in a preliminary way before entering upon the second part of the plan, I noticed a leafy twig, directly between me and my subjects; this twig, just above reach, had not seemed obstructive earlier. however, I also noticed a simultaneous compensation. About three yards from the perch of my original pair, actually standing off their nest in another and lower branch of the same tree, was another pair of juvenile cormorants, better placed for my picture.Only, I should be quick for they were already alarmed and stretching their necks.

I took one long, splashing, underwater step to get near enough, focused rapidly and squeezed the trigger just as the gaping mouths opened to discharge their regurgitated shot. And as the flash flared up, a glittering little fish hit the lens of my camera with a smack, completely running the picture. I had forgotten all about the original pair of young birds, now directly above, and they had been a split second earlier in their reaction than their fellows. I am afraid I will have to wait till next year for my remarkable picture. I am still cleaning the eye of the camera with tender care, a little area at a time and in gentle installments, so as to remove all foreign matter without damaging the coating."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 22 April 1956 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of the bird in flight with full wingspread is not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
11-05-2014, 11:16 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: The King Crow: The Sunday Statesman: 11-MAY-2014
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" THERE were some 30 in the grazing herd, four bull calves and two buffaloes. And once again I noticed that the KING CROWS rode the coloured beasts, not the white ones. For a moment I thought that I had confirmed a trend in the more obscure habits of these bold black birds. Then I realised how easily false conclusions can be reached in the field. It was in the same tract that, earlier in the year, I had twice observed the liking of king crows for coloured coats on their mobile perches. The cattle of this flat scrub land are stunted and black or brown, the brown varying from fawn to a rich deep chestnut, very few of them are white and these, presumably "imported" milch cows, are much larger; the chances of finding king crows on the backs of coloured cows are about five times as good as on white ones, considerably better in view of the fact that the birds like to ride low.

This latter preference is real. King Crows perch on small cows, yearling calves, buffaloes and even goats rather than on tall cattle, where, choice offers. It is mainly for the sake of the insects flushed from cover by the lumbering hooves that they go riding grazing cattle, and obviously the closer they are to the grass the surer their hunting.

It is remarkable with what certainty and speed they can take prey in the air. I have repeatedly seen a king crow take a vaulting grasshopper in mid-leap, swooping down on the quarry, snatching it up and returning to the hump of its mount in one smooth movement. But if you want to know with what acrobatic speed and ease the bird can twist and turn in the air, you should watch it chasing some fast-flying insect. The deeply forked tail and broadly triangular wings spread out into translucent brown fans as the bird brakes in the air, half-shut and black again as it dives headlong almost to the earth or shoots up obliquely on the impetus of the dive. You can actually hear the zip and rustle of the tail and pinions being flicked open and shut if you are near enough, but the bird seldom flutters its wings - the entire dizzy and complicated manoeuvre is sustained by initial momentum, till the prey is plucked from the air and the king crow flies off, whirring and swinging by turns, to its perch.

Undoubtedly, the fishtail helps in this aerial acrobatics, other birds notable for their deftness of wing also depends heavily on their forked tails, kites and swallows for example. It is its speed and dexterity in twisting around in full flight that enables the king crow to attack much larger birds like hawks, kites and crows that venture too close to its nest.

The chorus of king crows heralding the dawn can be heard in the jungles as well as in rural areas where they roost close to the human settlement. Even, I, who like these birds so much, cannot say that they have musical voices (though some of their cousins do), but the chill, grey clearness preceding daybreak, their calls have an exuberant, confident cheeriness, at least to human ear. A famous set of stanzas by Vaishnavite poetess Aandaal, addressed to a girl still asleep after promising to wake the others early (so that they could be in time for the early morning worship), refers to the pre-dawn chorus of king crows.

Do you not hear the high-pitched
conversation of Harsh-voiced king crows!

Yes, there is a certain harshness in the king crow's calls, in spite of the carrying shrillness, but it is pointless analysing sounds that belong so very much to the open air in cloistered print, incongruous as it may read, it is still true that it is this very vigour and rasping vivacity in the morning voices of these birds that makes the experience of being awakened by them so pleasant.

Before roosting, the birds fly about actively and call to one another again, and the sharp double whistle can often be heard then. King crows are said to "mimic" the Shikra in this call; it is true that the Shrikes and Drongoes have imitative talent and that some of them are wonderful mimics; it is also true that this double whitsle is exactly like the Shikra's call, except for the lack of tonal quality that I can indicate only by the word "querulous". But all the same I beg to differ from the experts who consider this call imitative. I think it is one of king crow's authentic calls, and that its similarity to Shikra's is purely a coincidence. Otherwise, I cannot understand why this is so frequently indulged in by king crows all over the country, just before roosting.

Incidentally, the open beaks of the king crows in the pictures donot show them calling. The afternoon sun was parchingly hot overhead when I took the photographs accompanying this article, and the birds were panting. Many birds pant in such heat and no doubt gain considerable relief thereby."

This was first published on 30 September 1956 in The Sunday Statesman

# Two photographs titled 'King Crow: Front view, showing gradation of the rectrices' and 'King crow on the hump' have not been reproduced here.

Note: The extant article is different from the one titled 'India's King Crows' contained in the book 'Of BIRDS and BIRDSONG' - by M.Krishnan

Saktipada Panigrahi
23-06-2014, 08:03 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : LION-TAILED MACAQUE: The Sunday Statesman: 22 June 2014

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"THE Lion-tailed Macaque comes from where I do - the far South - and it is with pleasure that I introduce it to the readers of The Statesman, many of whom may not know this shy, forest-loving animal. However, I must confess that my pleasure is tinged with regret, for this, the most personable of our monkeys, is now rare where it was not uncommon before, and a naturalist living in the forests of Malabar tells me that it is getting rarer.

It is to be found in the heavy, evergreen forests of southernmost districts of Madras, and Kerala and the Western Ghats, right up to south Canara. Such forests are getting thinner with the with the inexorable increase of humanity and a creature so restricted in its range and so dependent on a sylvan habitat is especially in need of protection.

But perhaps my fears are somewhat exaggerated for, unlike most Indian monkeys, this one gives humanity a wide berth, and man has little cause to persecute it.

The first thing I should tell you about the Lion-tailed Macaque is that it is not lion-tailed. It is a thick-set, short-tailed monkey whose hands, however, are narrow and long and sensitive-fingered; its face is black and it is black-bodied and has a flat, black crown to its head, but its face is fringed all round with luxuriant grey whiskers, the kind of very full whiskers one sees in portraits of mid-Victorian elders.

My photograph shows a young captive female - in the adult male (which is larger, heavier and more powerful) the whiskers develop into a splendid, silver mane that is set off by the black of the body. Strictly speaking, a mane is elongated neck hair and this is really whiskers and beard, but had this Macaque been called the Lion-maned Macaque, no one could have objected to the name - the male's whiskers do recall a lion's mane to mind. But "Lion-tailed" is ridiculous, for not only is the tail short and convex in its curve and in every way non-leonine, but it is also not tufted at the tip like a lion's.

I think the term "wanderoo" was once loosely applied to this macaque, but now appears to be restricted to a black Ceylonese monkey. And so we are left with the choice of the unhappy common name "Lion-tailed Macaque", and the scientific Macaca silenus (Linn). What a choice!

This macaque lives in family parties and small troops, and is respected by other monkeys in its range. It is remarkably free from nervous fidgets for a macaque, climbing and walking with an unhurried dignity as a rule, though capable of speed on occasion. People who have tried keeping it as a pet report that the male get savage and intractable when they grow up. Animals that love forests and freedom so much do not take kindly to cages and chains.

Not that this monkey is sullen or fierce by nature. It is delightfully playful when young, and even when an adult indulges in rough and tumble frolics with its fellows in its forest homes. An old male, it is true, acquires a mature, patriarchal dignity with age, worthy of its great, hoary mane, but it is deeply attached to its family party and quiet by disposition. Even its voice is unlike the voice of other macaques - not the usual rattling snarls and jabbering, but an almost human "Cooee" - a party of these monkeys call to one another in soft, mellow coos, reminiscent of a bird rather than a mammal.

I have the feeling - based, I admit, on the slenderest hearsay - that this monkey is perhaps found over a wider range in the South than is now recognised, in many places where there are great evergreen forests. Probably this is just wishful thinking, but I am quite sure that that the Lion-tailed Macaque deserves to be known widely all over India."


This was first published on 13 January 1957 in The Sunday Statesman

#Photograph of a female Macaque not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
21-07-2014, 08:14 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: THE 'WATER DOG' :The Sunday Statesman: 6-July-2014
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"Someone told me recently that he had read in some magazine (you know how vague people are about these things) that the Otter's original home was in Bengal, somewhere in the Sundarbans. That man came from Calcutta and I, who am frequently and powerfully moved by parochial feelings, know how polite and tactful it is to let some remarks pass. Nevertheless, I felt constrained to contradict him, for Otters are of worldwide distribution. In fact, barring Australia and a few other geographically insular places, there are otters in every country, different specifically and even generically it is true, but all unmistakably otters. Nor is their distribution limited to land. There is an authentic sea otter.

And wherever there are otters, men have felt fascinated by their grace in water and gameness on land, and their obvious enjoyment of what man lacking it so often and in envy, terms "animal spirits". Most men can feel, in a rather undefined and intellectual sort of way, the charm of wild creatures, but when you see an otter the feeling becomes quite tangible and personal.

Otters are not specially good-looking, as animals go, if you can bring yourself to look at them analytically and forget their vivid entities. The round bullet-head, the fierce, bristling whiskers, the sausage-shaped body, the thick, Labrador-tail, and the short stout limbs ending in broadly-webbed feet - none of these features in itself suggests grace or charm. But put them together and you have the otter, whose vivacity on land and swift, smooth grace in water is beyond question.

Otter lives mainly on fish and like other fish-eaters, has a prodigious appetite. It is by diving and swimming under water faster than its prey that it lives, so that its sheer speed is not, perhaps, remarkable - but the flow and easy grace and dexterity of its passage through water is captivatingly remarkable. One could say, without exaggerating simile or sentiment, that an otter swimming is the poetry of underwater movement - except that at times, when it twirls and twists and literally effervesces in water, mere metrical elan can provide no comparison.

Many animals play when they are young, but by the time they are adult the preoccupations of life and survival seem to sober them up. By the time a puppy is a dog or a kitten is a cat, it has lost much of its gawky or skittish exuberance. However, quite a few animals - many more than armchair naturalists realises - do find the time not only "to stand and stare", but also to play. But few of them are so devoted to fun for its own sake when adult as the otter.

It has been said that the otter's mode of play, tobogganing down smooth banks into water only to run up again for a fresh slide down, is strange for an animal so well adapted to aquatic gymnastics. Not at all. No doubt the otter does enjoy sliding down banks, but it is given to play in water as well. Like other aquatic animals, it likes to sustain something flat and bright on its nose and go twisting and tumbling through the water. I remember "borrowing" a new four-anna bit from a friend to throw to an otter in a zoo, so that it might be provoked into play by the coin's shine. My friend, who was somewhat utilitarian, was quite taken aback to see what I did with the coin, but in a minute he had forgotten all about the money worth of that disc of twinkling nickel that went bobbing up and down, weaving in and out, twirling round and round through the water, balanced on the otter's nose. I expect the keepers get such coins in the zoos, in the end - they are never slow to suggest the game to the visitor.

In our country, we have no less than three different kinds of otter - the Common, the Smooth Indian and the Clawless. They are all creatures of rapid streams and rivers and are said to have a rather peculiar distribution, being found in Kashmir, the Himalayas, Assam and Bengal, and then only South India (a rather vague specification, the last) - the Smooth Indian being also found in Sind.

Otter belongs to the Weasel tribe, but in practically every Indian language they are called "water dogs". That is a perfectly sound name, though, and logically justified, not because the otter is any sort of dog (except when it is a "dog-otter") but since it is the rule that when the first part of a compound name is adjectival, that name connotes a thing different from what the noun part of it means: "French-leave" and "German-silver" explain what I mean. The hippo, which is no sort of a horse, is the "river-horse", the muntijac (a deer!) is the "jungle-sheep", and the gaur is the "Indian Bison". No wonder, then, that the otter is the water-dog."
-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 17 March 1957 in The Sunday Statesman

#Two photographs not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
29-07-2014, 06:23 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : THE SNAKE-BIRD : The Sunday Statesman: 13-July-2014
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The Snake-bird


"If you wish in the world to advance,
Your merits you are bound to enhance,
You must stir it and stump it,
And blow your own trumpet,
Or, trust me, you haven't a chance!

WITH this preface from Ruddigore, I present readers which is probably the first clear picture of a darter on the wing. The photograph, I concede, could have been clearer, it could have shown more detail, particularly about the beak and eye. And the webbed feet, I know, could have been less latently displayed. All that is so but I believe no better flight-photograph of the bird has been taken.

Darters on the nest, showing their streaky, almost scaly plumage in sharp focus, darters sitting on a rock or bough with their wings spread out to dry in the sun. In the manner of the German Eagle, darters in the water with only their serpentine necks and heads above the surface - no doubt such pictures have been taken, but I have never seen one of the bird well up in the sky.

Those who know the prehistoric fowl will not be surprised at this. The darter does not, it is true, get through the air at bewildering speed, but its wing-beats are rapid when it flies low, and it sheers away the moment it sees a photographer. Before the shutter can be released, it has turned its head sharply away, so that the long kink-lumped, snaky neck ends in no obvious head! And when it soars, as it often does, it is so high (though it does not seem to be) that even the very long lens one can have little hope of getting an enlargeable image.

Having pointed out the negative excellence of my picture sufficiently, let me tell you about the bird itself. In action and repose, on the bough and in the water or air , it is like no other bird. It is not only the long, pale neck with the kink at its base, tapering to the pointed beak, that is snaky about the darter - even its speckled and streaked black-and-white plumage has somewhat reptilian pattern. And a darter on , sailing around on taut, sharply triangular wings, with neck and dagger-bill thrust out, and the long tail outspread, is the nearest one can hope to see to the archaeopteryx these days.

Actually, the darter is a cousin of the cormorants - but a cousin twice removed, quite unlike in looks and habits. Cormorants are gregarious and not particularly shy of men; they fly so close to the watcher that one can easily see the quick, sideway wag of the tail that the indulge in from time to time. The darter on the other hand, is unsociable and very mistrustful of man, keeping its distance. In the water, its big body is well submerged and hidden from view, and seeing only the slender neck and head projecting at a slant from the surface, one can appreciate the aptness of the name "snake-bird".

Like its cousins, the darter is an expert diver and swims powerfully below the surface. It hunts fish under water and is said to spear them on its sharp beak, the kink in its neck acting as a power-spring, as in herons. No doubt that is so, but I have seen a darter come up from the water with a fish held crosswise between its mandibles (and not spitted on them), which it threw up with a jerk into the air and swallowed.

In flight, the darter is more silent than the swish-winged cormorants, and much given to soaring on high. Even in the mixed heronries where it breeds, along with cormorants and waterfowl, it usually nests high and keeps itself to itself and its mate. Young darters are weird beyond belief, but they rapidly grow up into semblance of their parents. They take some time to learn to fly, and even when almost full-sized and quite full-fledged, they cannot fly - they look so out of place perched on a bough, which they clutch with their broad, webbed feet. However, even at that age they can swim with ease and speed."

- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 7 April 1957 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of the bird in flight not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
14-08-2014, 04:34 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : VOICE OF THE DUMB :The Sunday Statesman: 27 July 2014

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Voice of the Dumb
(The Spoonbill and The Openbill)

"IN this loud world, silence is remarkable. It is not less so in the avian world, for birds are voluble creatures, much given to song and chatter and gesticulation. The mechanism of sound production in birds is peculiar; without going into the technicalities, it may be said that in them the voice-box is placed much lower down than in other animals. However, this does not affect their ability to produce a number of calls and churring sounds and songs - in fact, I doubt whether class of animals is so varied in its voice. Some birds, however, are laconic in the extreme, rarely coming out with any sound beyond a harsh croak, and some are practically dumb, their only recorded sounds being a grunt, usually indulged in during the breeding season, and a claterring together of the mandibles. Such silent fowl are usually water-birds.

During March and April this year, I spent quite some time verifying earlier observation on THE VOCAL EFFORTS OF TWO WELL-KNOWN DUMB WATER-BIRDS, THE SPOONBILL AND THE OPENBILL. At Vedanthangal near Madras, where I found opportunity to observe and listen to these quaint birds, there is a mixed breeding colony of over a dozen species, several thousand water-birds nesting in the half- submerged grove of Baringtonias in the village tank during the rains. I had to wait till most of the breeding birds had left and till the tank bed was more or less dry before I could get the verification I wanted, for the large mixed din of a large heronry can be most confusing, and in judging sounds it is better to get near and use one's ears than to rely on observation through binoculars.

It has been said of the INDIAN SPOONBILL that "a low grunt and a clattering of the mandibles are the only sounds uttered" by the bird. In a dozen books on Indian bird consulted, I could find no other call or sound recorded except for RS Dharmakumarsinghji's reference to a "soft whistling note" in his Birds of Saurashtra. Recording another call, which is neither a grunt nor a clattering of the beak, I should certainly like to describe in detail the seductive and so-far-unreported love-song of the Spoonbill, but a naturalist is limited, by a stupid code, to the bare truth. I cannot report anything better than a hiccup.

However, this hiccup is much the most typical call of the breeding spoonbill (in the South, at any rate); the bird does indulge in low grunts, especially at the nest, but this hiccup seem to be its call note. Since I am satisfied that some of the breeding birds at Vedanthangal (and elsewhere in the South) exhibit certain peculiarities of plumage and behaviour, I should add that the Spoonbills here are in no way different from those breeding elsewhere in India.

The full nuchal crest was very much in evidence, the adult birds had a yellow fringe to the broad tip of their spatulate bills, there was the collar of dull cinnamon at the base of the neck, and the chin, from the base of the lower mandible to the throat, was bare and yellow to orange-yellow, with a fringe of Chinese vermilion to this bare patch where it met the throat. The bare patch pulsated as the birds panted open-billed, as most birds do during the heat of the summer afternoon in the South - I draw attention to this bare, yellow chin-patch, as at the moment of calling the skin of this patch is not drawn in (as when the bird is at rest) but slightly puffed out.

I refer, of course, to the fully adult breeding birds. Infant Spoonbills look like nothing so much as miniature dodos - they have pink, hook-tipped bills, swollen in the middle like the bill of a nestling pigeon, and they cheep loudly at the nest, very much in the manner of pigeon squabs. In fact, I noticed even the young of EGRETS (birds known only to grunt when adult) had quite expressive voices, and uttered a loud, yickering cheep when urging their parents to feed them. The food-calls of the infant, like at any mixed heronry, are quite a feature of such places, and I shall not refer to them here.

The call of the adult Spoonbill is most completely described as a subdued but clearly audible hiccup, somewhat high in pitch - I fancy that a well-bred lady, trying ineffectually to supress a hiccup in the party, would emit a very similar sound. The call has the same duration as a hiccup, and the bill is open at the time it is uttered, being closed immediately after. There can be no question of the sound being produced by any action of the mandibles as they are open when the bird is calling.The skin of the chin, as already said, is noticeable during the call. The birds call both from the perch and when on the wing. My photography of a perched spoonbill calling shows the bill almost closed, at the end of the hiccup; the flying bird was snapped in the middle of its call.

At first I was not sure if the bird called when on the wing - I could see the flying bird opening and then quickly closing its bill and the bulging of the chin-patch, I thought I heard the hiccup faintly high above me in the air, but so prone is the ear to hear what the eye sees, and the mind knows, that I was in doubt. Later I was able to hear the call from birds flying low overhead, and I am now certain that they do call at times, while flying.

The call of the laconic OPENBILL is even more remarkable.The only sound so far recorded of this stork is a clattering noise produced by the mandibles, the usual stork-sound. The openbill is not only the smallest of our storks but also the quaintest. The mandibles meet at the tip and the base but in the middle there is a clear gap between them. As in the spoonbill, the nestling has quite a different kind of beak - thick and wedge-shaped, with no gap in the middle. As it grows, the beak grows much longer, but the bill remains straight even when the young bird is well able to fly, and almost as big as its parents - it is a tapering wedge then, the gap in the middle and the consequent bi-convex contour of the outer edges of the coming with age.

Openbill nestlings, clamouring for food, produce a distinctive noise that is midway between a Yap and a Yicker, the three-quarters grown young, perching on treetops, makes a similar sound when begging food from its parents, but at this stage the sound is much more a Yap than a Yicker. When they are grown and can fly freely, the young birds gather together in sub-adult parties and perch on treetops in between feeding expeditions. They are now almost on the point of leaving for their feeding grounds perhaps hundreds of miles away. While roosting in company, at times they Yap in chorus. And so do their grown-up parents, roosting on another tree.

At Vedanthangal, I found about two dozen young openbills late in April - right at the other end of the grove of trees, almost diagonally opposite, there were an equal number of adult birds (some of the breeding pairs of recently-ended season), also roosting in close company. At times, one or two of the older birds would fly across to join the junior set, but this was exceptional - most of the time the two generations kept apart. The young birds were yapping occasional, infrequent calls, usually produced by just one or two birds. But the older birds indulged at times in a sustained chorus of muffled yelps - a sound not wholly unlike a chorus of faraway puppies, if one was sufficiently imaginative!

I noticed, both while the old birds were calling and while the younger birds were, that the call was uttered with the bill open - I mean, with the mouth open, for the bill of the adult openbill is always open! So far as I could note, this yapping is only indulged in when the birds are roosting together and perhaps only when they are assembled together preparatory to departure from the breeding colony. The young birds were noticeably less persistent with this strange chorus than their parents."

- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 19 May 1957 in The Sunday Statesman

#Two action photographs showing (1) Young openbills "yapping" (2)The "hiccupping" call of the spoonbills not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
27-08-2014, 05:06 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Nectar and Figs : The Sunday Statesman : 3 August 2014
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"THIS summer I found opportunity for observing the flowering of that magnificent and wholly Indian tree, the red silk-cotton (Salmalia malabarica, probably better known to readers by its old name, Bombax malabaricum) in several places. And once again I was struck by the peculiarly rich and vivid red of the flowers, so poorly depicted in plates from water colour drawings and colour photographs. I do not know if it is the process, or the that rendering of the red by the printer or the film that is to blame, but the full, opulent crimson of this flower, with the blush of rose madder on it when it is newly opened, and later the imperial tinge of purple is invariably rendered a heavy, dark, purplish red in the plates.

A friend who is fond Sanskrit classics ( unfortunately I have no Sanskrit) told me of a celebrated passage that refers to the shrill green of parakeets against the background of Salmalia bloom. Parakeets do visit this tree and tear clumsily ad the fleshy petals but I wouldn't put them down among the birds that are typically associated with its blooming. Among the regular visitors to the flowers that I noticed were the mynahs (the Common, the Brahminy and the grey-headed Mynah in that order) a few stray Rosy pastors, Bulbuls, Sunbirds and House crows. the birds put their heads right into the open flower to get at the nectar. Squirrels, of course, were very much in evidence, being avid nectar-lickers.

Another tree at which I halted frequently, and whose pendent clusters of white , thick-petalled bloom attracted many birds, was the Southern Mohwa or "Illupai" - Bassia madhuca longifolia. The buds are dark with the enclosing rusty-green outer sepals, but the opened flowers hang with the luscious globes of their corollas displayed, each like a miniature, pearly-with electric-light globe,with the style sticking down from the centre like some ornamental appendage. Naturalists and shikaris have often commented on the fondness of jungle animals for these saccharine, rank-scented globes -deer and the sloth bear, in particular, seek out the mohwa to feast on the juicy, fallen flowers, on the ground beneath. incidentally, these fallen globes are sweeter than the ones on the tree, though they are ranker-scented and have a more "fermented" flavour. Expertocrede -I have sampled both.

Strangely enough, I have not come across any mention of the mohwa in bird books as a tree that attracts the avifauna of the neighbourhood to it's bloom-a surprising omission, for then it is loud with bulbuls and other small birds. I have known this from childhood, bird only this summer did I not down the commonest visitors to the Bassia in bloom - a surprising omission, for then it is loud with bulbuls and other small birds. I have known this from childhood, but only this summer did I note down the commonest visitors to the Bassia in bloom. Chief among them are the bulbuls (the Red-vented, Red-whiskered and White-browed Bulbuls), which tear at the flower and carry away pieces of the corolla which they eat, besides drinking the nectar. I also noticed quite a few Common and Brahminy Mynahs, a Magpie-Robin, Ioras, the beautiful Small Minivet, White-headed Babbler, Sunbirds and some Warblers. Some of these, apparently, visit the tree not for the sake of its sickly-sweet flowers, but for the insects these flowers attract. I watched a Small Minivet for nearly half an hour, and though it was hunting all the time among the pendent inflorescences, it did not even peck at the petals.

In Tamil, we have a proverb, "the village that has no cane refinery gets it's sugar from the flowers of the mohwa". I have often suspected this proverb of cryptic satire, but am not sure that it has any such ltent venom, for it could be construed literally, too. However that may be it speaks of the sugar-content of the corolla.

I would like to mention another tree at which birds forgather in clamorous numbers during summer. The banyan is in red fruit right at the peak of summer, and noisy mixed parties of parakeets, every kind of Mynah, the Rosy Pastor, Bulbuls, Barbets and crows (both the House Crow and the Jungle Crow) crowd its spreading boughs then. But at times, I have noticed, the birds visit only one of four or five neighbouring trees, though all are in fruit and the figs of that tree are the tastiest - I have observed that such specially favoured trees are often comparatively young (though mature), and that their fruit is larger.

Quite a lot of insectivorous food must be consumed along with the pulp of these figs, as you will realise of you pick up a fallen fruit and examine it. Whether it is such content or not that is the incentive, its true that at such favoured banyan the birds feed with unrestrained gusto, even the crows (which are usually content with picking up the fallen fruit from the ground) tugging and pulling at the figs eagerly and tearing them off the twigs.

Recently I saw a Brahminy Mynah bolt a fig in such haste that it almost choked to death and fell from the bough to the ground, its wings threshing, a visible bulge at its throat.After a frantic minute it managed to gulp down the fruit, and then, to my surprise, it just flew up into the branches above and started pecking and tugging at another ripe fig ! "


This was first published on 11 July 1957 in The Sunday Statesman

#Two photographs of trees not reproduced here

Saktipada Panigrahi
29-09-2014, 05:12 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M.Krishnan : Call Of The Hunted : The Sunday Statesman :14 September 2014

"IT is the hunted creatures, and not the hunters, that are commonly given to alarms. When a typical predator, such as a leopard or mongoose or an otter, sees an enemy, it tries to get away, and may demonstrate at the intruder, but it raises no alarm. The common or garden cat usually climbs a wall or a tree, and from the safety of its elevation hisses at the enemy, sometimes it champis its jaws quickly and silently together in a most expressive but soundless gesture of anger and hate - however, this is usually indulged in when it is disappointed rather than it is frightened, as when a bird it is stalking moves beyond reach.

Even among the hunted, it is the creatures that live in cover that sounds alarms - the animals of the open spaces, like antelopes and hares, flash silent danger signals with their tails, or by some sudden movement that displays a warning pattern in their coats or plumage. It is unwise to be too sure in such matters, for in the nature the variations of pattern and behaviours are infinite, but this is only a broad generalisation.

Generally speaking, it seems to be true that it is the hunted creatures that live in cover that indulge in alarm calls. Usually these are sociable animals, like monkeys, chital, palm-squirrels, babblers, bulbuls, crows and mynahs - however, animals that go about singly or in small parties like sambar, muntiac and giant squirrels are equally veciferous when they sight danger. No hard and fast rule can be led down about these alarm calls; they differ in expression and reliability, as one might expect, from species to species. But all these alarmists are understood, not only by their own kind but also by others, and all of them face the sighted or suspected source of danger when calling.

There are many palm-squirrels in my meagre, semi-wild garden and I can hear them practically throughout the day. But I always know when a predator has arrived by sudden change in the calling of these squirrels. At once the cheeping takes on a sudden note of urgency, and is voiced quicker and more excitedly. When the squirrels see a Cat, they do not seek refuge in topmost boughs - invariably they climb down to a bole, if they are in the treetop and hanging head down and facing the enemy, shrill directly at it; when the cat moves to one side of the tree, the squirrels shift around, keeping the hated foe very much in sight, while they chatter their frenzied alarm. Similarly, when a Jungle Crow,with intentions towards a baby squirrel, alights on a tree, the older squirrels face it directly while scolding it. A Shikra circling low over a tree usually sends them into silent hiding, but if they give voice they look up at the bird while calling. Squirrels cease their alarm the moment predator moves out of sight.

Monkeys at treetops also face the enemy, and cease swearing at it when it has passed their range of vision. But Deer on the forest floor, with vision much restricted all around, seem to call both at the sighted predator and at the spot where they suspect it is hiding. They too face the apprehended danger while belling or barking.

Birds seem to go entirely by sight, but many of them will follow a retreating predator, calling loudly at it, when the enemy cannot fly - say, while screeching at a cat or snake, but not at a Hawk. From this loud pursuit to mobbing may be but a step, though it is a long step. How far fear and nervous reaction activate the mobbing of an enemy by birds is a question that one can not answer easily - unless one were a bird. However, in emotional and instinctive reactions (as opposed to intelligent action) there is so much in common between widely different animals that we may guess there is a fear motive behind such mobbings, though it may not be logically explicable.

I believe it the arboreal alarmists, which can see a predator clearly and which look directly at it while sounding their alarms, that are the most reliable "indicators". However, we should always remember that what excites them is the sight of some enemy that they fear - not what man fears. Many creatures that indulge in alarm calls have wrongly been termed unreliable, because of failure to appreciate this simple truth. I remember a beat where a rather high-strung shikari and I (I do not shoot) elected to sit in a bush on top of a mound. We had an uninterrupted directly in front, but could see nothing to either side.

Presently we heard an excited swearing of bulbuls to our left - then a palm-squirrel, that had been feeding on the ground in front of us, raced up a tree, turned sharply around and, hanging head down, looked to our left towards some approaching enemy, and shrilled in hysterical frenzy. Remembering that squirrel do not chatter at Pig, I whispered "cheetah" to my companion's ear, and he sat up tensely. When a lean , grey cat finally appeared, my friend felt utterly disgusted, and nothing I could tell him could make the man see that a cat represented a more dreaded enemy to bulbuls and squirrels than the largest of leopards."
-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 20 October 1957 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of a squirrel not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
18-10-2014, 03:52 PM
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The Common Langur : M.Krishnan : The Sunday Statesman : 31 August 2014
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"IF the Common Langur were less common, I am sure it would be thought one of the handsomest monkeys in the world. Elsewhere in Africa and South America, there are monkeys far brighter in colour and more picturesque in looks; even in India we have a monkey with a richer softer pelt and another with a cascading mane. But the contrast between the black of the langur's face and extremities and the grey of its coat is most pleasing and effective and a few other monkeys have such a dignified and distinguished bearing.

It is in the cold North in the foothills of the Himalayas that the Common Langur attains its best size and pelage - its thick coat is silvery grey there. In the South it is a smaller animal and its grey is no longer silvery but smoky warm shade. But everywhere the contrast between the grey of its coat and the black of its face, offset by a fringe and a peak of almost white hair, has a strong but sober contrast, lending the animal remarkable distinction. Moreover, no other monkey has such a graceful tail in action and repose.

So dark is the facial skin and so deep brown the eyes beneath the shading peak of hair that photographers find it extremely hard to get the features of the flat face in a direct front view. These sombre eyes, incidentally, amongst the sharpest in the jungles and generations of shikaris in India have been guided by their acuity when seeking to recover or follow up wounded tigers and panthers.

This brings us to an interesting question. As everyone knows, the guttural, hysterical swearing of langurs (and other monkeys) is usually a quite reliable sign that they have sighted a dreaded enemy (most probably a feline) but it is sometimes indulged in at other creatures and sights. Langurs will swear themselves hoarse when they see a dead panther being carried away, or even at a panther skin, and once I had the amusing experience to their reaction to a boldly-patterned black-and-yellow sari that my wife was wearing.

That sari was not marked in black, imitative rosettes on a tawny ground, but undoubtedly its pattern did suggest a panther's coat. We were motoring down a ghat road in an open car and passed several groups of langurs on tall roadside trees. All these monkeys are accustomed to the sight of passing humanity and cars but everyone of them swore at the sari !

I had the opportunity to observe closely the response of the Common Langurs to the appearance of a tiger on the scene. On seeing the tiger, they went up tall trees but were silent till their enemy approached their trees directly.

Then they started swearing, the vehemence of their demonstration and its abrupt cessation once the tiger passed on suggesting an uncontrollable reaction that is probably why these monkeys, which are not at all unintelligent, swear at the sight of a panther skin or even a "panther" sari - it is not that they cannot make out the difference between a panther and a human being but the sight of a too proximate appearance of the dreaded coat sets them swearing in uncontrollable fear and hate; remember that when they see a panther skulking through the bushes in poor light, what they would be seeing from their treetop stances would only be patches of skin. We are unquestionably the most intelligent of all living things but we have been known to act quite foolishly in a panic, at times fatally foolishly.

Panther and other big cat that hunt monkey depend on this panic-reaction for success in their hunting. They can never hope to catch the much lighter quarry if it stuck to the treetops - for one thing, the monkey could climb up slender branches that would snap under the hunter's weight. However, monkeys chased up a tree and with the hunter following them up the bole, or on demonstrating at them, leap down to earth and seek to escape by galloping to some other tree when the panther has no difficulty overtaking and pulling down a victim. I have never met anyone who has seen this happen but presume that on such occasions there were no nearby trees into the top of which the monkeys could leap.

Langurs are much more given to treetop life than the Macaques and their overdeveloped hind limbs serve them well in climbing and bounding from bough to bough. However, they are quite at home on the ground, too, and I have never seen them flipping up water from a hollow in a bole and branch and then licking the water from their palms, as macaques do at times. When they do need a drink, I presume langurs come down to the water, I have watched them drinking many times, crouching low to the edge of a pond or tank with the arms spread out and sipping the water.

Very little is known of the feeding habits of the Common Langurs in the wild state. They are said to be exclusively vegetarian but nowhere can I find a detailed account of their buds, fruits and tidbits. In many jungle-side villages and temples, these langurs live quite close to humanity. Those living in such places have a wonderful opportunity to observe and report the dietetic and social habits of these fascinating monkeys."

- M. Krishnan

This was first published on 22 September 1957 in The Sunday Statesman

# A photograph of the Common Langur has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
09-11-2014, 12:23 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: THE RATEL: The Sunday Statesman : 09 November 2014

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"IN the old days there was a theory about the peculiar colouring of the Ratel, which is silvery-grey on the top and black below - the usual rule for a beast to be light-coloured ventrally and dark dorsally. Explaining the unorthodox colour scheme of the Ratel, people said that it helped this nocturnal animal in escaping observation by moonlight. They argued that the broad , silvery black blended so perfectly with the bright moonlight, and the black legs and underside with the shadows, that the ratel becomes almost invisible.

Now that is a theory that can satisfy armchair naturalists. It is true that the ratel is nocturnal but, unlike the Chukori of Hindi lirics, it is not active and happy only when there is a moon. In fact, I suspect that the ratel's reputed fondness for moonlit nights is due to the fact that on dark nights people were unable to see the animal as it roamed abroad, and that it was observed only when the moon was bright enough for visibility. I must confess that I have never seen a ratel wild, by moonlight or any other light, but I have no doubt that its colouring renders it less clearly visible by moonlight than a beast that is dark all over. Those who have seen the ratel wild (usually on a riverbed or along some forest path) seem to have no great difficulty in spotting it.

The scientific explanation of the ratel's colouring is more interesting. Broadly speaking, the ratel belongs to the group that includes the Badger, the skunk (very ratel-like in its colouring) and the wolverine. The ratel, which belongs to Africa and Southern Asia, is closest to the badger and is, in fact, the Honey Badger. In this interesting loose group, many animals are dark below and light on top, or else conspicuously marked with white on the face or on top of the head, these creatures are very tough and quite formidable, in spite of their medium size, and many of them (the skunk and the wolverine, for example) have potent stink glands in addition - I should add that the wolverine, which is admittedly one of the toughest animals in creation, is not conspicuously marked in contrasting tones but is more or less whole-coloured. A characteristic that these beasts have in common is that they seem to fear no enemies and go about quite openly, not effecting the catlike stealth of typical predators, or the furtiveness of the hunted; living on small prey and partly on vegetables, they do not need to be silent in their movements, though some of them hunt expertly.

It is said that the toughness and stink of these creatures, advertised by their bold, contrasty colouring, give them a certain immunity from attack by larger animals - that their pattern of colouring is a "hands off" signal. In short, the scientific explanation is more or less Warning Colour.

Now, I have always felt a guarded distrust of Warning Colour as an explanation, but it is so very logically complete, and the more I see of life the less less logical does it seem to me. I believe that the sight and details of colouration play a much less important part in casual encounters between wild beasts than they do in our lives. For one thing, animals go more by movement than by pattern or colouration in spotting one another, again, they are so much more sensitive to sound and smell than we are: moreover, sight, at night and in the scrub or jungle, cannot be a completely revealing sense, and remembering how colours fade in poor light, and the the majority of animals are colour-blind, small touches of colour or tone can have no significance - and the theory of Warning Colour is so very dependent on the apprehension of vivid markings is obnoxious, small creatures by their potential enemies, which enemies have no instinctive apprehension of the unpleasantness of warningly coloured creatures, but must learn to avoid them by experience! And what happens when a certain colour pattern, said to be of a powerful warning nature, is pointed out in a perfectly harmless creature? The pundit, far from being perturbed, is actually delighted - he lectures you on how mimicry exists side by side with Warning Colour.

Mind, I do not for a moment that warning colouration does not obtain in nature, or that mimicry is not a provable fact (and mimicry has no value apart from warning colour) - I only say there has been a tendency in the recent past to resort to this theory too freely. I do not think the ratel's parti-coloured coat can be explained on the basis of warning colouration. The skunk, notorious for its stink skin, is silvery on top and black below, somewhat like the ratel. The ratel, too, has a sub-caudal stink gland, though it is less potent than the skunk's. But so far as I can ascertain, the ratel does not use its stink gland when it is is fighting aggressors.

Dunbar Brander, and after him Champion have rightly called the ratel the bravest animal of our jungles. It is absolutely fearless, and its strong loose skin covered in harsh hair, its elastic muscles and its indefatigable zest for life makes a formidable combination along with its powerful jaws and useful claws. Instances are on record of ratels fighting and routing dogs which set upon them in the jungle - I have observed captive ratels carefully when they were "fighting" their keepers. The stink gland (which presumably has a social function in the ratel's free life) were never used on these occasions.

The Ratel is not only the bravest beast of our wild beasts, it is also one of the most playful. Full-grown ratels turn somersaults and indulge in frisky gambols - even ratels shut up in a small cage will find amusement in turning head over heels within the narrow confinements of bars. The ratel is really tough, and full of tireless energy but it is essentially crepuscular and nocturnal and cannot stand the sun - more than one captive ratel that I knew died of sunstroke. The name Honey Badger seems to have been well earned - the amimal certainly does not have a sweet tooth. I always feel fascinated by it when I see a ratel in a zoo but cannot help feeling sorry also - it seems such a shame to continue a nocturnal wanderer so fond of open spaces and roving afield, and to exhibit it by the harsh glare of the sun."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 30 March 1958 in The Sunday Statesman

#Two photographs forming part of the article have not been reproduced.

Saktipada Panigrahi
09-11-2014, 12:58 PM
I am so pleased to inform our readers, that from his subsequent writings, I could learn that Late Shri M. Krishnan did succeed to get a sight of the Ratel ; Mellivora capensis (Schreber) in Hazaribagh N.P. ( erstwhile Bihar) on February 4, 1970.
Kind regards,

Saktipada Panigrahi
23-11-2014, 02:38 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : THE GIANT SQUIRREL : The Sunday Statesman : 23 November 2014

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" The Malabar Squirrel, in spite of its name, is by no means confined to Malabar. It is found in the Ooty area and in Mysore, in Karwar and in the foothills of the Himalayas - in many places in India where there are forests, especially semi-deciduous forests. Away from tall trees growing fairly close together, it is useless looking for Giant Squirrel ( as it is much happily named ), for it is highly arboreal creature that rarely comes down from the treetops.

The way it can race along the forest top, leaping from tree to tree, clearing the intervening air with easy grace, and deftly balancing itself on thin twigs, is truly amazing. It can hang upside down from the toeholds of its hind feet, and its great bottlebrush tail, which is fully half the length of the yard-long squirrel, is flung up as a balancer when it jumps from bough to bough.

When frightened by a too-close approach, it usually panics and bolts, and one has little chance of catching up with it again. But at times, when the sun is hot and it is not feeding or resting, it does not flee from scrutiny but climbs to the topmost boughs and hides in the foliage.

It can be comical in its comical in its concealment. As a rule, it is quite efficient in hiding, putting so much leaves between itself and the watcher that it is no longer visible. But occasionally it hides merely by stretching itself flat on its belly along a bough, and poking its head into the cover of leaves _ the fluffy, conspicuous, white-tipped tail hangs down like a banner, and the rich brown body is clear against leaf and bark, but having buried its head in the foliage, it feels secure! The Giant Squirrel can beat the Ostrich of the legend.

Most of the time, though, it is watching you, although its immobility might suggest you that it has gone to sleep - it peeps at you through chinks between leaves, and should you try to get close it will bolt. The best way to look at this handsome squirrel is to scout around and find a tree in which it has built its football-sized nest of woven twigs and leaves and fibre.

This nest is more often used for siestas than for the security of the next generation, and you often find several nests in the same tree. Provided and unhurried, casual and totally non-furtive approach is made, one can sit down ( much better to sit down when watching wild things - somehow this serves to reassure them ) not far from such a tree and study one's squirrels at leisure.

Giant Squirrels are often found in the same tree with the Common Langur, both animals being extremely tolerant of each other. I have seen a baby Langur, no bigger than a kitten and still clad in dark fur, playing about on a bough on which a Squirrel lay comfortably stretched, while the mother Langur sat in a crotch nearby, exhibiting not the least concern for her progeny.

The voice of the Giant Squirrel is in keeping with its size, a loud, metallic, rattling call, clearly audible a furlong away.

Sometimes the call is abbreviated to what corresponds to a cheep or two of the familiar striped squirrel, but recently I was surprised at the sustained silence that these big rodents can maintain when they want to be silent. In a week spent in forests where there were plenty of Giant Squirrels, I saw dozens but never heard one, they fled in silence at my approach, or else hid in the treetops, but not once did they sound their alarm. I remember how loud they were in their alarm calls, on previous encounters. I wonder why all the Squirrels of the area were so silent this time - I can think of no likely explanation."

-M. Krishnan

*This was first published on 4 May 1958 in The Sunday Statesman.
#The photograph of a giant squirrel hanging up-side down in the cage not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
18-12-2014, 06:34 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The ' DOUBLE-JUMP' technique : The Sunday Statesman 07 Dec 2014
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"THERE were three Jackals in the cage and at my near approach to the bars they became excited as caged jackals often do. Some zoo animals are supremely indifferent to close human scrutiny, some (many of the Cats, for example) resent it and try to get at the onlooker through the bars, but Jackals get frightened.

At one end of the cage there was a shallow trough in the cement flooring and one of the Jackals crouched in this depression, only its head showing above, another crouched in the opposite corner of the cage, but the third Jackal was moved to a futile exhibition of flight. It scurried across the cage to the trough, leaped at the end wall, got its forefeet on the wall and then, by a thrust of its hind legs against the floor, hoisted itself higher up the wall so that all the four feet were momentarily on the vertical surface, kicked out with its hind legs against the wall and through itself back on the floor from this kick - then it scurried across the other end of the cage, turned, and rushed back to the trough to leap again at the wall at its end. I was fascinated by this tactics, for I knew what that frantic Jackal was trying to do - had it not been a sheer, smooth, plastered wall that it leaped against but a rock face offering the least purchase to its feet, it would have gone higher up from the kick against the vertical surface (instead of throwing itself away from the wall) and have cleared the top of the rock.

However, that is only my theory. An elderly gentleman, who stood beyond the rails narrowly watching both the Jackal and my attempt to photograph it, seemed to take a different view. After staring hard for a couple of minutes, he walked off, flinging a comment at me over his shoulder as he went away in the manner of elderly gentlemen.

"Mad!" he pronounced. " Stark, staring mad! "

I am sure he was referring to the Jackal's behaviour and not mine.

Years ago, writing in this column about the ability of the common or garden Cat to scale a vertical surface by leaping at it and then propelling itself further up by a quick kick of hind legs against the wall or other sheer surface, I pointed out how certain light-footed creatures were able to ascend heights which they certainly cannot clear at a jump, by this means. To a large extent, it seems to be a feat that only agile creatures, with powerful but deft hind legs, can perform, but if the vertical height is not too much, even heavy animals can manage it.

Years ago I had a beautifully balanced Poligar hound and a massive stout-hearted Labrador. My compound wall, which was just four feet high, was no limiting factor to Chocki the Poligar _ she could clear it easily with inches to spare. But the Labrador, who was a great wanderer, had to leap at the wall, get a purchase on the top momentarily with his paws and then project himself over the wall with a kick of the hind legs against the base. That is not quite the same thing at leaping at and then up, a wall face, though it was a remarkable feat in an animal weighing all of 70 lb - I shall return to this difference later. Incidentally, that Labrador could climb trees after a fashion if the bole was not too high and sloped sufficiently for him to scramble up to the lowest fork.

I have seen a Jackal in the scrub streaming up a boulder that was taller than I, at that time I thought that the animal has reached the top in one leap, but now realise that it must have jumped at the side of the boulder and then projected itself upward with a kick. I have repeatedly watched Cats perform this trick. So deft and quick is the movement that unless one watches for the kick with the coupled hind legs against the wall, one is apt to miss it altogether and gain the impression that the animal reached the top of the wall in one clear leap.

Surely this is why Panthers cannot be confined by high walls or a deep moat - being extraordinarily agile, they have no trouble leaping into the moat, and then clearing the outer wall by the " double-jump " technique. No doubt the marvellous ability of klipspringers, chamois and other light-footed animals in jumping to the top of high steep rocks is also due to this trick.

During the past year, I have observed young goats jumping to the top of a wall, using this technique - the mother goat was not able to do so. When I kept milch-goats, I noticed that while the compound wall was high enough to confine the heavy buck, the big cross-bred does, the kids and the trim little Surti does had no difficulty getting to its top.

Lions and Tigers and other heavily-built beasts no doubt find their weight against them though they are so wonderfully swift and fluid in their movements and cannot leap against a sheer wall and then over its top from a quick downwardly directed kick against its side with the hind legs. The distinction between this trick jump and climbing or scrambling up a vertical surface has to be kept in mind - the "double-jump" trick may seem only a speeded-up extension of a swarming movements upwards, but it is not.

Quite massive animals like bears can climb expertly and I believe my Labrador was by no means unique in its ability to scramble up walls and fences and that other dogs of the breed are equally given to it. But that is not the "double-jump". I have carefully watched such expert climbers and scramblers as Monkeys and Squirrels attempting to go up vertical surfaces such as walls - where they succeeded ( they failed many times ) it was by scrambling upward using all four limbs to grip a surface sufficiently rough, not by a swift projection of their bodies but by a kick with the hind legs against the wall."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 25 May 1958 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photographs documenting the trick of the Jackal not reproduced here.

Sabyasachi Patra
19-12-2014, 03:06 PM
I have seen this behaviour with our dog. In the early eighties we used to stay in a Govt. colony as my dad was vice principal. We had a dog which was brought to us by a peon living close to a forest. This puppy was a mixed breed or "misa" as they call in those areas. They say it is female dog and male jackal mix. Our dog had a long nose, he was great at sniffing. Even when he was inside the house, he would bark when snakes enter into the compound. He was a very angry fellow. Controlling him was very difficult even biting a few guys. I too have been bitten. I could not go close to him when he was eating. On days when there is no non-veg, he used to hide behind a wall and keep a watch for the crows coming to eat his lunch. He would then run and chase the crows and jump on the wall which was close to 6 and half feet. When he grew older, he continued this chase and twice I have seen him jump on the wall and then kind of kick with both the hind legs so that his front two legs reached over the top of the wall. We started fearing that he would one day climb over the wall and get into the compound of the church adjoining our wall. I never used to go there for fear of snakes. Due to his violent temper I thought our dog will attack any snake and get bitten. So we started chaining him more often. I am very sure if we would have allowed him, then he would have learnt to climb over the wall by the "double-jump" technique.

Saktipada Panigrahi
22-12-2014, 01:18 PM
In my childhood I have often seen domesticated Dog chasing Jackal in the evening our the remote village in East Midnapore.
After going through Shri Sabyasachi's interesting and pertinent observations, I tried and could locate a piece of information from M.Krishnan's writings.
The genus 'Cuon' (the genus of Wild Dog) is distinguished from 'Canis' (the genus of the Wolf, the Jackal, and and all domesticated Dogs) mainly by there being one molar less on each side in the lower jaw, the bitch having about 14 teats instead of 10.
Col. R. W. Burton (Journal BNHS 41 (4): 691-715) in his note summing up information available up to 1940 says - 'the Jackals have been known to interbreed with Dhole, and also the domesticated Dogs and cites the instance of a wild dog bitch with her two pups, sired by a Jackal in Mysore zoo in November, 1930.
Krishnan felt that apparently the extreme likelihood of the progeny of such far-fetched matings ( between Dhole and domesticated Dog having different genus) being infertile was not considered by Burton.

In substance, on one point both Krishnan and Burton have not disagreed that - 'Jackal is known to inbreed with domesticated Dog' - the genus of both being the same as observed by Shri Sabyasachi.

Kind regards,

Saktipada Panigrahi
04-01-2015, 07:01 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Some claims for our Wildlife : The Sunday Statesman: 04 January 2015
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" ACTUALLY this is only a part of the claims that can be advanced, fairly, on behalf of India's fauna, for this is limited to mammals and takes no note of the country's rich reptilian and avian life. And even within this limit, there is no attempt here to be exhaustive (and exhausting) in the claiming. Some of our animals (almost all our Monkeys, for example) are peculiar to the country, but to list these would serve no purpose - that kind of distinction is enjoyed by the fauna of other countries as well, with Australia an easy first. Only those Indian animals that have a unique or substantial distinction among the wild beasts of the world will be mentioned here. Their claims should be well and widely known, but, unfortunately, are not, even within India.

Did you know, for instance, that the largest wild ox in the world is the Indian Gaur ? You did ? Well, then I'm afraid I must disagree with you, right at the start! The Gaur is no doubt the tallest of extant wild oxen and impressively dark and massive, and though not wholly Indian (being found in Burma and Malaya as well) it is widest distributed here. But I doubt if it is the largest wild ox. Magnificent as it is, for sheer bulk and power the palm must go to the Wild Indian Buffalo, the progenitor of our familiar domestic strains.

Lacking the Gaur's great dorsal ridge, the Wild Buffalo is not so tall at the shoulder, but it is more massively built and is somewhat the heavier animal - it is definitely the most formidable member of the bovine tribe. Of course you may argue that a buffalo is a buffalo, and not strictly speaking , an ox - the better way would be to double the claim and say that both the grandest wild oxen in the world belong to India.

The largest animal on earth is the larger of the two African Elephants, which is very different from ours. However, our Elephant is also pretty big, and the art of capturing and taming wild elephants to serve humanity has been longest known in India, and has been closely sustained through centuries. It is said that Hannibal's elephants were African. May be, but there are older records of war elephants in India, and it is our Elephant that is known the world over for its sagacity and willingness in the circus ring, and as the great good natured provider of joy rides to children in zoos.

Recently I read, in more than one book that the second-largest land animal is the African "white" or "square-lipped" rhinoceros. The one-horned Great Indian Rhinoceros at least shares this honour with its African cousin.

India is richest in Deer species. The biggest of all deer (the moose) is North American, and the deer with the most magnificent antlers (the wapiti) also belongs to North America, and it is there and thereabouts that one can see the most spectacular assemblies of deer.

But our country has more kinds of DEER than any other, no less than eight, in fact - excluding the Thamin or Brow-Antlered Deer even, we have the Kashmir Stag, the Gond or Swamp Deer (which is purely Indian and of which there are two distinct races) the Sambar (which attains its best development here, though it is also found in Burma, Malaya and Ceylon), the Hog Deer of North India (curiously enough, it is to be found in Ceylon, though it does not occur elsewhere in India), the typically Indian Chital or Spotted Deer, thought by many to be the loveliest of all Deer, the Muntjac or Barking Deer, the Musk Deer, and last and least, the dinky little Mouse Deer.

It is Africa that is the paradise of Antelopes - there, they have more than trebled the antelope species that any other country can boast of. We have not even half-a-dozen animals of the Antelope tribe, but among them are two that can claim Worldwide uniquity. The Blackbuck, which is found nowhere else, is considered the most beautiful Antelope alive, even by some who have seen the African Impala and in spite of its comparatively small size, it is the fastest thing on four legs over any real distance - its sustained and effortless speed is marvelous, to say the least.

The exclusively Indian Four-horned Antelope or Chousingha, a compact little beast partial to grassy plateaus and almost deerlike in its habits, is the only wild animal on earth with four horns. The Buck has two spike horns, and in front of these, two lesser horns which may be nothing more than mere knobs - the does are hornless. It is heartening to know that this charming little creature will be protected wherever it occurs, hereafter.

Nothing very remarkable can be claimed for our carnivores. The Lion of Gir and the ubiquitous Indian Leopard are much the same as lions and leopards elsewhere. The Tiger has a more luxurious coat and reaches a greater length in its more northern ranges in Asia, though it is here that it is commonest and best known. Our Wolf is a smallish beast, compared to wolves elsewhere. In fact, the only Indian carnivore with any major physical claim seems to be the Striped-necked Mongoose, which is the biggest of Asiatic Mongooses.

The Sloth Bear, which is the common bear of the country, is certainly a very peculiar beast. Our Himalayan Bears have larger representatives in other countries, some much larger. But the Sloth Bear is confined to India and Ceylon (the Ceylonese race is slightly different) and is sufficiently individualistic to be assigned to a class of its own. It is very much on the decline and has dis appeared from many places where it was common only two generations ago. Unless it is accorded efficient protection, there is a risk of this important denizen of our jungles dying altogether.

What has been said so far has been from the viewpoint of size and looks and anatomical peculiarities and that is surely no way to look at the fauna of any country. An animal plucked from its natural setting and placed on a dissection table so that its body may be scrutinised is invariably at its worst. To know it, it must be seen at its native haunts, and its habits and behaviour studied - it is then that it ceases to be a specimen and becomes fascinatingly alive. Even today, with our fauna and flora much depleted, our Wildlife is no less varied or interesting than that of any other country and perhaps we can hope, tomorrow, to recapture some of its past wonderful richness."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 17 August 1958 in The Sunday Statesman

# One photograph of Spotted Deer has not been reproduced.

Saktipada Panigrahi
18-01-2015, 03:18 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : The mongoose-cobra fight : The Sunday Statesman : 11 January 2015
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"SO much has been written already about the mongoose-cobra fight that unless one has something new to say there is no point in saying anything at all. And even if one has something new, it is impossible to say it without covering the old ground.

Clearly one of those situations that Shakespeare summed up admirably add to the embarrasment of grammarians in the famous lines:

If it were done when 'tis done,
then 'twere well
It were done quickly.

Here, then, is the resume of the fight as reported by observers ranging from Jardon and Kipling to Sunday magazine photographers. In the fight, the mongoose rely on sheer agility and not, the legend would have it, on a herb which it knows and whose leaves, well chewed, are a sure remedy for snake-bite. It is also helped by its thick, harsh, pepper-and-salt coat - the bristled hair magnifies the size of the mongoose and causes the cobra to strike 'short', and to some extent the coat prevents the fangs sinking into the flesh, even if the snake does succeed in getting in a bite. Furthermore, mongooses, like hedgehogs and pigs, are less susceptible to snakebite than most mammals. However, it is its superior agility that serves the mongoose best in the encounter. It hurls itself aside when the snake strikes, sometimes turning a somersault in its haste, and when the cobra is somewhat spent by the effort and can no longer raise its head quickly from the ground after striking and missing, the mongoose leaps in and fastens its teeth in its adversary's head. Then it crunches the life out of the snake.

It is a pretty fair and complete summary of what has been written so far, and accurate enough as an observation report till the very end. But the fight never ends as simply as that - the mongoose pouncing in and crunching up the snake's head in one bite. It leaps in and bites, and if it gets a fair hold, hangs on - if it does not, it releases the hold and leaps aside before the snake can do any harm and then waits for a better opportunity. When it has secured a firm grip on the snake's head, a violent, though frequently brief, struggle follows.

That may seem an academic nicety, whether the mongoose kills in one quick crunch or in a prolonged bite, till I explain my point. The mongoose invariably gets it hold on the snake's head, usually on the SNOUT. Thereafter the snake thrashes about and writhes violently in an attempt to break the enemy's grip. It is then the damage is done. A snake is only as good as its spine - as those who have killed a snake with a stick will know, a blow that breaks the back is far more effective in immobilising the reptile than one that crushes the head. A snake with a crushed head will no doubt die ultimately whereas such injury to the brain will kill a mammal instantly and outright in the lowly snake whose nervous system is less specialised and capitalized, the body continues to move rapidly after the head is dead, since the spinal nerves that control movement still function. "Eha" commenting on its peculiarity in his immutable manner says,
"There is nothing new under the sun - it is only the boasted principle of Self-Government"!

In the struggle that follows the mongoose's abiding bite, the cobra lashes out and coils and uncoils itself so violently that often the mongoose is tumbled right over. Nor is the attacker passive, merely hanging on grimly - it jerks and worries the snake, and I am not at all sure that its tumbles are not voluntary.

Whether this is so or not, the snake gets twisted and often it is on its back for considerable portions of its length - it is then that the mongoose is able to jerk it about, for a snake, whose "legs" are its ribs, has little purchase on the earth when turned over on its back. Within a minute or two the snake's struggle becomes weaker and less effective and controlled - its spine has been injured, or else numbed for movement, in course of its desperate struggles. Thereafter, with its adversary rendered helpless by spinal injury, the mongoose has little trouble in despatching it.

In the course of many years, I have seen only three mongoose-cobra fights, all three staged by snake-charmers for the entertainment of a crowd of spectators - two of those cobras were quite impressive (though, of course, they had been rendered impotent by removal of their poison glands) but none of the mongooses were full-grown. Once I had a good fortune to witness a KITTEN killing a middle-sized wild cobra _ its tactics were similar to those of a mongoose except that it made free use of its forefeet and claws to hold the snake's head down.

I remember the first mongoose-cobra encounter I saw more clearly than I should for purely adventitious reasons. I was school boy then, and the "battle" was staged in the yard of our school. The cobra was small and thin, and the mongoose was almost full-grown. It was all over in a few seconds. The snake's back was actually broken very early so that the bones formed a sharp protruding angle beneath the skin. I remember how, when I pointed this as the main cause of quick killing, my form-master held me up to ridicule, to the loud delight of my fellows, and was most sarcastic over my powers of observations. His view was that the snake was killed by a single bite.

The other two cobras were much larger and heavier and the battle was somewhat protracted. I noticed in these fights (and in the encounter between that kitten and wild cobra, too) a spinal injury (or shock) sustained by the snake in the course of its furious struggles and in in the worrying it was subjected to, preceded its death - the spinal injury (or shock) was apparent in the sudden lack of coordination of the snake's movements even more than in the slackening or their tempo.

One last point. In every instance the mongoose sank its teeth into the snake's upper jaw, getting a hold over the snout and leaving the lower jaw hanging loose. In a snake too, it is the lower jaw that is moved when it bites but the cobra was unable to snap with its loose-hanging lower jaw. I do not know the reason for this.

Of course, it is possible that a full-grown mongoose may deal masterfully with a cobra and kill it in one crunching bite. It is also quite possible that a really large cobra may get the better of a rash mongoose in a fight. The more I see of wild animals, the less certain do I feel of knowledge of animal behaviour gained by the study of captives. However, this uncertainty is most acute and valid in the study of intelligence and social behaviour of an animal and perhaps captive creatures love and fight very much as they do when wild."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 24 August 1958 in The Sunday Statesman

#One photograph has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
27-02-2015, 10:49 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: A tongue a cubit long : The Sunday Statesman :22 February 2015
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" IN many Indian languages, a long tongue signifies impertinence, especially the young, the lowly and others expected, by a fading tradition, to observe a respectful silence while their elders and betters gabble. Not so in Tamil, length of tongue something different, an epicurean love of food, particularly in the phrase, "a tongue a cubit long" that denotes a shrewd discrimination in things to eat.

Judged by that Tamil phrase, the HIMALAYAN BLACK BEAR in the picture must be a regular gourmet - and it is! It wanders far in search of titbits, climbs trees for honey, knows where the market-gardener has grown his peas and often indulges a taste for red flash and choice insect fare. The much wider distributed SLOTH BEAR, too, is choosy in its feeding; it will dig a foot-and a half into the soil for the sake of a beetle grub, excavate deep into an anthill to finally at the queen and climb the wild date palm to drink the toddy from the tapper's suspended pot (in places where Prohibition does not obtain, of course!) It has aptly been called an expert field-botanist for it knows just where and when to find the fig and the ber and the jamoon fruit and mohwa flowers.

Both these bears are bulky beasts and need plenty of sustenance and to find the varied titbits they like they often travel far and work hard. But of course they do guzzle more easily obtained food as well and indulge in a great feast when they strike it rich, as when they find their way into an orchard or a field of corn.

Talking of gourmets among our wild animals, I would leave out those creatures, like the Pangolin ( though the pangolin does have a long tongue! ) that are highly specialised in their feeding habits - they are faddists, not gourmets! Most of the predators may also be left out for they have limited choice of food - raw flesh is much of a muchness and even when it is something they fancy especially, predators usually bolt their food and do not chew and relish it. However within these limitations they do have strong preferences. Cattle-lifting TIGERS like a well-fleshed cow or bullock if they have the choice and both TIGERS and LEOPARDS ( which, like all hunters, have to keep very fit to find and to kill their prey and instinctively avoid all risks of potential injury ) lose their habitual caution when they sight the prickly, plump porcupine - at times they get quite badly stuck and are disabled or even die, in consequence.

It is among the herbivores and omnivores that we find the real epicures. Most of the herbivores need plenty of food and crop or browse steadily with little evidence of leisured relish. However, they do have decided tastes. Many of us like the bitter gourd in a curry and some like its bitterness unmitigated by too much spicing or jaggery, but no man is as fond of the fruit as the BLACK BUCK is. In the Tungabhadra area, it was by setting snares for them in patches of wild bitter gourd that the trappers exterminated local buck. Many ANTELOPES and DEER have powerful likes in the matter of herbs, leaves and fruits they eat, but none, I think, is as particular as the MUNTJAC or barking deer.

Incidentally, the deer has a tongue almost a cubit long, which it wraps around a twig and then draws down to strip it clean of tender leaves! It has been said that occasionally this deer will eat the dead meat. Once I watched a muntjac feeding for almost an hour; it never stopped long at any place, and covered much ground with a nibble here and nibble there, seeking and finding choice buds and shoots and herbs.

Even the ELEPHANT, which needs such quantities of fodder everyday, can be quite a gourmet. Pad-elephants which I got to know loved ripe bananas, wood-apples dried dates and sugarcane but rejected guavas and the nelli fruit (amla). Incidentally, wild elephants are very fond of the jackfruit which they crush open to get at the sweet, pulpy segments within, leaving the spiky, glutinous rind.

It is among the omnivores that we come across some of the nature's choosiest eaters. Many RODENTS are omnivorous, eating a certain amount of animal food besides plant food. The common PALM-SQUIRREL, is given to a much more varied diet than most people think and uses much cunning and climbing skill to get what it wants. I hope to make a report on its feeding habits in this column in due course, but the point I now wish to make that we know little about the gustatory preferences of even such a common and garden creature.

Sometimes observation reveals unexpected tastes and experiments yield quite surprising results. The ''MUSK-RAT '' which runs about our homes is really the MUSK-SHREW, and a true insectivore, subsisting on cockroaches, crickets, termites, worms and such small fry.

Intrigued by finding it so often in rat-traps baited with coconut or sweet biscuits, I carried out an investigation, only to discover that the musk-shrew has a decided sweet tooth and loves anything with sugar or honey in it!

MONKEYS, specially the omnivorous macaques, are sometimes fastidious in their feeding. Though the Bonnet Macaque feeds on many kinds of grain, fruit and herbage (including tender leaves of the tamarind) which it has little difficulty in finding, when it comes to the corrinda (and the closely allied Carissa caranadas) fruit it will spend hours in going from bush to spiky bush carefully picking each purplish ripe berry between fore-finger and thumb and then stuffing it into the cheek-pouch.

And I have seen this monkey climb a tamarind to drink the water held in a hollow high up the tree by the laborious process of flipping the water up with a hand and catching the droplets in its open mouth when there was a pond with stone steps close by at which it could have slaked its thirst much more comfortably - water that has been in contact with the wood of tamarind or nelli trees has a sweetish taste.

But of course no animal goes to the lengths that man does in his gustatory orgies. I may be mistaken but though I can find nothing definite about it in books I have, is n't it a fact that both human history and dentition go to show that man is essentially an omnivore? "

- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 21 December 1958 in The Sunday Statesman

# The photograph of the Himalayan Black Bear is not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
01-03-2015, 07:44 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : The Hill Maynah : The Sunday Statesman : 01 March 2015
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" THE Grackle or Hill Mynah is one of those birds which most people know better in a cage or aviary than in the native jungles for it is widely celebrated as a talker and a mimic. In fact, many consider it as finest mimic among birds, and it is not only in our country that it has this unique reputation - it belongs almost exclusively to India, but every cage-bird fancier in the rest of Asia, and in Europe, and in America, knows it.

However, I am no cage bird fancier, and I can tell you that few birds revel more in their freedom. It is not in every hill range that you can find the Hill Mynah, it lives exclusively in the treetops, and it is in well-wooded forests, above a certain elevation, that it makes its home. Though a most accomplished mimic with a considerable repertoire of clearly enunciated phrases and snatches of tunes when trained, in nature it has no song, nor even many calls - the commonest of these is a loud, rich, long-drawn call, suggestive to the human ear and mind of zestful joy. It is a bird that goes about in pairs and small parties, flying from tree to tree on quick wings.

At Siruvani, on the borders of Palghat and Coimbatore, I spent an afternoon last year on the shore of a dam-fed lake. The elevation of that place was not great, about 3500 feet or so, and the vegetation there suggested, except for the clumps of bamboos, an evergreen forest. Lofty trees, such as Poon, towered to the skies and the undershrub was succulent, broad-leaved and darkly green. The lake, reflecting the vegetative luxuriance that ringed it, was a deep viridian, with a sudden transition to cerulean in the middle where it mirrored the sky, and when a breeze stirred its surface there were ripples of glinting silver all over. I spent hours at this delightful spot, watching two pairs of Hill Mynahs.

They will perch on a leafless bough on top of the great tree beneath which I sat, coming out from time to time with low musical conversational sounds, varied by a harsher, more guttural note. Then one pair will fly away, with a brief warbled call, very reminiscent of the trisyllabic flight-call of the Common Mynah, but richer in tone; they will fly straight and fast, the white-banded wings whirring right across the lake to a tree on the other bank, almost a furlong away. I could see them quite clearly through my binoculars, but frequently they disappeared into the foliage of that tree, possibly to feed on their fruit - I could not identify that their rich-toned, fluent call will come clear across the water, and presently the pair on my tree will depart, with their quickly-warbled flight-call, to join their companions, or else to find their way to some other tree on the further bank.

Often the birds would fly right away, beyond the field of my vision, but invariably they returned to my tree, to perch on the naked top bough. Even in the open, beneath a clear sky, they looked black all over except where the sun touched up an irridescent green or purple highlight in the plumage, but the cadmium yellow of the wattles and the beak and the legs stood out clear against the dark body. The Southern Hill Mynah, not quite so long, but squatter and heavier in build.

These Hill Mynahs, are not, in point of fact, closely related to the true Mynahs, that they resemble superficially. They are classed apart in a family by themselves, and even in their habits they differ much from the ground-loving Mynahs, which eat quite a lot of insect food besides fruits. Hill Mynahs are wholly arboreal and are fruit-eaters. In captivity they are sometimes fed a little finely minced meat, and while it seems to do them no harm (any bird that eats figs takes in , willy-nilly, a certain amount of larval fare), I doubt if it does them any good.

Hill Mynahs seem to keep themselves to themselves, even outside taxonomical classifications. So far as I know, they do not seem to associate with other birds, as the true Mynahs do freely, at fig-tree feasts. Incidentally, they are by no means birds confined to evergreen forests. I have never seen so many Hill Mynahs as in the deciduous forests of Mudumalai, where the picture I offer was taken."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 28 December 1958 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of pairs of Hill Mynahs perched on a leafless bough on top of a great tree is not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
09-03-2015, 07:06 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Why it's called the pangolin : The Sunday Statesman : 8 March 2015
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"THE oddest of our wild animals, I think, is the Pangolin, or, Scaly Ant-eater. Even among domestic beasts, where some fancy varieties have been bred, there is nothing quite so odd.

Taxonomically, Pangolins belong to the primitive order of "toothless" animals that includes the ant-eaters, armadillos, and sloths of Tropical America, and the aardvark of South Africa (familiar to most crossword puzzle addicts), an order that is more a jumble of curious beasts with no front teeth than one with strong generic affinities. However, it is true that all the beasts belonging to this order have no front teeth: some, like the Pangolins, are wholly toothless, and others have only very poorly developed cheek-teeth.

Was it Champion who called our pangolin "an animated fircone" ? I am not sure if it was, but that terse description is quite adequate. Only the animated cone is almost four feet long when on its feet, and curled into a tight spiral, when the resting or in a self-defensive attitude, with the head tucked in on the breast and the powerfully-muscled, powerfully-scaled prehensile tail outermost. The abdomen of the pangolin in naked, with no protective armour of the superimposed triangular scales, and naturally it covers this area with its tail when it curls up. It has been said that the pangolin is a slow mover, walking on its knuckles with a shuffling gait, with the heavy tail raised clear of the ground, and it is almost entirely nocturnal. It is true that being clad in a heavy suit of scale mail, it cannot gallop or even trot and that moving on the knuckles of the forefeet (with the great, inwardly-directed claws not touching the ground) and the flat soles of the hind feet (which have blunt, thick claws), it does shamble as fast as a man normally walks. And though pangolins are mainly nocturnal, they have been seen abroad early morning, after the sunrise.

Pangolins are not forest animals entirely - in fact, they are commoner in scrub jungles and jungles clothing the bases of hills. But they are seldom seen, being very shy of daylight, and spend the day curled up in repose deep down their burrows.

So far as I know, pangolins live entirely on ants and termites and their eggs. They dig up anthills with their strongly-clawed forefeet and are expert at burrowing. They live in tunnels dug by themselves, often nearly 20 feet long!

The pangolin in the picture was an adult male, brought to me by a gipsy. When placed six feet up on horizontal limb of a tree, it promptly tumbled down, landing on its arched back every time so as to break the fall. However, a pangolin can climb quite well when it wants to. It found an ants' nest in my garden and had quite a hearty feed, darting its long, glutinous, vermiform tongue in and out to lick the ants, which it dug up with its feet. It was not at all frightened of us, and it was with difficulty that we got it curl up for a defensive portrait.

One thing I noticed about this creature was its sure sense of direction. Pangolins are said to go mainly by a sure sense of smell, but this one was able to find its way back to that ants' nest, with little circumambulation, when it was lifted bodily and removed, round an angle of the house to different corners of the compound.

We learn very little about the ways of wild animals by our studies of captive specimens, and often misjudge their capacities because, because, in captivity, they are just not themselves. With creatures like pangolin, highly adapted to a limited sort of life and hard to observe in their native haunts, captive specimens have provided most of the information we have.

This naturally leads one to presume that their lives are even more restricted then they are. In fact, we know precious little about pangolin's private life, and its likes and prejudices. I am afraid we do not even know why it is called "pangolin". My dictionary, which provides such information in a terminal note set in a smaller, different type that somehow smacks of superior knowledge, is discreetly silent on the point. This leaves me, for the first time, with a feeling of ascendancy over my dictionary, for I think I can guess why the pangolin is called the pangolin. It must be that that is the name of the animal in Chinese, for that that is not its name in any of the many languages or our country! "

- M. Krishnan

This was first published on 11 January 1959 in The Sunday Statesman

#One photograph of a male pangolin not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
31-03-2015, 03:47 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : A boxed-in paradox : The Sunday Statesman : 15 March 2015
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(Turtle, Tortoise)

" DOWN where I live, the tortoise commonly found in ponds and minor-tanks is not, as I discovered recently to my surprise, a tortoise at all. The volume on Cheloni of Fauna informs me, authoritatively, that it is a turtle, the Pond Turtle, to be precise. I know the creature well, though for years I have mistaken its identity, a broad, flat turtle with a smooth unsegmented skin over its carapace, the greenish-grey nondescript colour of stagnant ponds, looking like nothing so much as a split half of coconut floating on water, but sinking instantly to the bottom at the least stir of the watcher with an apprehensive wariness of which coconuts are quite incapable. However, I am not writing of it.

I am writing of the authentic POND TORTOISE less common but by no means rare in the South; in fact, it was in the course of the specific verification of its identity that I learned what I did about the Pond Turtle. One day last month fate brought a well-developed Tortoise to me, with flattened, strongly-clawed limbs, a horny shell strongly patterned in shields, and soft, lustrous eyes its carapace had three parallel ridges longitudinally, and by these tokens, and the help of good book, I was able to establish its identity definitely as Geoemyda Trijuga (forma typica). No feat of identification, but it was just as well that it has such fragrant external characteristics, that the varieties of tortoise inhabiting ponds in our country are limited in number.

The taxonomy of the tortoises goes very much by the structure of their skull, and the flattened bony plates that lie beneath the externally visible shell, so that is by a study of its skeleton that one can usually be certain of a given specimen. The Fauna also told me, in an aside, that the obviously amphibious tortoise before me was a vegetarian and belonged to a widely distributed genus.

However, even before I had satisfied myself fully of the identity of my captive by inspecting its shell, and its head and limbs and tidy little tail when these are in view, I lost in its exact name. What intrigued me about it was something very different. I had placed flat on its back, the better to look at its plastron, when my scrutiny was interrupted by a summons. And when I returned a minute later, there was no tortoise to be seen!

I felt surprised. Somewhere, I had read that if you leave a Chelonian flat on its back, it could not right itself --- to be fair to that unremembered author, I must add that it was of the huge Marine Turtles that he had written that. But I had taken the pains to leave my tortoise perfectly flat on its three keels on the doormat, and was taken aback at its quick resumption of its legs and its getaway.

I searched my den and found a defunct, yellow two-anna bit in the dark corner, but no fugitive tortoise. It was finally discovered, after a futile hunt around the garden, in a nearby gutter. Then I put it on its back again,
retreated behind the cover of my table, and watched developments.

The way it righted itself was interesting. Encased in a rigid shell and evenly balanced on its back, it cannot tilt itself to one side by rolling over nor can it touch the ground on either side with its protruded limbs.

But it can and does put out its head, reach out on its extensile neck and establish contact with the floor with the top of its nose -- then it pushes quickly to one side, extending the limbs on the side on which it is seeking to lean over and rights itself with a tumble. First the head comes out, the wary eyes take stock and one is around, back goes the head into the shell. But if the coast seems clear, the limbs to one side are pushed out and then, with a movement incredibly swift for a Tortoise and so fast that the eye cannot follow it clearly, the manoeuvre is completed by the downward push of the head. Incidentally, the tail comes out the moment the hind legs are pushed out (both the hind legs do come out though it is only one that is extended laterally and goes back into retreat with them -- it seems not to be independently controlled, though I may be mistaken on this point. The effort of righting itself is obviously a strain on the animal and though I observed it twice and took some high-speed flash photos of the critical moment, I took care to giver the tortoise plenty of rest in between.

This Tortoise is amphibious and swims with ease, though less expertly than the Pond Turtle. It is quite at home on Terra firma and can clamber over doorsills and minor obstacles in its path, using the clawed limbs -- but it cannot climb. It seems totally guided by powerful apprehensive instincts but, as several authorities on the Chelonia have pointed out, we cannot judge a Tortoise's intelligence by our own standards -- which, I may add, are frequently higher.

Geoemyda is a living paradox. It is so perfectly equipped for a life of retreat, its head goes so safely into the sanctuary of its shell on its retractile neck, the limbs are withdrawn and tucked inwards, towards the middle of the body, out of harm's way and the little tail clamps so firmly to one side, inside the notched opening at the back of the shell. Only the hard protective shell is on view, and the soft vulnerable tortoise within takes no harm even if the shell is turned right over by an enemy. Wherever it goes, this slow-moving hermit takes its cave with it, withdrawing instantly into the refuse at the least hint of danger. One would expect such a slow, well-fortified creature to lead a life of sedentary calm, sticking to its pond until forced by circumstance to seek the next pond. But Geoemyda is a born explorer and travels far from its safe sanctuary. D. H. Lawrence had a truer insight into Chelonian mind than taxonomists -- " Little Ulysses " describes these wandering hermits so perfectly."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 1 March 1959 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of a Tortoise has not been reproduced here

Saktipada Panigrahi
19-04-2015, 08:15 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : A Jungle Mystery : The Sunday Statesman : 19 April 2015
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" THE first time I saw a Sambar hind with parallel scars down the flank, I did not give the matter another thought. Three days later, in the same block of forest, I saw her again; only after she had tripped daintily away, pausing momentarily to give me a snapshot before disappearing behind a clump of bamboo, did I remember a detail -- the Sambar I had first seen had the scars on the right flank, but this one had the marks on the left side and, moreover, had only two lines scored on her skin.

A week later I saw a third hind with the same kind of scars on the flank. Undoubtedly this was a different animal from the two seen earlier; neither of those had the raw, red sore patch on the throat that most adult Sambar in most places have, but this one had a glaring throat patch (incidentally, no definite and conclusive explanation of the cause of these sores seems to have been provided so far). All three hinds had well-shrunk, healed scars with the skin showing dark and hairless along the lacerations.

That evening I discussed the mystery with Bomma, the Kurubar tracker, and a local officer. After all, they belonged to the place and might know its secrets.

Beyond clearing his throat noisily, Bomma had nothing to say. The officer, however, made up for this by providing the choice of two explanations. First, he said the scars might have been caused by the spiky giant bamboo that abounded the jungle. Then he pointed out that this was not unlikely. The slender, villainous, steel-tough hooks of the bamboo scratch the human skin but not the hide of Deer; anyway they wouldn't have left behind a set of short, longitudinal, parallel scars; the bamboo could be dangerous all right and split a man right through if he rushes blindly through a clump, but it claws neither man nor beast. So what if it wasn't bamboo? He then said it was a Stag.

I had noticed the marks on the Sambar seemed weird but, significantly, no stag had inflicted those marks on them. Stags are quite rough in their courting, and often furrowed their mates with tips of their antlers but what he was suggesting was fantastic and I didn't even have to say that it would be a complaisant hind, indeed, that would wait for a stag to inflict three or four "furrows" along her side.

From the first, I wondered if those marks on the Sambar were the results of a predator's claws -- a Panther or a Tiger. But how come no less than three hinds in that limited block carried those healed scars? An immature or incapacitated Tiger, perhaps, sojourning in that forest some two months previously?

The next morning Bomma and I came across a big Stag that carried the same kind of claw marks, only this time the wound was fresh and bleeding, high up though, almost on the rump. It was obvious that the Stag was in pain but it bolted at the sight of us.

I don't think a Panther, particularly the smallish kind of Panther found in those parts, could have attempted to tackle the Stag. There was a Tiger in the jungle, a three-quarters grown tiger, whose lean body and proportionately big feet and head betrayed his immaturity even in the brief glimpse I had him. But if he was the cause of these claw marks, how was it that only the Sambar of the forest carried these raking scars and not the Chital, or Pig or other animals that were more common there?"


This was first published on 31 May 1959 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of a Sambar hind not reproduced here.
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Madam Shyamala's photograph of Sambar posted on 03-03-2015 under 'Mammals' column may be of much interest to the viewers.

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Saktipada Panigrahi
21-04-2015, 05:16 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Exercise in Barbet-watching : The Sunday Statesman : 12 April 2015
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"ALTHOUGH I admire Wordsworth greatly, I am unable to see quite eye to eye with pundits over some of his poems, particularly the much-vaunted 'Solitary Reaper', which strikes me bathetic in places and sustained by mere euphony with no underlay or thought. And the other day, standing in a hollow between two hills that rang with the never-ending " koturrr, koturrr, koturrr" of the 'Small Green Barbets' I knew at once what was wrong with the poem.

O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound

When a valley overflows with sound like that, you don't need to listen -- what you need is cotton-wool, to plug your ears with!

Few birdcalls are more characteristic of low-elevation hill jungles in the South than that of this Barbet. It is a predominantly green bird all right, though brown on the head, but it is not small, it is a mynah-sized and very chunky in build, with a square, top-heavy head. Its call is so penetrating that you can hear it a furlong away, and it can keep up its persistent, unvaried "koturrr" for 10 minutes on end and then, it is a sociable bird, not much given to lone calling, and what you hear all day in the jungles is not one Barbet but a congregation of them calling and answering, one taking up when the other gives over!

In a nullah flanked by 'gulmavu' (Machllus macrantha) trees in the fruit, I found dozens of Small Green Barbets and was able to observe them from close by. In a tree holding a dozen birds, only a few, usually only one or two would call. From another tree some 50 yards away, there would be an answering call, then from still another tree, and then the chorus would be kept up full blast for 10 or 15 minutes. Then suddenly, as if on a prearranged signal, the birds would give up and a blessed silence would descend on the place. But not for long. Presently, another Barbet would initiate the chorus again and in no time at all the hillsides would be echoing the calls.

The most familiar of our Barbets, the flamboyant little Coppersmith, which you can hear all over the plains of India just now, jerks his head as it comes out with its endless "tonk, tonk, tonk" -- this makes it difficult to place the bird from its call. The Ceylon Green Barbet (which too has a "koturrr" call) is said to close its beak and quiver its head strongly while calling. The Small Green Barbet has its own way of rendering "koturrr".

Over a week I studied several of these birds calling from a mere 15 feet away or else through a small telescope and am quite definite on the point. As with other major Barbets, the call begins with a loud, long "krrrrrrr" on an ascending scale: then the bird settles down to its "koturrr" call, some birds (timed with a watch, of course) coming out with 64 calls a minute, others (especially in the mornings) with only 56 calls, but once a second is accurate enough. The bill is closed while calling and there is some movement of the head, but that rolls the rs in the "koturrr" isa noticeable and powerful pulsation of the chin and the upper throat -- the skin over this area (what would be the skin over the larynax in a man) vibrates like the tymmpanum of a drum, a vibration that is so pronounced that in profile the chin is blurred by the quick, up-and-down throbbing, like a plucked violin string. The syrinx or voice-box is much lower down in a bird, and I take it that the Barbet's call also originates in the syrinx, like most birdcalls -- when it is rolled and given its peculiar ventriloquial and penetrating quality by the throbbing of the chin and upper throat.

Incidentally, I did not see any of these birds eat anything except fruits, but the sort of negative evidence proves nothing, and I believe they do take in insect fare ( all fig-eaters do willy-nilly! ) and perhaps even other animal food.

At the end of my week of Barbet-watching, I had occasion to reflect on the remarkable adaptability of man. By that time I had got so used to the din around me that I had to look at a Barbet to know that it was calling. And when I left the place, I actually missed the chorus that I had been hearing every day and I thought of Wordsworth again:

The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more. "

-M. Krishnan

This was first published in on 17 May 1959 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of the Barbet not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
04-05-2015, 01:39 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The tusker's mud-bath : The Sunday Statesman : 26 April 2015
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On 30 March we went to Benne, 15 miles away, in a last, optimistic attempt to photograph Wild Elephants. Usually I was told, elephants were all over the place with the first rains, but this year we had had no rains, and no khubber of elephant except from lorry drivers passing Benne. We arrived at our destination, smothered in the orange dust that permeated our clothing, precisely at noon, but there was no time to wait for less unfavourable lighting. The tracker awaiting us informed me that there was a small party of elephants in the incredibly fresh-leaved forest on the hill beyond the road; they were there, at a patch of wet mud, barely a furlong away, and if I was quick I could get my picture before they moved uphill to denser shade.

Hastily dusting the cameras, we went up an ascending track which had once been a ghat-road and now merely a rutted path overgrown with tough flat weeds, with a wall of tangled, dry lantana on the side from which the hill fell steeply away. The elephants were still there, at that wallow, a bull, three cows and two calves. They were a light brown from the dust and drying mud, with the adherent leaves and bits of clay giving their skin a very rough texture. The tusker stood in the foreground. Two cows and a calf moved uphill and melted into the jungles as we came upon the scene. The third cow, which had just had a good wallow, stood besides the patch of mire, in which her calf laid half buried. The silence was uncanny --- no sound, not even the semblance of a plop, came from the wallow below us, and the ponderous beasts moved without cracking a twig or rustling, a dry leaf.

They were 180 feet away, below us, as per my trustworthy rangefinder, looking more like pigs than elephants, in that top view, with the midday sun illuminating only the tops of their heads and backs. This was the nearest I have been able to get to wild elephants and I was eager, even anxious, to seize the opportunity, but there were difficulties in the way. Apart from unfortunate lighting and view, the lantana lining the track we were on was right in the way and could not be cleared without alarming the entire jungle.

By sheer and painful physical effort I achieved a stance overlooking the hedge of lantana, though the top twigs still blurred the foreground in the groundglass. Then, as if to reward my effort the TUSKER sat down deliberately on the mire. The calf was still in it, and there was no room for the two. As the big bull sank down on his knees, and rolled over on his right side, , with the trunk and limbs towards me, the calf scrambled out of the wallow and went and stood beside its mother, and a miracle was staged before my eyes.

The vertical lighting was now flush on the tusker's face and flank, though the lantana a yard from my lens still blurred his stretched limbs so that the disadvantages of the view and noonday sun was nullified, and every detail was clear. Slowly he rolled right over on his side, visibly revelling in the cool feeling of the wet mud against his flank, and curled up his trunk.

Four photographs not reproduced here.The descriptive part has, however, been quoted in the next two lines.
He sat down in the wallow, then rolled over on his side, evicting the calf; he curled up his trunk like a mainspring, stretching himself on the wet mud and revelling on its coolth; then he got up reluctantly and followed the cow and calf into the jungles.

There was a pain like a toothache in my left leg, the leg which sustained the weight of my leaned-out body, and I was wretchedly conscious of camera wobble while squeezing the trigger, but I remember these were not the things that were uppermost in me then. I was filled with a sense of envy as the great beast relaxed and luxuriated in the cool mud, while I stood there acutely uncomfortable and cramped, feeling the dust and heat in every pore.

He spent good five minutes at the wallow, then got up unhurriedly and followed the cow and calf into the jungles. By going ahead in a semicircle we were able to sight him again, while he drank deeply at a waterhole; he saw us too then and we were able to notice more clearly the dark exudation staining his cheek, which showed he was in 'musth'. Afterwards, he sauntered up the hill towards a clump of bamboo, rounded the clump and was suddenly gone, the silence and completeness of vanishing of his huge bulk leaving everyone of us with a feeling of unreality, as if we had not witnessed only minutes previously such a vivid scene of domestic ease and contentment in the life of an elephant."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 14 June 1959 in The Sunday Statesman

Saktipada Panigrahi
12-05-2015, 01:53 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: Epicurean to the core: The Sunday Statesman : 22 March 2015

"TAMIL literature goes back far beyond the available record. Works anterior to about the second century AD are now lost to us, though there is ample evidence that there was a considerable body of such literature. Some of the older poems survive only in fragments and allusions and we do not even know who wrote them. One such ancient stanza begins with the line, " IN the Courtyard Where Squirrels Play", and the man who wrote it is known to us only as the author of IN THE COURTYARD WHERE SQUIRRELS PLAY.

So, some 2,000 years ago, the Palm Squirrel was already a familiar creature about our dwellings, playing in the courtyards and seeking food in and around human habitations. Considering the antiquity of this association, it is surprising how little we know about what it likes in the important matter of food!

The Palm Squirrel is an epicure, and takes endless pains to get just the things what it fancies. It likes the nectar at the base of the flowers, particularly the flower of the Yellow Oleander. It creeps along the twigs to the fresh-blown flower, detaches the corolla tube, holds it in its forepaws and licks the base -- looking, for the moment, like some sylvan sprite out of a fairytale blowing a golder trumpet -- then it drops the corolla and goes to the next flower. It is no less fond of the bloom of the drumstick tree and spend hours each day clinging expertly to the frail twigs, often upside down, to get at the small flowers and imbibe their sweet secretions. Many other flowers, too, are sought out for their nectar, among these the Indian Coral Tree and Red Silk-cotton.

However, if you want to know how clever it is at climbing and hanging on, head downwards, to tenuous supports, you should watch it eating a mango. It chooses a fruit not fully ripe, the stalk of which will not give away too readily. Then holding on to the stalk and flowering axis with its hind feet, suspended head downwards, it eats the pulp around the stone, leaving the seed still hanging from the stalk at the end of the meal. You will find the white sun-bleached seeds still hanging from the tree weeks after the squirrels have feasted at a mango, for stripped of their load of pulp the seeds have not the weight to break the mature stalks.

Wood -apples, guavas, pomegranates, country almonds, and many other fruits, soft and hard in rind, the waxy coating on the bud-bearing twigs of the figs, termites (whose thin encrustations on trees are broken down squirrel-fashion, with an energetic nose), birds' eggs when available, are all relished and sought out. Occasionally, the Palm Squirrel will dig with its nose superficially, in loose garden soil -- I must confess that I am still not sure, after watching it many times, of the precise nature of food it unearths this way. The growing tips of many creepers are eaten, and I have seen it nibbling at a mushroom. What impresses the watcher even more than the variety of things it eats is the pains it takes, and at times it spends, seeking out choice tit-bits.

Squirrels often lie up for the night in roofs, especially where there is a cloistered space between the roof tiles and the ceiling tiles. Twice in such dormitories I have found, along with other evidence of the long occupation of the place by squirrels, many cleanly-stripped stones of the fruit of the Yellow Oleander. Squirrels do not eat the fruit on the tree, as Koels do, and though I have seen them sniffing at the fallen drupes on the ground, and even sampling them tentatively, I have not seen them bite and devour the pulp -- and these squirrels are hearty feeders when they come across food in bulk. It seems likely that the fruit of the Yellow Oleander, so very POISONOUS to humanity and cattle, loses its lethal potency when ripe or rotten and stored in their dormitories by Squirrels for consumption at leisure.

Purely as a matter of fact, and as no boast, I may say that I was the first to report the addiction of the Koel to the poisonous fruit of the Yellow Oleander -- years ago in this columns. The tree 'Thevetia neriifolia' is common in hedges and gardens in the Madras area, and during the past two years I have been keeping an occasional watch on these trees, and learned that Koels are even fonder of the fruit than I had thought.

Other creatures also peck and nibble at drupes at times but only the Koel is a regular addict. In fact, where the Yellow Oleander is not in a closely-clipped hedge, but allowed to flower and fruit, you will invariably find a Koel or two -- not as resident birds, but as furtive visitors, in the mornings and evenings, and where they are not disturbed, throughout the day.

I have already reported hoe the birds peck at the drupes and break off and swallow pieces of mesocrap. But many times in the recent past I have seen a Koel pick up a smallish (but almost ripe) drupe and swallow it whole! Incredible as that sounds, it is true, and, moreover, seems less unlikely with reflection. Koels (and Cuckoo tribe, generally) have very wide gapes and can and do swallow big, hairy caterpillars. However, the drupe is not swallowed at a gulp and with ease -- a considerable effort is needed before the bird can get the fruit down its throat, and the watcher can clearly see the throat bulge as the mouthful is swallowed.

I thought I should offer the reader photographic proof in addition to my word. Though the photography of a shy bird like the Koel in the shade of heavy foliage is no joke, I can not feel proud of my picture. But then I offer it as no picture but only as proof, and you can clearly see the bulging throat of the Koel, and the fruit still partly protruding from the wide-open mouth of the bird in the picture.

Both the Cock and the Hen Koel indulge in this feat of swallowing but of course more usually the break the fruit into pieces and eat only those pieces of pulp. Incidentally, only ripe or ripening fruits are eaten but the quantity consumed in a day is considerable -- probably quite sufficient to kill a man!"

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 15 March 1959 in The Sunday Statesman

#Two photographs - Palm Squirrel eating ripening mango and Koel with bulging throat have not been reproduced.

Indranil Panigrahi
12-05-2015, 04:33 PM
Canon 550D, Canon 75-300mm

The photograph was taken in our garden. The Squirrel has selected a matured (but not ripe) guava. M.Krishnan had observed that squirrels are clever enough not to go for fully ripe fruits 'the stalk of which will not give way too readily.'

Mrudul Godbole
12-05-2015, 05:33 PM
Very interesting description by Krishnan about the eating habits of the Palm Squirrel and the Koel. Thanks for sharing Dada.

Lovely photograph. It can be seen clearly that the guava is not fully ripe. Liked the way it is holding with the fore paw. Thanks for sharing.

Saktipada Panigrahi
14-06-2015, 03:01 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: Bear at high noon :The Sunday Statesman : 14 June 2015


" AT half-past eleven I decided to call it a day. We were six miles from home, at least an hour and a half for a pad-elephant taking it slow on hilltop tracks under an oppressive sun. We had been following a herd of Gaur for over two hours, gaining nothing by our persistence. So now, accepting defeat, we turned home.

On the way there was a sandy nullah and beyond it the only large field of lush grass there in summer. Three days previously, I had seen the almost human footprints of a Sloth Bear in that nullah and I now suggested a slight detour so that to pass through that field of four-foot-high grass, still tender in patches. Bears are very fond of young grass and apparently they are not so shy of daylight in grassy cover - twice before I have seen bears in such places, around four in the afternoon.

The mahout, my only companion, didn't think much of my idea. Bears, he argued, were nocturnal; it was well known that they were nocturnal or, at best, crepuscular. No bear in its senses would be out at noon, under that blistering sun, though some men would.

Furthermore, he would ask me to consider the inevitable delay in getting home, once our mount got into a field of green grass.

We were still debating the point when I entered the field, and I saw the Bear. Actually, what I saw was not a Bear but something coal-back and round, well inside the grass. Before I could warn my companion, he shouted at our elephant for stopping to sample the herbage, and the bear heard him.

Surprised in such tangled cover, Bears usually stand up on their hind legs, better to see the intruder. This one did no such thing. He had his back to us, with his head low and only the humped back and rounded posterior visible through the grass stems, and he turned sharply to the right and galloped away, with that heavy, clownishly exaggerated action that bears have, which is no longer comic when they are comic towards one. After going some distance, he pulled up, rudely turned his back on us again, and was a black ball in the grass once more.

This manoeuvre was repeated, when we moved nearer.

There are times when a man, retailing an experience, should tactfully omit a detail, in the interests of verisimilitude. But what I noticed was so particular, so altogether droll and improbable, that I am willing to risk such reputation as I have for accuracy to record the detail. Twice I noticed that the Bear was watching us from between legs, getting an upside-down view of us by bending its head so low that his chin touched his chest. The first time I could see both eyes clearly, between the somewhat straddled legs; only one eye, in a somewhat lateral view, the second time.

Never I have seen any other animal watch an intruder in such a fashion, excepting a Langur on tree once - and even that Langur looked downwards and backwards at me from above; it did not bow so low that the eyes looked up and back from the inverted face at the object of suspicion.

We tried another slow casual seeming approach, but that canny Bear was watching us narrowly, and was not to be fooled. When we were still some 30 yards away, he dived to a patch of taller grass, and by the agitation that ridged the grass tops in a wave we could make out that he was bearing steadily towards right, out of the field and back to the nullah we had crossed so recently.

There was a sandy hollow where the field ended, with half-a-dozen tall trees in a clump, and we arrived at this clump only a second after the bear did. Seeing us, he reared against the trunk of a 'Terminalia' - a big Terminalia of the kind whose bark is so reminiscent of crocodile-skin. For a moment he stood in indecision, hugging the rough bark - and for a moment my photographer's heart leaped up with joy, for I was sure he would go right up, and I would get the first pictures ever taken of a Sloth Bear climbing a tree.

He glanced at us, and then looked longingly up the trunk, and then decided to keep to terra firma. I know it is all wrong to interpret or record animal behaviour with any hint of anthropomorphism, but it is equally wrong not to record what one saw. Had you been there with me, you could have seen the Bear thinking - one quick look at us, a longer look at the trunk, and he was away. We lost sight of him as he tore down the hollow, then we saw him again as he scrambled up the other side of the nullah. There was a narrow belt of shorter grass that he had to cross before he could reach the tree jungle, but he didn't cross it. He entered the grass, and then suddenly he was no longer there, vanishing from the sight mysteriously. He has gone down a bolt-hole I knew.

Bears are, I think, the most interesting of our forest-living beasts, so strangely human in some ways. It is no surprise that our folklore and Puranas are so rich in melursine characters, and that in our jungleside traditions Sloth Bears are the only animals that seek out and carry away village belles. It is not merely that the plantigrade feet of the bear leave behind such semi-human prints, or that the carcass of a skinned bear is so horribly like a man - even a live bear, standing up and with the head turned away, looks very like a man. I think the droll ways of these bears, their strong mutual attachments, and their love of fruit and other jungle dainties that men also like (including the toddy in the pot up a wild date palm), have all contributed to those traditions. Only, the traditions have outlasted this wholly Indian and fascinating creature, in many of its former homes."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 13 December 1959 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of the Sloth Bear hugging a big trunk not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
22-06-2015, 03:14 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : PEACE AND GOODWILL IN NATURE : The Sunday Statesman : 21 June 2015
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"TRUSTWORTHY witnesses have testified, independently of one another, to a strange jungle phenomenon - a killer walking past a group of its natural prey, which continued to graze unconcernedly, ignoring the disclosed proximity of the usually dreaded enemy. Big game hunters have seen a lion strolling past, even strolling through, a herd of zebras or antelopes, which did not even bother to raise their heads from the feeding, and in India the similar occasional indifference of deer to a tiger has been recorded. Those who saw this in credible sight rightly concluded that somehow the prey knew that their enemy was not hunting just then, and was, therefore, safe - though these hidden hunters were armed, they were too deeply touched with wonder to use the opportunity to add another head to their trophy room. I have never had the good fortune to witness this phenomenon myself, and my reconstruction of it in the illustration* here is purely the darkroom manipulations.

I may point out to naturalist readers that this extraordinary behaviour of predator and prey is something very different from the inhibition induced by the adoption of an attitude of suppliant vulnerability in interest specific encounters. Here, there does seem to be a definite perception by the prey of the predator's lack of aggressive intent - their normal reaction to the sight and even smell of the killer to panic and bolt.

A rather motivated truce between predator and prey, the weak and the strong, has also been observed among birds. Watchers of the crag-top nest of that tiger of the air, the Peregrine Falcon, have said that though many Rock Pigeons were nesting in the immediate vicinity, the pair of Peregrines never killed them, but sought their prey (usually Pigeons) much further afield.

Many nesting birds have decided antipathy to aggression in their territory. While we should clearly realise that such behaviour is instinctive and unreasoned, it is nevertheless a fact that it does serve as a check on nest-raiders (like Crows and Tree-Pies), and that by nesting in the same tree or cliff as powerful birds, weak birds do gain effective protection. It is well known that Orioles and comparatively defenceless birds frequently nest close by the Drongos, which are highly intolerant of trespassers.

Common danger also serves to promote a truce, for the time being between animals and their natural enemies. In times of extreme drought, a carnivora do not seem to kill at or near the only available source of water, and during forest fires, floods and landslides the instinct of self-preservation of the predators is dominant over the desire to kill. Even in beats, oddly associated animals have come out together.

From time immemorial, such occasional truces between born enemies have impressed men profoundly. In every human civilisation, there have always been tales, about friendships between animals that are antagonistic or unrelated. No doubt these tales reflect man's deeply felt desire for peace and goodwill, and its frustration in his own acquisitive life. However, the fact remains, in spite of anthropomorphic tales and folklore, that there are many such ties, and even friendships, in nature. As Konard Lorenz has pointed out, our understanding of animal ways, particularly of instinctive behaviour and the "releaser" and "imprinting" phenomena, does not in any way lessen the wonder of such associations.

Naturally, it is among animals of the same kind that we usually find close associations of the type that can be called friendship - and by this I mean a more selective and individualised relationship than gregarious ties, or the bond of mother love (though there are few things on earth more wonderful and touching in its strength and sensitiveness than mother love). Among the higher animals, we do occasionally come across authentic friendships - even in finding a mate they are, at times, much more selective than we think they are.

Most of the higher animals feel the the need of companionship as strongly as we do, and when they are deprived of the company of their kind, in an artificial environment such as zoo, they often enter into odd but powerful associations with strange mates, very different from themselves. Some of these associations have been explained on the basis of attachments formed during infancy, but others are less easily and certainly explained - for example, the desire of an airborne Elephant for the company of a Hen, and the love of a captive Warthog for the Monkeys with which it has been caged. Nor are all such odd associations induced by artificial circumstances. In Mudumalai Sanctuary of Madras, I saw repeatedly, at widely separated intervals, a Chital hind running with a mother Sambar and its fawn - Chital are commonest animals in those jungles, and this Chital could have had no lack of opportunity to rejoin its own kind. Other such associations, some explicable on the basis of mutual or unilateral benefit, others with no obvious motive, have been recorded.

One of the the strongest and most remarkable of such associations, to my mind, is the bond that commonly develops between a She-Buffalo in a mixed village herd and the rest of the herd - including the herd-boy!.....the She-buffaloes I have in mind, though theoretically domesticated, were animals with a powerful sense of independence, a pretty wild on occasion. I do not know what sublimated material and herd instincts lay behind those associations between buffalo cows and herd boys.

I remember one such association. The buffalo concerned was large and old, a great, cantankerous beast freely given to the use of its formidable horns; the herd boy was an urchin of 10. He beat its ponderous charge unmercifully with a stick when it failed to obey him, and frequently saved his legs by riding on its broad back. One day this miserable little boy did something very wrong, which called for immediate and stern measures,in the opinion of his elders. And his father (who owned that buffalo) and his uncles (who insisted on prompt reprisal) could do nothing to him because he he had fled to the sanctuary of the cattle-shed in the backyard and was now crouched between the short, columnar legs of his friends. Early in the proceedings the buffalo snapped its tether and thereafter it would permit no one to approach within 20 yards of the refugee. Finally, it was only by abjectly promising (in the presence of third-party witnesses, of whom I was one) to forget the entire incident and forgive everything, that the boy could be induced to soothe the roused feelings of his massive protector, tie it up again in the cattle-shed and re-enter his home."

- M. Krishnan

This was first published on 20 December 1959 in The Sunday Statesman

*The photograph has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
06-07-2015, 12:51 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Herd responsibility : The Sunday Statesman : 05 July 2015
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( Gaur, Elephant, Blackbuck )

"MANY experienced observers have said that in a herd of Blackbuck leadership is usually vested in an old doe. Among other animals that go about in parties and herds, consisting of one dominant male and his "harem", the same matriarchal tendency has been reported - for example, among Elephants and Gaur. No doubt this is substantially true, but observation of the behaviour of herd-bulls (in Elephant and Gaur herds) suggested to me that the position is by no means as simple as stated.

It has been said that a tusker or master bull of a gaur herd is always in the rearguard, and seeks independent escape when the alarm is sounded, looking always to the safety of his hide and never caring to look after the rest of the herd. That, like many sweeping statements on animal behaviour, is not true. While it is generally valid, there are occasions when the herd-bull does take upon himself the responsibility of covering the retreat of the herd - it is likely that such instances are due both to some individual peculiarity of the herd-bull and to circumstances.

Anyway, I have seen a Gaur bull advance towards a party of men and stand his ground truculently till the rest of the herd had made good its hurried escape, and another time I saw two herd-bulls patrol the periphery of a hunched group of Gaur when a Tiger was around.

And following a herd of Elephants, I had a rather frightening experience. The tusker, a singularly powerful one, not only guarded the retreat of the herd but actually urged the cows on, by voice and physical hustling; when they were all gone, he belligerently uprooted a young tree and kicked it about in front of us (Gaur bulls, too, indulge in similar demonstrations at times), then slowly followed the herd, turning back repeatedly to halt us.

I should like further opportunity for the study of such behaviour before writing about this aspect of herd-mastery in elephants and gaur. However, I have been experimenting, for the past few months, with Blackbuck, and can say while alarm is usually sounded by the doe, the herd-buck assumes command of the retreat as often as not.

As others have pointed out, it is not any one doe that is always on guard duty when a herd of Blackbuck is grazing. The master-buck may be with the does, or else on the outskirts of the group by himself (or with one select doe). An adult doe is on the watch while the rest of the herd grazes; she grazes when another doe takes up the watch; at times the buck, too, takes his turn at watching. I am sorry to be so full of guarded qualifications, but it is just not possible to be more definite.

My method was to creep up gradually, behind cover, towards a grazing herd, and to hide behind a bush. Then I would excite an alarm, varying the mode of excitement each time - by shaking the bush, on waving a white handkerchief, or whistling. Sometimes the buck would be the first to spot me, but more often the watching doe. Then the does and young would bolt; after the usual preliminary "high jinks" they would bolt in a herd, though one or two of the does might not take the same line as the rest but scatter sideways. At times, especially when he was in the middle of the herd, the buck would bolt with the main body of the herd, but more often he would stay behind to round up the does that were taking an independent line, and chase them in front of him towards the rest of the herd.

Both the buck and does sound the alarm with the same grunting snort, except that it is more a grunt than snort when the buck sounds it, and a sort of snort when a doe sounds it. But the buck directing a scattering doe to follow the main body of the departed herd prances around her with the same strutting gait that he uses during the courtship display, tail curled over the rump, nose high, limbs moving in a high, stilted action - the only difference I noticed between the courtship display and this hustling was that when hustling a doe he does not droop the ears. This rounding up of recalcitrant does was done when the source of alarm (myself) was at some distance; when the alarm was urgent, he drove the does ahead at a gallop, with lowered head and horns, even prodding them at times.

I conducted these experiments at Guindy Park, where the territory of each herd is highly limited. I do not know to what extent the buck's behaviour will differ or if it will differ at all, when the terrain is unlimited, as it is under more natural conditions."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 28 February 1960 in The Sunday Statesman

# A beautiful sketch of a Blackbuck (male) captioned 'BUCK STRUTTING TO DRIVE DOES' showing nose held high, tail curled over the rump drawn by the author himself has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
14-07-2015, 11:36 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: A Langur making use of provision :The Sunday Statesman: 03 May 2015
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"IN his monumental work on "Animal Forms and Patterns", Professor Portmann says the facial expression of moods and feelings reaches its climax in the higher mammals, which alone have features sufficiently mobile for fluent expression. An observation that is profoundly true, but as we (who represent height of evolution) know from experience of fellow men (and women), a face can be quite misleading on occasion. What, for example, was this big Langur thinking of, with a pensiveness in his eye so rare in one of his tribe?

It is no easy thing to judge the expression on a Langur's face - with a rhesus or a bonnet monkey, it is less hard. That is because the Langur has a black visage, black and flat and with a shading peak of hair on top and whiskers on each side so that one can hardly see the range of dark expressions fleeting across it. But the face of the Langur in my picture is clear enough, and in its upward tilt, and the thoughtful glint in the eye, one can read many things.

In fact it is rather like surrealist poetry, which disdains expression that can have but one meaning, and allows the reader scope to interpret the words in the light of his own perceptions and experience of life. You can read all sorts of wishful thoughts and fancies into that anthropoid eye - but I can tell you just what that Langur had in mind, for I was there and saw what he did next!
A man writing about a Langur can hardly be accused of anthropomorphism, but anyway human analogies would be very much in place, in this instance. You can see just that look in the human eye if you walk into the lounge of a posh hotel at half past one in the afternoon; there will not be many people there then for most of them will be having their lunch but a few will be there, waiting for some tardy companion to arrive for the meal. And in their eye you can note this very 'pensiveness', this sad, dreamy glint that tells that they are thinking, intensely, about food. So was this Langur.

He was in a white-flowered "Udimara" (a species of Dolichandrone, probably D falcata), eating the bloom. In front of him was a cluster of flowers still in bud, and above him another cluster fully opened. He looked up at the flowers, reached upwards and grabbed them, and stuffed them into his mouth.

Langurs do not have 'cheek pouches' for the rapid and convenient stowing away of food eaten in a hurry, as the Macaques have, but they often bolt their food, an extra compartment of their stomach serving much the same storage purpose as the cheek pouches. And this Monkey was making the fullest use of that 'provision'.

He had a problem, too. Quite a number of "Udimara" in that locality were in flower and there were a dozen other Langurs there (all smaller than himself", busy guzzling the flowers. He would grab a spray, bend it to his mouth, and bite at it - then he would take a series of acrobatic leaps that would land him in the next "Udimara"where two or three of his party were busy eating; he would chase them away and start on the flowers there, only to find his attention distracted another tempting-looking spray in the next tree being eaten by others. Perhaps you feel like voicing strong comments on the behaviour of that Langur, but if I were you I wouldn't - again, human analogies are not far to seek.

Watching those Langurs, a sudden curiosity possessed me. It wasn't the kind of thing that could be gratified in public but my public consisted solely of a Kuruba boy carrying a spare camera. I asked him if he had ever tasted those white flowers, to which he briefly replied that he was not a monkey. So I sent him away on some trivial unnecessary errand and when he was safely out of sight I climbed awkwardly up one of those white-flowered trees and, reaching a fork, stood up and got hold of some flowers. Tentatively, I sampled a bit of the corolla, which had a disappointingly insipid taste - then growing bolder, I put a whole flower into my mouth and munched it. It had a certain tang and sweetness but I think a Langur's palate must be radically different from ours.

Some flowers appeal to many jungle animals. The thick petals of 'mohwa' have a decidedly have a sweet taste and a fermented flavour, and the store of nectar in the big flowers of 'red silk-cotton' provides the attraction. But few beasts besides Langurs, consume large quantities of flowers as part of their regular diet - Langurs, as everyone knows, are vegetarians and eat buds, leaves, fruits and even some tubers, besides flowers. I noticed that the flowers of "Udimara" had an irresistible appeal to them, though no other animal seemed to care much for those flowers. In fact, I have not seen Langurs eating flowers with such eager relish at any other tree."

- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 19 July 1959 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of the Langur has not been reproduced here.

*Image of Langur posted here is purely for representation purpose only.

Saktipada Panigrahi
26-07-2015, 12:47 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : The Leopard and his spots : The Sunday Statesman: 26 July 2015
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" EVERYONE knows that a Leopard in bush can be incredibly hard to spot. You know he is there, you saw him walk into that clump of lantana and he has not emerged, and so, as your highly-trained logic informs you, he must be there -- but your eyes cannot pick out the shape or colour or rosetted hide of a Leopard.

It is because of his spots that you cannot spot him, because the dots and rosettes serve to disrupt his contours; he is just a murky greyness, crouched low in the spiky, grey bushes, blending so confusingly with his surroundings. It is amazing in what small cover a Leopard can hide: even a patch of groundnut, barely a foot high, will do, for few other animals that size can crouch so flat and inconspicuously as a Leopard. Once I saw a big Leopard caught in the glare of a lorry's headlights on the bare roadside; he literally shrank to two-thirds of his size as he crouched and froze. However, I think the spots on a Leopard are of equally effective cryptic value when the animal is moving fast.

I have seen Leopards many times, both by day and by the light of automobile headlamps, from fairly close, say within 20 or 30 yards. So long as the animal was still, or moving at a walk, I have not had any difficulty in seeing the Leopard (to the extent exposed) clearly and in detail -- I am not referring to Leopards in cover, but to animals seen in open country. But even Leopards in the flat scrub, clear in every hair in a good light, become a grey blur when they break into quick action.

In particular I remember shot by a "jeep hunter" many years ago. It was very dark, and the jeep's headlights cut a swath of brilliant yellow through the night as we drove slowly along a ghat-road. This Leopard crossed the road about 20 yards ahead and the jeep was instantly stopped. He turned his head towards us, and his moustaches fanned out and bristled forward -- every spot and rosette was vividly clear in that revealing light, as he stood there. At the shot, he went straight into the air, as if propelled by some powerful, hidden spring. There were half a dozen of us in the jeep with our eyes riveted on the Leopard, but not one could say whether he landed to the left or right or which way he went. ......$
It was this experience that first made me realise the concealing value of its spots to a Leopard seeking rapid escape.

Since I have had three occasions to verify my theory, and I must say that I believe in it. It is no defect in my vision, which is responsible for this belief -- others, too loose sight of a fast moving Leopard easily. Of course, if the Leopard is in the open, however lightning-swift his jump, one can resume sight of his flight the moment he lands, and because of the brevity of the period during which he was not clearly seen, one has the illusion of continuous observation. Where he lands in obscuring cover, it is really difficult to say precisely when and where one lost sight of him.

The last time this happened was a year ago. A Leopard charged by a Gaur cow sprang into the air and vanished from sight. He has jumped into a large natural pit, overgrown with lantana -- this we knew because we knew there was this lantana-covered pit there -- but neither of the men who were with me could tell exactly where the Leopard has landed. Even the Gaur seemed considerably puzzled.

There was no question of our trying to ascertain, by inspection, in which part of the pit the Leopard was, or even that he was there. If you ask how I can be so certain that it was into the pit that he had gone, I can only say that I knew this by considering the available circumstantial evidence.
All of us clearly saw the Leopard as he jumped -- thereafter, to the mystification of three men and a truculent Gaur cow, he just vanished into thin air. Which was, after all, and even more telling demonstration of the concealing value of his spots than certain knowledge of his exact location inside the pit.! "

- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 17 April 1960 in The Sunday Statesman

# One photograph of two Leopards on move inside a jungle not reproduced here.
$ One sentence has not been reproduced here.

Sabyasachi Patra
26-07-2015, 01:22 PM
Very pertinent observations about the leopards spots and rosettes by Shri Krishnan. The leopard appears like a blur when it moves. I am sharing an image clicked in 2009. A safari vehicle driver in nagarhole drove fast towards the leopard, in his eagerness to show the foreigners the leopard and the poor leopard had to run to avoid the jeep. This was shot at 1/125th of second shutter speed. At a slower shutter speed or when viewed normally through the naked eye, One can see a moving blur.

Saktipada Panigrahi
27-08-2015, 03:14 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: Adapting Well from Crippling Despair: The Sunday Statesman:
09 August 2015
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" THE idea that nature tolerates only perfection, or at least an able bodied efficiency, and that creatures incapacitated by illness or injury soon find merciful release in death is largely the product of man's Spartan logic, and untrue. In nature, too, there are plenty of crocks, and though these are more liable to succumb to predators and stresses of adversity, often they adapt themselves so successfully to a life within their diminished capacities that they have little trouble in carrying on the "Struggle for Existence". A bit of a crock myself, I observe these disabled animals with special interest when I come across them in the jungles.

I remember an old Gaur cow with one eye blind, brilliantly green and opalescent, and the other not too clear-sighted, that seemed to find no difficulty in keeping with the herd; a one-footed Crow that I knew for years; an Antelope with three effective legs; and other such creatures. Some of them were only slightly incapacitated and, of course, many permanent injuries, such as the loss of a part or the whole of an ear or tail, are no real handicaps. In South India, it is rare to come across a big bull Elephant (especially a lone bull) that still retains the tuft of hair at the end of the tail, the tail-tip being bitten off in the course of the many battles the great beast fights with the rivals -- I have even seen Tuskers with their tails docked as briefly as the tails of show fox terriers used to be in in the old days! The wild Elephant , I think, is more prone to carry the marks of injuries than most of other animals.I claim that 90 per cent of "rouges" in South India, in any rate, turn rouges because of the crippling, or else enduringly painful injuries inflicted on them by men seeking to kill or drive them away with firearms. Again, in many parts of India, the humane Kheddah system of capturing of wild elephants is not practiced -- the barbarous camouflaged pit is much in vogue and has to see the mutilations that this method can inflict on the unfortunate captives to realise how horribly cruel it can be. Last summer I was in Periyar Sanctuary of Kerala for a day and followed a herd of cow Elephants on foot with a friend. It was impossible to observe individual animals in that close-packed herd, especially as the beasts were in six-foot high reeds but soon they look to the water, swimming easily across (elephants are powerful and skillful swimmers) to the farther bank of the canal, 150 yards away, and as they climb up the bare bank I noticed that one of the grown cows was lame, with one foreleg permanently bent in a crook and limping badly. Her gait was peculiar, a slow, stoop-backed hobble, but before I could get a good look at her through my glasses, the other elephants closed in around her and the herd moved into the cover. However I got a distant picture of that cow, with my longest lens.

This summer again I was in the Periyar Sanctuary and came across the lame cow near Salt Creek on 10 April. She was with two other cows, one of which had a young calf, grazing near the water on a steep bank. As our boat drew closely in, the wind which was blowing right across, shifted momentarily and the Elephants threw up their trunks, trumpeted and scrambled up the bank to the tree cover beyond. The lame cow, however, stayed on -- that bank was too steep for her to negotiate in a hurry. We drew closer and stopped, and after a while both the other cows came back; and one with the young calf stayed on the top of the bank, behind some bushy trees, but the other cow climbed down to rejoin the lame comrade.

Keeping stock-still, I was able to observe that crippled beast from only 20 yards away, for almost a quarter of an hour. The left foreleg was permanently crooked and inflexible; the "elbow" was stiff, and just above it there was a great mass of rounded callus tissue -- apparently the humerus had snapped there and been reset in a balled callus. The right foreleg, whether from injury (much the more likely explanation) or from having to bear the weight of the forepart of the body unaided, was bowed -- it did not exhibit any extraordinary muscular development, such as one might expect in a limb that has to do double duty. As the result of this lowering of the forequarters by injury, the backbone was humped and high behind the shoulder -- even on level ground this unnatural humping of the back was obvious, and when the animal was climbing down the malformation was grotesquely exaggerated. She was still a young elephant, though full-grown -- I thought she was from 20 to 25 years old. The "serivellous", the tushes the cow elephants normally lose with maturity, were protrusively noticeable beneath the base of the trunk.

People at the sanctuary pointed out that it was well known that occasionally elephants met with accidental injuries. The elephant-pit is quite a feature of the Kerala forests, and she must have fallen into one of these devilish contraptions. She moved slowly, in a humpbacked hobble, but munched the fresh grass with patent relish, supremely indifferent to our near presence. No doubt she had come to know that in the sanctuary men were harmless. Her companion kept pace with her, and both animals slowly grazed their way up a gently sloping ledge that led to the top of the bank and disappeared into a hollow beyond.

A week later, I came across three elephants bathing in the canal miles from Salt Creek. As our boat approached, one of the three cows walked out of the water on the bare, shingly bank, but soon plunged in again to rejoin her frolicking companions. What a high old time the huge beasts were having! They waded up the canal bed, towards the bank, then turned and plunged impetuously into the deep water again, diving right in and coming up with a buoyant roll, only the boss of the heads or the highest point of the back showing above the surface, hugging one another with their trunks and swishing their tails around, sucking water up their trunks and then squirting it out at one another in great jets! The most active of the three, I noticed, dived with a curious, porpoise-like roll, a high humped back alone showing above the water before the animal plunged right in, to come up right beside one of her companions in a tumbling huddle -- then all at once I recalled where I had seen this before.

That hump-backed lame cow was very much the life and soul of the party -- only if you have watched the way she gambolled with her companions, swimming into them, drenching them with jets of water from her trunk, would you know that this is a factual record; untinctured with sentiment. For long minutes the elephants continued their aquatic play, then a party of French tourists arrived in another boat, went in too fast and too close and shouted at the animals to make them get on to the land so they could take pictures with their snapshot cameras as the leviathans went scrambling up the bank. The last to go up the bank was the lame cow, her slow stumbling passage up the slope and into the jungles beyond contrasting so painfully with her zestful, fluid grace in the water.

Afterwards I learned that this lame cow was rarely to be found away from the canal, and that she was always accompanied by other cows from her herd. In her own ponderous, empirical way she had discovered the secret that cost ARCHIMEDES such sustained mental effort, and found out that in the water her crippled limbs were NO LONGER burdened with her body weight."

- M. Krishnan

This was first published on 22 May 1960 in The Sunday Statesman

# One sketch has not been reproduced here.

Mrudul Godbole
28-08-2015, 12:41 PM
Amazing article. I too before reading this article thought that animals with injury couldn't sustain longer in jungles. Such beautiful description, I could actually visualise the cow and how she might have been enjoying in the water with the rest of the herd :). Thanks for sharing.

Saktipada Panigrahi
06-09-2015, 12:05 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The Common Mynah : The Sunday Statesman : 06 September 2015
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" THOSE that have watched cattle grazing in the scrub and thin grassland of our plains would have noticed the birds that go with them. KING CROWS ride the grazing animals, swooping down from their points of vantage on the insects flushed by the trampling hooves, those determined grasshopper-hunters, the COMMON MYNAHS follow with sidelong hops, and CATTLE EGRETS march sedately in the wake of slow moving herd. The hunters move with the beat or just behind it, for only that way can they utilise the disturbance of the quarry to the best advantage.

Even Crows perch on cattle at times, to peck at wounds or ticks, but it is the Cattle Egret that is best known as a tick-bird in India -- besides hunting flushed prey, the Egret also seeks anchored quarry, picking ticks from the hides of cows and buffaloes, and it performs a similar service to the RHINO in the limited haunts of that beast in our country.

The role of the Common Mynah as a tick-bird does not, however, seem to have been sufficiently noticed. On innumerable occasions I have seen the bird picking ticks of BLACKBUCK and SPOTTED DEER (besides grazing cattle), perching on the head or neck of its host and paying particular attention to the thin-skinned and not too easily accessible areas of the face, around the eyes and ears. And many times during the past two years I have observed these familiar birds riding WILD ELEPHANTS, occasionally pecking at the thick hides of their gigantic mouths.

Having been told by a man who certainly knows his Indian Elephant that the beast rarely carries ticks, probably because of its indulgence in mud-baths, I may add that I myself have picked ticks off an elephant -- a tame elephant, of course. And whether it is ticks or elephant flies, or bough-loving insects (like treehoppers) flushed by an Elephant in the course of its passage through thin woods (this last seems most unlikely to me, as Mynahs do not pursue and take fleeing quarry on the wing), the fact remains that the bird is much given to riding on elephant-back in comparatively open country, in mynah country.

Recently, I had rather embarrassing proof of this bias. Having come across a particularly fine TUSKER, old and immensely powerful, though with short tusks, I followed him for almost a mile waiting for my chance to creep near for a picture. A Mynah was perched on the broad back of the great tusker, and presently it was joined by another. From time to time the birds flew off to some nearby bough (to hunt? Is it possible that they go riding elephants the better to see tree-living quarry?) but quickly returned to their mobile perch.

At last the elephant came out into the open, and halted by the water; he was in no hurry to drink or bathe, but just stood there swaying ponderously from side to side, with his feet planted squarely on the cool, moist earth. Here obviously, was my opportunity to get a picture truly indicative of the magnificent mass and rugged, wild power of my subject -- only, as you can readily imagine, no elephant picture can suggest all that when the great beast has two very Common Mynahs, fluffed out and preening themselves unconcernedly, on the neck.

After awhile the Tusker strolled to the water's edge, and began to spray himself -- one of the birds flew away, but the other merely hopped down to water, 10 yards to the right of the bathing monster, and indulged in a bath itself! Luckily for me, the elephant decided, at this juncture, to move further up the bank.

I may add, entirely as an aside, a suggestion to those who, like me, think the Common Mynah one of our most attractive and interesting birds, and no longer common as it used to be. If you have a small garden, you cannot get this bird to frequent your house by planting fruit trees (as suggested in a recent governmental note on the encouragement of bird life). The trees by whose fruits and flowers the Mynah is attracted, such as banyan and the red silk cotton, are far too large and slow growing for small gardens. But a patch of short grass, mown or cut from time to tome, will do the trick. The first part of the bird's faunal name, Acridotheres, means "grasshopper-hunter", and grasshoppers, as you know, are easiest to hunt in short grass."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 24 July 1960 in The Sunday Statesman

#One photograph of the bird not reproduced here.
* Black Drongo is also called as King Crow.

Saktipada Panigrahi
15-09-2015, 12:16 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Swimming Macaques: The Sunday Statesman: 13 September 2015
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" THERE was a small and delightfully shady grove flanking the temple-side pond and the BONNET MONKEYS were in the tree tops.. I have been told that at noon, when the heat was at its fiercest, the monkeys would jump, one by one from the boughs overhanging the pond into cool water to ease the burning in their coats; and although it was well past noon, although I have waited there from 9 O'clock in the morning, they seemed content with adequate leaf shade.

The previous day, too, they had shown no liking for the water while I waited hours in the grove, so I had come armed with inducement this time. The monkeys were hidden in the foliage but I knew they were watching me. I threw a ripe banana well away from me on to the sun-baked steps of the pond and at once there was a flurry of movement in the foliage overhead. A dozen grey forms came slithering expertly down the tree trunks. The big dog-monkey snarled menacingly at the rest to keep them away from the dainty; he snarled warningly at me as well, then strolled casually down the steps, picked up the fruit, peeled it and bolted the firm flesh, beating a swift and undignified retreat as soon as he had crammed the fruit into his cheek-pouches.

The monkeys did not go up the trees but stayed on the ground, some 15 yards from me and hidden by the boles of intervening trees. I took out another ripe banana from the cloth bag and displayed it to the eager, furtive eyes peeping from behind the tree trunks; and then I threw it far out into the water. They continued to peep at me but made no move. I took out my third and last banana, displayed it again, and chucked it into the water quite close to the waiting monkeys. They stayed on behind cover and ignored the bait.

It occurred to me that these monkeys were less intelligent than than their position high up in the 'The Tree of Evolution', in the books on zoology, would seem to indicate. Then the Little Boy who has attached himself to me pointed out they could not be tempted to get into the water with bananas because the fruit sank instantly to deep bottom -- apparently, even creatures right on the summit of the diagrammatic tree are capable of sad from habitual intelligence!

I took out a handful of groundnut (so aptly named "monkey-nut") and threw it into the water -- no easy feat, since I had to throw the light nuts through a strong wind blowing directly towards me. But I did succeed in getting the groundnut right into the middle of the pond. Instantly, the monkeys rushed down the steps but halted on the lowermost step and sat there, waiting for the breeze to blow the floating nuts within reach. The big dog-monkey again dominated the party, but not very effectively since the nuts floated in a wide semicircle and the rest had time to grab what they could while he was busy reaching out for the nuts floating towards him.

Well, this raised a problem. I wanted to see monkeys in the water, to watch them swim, and they were content to wait at the water's brink and grab the nuts as they floated towards the steps. So, being superior in my Evolutionary Status and Intelligence, I decided to suspend the operations till the breeze dies down. Much to the disgust of my companion (whose zest for groundnut was second to no monkey's) I rolled up the bag securely and, using it as a pillow, indulged in a siesta.

When I awake from my nap, the monkeys were still very much there, sitting in a close circle around me. This time when I got a handful of groundnut into the middle of the pond, they did not get blown back towards me, for there was hardly any breeze -- the nuts spread slowly in a circle towards the edges of the pond, and the monkeys distributed themselves on the steps all around. Then the Despotic Overlord got tired of waiting for the slow-moving nuts and plunged into the water, striking out powerfully in a dogpaddle -- the rest took to the water at once, even the very small ones. Thereafter every time I through the nuts into the water, they rushed unhesitatingly in -- apparently, once they were thoroughly wet they didn't much mind the water.

I noticed two interesting things before by bag of groundnuts gave out. Once, when a small monkey swam too close to where the overlord was fishing for nuts, the big monkey grabbed the intruder by the head and held him under the water -- since monkeys swim with only their heads above water, it is easy to drown them in this manner. Normally a powerful dog-monkey punishing a too-cheeky junior grabs and bites the offender, but apparently this overlord was well aware that in the water another technique was more effective. The unfortunate little monkey came up almost suffocated and quite purple in the face, and I expected him to swim ashore for a rest -- but after coughing and spluttering for a moment, he just reached out for the nuts (which the disturbance has spread thick around him), popping them one by one into his distended cheek-poucher with frantic speed.

The other thing I noticed concerned a large She-Monkey with an infant clinging to her abdomen. She was almost as intolerant of neighbours as the overlord just moved further away. She rushed into the water with no regard whatever for her baby; every time the little one was first drowned and then came spluttering up one flank to ride on the mother's back, Jockey fashion -- no, John Gilpin fashion lying flat on the back of its mount and clasping hard with four limbs. Neither mother nor child seemed to benefit by experience, so that after this had happened thrice, I tempted the mother to one side on the steps of the tank and gave her, her share of nuts one by one, passing each nut into her extended hand.

None of the other monkeys came up to me to be fed in the same way, not even the overlord. Many explanations for this occur to me and for many other things I noticed about the inter-group relationship of these macaques, but I would like to study their social life much longer before I commit myself to any statement."

- M. Krishnan

This was first published on 21 August 1960 in The Sunday Statesman

# The photograph of a swimming monkey with the baby riding on the back has not been included here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
28-10-2015, 03:47 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : Red Dog : The Sunday Statesman : 25 October 2015
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"ALMOST everyone who has written about The Indian Wild Dog or DHOLE remarked on its extraordinary likeness to a chestnut-coloured village dog, common herd dog of the countryside. There is some justification for the comparison, BUT NOT MUCH. The wild dog or village dog are of a size, and the latter is at times, almost as red-coated as the former -- and there the resemblance ends.

It should also be said that when one sees a wild dog in the jungles, usually there is no opportunity for a close look, and probably the likeliness is intended to be applied, by those who sense it, to such fugitive glimpses. But the fact remains that I have never known anyone mistake a wild dog for a village dog, even when one had a fleeting look at the animal, even in places where it was seen in jungles besides where domestic dogs were by no means uncommon.

What, then is the difference? Experts have decided that the wild dog was not one of the ancestors of the domestic dog, and have classified it apart from the genus CANIS ( to which the wolves, the jackals and the domestic dog belong ) because it lacks a molar by comparison and has more mammae. Such anatomical differences, however, need to be looked for. Nor is the distinction in the peculiar tail of the wild dog, with a thick, black brush on the terminal half of the short, straight tail -- there are village dogs with short, straight, bushy tail.

Once I asked this question of a Shikari friend of mine, when a hunting party returned with a wild dog shot in the jungles where we did not expect it. This man and I were in camp when the party returned, and seeing the head of the wild dog protruding from a sack, he identified it at once. How, I asked him, did he know that it was a wild dog and not a village dog?

He is the kind of man who can, with no affection of modesty, make the old-fashioned excuse in the preface to his book of hunting adventures (if he ever gets round to writing a book) that he is more familiar with the rifle than the pen. He took a long time to answer me, and after much introspection came out with the reply that he had known it was a wild dog because no one will bother to shoot a village dog. And when I pointed out that a village dog could have been shot by mistake, he gave up. I suggested to him that he had known it was a wild dog because its head had certain feral look, and instantly he agreed -- that's it, he said, now that you say it, I distinctly remember it was just that, the Feral Head, that made me spot it straightway. He then asked me what the word 'Feral' meant!

I am afraid that most people asked this question would plump for the same answer, that a wild dog looks wild. And it does. However, this wild look can be described in specific and anatomical terms, provided one is allowed the jargon of the show-ring. The Wild Dog stands taller than a Jackal but is less leggy, it is about 20 inches in the shoulder, and a full-grown Dog (in South India) weighs about 40 pound -- bitches are smaller and lighter. The animal is low-to-ground and has short limbs, but these are hard-muscled, exquisitely proportioned, and low in the hock and wrist; the body is reachy, and noticeably thin-waisted. The coat is smooth, harsh, and not too fine, and a bright chestnut in colour, with the hair on the inside of the ears and limbs paler. The tail is not feathered at the base, but carries a heavy, black, coarse-haired brush on its terminal-half: when the animal is moving, the tail is carried gaily.

The head is distinctive, with the short jaws tapering to a blunt point -- in a front view, the head has the appearance of a broad wedge, and in profile it is decidedly down-faced, with hardly any stop, and with the jaws deep though short; in profile, the resemblance to a bull-terrier is noticeable; the wild dog's short, deep jaws and down-face serve to distinguish it at a look from the Wolf and Jackal (which are long in the jaw) and the Fox (which has a snippy muzzle) and also from the village dog, which is never down-faced. The ears are rounded, and well furnished with hair on their insides and the feet have between the toes.

The gait is also distinctive. Crossing open country, wild dogs mat trot on occasion, but their usual gait is a canter, which serves to get them over and through the undershrub of the forests effectively -- they do not have the easy lope of the wolf, or the airy gallop of jackals and foxes moving at speed. But of course the most obvious thing about the wild dog is the red coat; the colour of this may vary from a fulvous chestnut to a deep brick-red coat, but always red.

For generations the wild dog has been considered as a pest in India, and shot at sight. For many years there was a reward for each wild dog killed -- this reward may still be there in places. It was thought that the wild dog's ruthless methods of hunting left the herbivores of the forest with no chance, and that nature had to be helped by shooting down the hunter, if the herbivores were to be saved from extermination. I think sentiment, too, had much to do with this feeling against the wild dog. Wild dogs hunt in packs, small or large, and follow their prey (usually deer) by scent till the quarry is tired out; it is then attacked, the dogs from the following pack sprinting in turns to catch up with the fleet-footed quarry, springing at its sides and tearing out a mouthful of flesh in a quick bite. The victim often has the intestines trailing out of a gaping hole in the abdomen or is otherwise grievously mutilated before it dies.

While they are utterly relentless and indefatigable in their hunting, wild dogs lack the power of the greater cats (and even some of the smaller predators) to kill instantly -- even Wolves are quicker at the finish. But then, that is their mode of hunting, and neither their courage nor their tenacity has ever been questioned. They are the only animals of their size that can and do attack prey that is much larger and more powerful than themselves, such as Boars and Panthers (the latter usually escapes the pack by climbing), in spite of several of their numbers being killed or severely wounded -- they have even been known to attack and kill the mighty Tiger, in a large pack.

Wild dogs are typical jungle dwellers -- unlike the wolf, which is a plains animal in peninsular India. It is said that as soon as they enter the jungle, the deer and other herbivores move out, those remaining being quickly killed. I have seen deer disappear from jungles with the arrival of wild dogs, but in Karwar, in the Supa and Vironli blocks, I have also seen wild dogs on many occasions, and the deer (both Sambar and Chital, and even the Mouse-deer) were very much there. The truth is that we have yet to learn many things about the lives of our forest animals.

It is a fact that the wild dog offended the sportsmen of the past by driving away game from the forests and that is probably why a reward was set on its head. Even today, no old fashioned Shikari will concede that wild dogs are not unmitigated vermin. Personally I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that as exterminators of our dwindling wildlife, the wild dog is nowhere, compared to shikaris, poachers, trappers and similar men.

The sanctuaries where no animal (including wild dog) can be shot, I have seen deer and other herbivores thriving, in spite of undeniable presence of wild dogs. Such protected jungles when thrown open to sportsmen and tourists, quickly lose their wildlife within two or three seasons. I give no specific details, but I may assure the reader that I say this from personal knowledge, checked and rechecked. A moment's thought will show that there is no substance in the fear that wild dogs will kill off all the other forest animals, if not kept in check. No herbivores would have survived, in large numbers, from the days when we had no hunting laws if wild dogs are, in fact such destroyers. The truth is that though their mode of hunting may revolt us, wild dogs serve a salutary purpose in Nature's scheme of things, and provide a necessary check on the fecundity of the herbivores."

- M.Krishnan

This was first published on 18 December 1960 in The Sunday Statesmam

# One sketch of a pack of Wild Dogs drawn by M. Krishnan has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
01-11-2015, 01:01 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The Aggression of the Vegetarian : The Sunday Statesman : 01 November 2015
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"IT is hard to say who first expounded it, but the thesis that among Indian wild animals the larger herbivores are, as a rule, more aggressive towards men than the carnivores has been the conviction of more than one naturalist-shikari who knew our fauna intimately.

We are speaking of normal attitudes and bents -- not of exceptional reactions or abnormal, cultivated tastes. The man-eating Tiger and Panther must be left out of this consideration, and also the rouge Elephant (which is often an animal maddened by abiding pain of a man-inflicted injury). And we should also leave out the fright reaction of animals closely confined and provoked; a captive Tapir, probably the most timid of all beasts, has been known to savage a man who caused it pain.

Even with all these limitations, the thesis might seem absurd at first sight. We think of carnivores as specially savage animals -- in spite of the fact that Man's best friend is a carnivore! That they kill to live is something that makes people think of them, at all times, as likely killers.

But normally no carnivore attacks man. When excited, as when courting, or when apprehensive, as when guarding cubs, a Tiger or Panther may attack a human intruder, but being equipped with exquisite senses, and being swift in their nervous controls, they almost invariably give a timely warning, often several warnings, before they attack.

I can easily find support for this view that it is chance-met herbivores that are more dangerous by citing the zoo experts. Any experienced zoo man will tell you that the greater cats give him little cause for worry , and it is some of the old dog-monkeys and, in particular old bucks and stags (and we always think of antelopes and deer as such harmless, lovable creatures) that are really dangerous. But I will not cite this testimony. In my opinion, animals, especially mammals, live under such artificial restraint in even the best-run and planned of zoos that observations of these captives helps little in understanding their true nature.

It is especially the adult male that is aggressive among the herbivores. The bull Elephant and the lone bull Gaur can both be really dangerous on occasion. The bull gaur is normally a most peaceable beast, very shy of man, and rarely attacking except under extreme provocation -- it is the bull wild Buffalo that is truculent by nature. But there are authentic instances of an old lone bull gaur attacking men without provocation, and I myself knew, for a ticklish week, that a lone bull was so restive that to approach him was to ask for trouble. The rather idyllic picture of him reproduced here, with sunlit wild flowers against his shade darkened flank, is a momento I specially value of a critical moment.

When a bull Gaur does go for a man, he is presistent and savage in attack, continuing to trample, gore and toss the victim long after death. This is generally true of herbivorous aggressors, which lack the merciful swift and clean efficiency of the carnivores in killing.

Ask any true Jungly, living on the outskirts of a typical forest area holding elephant, gaur, deer, tiger, panther, bear and pig, and he will tell you that it is the Elephant that he fears most. Being mainly nocturnal and crepuscular, being so early with their perception of the approach of the man and so quick to get away from him, or at least to give him due warning not to approach closer, the Greater Cats rarely cause humanity in the jungle any anxiety. Sloth Bears (which are vegetarian in the main) can be dangerous; being short-sighted and given to preoccupations, at times they take no notice of one till one is almost upon them -- and their behaviour is unpredictable. PIG in the jungles usually give men a clear berth, but on occasion an old Boar may stand his ground and turn aggressive -- when there can be no two opinions on what the human intruder should do! However, it is the mighty Elephant that people whose business takes them through elephant jungles really dread. In places where they have not been disturbed or molested, as in some sanctuaries, elephants may be very tolerant of humanity. But elsewhere in the Nilgiris for example, they can be aggressive and dangerous.

It is usually a Lone Bull that one has to beware of, but I have heard of an entire herd attacking transport lorries. Personally, I think this truculence is a comparatively new development, caused or stimulated by the constant disturbance of human invasions of their territory, probably also by occasional injury inflicted by men -- elephants are both long-lived and intelligent. The fact remains, however, that though one can find reasons for a tusker turning aggressive, he is a singularly dangerous beast. The uncanny silence with which he can move, the deceptive-seeming casualness of his movements, his persistence in attack and the fact that unless one can jump down a steep bank it is hardly possible to outrun an elephant, and quite impossible in bushy or grassy cover, all make an encounter with a misanthropic tusker specially risky and terrifying. Luckily he is shortsighted, and if one gets quickly behind a tree or bush, hugs the earth and freezes, chances of escape are excellent."

-M. Krishnan

This was first published on 19 February 1961 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of the lone bull Gaur is not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
29-11-2015, 10:11 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Barking Deer : The Sunday Statesman : 29 November 2015
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"THE MUNTJAC is a creature of many aliases. It is the Muntjac (from its Malayan name), the Barking Deer, the Rib-faced Deer and the "Jungle Sheep" of early South Indian sportsmen -- the last derived from its Tamil name "kelai aadu", meaning "the sheep or goat that creates a din". The loud, repeated alarm call of this little deer, and the ridges down its face that end in the curious, pedicellate, hooked horn of the male, have earned for it these many descriptive names. And none of them is strictly accurate.

To my mind, the word "bark" suggests a sharp, accurate sound. When Byron wrote,

Tis sweet to hear the watch
dog's honest bark
Bay deep-mouth'd
welcome as
We draw near home;

Tis sweet to know there is an
eye will mark
Our coming, and look brighter
When we come,

he was rather hard pressed for a rhyme for "mark" -- the peculiarly American construction, "there is an eye will mark", further testifies to the poetic strain.

Actually, the Barking Deer's alarm is neither a bark nor a deep-mouthed bay. Years ago, I saw a crossbred Newfoundland dog (belonging to the Captain of a passing ship) at a harbour, and that huge, panting beast has somehow developed laryngitis in the humid heat: its hoarse, long-drawn voice was the nearest I have heared in any animal to the Barking Deer's.

Some sheep, too, have similar voices, but the Deer's call, though not sharp, is never the quavering "blah" of a hoarse-voiced sheep; it has an unmistakable 'note of alarm' in it, in spite of its bronchial depth of tone, a querulous anxiety in the abrupt ending. I remember the first time I heard this call, when what alarmed the deer was my near presence -- it stayed hidden in bush cover and sounded its inexorable alarm, till the Gaur I was stalking with a camera had bolted, and till I had removed myself far from the place.

Like the swearing of the Langur and the Bonnet Macaque, the deer's call is an alarm widely understood by all denizens of the jungle, and is not sounded unless the presence of a predator or some suspicious-looking stranger excites the alarmist. Other Deer calls are not always warnings -- the "pook" of the Sambar and the "shrill bark" of the Chital, for example. But when anything in the jungle hears the hoarse, repeated bronchial bark of the Muntjac, it takes warning at once.

Another curious sound produced by this deer, a series of quick clicks like the sound of castanets, has been the subject of much speculation. I believe it is generally accepted now that this is only the usual coughing alarm call broken up into small, consecutive bits by the jerky action of the deer's gateway. I have heard this only once, from too far away to have any opinion.

Unlike most deer, the Muntjac is usually solitary; occasionally it may be found in a pair. It is an active beast and spends much time on its feet, but keeps more or less to its own beat of the forest. I have watched it many times, late in the morning and early in the evening, moving quietly through the undergrowth, inconspicuous in spite of the bright chestnut of its coat. The feet are trim and small, though the limbs are thick and well-muscled on top, and the animal moves with a high-stepping action even when slinking along, setting down its dainty hooves vertically on the forest floor, covered with dry leaves, without rustling anything. And many times I have seen it lifts its muzzle up to an overhanging bough, wrap an improbably long tongue around a leafy twig and strip the leaves clean by pulling its head away.

This little deer is perhaps the choosiest feeder of its tribe -- and its diet is probably more omnivorous than that of other deer. Even when I have been able to keep it in sight for an hour, it never stopped long at any place, tripping along from bush to bush, picking a leaf here and a bud there with fastidious selectiveness."


This was first published on 16 April 1961 in The Sunday Statesman

# One beautiful drawing of the Deer is not reproduced here

Saktipada Panigrahi
14-12-2015, 11:26 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : MORE ABOUT BARKING DEER :The Sunday Statesman:13 Dec 2015
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" SOME things are questions of opinion, and not of fact. I was moved to this thought by Mr. Mukul Chatterjee's letter (The Sunday Statesman, 23 April) on my note about BARKING DEER in the previous Sunday's magazine. He thinks the deer's alarm call is a true bark and shorter than a dog's -- I think is is longer and much hoarser. Clearly a difference of opinion, easily explained -- in assessing the quiddity and length of a canine bark, Mr. Chatterjee and I are thinking, obviously, of different dogs!

But when he goes on to say that I have pointed out "that the Barking Deer is omnivorous", and adds "but this species is only known to be purely vegetarian"; I have every reason to doubt that any deer is prone to mixed diets", Mr. Chatterjee is raising a factual issue. And of course he is dead right in saying that deer are strictly vegetarian to the extent to which any mammal is vegetarian as a class.

LET me quote the offending passage from my note: "This little Deer is perhaps the choosiest feeder of its tribe -- and its diet is probably more omnivorous than that of other deer." I must confess that I feel greatly embarrassed by the latter part of this sentence, and surprised at myself -- in writing "Country Notebook" for almost a dozen years, I have not been guilty of a similar gaffe. As the sentence stands, it can have only one meaning, i.e, that while deer are in some degree omnivorous, the Barking Deer is perhaps more omnivorous than the rest. And that was not what I meant to say at all. What I meant was that while deer, in general, are vegetarian in their diet, perhaps the Barking Deer goes in for non-vegetarian fare occasionally.

Indian Deer -- and we have more species of deer than any other country -- live on grass and herbs, foliage, buds, fruits and bark: occasionally they may eat tubers and bulbs and perhaps also lichen and similar plants. Anyway, their diet is entirely vegetarian. The Barking Deer, however, is said to indulge in less blameless fare once in a way.

Let me quote Dunbar Brander, whose accuracy in observation and report are above suspicion on this point. He says, "I once kept a Barking Deer as a pet, and an excellent one it made. Like many wild animals, it was much addicted to drinking hot water, and I can confirm the observations of others to the effect that they will eat meat." Clearly, what he means is that he can confirm, from the knowledge of his pet, what others have said about Barking Deer eating meat -- the sentence is not to be construed literally as meaning that Dunbar Brander can confirm that these others (who have observed the occasional non-vegetarian lapse of the deer) are given to meat-eating.

I find this confusion of pronouns, by a writer who has so justly been described as "notoriously accurate", strangely comforting; apparently, there is something about the MUNTJAK that makes naturalists, writing about it, careless in their language!

Dunbar Brander adds, " In fact, I once saw a Barking Deer in the jungle snuffing round a tiger's kill in a way that suggested that the wild animal might also be guilty of this practice." All this, of course, proves nothing. The behaviour of captive animals, especially in regard to what they eat, is no proof of their habits when wild. Dunbar Brander does not say that he saw the Muntjak feeding of the kill -- only that he saw it snuffing ( and he meant "snuffing" not "snuffling" or "sniffing") at the meat speculatively. The verdict must be the cautious Scots "not proven".

I myself missed narrowly missed recording the Barking Deer's occasional indulgence in non-vegetarian fare a few year's ago. I was then camped on a hilltop and one evening my factotum reported that a Bear was digging a termite mound barely a furlong away. Taking the only loaded camera available, I rushed to the spot: there, on the hillside some 40 yards from the edge of the plateau, there was a freshly demolished termite mound, but no bear. By screwing on an eyepiece to the detachable lens of my camera, it could be converted into an efficient telescope, and luckily I had the eyepiece with me. I sat behind a bush and scanned the hillside through the telescope for the bear, and found nothing. Presently, a full-grown male Barking Deer emerged from the bush cover and walked up to the termite nest: it put its muzzle to the freshly dug mound and began to lick and swallow something. Through the glass I could distinctly see the termites crawling on their rudely torn-up tunneled home, but the Deer's muzzle was hidden by a ridge and I could not actually see what it was licking up. Another minute, and this point would have been settled, for the Muntjak's muzzle would have cleared the obscuring ridge, but right then my companion remarked in a loud voice, "Look, the Jungle-Sheep eating white ants!" -- and without so much as a yap the deer disappeared into the cover. Subsequent inspection of the anthill was unrewarding, though I even tested the crumbled, blown earth (much to my companion's delight) and found it not saline but only muddy. "Not proven", Again.

I am unable, personally, to confirm Mr. Chatterjee's remarks on the gustatory appeal of Barking Deer meat being a vegetarian, but I can speak with authority on its aggressiveness when wounded or cornered. Mr. Chatterjee says that its hooves are its chief weapons, and that he has seen a man wounded by a Muntjak. All deer use their forefeet in defence, specially the hinds. The stags use their antlers both in defence and attack and often with decisive effect, but I doubt if the male Muntjak's hooked horns are much used in fighting.However, it has another potent weapon.

Let me quote Dunbar Brander on the point once more. "During the rut the males often fight fiercely and their chief weapons of offence are their long upper tusks. These are sharp and protrude about half inch from the gum. They are not fixed firmly into the jaw but are retained in a position by the surrounding tissues and can be moved and it is probable that the animals can control their position to a certain extent. The wounds these tusks are capable of inflicting are astonishing, and I have shot bucks, which have been fighting, with deep gashes on the face and neck. I have known them round on a fair-sized dog and inflict a wound on the back of its neck that if placed a little lower would probably have been fatal. When brought to bay, they show extraordinary courage and they would even stand up to a man."

On the Muntjak's method of attack, I can speak with more expert assurance than Dunbar Brander even. On the the inner aspect of my right thigh, just above the knee, there is a two-inch long scar. Acquired more than 30 years ago, when I was a schoolboy, for the first few years this honourable scar of battle was quite impressive, much longer and heavily ridged. It was caused by a male Barking Deer in a zoo. Feeling curious about the displayed tusks of this creature, I clambered over the fence and got into its little pen and when no one was looking, and tried to get hold of it by the horns. With one swift, sideway movement of the head, it inflicted a tearing injury with its tusk, and in record time I was on the right side of the fence again, my curiosity fully satisfied. I was in considerable pain and the wound bled copiously, but what alarmed me then was the thought that if any of the zoo staff got to know about my adventure, I'd surely get jailed for breaking the rules. I sneaked my way out, any my explanation for the wound, which needed stitches, was that having got accidentally locked in I had to climb the compound wall of the zoo to get out, and that one of the palings of the wall had caused the injury. The explanation was never questioned and long after I had reached mature adulthood I still stuck to the story when I had occasion toaccount for the scur -- curious how abiding one's early fears are!

I am now coming out with plain unvarnished truth in the interest of science. Barking dogs may not bite, but Barking Deer do.One last details about this surprising little animal. The Barking Deer is an Asiatic animal, limited to a few species distributed over China, India, Burma and Malaya and nearabouts. But it is to be found wild in England, in Derbyshire and a few other localities, having been introduced and escaped from zoos, and what is more the Indian species and the smaller Chinese species have interbred in England!"


This was first published on 21 May 1961 in The Sunday Statesman

Saktipada Panigrahi
27-12-2015, 10:44 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : SNAKEBIRD............. : The Sunday Statesman : 27 December 2015
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" I NEVER see a Darter without thinking of Archaeopteryx! There are other birds with strange, even bizarre, looks - the Spoonbill, Hornbill, the Florican and fantastistally mallet-like and pink Flamingo, for example. But for all their improbable shape and colour and plumage, they are patently birds; in fact their exaggerated oddness itself is peculiarly avian. Only the Darter suggests the reptilian ancestry of the birds.

To some extent, I suppose the scale-like patterning of the plumage conveys this suggestion, but it is the long, S-shaped serpentine neck, ending in the snake head and dagger bill, that gives the bird semi-reptilian look - and its common name, "Snakebird". Even when soaring on high on sharply triangular wings, the neck outstretched and pointed bill pointing slightly upwards, there is something definitely prehistoric-seeming about the Darter. But, of course, it is when it is swimming that the Snakebird is at its snakiest.

Last year, I had occasion to travel many miles each day along the waterspread of a dammed-up lake. The top boughs of great trees, which had once towered in the forest that was now the bed of the lake, jutted out of water here and there. Naked and gount, with the bark removed by submersion for almost a century and the wood closely pitted and textured, the projecting dead wood looked more like the fossilised outgrowth of some extinct, freshwater coral than the limbs of trees. Darters sat on these perches, lending the long-dead wood a quite primeval air.

Many of them sat with wings outspread, replete from a spell of underwater hunting, with the fully extended flights and long, spread tail "hung out" to dry in the air. They preened themselves from time to time and in spite of this display of wing and tail and the toilet peculiar to birds, the looked semi-reptilian still, the lanceolate, paleshafted plumes on the back and the snaky fluidity of the long, kinked neck very much in evidence.

At the approach of our boat they would close their wings, crouch low on their perch and extending their heads forward to the limit, peer anxiously at us. Then they would fly away, with rapid, rather laboured wingbeats, almost skimming the surface of the lake. But sometimes they would just drop down to the water, submerge and swim to the other side of the perch. One would expect a big-bodied bird like the Darter, dropping straight down into the water (and not nose-diving into it), to make an audible plop, but awkward as the move seemed it was both swift and soundless.

The bird would sink completely, and then for a minute there would be no sign of it; then 30 yards away, the sharp-jawed head of some watersnake would show up on an upraised neck, take a quick look around and submerge again. Surfacing again at a safe distance, the darter would swim around, watching us all the time.

Darters swim with the heavy body totally submerged and are much more at home in the water than in the air. I tried it twice, but could not get a swimming darter to fly by following it. It would submerge and reappear unexpectedly a fair distance away, and by the time the boat could be manoeuvred around it would be too far away to be chased. Incidentally, I had ample opportunity at this lake, to observe darters hunting and feeding. I never saw them hunting together, as their cousins, the Cormorants, do in shallow water. I can confirm what I have already said in these columns about their method of capturing prey; in spite of the power and rapidity with which they can shoot out their dagger bills at quarry (the kinks in their necks operate as a propulsive spring), they do not 'transfix' fish, as many have said they do, but catch their prey between the mandibles, like other fishers. Since all of a Darter's hunting is under water, I never saw the actual seizure of the prey, but usually the bird surfaced to swallow its catch, often flicking up a fish, held crosswise in the bill, into the air to catch it and swallow its head first. I never saw the prey transfixed on the bill. Fish are the main prey, but more than once I saw a questing Darter come up with something shapeless and unidentifiable in its bill, something that looked like a large aquatic snail, but which had no shell, obviously, for the bird swallowed its catch with ease. I wonder what it could have been."

- M.Krishnan

This was published on 4 June 1961 in The Sunday Statesman

# The sketch of the Snakebird has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
01-02-2016, 09:05 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : INDIA'S NATIONAL BIRD : The Sunday Statesman : 31 January 2016
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" NOTHING official and irrevocable has been decided yet about the choice of a bird emblem for the nation, but there seems to be no reason to doubt that the peacock, the bird tentatively selected, will be the final choice. No other Indian bird has better claims to the honour, as already pointed out in this column long ago. This note on the National bird is, therefore, not too premature but this is highly miscellaneous sort of note: I am writing of the peacock not only as a Jungle Fowl but also of its traditional cultural associations in India, particularly in South India where it is held specially sacred.

Peafowl are not limited exclusively to India. The Indian species, Pavo cristatus, is also to be found in Ceylon and in Pakistan (though Pakistan is, for all purposes of natural history, a purely artificial territorial division): in Burma there is a different species with a pointed crest.

According to classical Tamil, Peafowl belongs to hill jungles. They are essentially birds of the sparse deciduous forests that clothe our lesser hills, though in places (as in the Deccan) they are to be found in the flat scrub as well. They are thirsty birds need to drink everyday, so are never found far from a stream or pool.

Like many other game birds, peafowl are polygamous and are usually to be found in parties consisting of a grown cock and a few hens. At times, these parties may associate in a drove and at times (especially during the cold weather) separate small parties of cocks and hens may be seen: I have even seen single cocks in the jungles. The sexes are different to distinguish during infancy. At one month of age, both male and female chicks have crests and behave very similarly, nor there is any marked difference in size between them. At one year, the superior size and much more iridescent neck of the cock begin to assert themselves, and the train (this is not the tail but consists of the elongated coverts above the tail) begins to develop; the train is not fully developed till it is two or three years old.

The spectacular courtship display where the iridescent "eyes" of the ocellated fanned-out are exhibited most tellingly has never failed to impress man - though often enough the hens, for whose benefit the performance is presumably staged, remain totally indifferent to it! From time to time the displaying peacock vibrates its low-held wings, and shivers the great erected train-fan so that the vivid glinting greens and blues of the "eye" dissolve in a shimmering haze of brilliant colour, a dazzling effect that no art can improve upon.

In countryside traditions, the peacock does not dance only in courtship -- when the bird's heart is gladdened by the first showers after parching summer it dances in joy and welcome. Naturalists may pooh-pooh this pretty fancy, but I have seen captive peacocks indulging in a full-dress display when no hen was around and the only inspiration seemed to be the freshness and coolth of the early rains or of a cloudy monsoon day.

Incidentally, Lorenz and other observers that the display may be inspired by an object on which the bird's affections have been fixed -- and the object may be a tortoise or even something inanimate! The grown hens do not, so far as I know, indulge in the display but sub-adult hens may. Naturally lacking the essential train, such juvenile displays (whether by male or female sub-adults) are unostentatious.

Peafowl are long-lived. I am unable to cite offhand any reliable record of their longevity, but captive birds have lived in good health for years: probably their "expectancy", as the life insurance people put it, is around 20 years. But infant mortality is high and is compensated in nature by free breeding.

Unfortunately, no thorough study has been made of the natural mixed diet of these birds. Grain of every kind (including bamboo "seed"), flowers and leaf buds and tender green shoots of plants, small reptiles (lizards and snakes) and many insects are included in their natural diet. Once I witnessed from behind the cover of rocks, a bevy of peafowl feeding, rather inefficiently, on swarming winged termites issuing from the earth in a gauzy, impetuous mist. What impressed me then was the wild and improbable beauty of what I saw. What captive peafowl eat is no indication of their natural diet -- I have seen a captive hen eating with obvious gusto both sliced carrots and fried groundnut, neither of which is part of the wild bird's fare.

A captive peacock may be belligerent, and will not hesitate to attack men. The peck can dent one's flesh and the bird also flies up at one and ans strikes out with its spur, inflicting deep gash. I have not been attacked by a peacock myself, but seen others being routed by the bird. In a wild state, peafowl are surprisingly shy of men -- they are positively terrified by the men, as, no doubt, they have good cause to be. True that the tradition-bound Hindus will not harm peafowl, or suffer them to be harmed, but it is no less true that in India peacock pie is by no means a dish known by emperors. Even the eggs laid in a clutch in a scrape on the ground under cover of some bush are highly prized.

The keen sight of peafowl has been commented upon by every observer of the wild bird. Their sight is so good that even total immobility, which usually serve to prevent an inconspicuously clad man from being betrayed to the eyes of most wild animals, does not help. The hearing of these birds is also acute. As GM Henry rightly points out, the true alarm call is not the loud, trumpet like, repeated "peehan", so frequently heard at dusk in the jungles, but an "extraordinary, loud hollow grunt preceded by a squawk".

Peafowl, like many other game birds, trust their legs in preference to their wings mainly to cross streams, to get up to their treetop roosts at nightfall and to get back to the ground in the morning and to get past impenetrable barriers -- but they can fly swiftly and get quickly airborne if they wish to do so, and at times they take to their wings to escape. The trains of the cocks are hend clear of the ground when slinking through bush and undershrub and the lie of the feathers and barbs being away from the line of movement, the train does not easily get entangled in twigs and thorns.

In South India where Subramanya has sway, the peacock is held sacred as the God's vahana. The bird is usually depicted in representations of the God with the serpent in its beak and below its feet. Peacocks by themselves (unaccompanied by the God) are freely carved in the old stone of classical Indian art and small figurines depicting the bird cast in brass or bronze used to be common. The figurines are remarkable for their formalised simplification of all detail. Highly decorative "Oriental" peacocks showing each eye on the outspread train in clear detail in brilliant enamel do not belong to our classical art -- they might be recent imitations manufactured by some enterprising silversmith or they might even be made in Manchester! Peacock plumes, of course, have always decorated the fans and other ragalia of Gods and princes in our country.

Although so shy when wild, peafowl can be introduced into any really large garden where there is ample bush cover and tree growth and quickly settle down to a semi-domesticated life. They may then safely be given their liberty and can even be trained (if desired) to come in regularly at some hour to be fed. Nothing adds so much to the looks of an Indian place or mansion like feral peafowl in the grounds. I realise that some effort and pertinacity may be called for in introducing peafowl into some places, but still suggest that they should be introduced into such of our public parks, government houses and similar premises as can provide them with sufficient lebensraum."


This was published on 8 October 1961 in The Sunday Statesman

#One beautiful sketch of a peafowl drawn by the author is not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
06-03-2016, 11:01 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: THE MOUSE-DEER: The Sunday Statesman : 6 March 2016
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"TAXONOMICALLY speaking, the Mouse-Deer is not a deer at all for it belongs to the TRAGULIDAE, a group apart from the true ruminants. Nevertheless it is called a deer in all languages, and even illiterate junglees have always thought it a deer, the most diminutive of the tribe.

No wonder, then, that it is called Mouse-Deer. It is much nearer an outsize Hare in size, but its diminutive build and furtive, creeping habits, and the way it bolts when flushed, not bounding like a hare but scurrying past on dainty frantic feet, justify the name. And what a noise it makes in the dry undershrub when it bolts! In the deciduous jungles, the animals that make much noise when getting away are all small -- the monitor lizard and the dinky little mouse-deer probably make the most impressive exits.

I remember the fright I got once, when scouting for a lone elephant in a jungle. There was a shifting breeze and the glimpse that I caught of the elephant through the bushes in between clumps of giant bamboo only told me that the animal was a tusker. Cautiously I approached a bamboo clump that seemed to offer a vantage point, when suddenly a tornado broke lose in the tangle of dried creepers and shrubs around me. Then a Mouse-Deer darted out of the cover and rushed between my legs and the noise of its progress till it gained the clearing behind me seemed enough to alarm the entire jungle. That was a yellow letter day for me! When I finally crept up and got a fair sight of my quarry, I discovered that it was one of the camp elephants, turned loose to graze.

Being crepuscular and even nocturnal, the little deer is not often seen; one gets a blurred glimpse of its scurrying form when it is flushed accidentally from its retreat, or in the course of a beat, and that is all one sees. But it was in a beat that I had longest chance I had to watch this creature.

That was a general beat, and there were several optimistic guns. I was in a machan with one of the guns, who promptly and sensibly went to sleep crouched as he was. Anything from hare to tiger was expected in that beat, and I have been specially warned to be on the look out for bears. Well, the beat began about half a mile away and presently a Mouse-Deer crept out of a bush, had a good look around and proceeded to trip slowly away from the noise, stopping now and again to nibble at the carpet of herbs. There was nothing furtive or skulking about the animal's gait as it tripped past on short, slender legs and disappeared into the bushes beyond -- Mouse-Deer, when alarmed, creep stealthily away if they can. A little latter it came back, stepping daintily and easily as before, and took refuse in a bamboo clump 10 yards away when the beat was almost in a line with us.

From the total lack of rifle shots, it was clear that no one has seen anything worth shooting. The party assembled below our machan and bemoaned its luck -- a couple of mouse-deer at least, it was generally felt, would have saved a blank day and assured a zest for dinner. There were two gourmets there who have not sampled mouse-deer curry and others dilated ecstatically on the dish; they even retailed Frank Buck's story of how, in Malay, this little creature is worshipped as the Spirit of the Wild and how people there just love it in a curry. And all the time the object of their desire was within yards, and I, vegetarian, derived a powerful satisfaction from keeping this knowledge to myself, and leading the others away from there before the Mouse-Deer could take fright and break cover.

In summer, it is said, Mouse-Deer congregate in small parties and spend the day in crevices between boulders and similar cool retreats. They have been driven out of such shelters and netted and four of five adults have been taken together.. Maybe the associate in small parties during the day, but they no longer keep together when they venture from their retreats in the evening. I have seen Mouse-Deer several times by night during summer, and always they have been by themselves or in a pair.

Once I saw what was undoubtedly a family party, a Mouse-Deer and two tiny young exquisite little miniatures of their mother.

Mouse-Deer have no horns, but have the upper canines well developed -- these needle sharp teeth project downward from the lips of the bucks and are used in intra-specific fights, but I do not think the bucks use them against enemies in self-defence, as Barking Deer do. These little creatures can swim well, and in Africa there is a cousin of theirs that is semi-aquatic in its habits.

The petty toes (above the hooves) are also well developed, so that the Mouse-Deer can achieve a grip where its tint hooves alone would slip. I have seen a captive specimen climb the bole of a sloping tree in its yard, and enter a hollow in the wood some four feet above the ground."

- M.Krishnan

This was published on 31 December 1961 in The Sunday Statesman.

# A beautiful sketch of the Mouse-Deer in its habitat not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
14-03-2016, 06:10 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: THE MOST STRIKING OF OUR PREDATORS: The Sunday Statesman: 13 March 2016
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"THE KESTREL is, I think, the prettiest of our Falcons. This is very much a question of personal opinion, and the nice distinction between prettiness, on the one hand, and beauty or handsomeness on the other. We have smaller Falcons, more powerfully and daintily put together, and many whose flight is far more impressive in its dash and abandon, but I still think the Kestrel, sitting pretty on a perch or hovering and sailing in the air, the prettiest of our birds of prey.

Much of the charm depends on its colouring. All falcons have the long, pointed, graceful wings of kestrel, and many have tails as full and long, but they usually run to slatey greys and somber browns, heavy moustachial stripes and highly predatory looks. The brick-red back and buff breast of the kestrel, mottled with dark brown spearhead markings, and its touches of grey and blackish flights have a complementary effect, unusual in the plumage of a predator. Looking at the bird, one feels somehow that it is no implacable killer -- and it isn't.

The English alias for the bird, windhover, so little heard in India, describes its way of life. The kestrel's mode of hunting is to go sailing in circles, about 100 feet above the ground, flapping its long wings occasionally, and fanning and closing its full tail to suit the wind. It scrutinises the scrub below for large insects, little reptiles and the like and when it sees a suspicious movement below, it stops still, threshing the air with quick, small wing-beats, much in the manner of a swimmer treading water, but faster. It often drops much lower, to sight its quarry the better, and many drop again till it is hovering in the air barely 15 feet above the ground. Then, if it sees its prey clearly, it pounces.

Very different is the kestrel's hunting from that of other falcons, and they have said that the movement seems more or less limited to wingtips; the primaries alone appear to move rapidly up and down, and not the whole wing as in a Pied Kingfisher hanging over the water and searching for fish. No doubt that the movement does seem limited to the wingtips, but that is because the observer is well below the bird and so in that foreshortened view can take note only of quite obvious movements.

Recently I had the opportunity to watch a kestrel hovering from close quarters, and when I was almost on a level with the bird I noticed that the entire wing moved, I was on the terrace of a tall building, and the falcon was almost level with the parapet, and only 20 feet away from me. Such an opportunity rarely comes one's way, and I used it to the full, watching each tremor of the wing as narrowly as I could. The wings are moved up and down, not with the rowing, rotary action of flight, but still with some measure of lateral displacement besides the up-and-down motion; the whole wing is moved, but since the wing-beats are small, it is the flexible pinions that show the greatest amount of movement -- it is the principle of the lever.

GM Henry describes another method of hanging in the air adopted by the bird, and the description is so accurate that it is worth quoting. He says, "Where a gale blows up a hillside the bird does not need to fan its wings, or spread its tail, but remains poised for long periods 'with no visible means of support' -- a most fascinating sight." I think the quotation within the quotation is from "Eha", writing of Harriers, but I am unable to verify this now. There is one thing I should like to add to Henry's account of this spectacle: it is not only when there is a gale against a hillside that the Kestrel can perform this feat; I have seen it suspended motionless in the air when there was a strong wind in the Madras area, far from hills; a strong level breeze is, however, necessary.

Do Kestrels also hunt from their perch, as the White-eyed Buzzard does? I think they do. As everyone knows, they are fond of sitting atop an elevated perch, such as a post or the leafless, dead limb of a tree. I have seen them drop from their perch, at such times, to the ground -- once I actually saw a Kestrel take some insect in this manner, which it ate on the ground before flying up to its perch again."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 7 January 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

# A nice sketch of the bird perched on a leafless branch has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
10-04-2016, 03:41 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : BIRD CALLS : The Sunday Statesman : 10 April 2016
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"RECENTLY, writing a note on 'Calls of Indian Birds', I was reminded irresistibly of a story by P G Wodehouse. The long-suffering heroine of the tale, a keen naturalist working as a wage-slave under an uncontradictable boss in Hollywood, asserts himself at last when the man lays down, with a striking lack of originality, that the cuckoo says, "Cuckoo, cuckoo!" She ups and tells him, in front of an outraged army of yes-men, that the Cuckoo says no such inane thing and the its call is, in fact, a spirited " Wuckoo, wuckoo!"

How she gets the sack in consequence of this closely-studied contribution to natural history and is restored to office and even promoted by a typically Wodehouselan development is the theme of the story. The fact is that if one were to assert that the cuckoo says "Buckoo" or "Luckoo" or even "Tuckoo", that would be as close and fair a rendering of a call as the traditionist's "Cuckoo".
Birds are not much good at consonants.

But, of course, a number of birdcalls do seem strikingly like the renderings we know them by. This is because these renderings accurately indicate the syllables, the stresses and the modulations of those calls -- but not their articulation. The Cuckoo tribe in India provide excellent examples of truth of this. My first acquaintance with the INDIAN CUCKOO (Cuculus micropterus) was made in a deciduous forest long, long, ago; I heard the bird's repeated call and guessed its identity from the popular rendering of the call, "Broken pekoe", even before I saw it. Now the same call is rendered differently in different languages: in Bengali it is "Bokotako"; another good rendering is "Kyphul-pukka" and a different version is "Crossword-puzzle".

There is no question of any similarity in consonants or even in vowels, between these four renderings, but all faithfully echo a call of two closely-spaced words both disyllabic and both with the accent on the first syllable. The "KOEL" and the "BRAINFEVER BIRD" or Papiha (The Common Hawk-Cuckoo) have names that echo their calls.

The accepted rendering of the LAPWING's call, "Did-he-do-it?", gives the syllabification of the bird's alarm call, and even suggests the sense of urgency in it. The renderings in Indian languages of some birdcalls are no less happy. But all of them can be equally suggestively and more unmistakably rendered in a series of "ki's" (standing for short syllables) and "kee's" (standing for long syllables) if we add a mark to denote where exactly the accent falls, but naturally one prefers a rendering in words, sometimes in romantic words to a system of meaningless sounds.

The Tamil rendering of the SPOTTED DOVE's coo, "Kappalchhetti kodoo, kodoo kodoo!" is remarkably good and there is a touching little story to explain the words -- I shall not retail the story here since it is best told in Tamil. No doubt other renderings of birdcalls in Indian languages have similar associations with sentiment or a story.

Not that any sophistication or culture is needed to appreciate, or even to invent a rendering of a birdcall. The best rendering that I know of the RED-VENTED BULBUL's call was provided by my son, when he was four. At that stage of his life, he was most at home in English, the only language that my wife and I have in common, and potatoes boiled in their jackets was part of his regular diet One morning my son came up to me and announced that there was a hungry little bird in the drumstick tree by the kitchen that kept on saying "Big, Big, BIG potato"!"

What a contrast has been provided by pretty poetic fancy! I don't suppose many people read The LIght of Asia these days, but her is Edwin Arnold's account of Bulbul's song:

The Koel's fluted note, the Bulbul's hymn,
The "Morning! Morning!" of the Painted Thrush............

Whoever heard a Bulbul singing a hymn! Bulbul's are noted not for their ecstatic song but for their cheery, rollicking staccato voices. A last point. It has been said that a distinction between a phrase of many syllables with a defined cadence, used regularly by a bird as a call and birdsong proper lies in the greater complexity and fluency of the song. Not at all. Birdsong can consist of one or two notes and still be authentic song.

I have heard many gifted avian singers, among them the SHAMA wild in the bamboo jungles but in my list of Indian songbirds I would certainly include the PIED BUSHCHAT, The cock chat's song consists of a single rather cheery clear whistle, repeated a few times from atop some elevated perch; then suddenly this call rises steeply to an untamed and ecstatically sweet note, which ends as abruptly as it began. No rendering in words can suggest the call, and if this is not birdsong, I do not know what is it."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 25 March 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

# One beautiful sketch of birds drawn by M.Krishnan has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
24-04-2016, 02:35 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M.Krishnan : A MIDDAY CHORUS : The Sunday Statesman : 24 April 2016
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" ABOUT one o' clock it came on to rain. It began gradually and mildly, with a great pearl-grey cloud spreading itself across the sky, rendering the midday light wonderfully soft and clear. There was a refreshing coolness in the air, but no palpable breeze. In fact, it was as if the hot, sweltering jungle has been magically air-conditioned and furnished with diffused artificial illumination and a mother-of-pearl ceiling.

I was lying on my back in sandy riverbed, in a shade tall tree. I had gone to sleep dog-tired and feeling ill, and woken only minutes later to find the sky and air and jungle transformed, and euphoria in me. Almost a hundred feet above me was the top of a giant clump of bamboo leaning over the nullah; a pair of GREY DRONGOs was perched on that swaying bamboo-top and all at once they burst into song -- a series of trilling, wildly sweet calls.

IMMEDIATELY, as if this was the signal for which the other birds had been waiting, a medley of the musical bird bird voices filled the air. It was a chorus such as I have never heard before -- and I have heard the exhilarating chorus of WHITE-BELLIED DRONGOs in the cold greyness before dawn, the RACKET-TAILED DRONGO's ecstatic song to the rising sun, the welling rhapsody of the SHAMA at the dusk in the bamboo jungle and many mixed dawn-choruses, but this was something different, differently compound.

A TREE-PIE, nearby, joined in with almost-chimed metallic calls, varied from time to time with its familiar " ting-a-'ling "; the loud melody of a party of HILL-MYNAHs came through clearly, and nearer at hand some other DRONGOs (probably White-bellied) were singing; the cadenced "broken pekoe" of the INDIAN CUCKOO, a call that I love, was so pleasantly repeated from behind the bamboo clump, and less musical voices, the distant screams of PARAKEETs, the jabber of JUNGLE MYNAHs and even the faintly heard axle-crack call of a SERPENT EAGLE circling high overhead somehow did not seem out of place in that chorus. And dominating everything was the insistent, never-ending "papiha, papiha, papiha!" of the HAWK-CUCKOO -- the bird was some distance away, but its call cuts through distances effortlessly and has a peculiar penetration gets through nearer bird voices.

A great black woodpecker almost the size of a crow ( this was the MALABAR GREAT BLACK WOODPECKER) was hammering away a dead limb of the tree above me, providing the throbbing drum accompaniment to the many-voiced chorus. The hammering of this bird is sustained over a length of one -and-a-half to two seconds, and I have often timed it with a stopwatch. I have often tried to count the number of evenly-spaced billstrokes within this period, but never was able to get a precise count. There were from 15-20 "beats" in each long-drawn throb of hammering. Since these were evenly spaced, each impact and interval must be about 1/20 of a second long. I had thought it would be much shorter.

The chorus was sustained and continuous and ended as suddenly as it began. I heard the mahout and his assistant summoning the elephant, browsing at a nearby clump of bamboo, just before the Drongos burst into song, and since it takes about 15 minutes to get a reluctant elephant to abandon its lunch and lie down, lay the pad on its back and tie it down securely, probably the chorus extended over that space of time. A lazy drizzle arrived with the elephant, and gradually the rain gather momentum. The bird voices were stilled the minute the drizzle grew brisk.

We reached the shelter of a permanent observation platform just as the rain came down in earnest. For two hours, it rained heavily without a break, the long, vertical streaks of water coming down relentlessly all around us. Visibility was very poor, and no sound came through the dreary noise of the rain. But when the rain stopped abruptly and the sky began to clear, I saw a curious sight.

There was a great mango tree close by, and two HILL-MYNAH were practising a remarkable exercise right at the top of its towering bole. There were some holes in the wood high up in the tree, and when I saw them first, through the slackening rain, the birds were sitting in these holes, ruffled up and sheltered from the downpour.

Then they came out, and clinging to the bark with their claws, slithered down a few yards and then climbed up the bole again using both feet and violently flapped wings to propel them: then they slithered down again and flapped their way up once more. I thought that there was a definite purpose in this game to dry the flight feathers before the birds dared to take wings again. They flew away after five minutes to another tall tree, where they went through the exercise again, thrice of four times, and they flew away for good."

-M. Krishnan

This was published on 10 June 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

# Not reproduced here is the Nice Image of a Hawk-Cuckoo with the caption at the bottom :
'The Hawk-Cuckoo which builds no nest'

Saktipada Panigrahi
14-05-2016, 10:54 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : DRACO : The Sunday Statesman : 1 May 2016
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"A WHITHERED, brown and yellow leaf fell from the Bijli tree above me and cut a swift arc through the air towards a teak some 25 feet away. And even before it alighted expertly on the teak's thick bole, shrank suddenly, and merged invisibly with the streaked bark. I knew that this was no leaf. True that at times an elliptic, windswept leaf does not twirl dead leaf fashion in the air, but it dashed straightway downwards, but the newly opening leaf of the Bijli (Anogeissus Latitolia) was a small and a shrill green in colour, not broad in the middle, brown-and-yellow and tapering to a long, acuminate tip - moreover, no leaf ever fell so purposefully.

I moved slowly and casually towards the teak for I knew that from the brown of its bark small, unseen eyes probably watching me. When I was still not close enough to discern the thin, cryptic, molten form of the 'FLYING LIZARD' against the bark, a small, vivid yellow tongue of flame that leaped up from the tree trunk and then died down betrayed the lizard to me.

The flame-coloured extensile and retractile pouch is at the throat of the lizard; it can be flicked forward towards the chin and then retracted into the throat and when the flying lizard is at rest, it is retracted and invisible. But when it is excited, the gular pouch is shot out and then withdrawn in rapid succession; at times it is kept fully extended for seconds on end. The mechanics of the exra-ordinary display are less dramatic than its effect -- what the eye sees is a bright yellow tongue of flame, about the size of a candle flame and and beautifully blue at the base, repeatedly leaping forward towards the chin and then being extinguished. In the male, the extended gular pouch reaches beyond the chin, the female's pouch is smaller and somewhat peg-shaped; it is less brilliantly coloured, but the female, too, can indulge in the remarkable display.

Flight is achieved by the extension of a thin membrane on either side of the dorso-ventrally flattened body: this membrane is supported by the lower ribs and is quite in conspicuous when folded up, but forms a broad parachute when spread, an orange-yellow speckled with dark brown (or even brownish purple) dots when seen from below -- this parachute gives the lizard the semblance of a withered brown leaf, yellowing at the edges, as it goes sailing through the air, the tail forming the long acuminate tip of the leaf. The head is small, blunt-jawed and furnished with small warts that serves to disrupt its shape, and the small eyes are hard to see. The molten body is almost invisible against many kinds of bark.

These lizards are small, about six inches long and much less in heavy in body, limb and tail than the familiar Gecko on the wall. They do not change colour quickly or vividly but I noticed that those that has been resting for some time on the light grey bark of the Bijli grew lighter and grayer in tone. Incidentally the female is larger than the male as a rule -- I say this on my own responsibility, for I can find no mention of this in any book available to me.

Flight is direct and swift, with both vertical and lateral curvature to the line of flight. Naturally, the lizard drops down and loses height in the course of flight, and though it gains some height in the last foot or two, sailing upwards to brake the momentum; usually it takes off from fairly high up the tree it leaves, and lands fairly low on the tree it goes to. But twice recently, I was astonished to witness flight fully 15 feet in traverse, almost in a horizontal line, with only a lateral curve to the trajectory. Both times there was a distinct carrying breeze, and the lizard took off fairly low, from about 10 feet up a tree trunk; but this was made up by the ascent terminating the flight, so that it alighted on the tree of the destination also some 10 feet up the bole; one of these laterally-arched flights took it over 20 feet, and the other (unmeasured) was probably a few feet less in traverse.

The more I see of the flying lizard in action, the more I marvel at its airmastery and almost incredible skill as a parachutist. I have seen it leave a tree and circle the bole, inches from the bark in a falling spiral, to alight on the trunk of the self-same tree a yard below -- this manoeuvre was indulged in, apparently in response to my scrutiny and to escape it, the lizard getting to the other side of the tree by the move. I have even seen it flit in a half circle to the other side of the other side, losing only in inches in height in doing so. The creature seems exempt from the laws of gravity and to combine magical gifts of levitation with swift wish-powered propulsion through the air! So far I have not seen it glide upward (except during the termination of its flight), but short of that it can control its flight with
amazing certainty and skill.

This Lizard is Draco dussumieri, the only flying lizard to be found in the forests of the South; elsewhere in India, there are other species of Draco differing only in minor details. I do not know why it was called generically, Draco -- the flying dragon of legend has that name but whoever saw such a charming little dragon, even in the world of imagination? Literature on it is meagre or (more probably) beyond my reach. The creature , in spite of its small size, is one of the most remarkable denizens of our jungles.

It is an inhabitant of tall, deciduous tree forests and I have seen it only where soil moisture was adequate and where there was an admixture of evergreens with the deciduous trees that it loves. I have seen it licking up the common red tree-ants of these jungles and once another kind of ant but have seen it take no other prey.

The gular pouch seems to be used not only as a signal or a mode of communication but also in its courtship, especially by the males. Many times I have seen pairs together on a tree but close scrutiny was impossible, for they go up the tree and hide or escape by flight. Once I observed, from a distance and through binoculars, three males and a female on a tree. The males did not indulge in any fighting, but chased one another around in circles or may be they were indulging in a kind of dance of elimination -- as it usual when the males are seeking to oust rivals. The female was a very passive onlooker. The males flashed their gular pouches in and out as they ran around -- that drab tree trunk was alive with brilliant flickering flames for almost five minutes, after that the female flew away to another tree via a clamp of bamboos (bamboo clumps are common where these creatures live), followed in swift succession by her suitors.

Sharp-sighted (these lizards can certainly make out a man from 20 feet away, and an ant from 10 feet), protectively coloured, expert at dodging and twisting on tree trunks and at merging invisibly with the bark and endowed with powers of flight as a last escape, they can not often fall prey to lizard-hunters. However, they are nowhere common. You find them in certain patches of deciduous jungles but not in others close by -- I do not mean that they are given to flitting from place to place through the forest like birds, but they seem to favour only certain places. They do not like dense cover.

What do they eat besides ants? They are obviously diurnal -- where do they spend the night and how? Do they ever come down to earth from the trees they love, and where do they secrete their eggs? To these and dozens of other questions I do not know the answers, nor can I find them in books. Perhaps some reader living near a deciduous forest or even in it, and not merely an occasional visitor like me can provide the answers to these questions."

-M. Krishnan

This was published on 24 June 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

# The photograph of the lizard on the tree is not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
29-05-2016, 05:00 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan: MUSTH ELEPHANTS : The Sunday Statesman : 29 May 2016
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" EVERYONE knows that musth is a thing that afflicts elephants. But what exactly is it? I think they were surer of it in the old days, when they thought that it was a kind of sexual frenzy to which tuskers, denied the company of cows, were prone. Those were the days when people were content with a less pettifogging, more gentlemanly understanding of things -- when malaria was a waterborne malady and men past 40 were given to winds in the joints. The modern craze for exactness was not there.

For once my dictionary (which prefers to spell the word "must") is unhelpful; it says that "must" is a "dangerous frenzy in some male animals, as male elephants", and adds that the word comes from the Persian and Hindustani "mast", meaning intoxication.

I have not heard of any animal besides the elephant getting into musth, and to me the " in some animals, as elephants" seems needless, cautious vagueness, but the etymological sidelight is illuminating. The Hindustani (and Hindi) "musth" is not peculiar to elephants. Haven't you heard of the "musth-hawa" of cinematic and folk lyrics? I am not very sure of its precise meaning, and consulting a number of Hindi-speaking people I only get the impression that both in elephants and in winds the adjectival musth is a quality that is at once overwhelming and hard to circumscribe with mere words __ but I understand that the "musth-hawa" is a heavy wind, perhaps even a high wind.

Turning to other Indian languages, other words are used to denote the condition of musth in elephants; in Tamil, for instance, we use the word "matham". The point I am trying to make is that although such usage is unknown to the idiom of the language, you can use the word "matham" to qualify a heavy, rain-laden wind in Tamil, and make yourself understood: "matham" means an overwhelming fullness, even a madness.

I have gone into the meaning of the word at such length because when you want to know what, precisely, a word means, you need to know every shade of its meaning and its equivalents in other languages. Unfortunately, all this etymological industry does not help to give a clearer idea of what musth in elephants is! But it is neither an overflowing fullness or a madness -- and still it could be both a frenzy and intoxication, though not both at the same time. To be more specific, at times an elephant in musth seems afflicted with a heavy stupor, and at other times with an insufferable irritability.

Having had the opportunity to observe tame and wild tuskers in musth, and to discuss the phenomenon with two men who know their Indian elephant, I have seen, over many years and in widely separated areas, late in March or early in April; this does seem to suggest (making due allowance for the fact that I have visited jungles and elephant camps mainly in this time of the year) that is early in summer, in spring, the elephants tend to get into musth, in South India at any rate. Not all the adult bulls in an area get into this condition then -- only a few do. Musth is definitely not a rut, and it does not seem to have a sexual urge behind it. Even the duration of the affliction is not predictable; it may last for a few days, or for months. As a rule, cow elephants do not get into musth, but there are records of wild cows being in musth -- tame cows do not, I believe, get into this condition. Even very old, decrepit may be stricken with musth.

The physical manifestations are easily recognised. With the onset of musth, the temporal region of the head gets slightly swollen, owing to glandular enlargement beneath the skin, and has a visibly tender look; in old bulls, the hollows above the eyes are exaggerated by this swelling of the peripheral flesh. A thick, back, oily fluid oozes out of a pore on either side of the face, between the eye and the ear, and stains the cheek below.

Tame elephants in musth are often dangerous, but the tendency seems to be individualistic, some are quite uncontrollable then, and some are perfectly safe. Last April, I was at an elephant camp where there were three tuskers. The oldest of these, an aged beast suffering from tumours and generally in an enfeebled condition, was in musth; so was youngest, a just-adult animal that was suffering from an injury. Both these were not tied up and for quite some time we stood close besides them, studying them. The third tusker at this camp, a burly animal in his prime, was not in musth then; even so, he could not be approached by strangers, for he had a summary way of dealing with those he did not take a fancy to; since 1959 this tusker has been getting into musth frequently, and is a real source of anxiety to his mahout and others at that camp for he has to be kept tied up and is potentially dangerous.

Tame elephants that are troublesome when in musth are firmly secured at the first signs of the condition, and are fed reduced rations and given sedatives. They are specially prone to attack men then and many mahouts have been killed by their charges when they were in musth.

Wild elephants, on the other hand, do not seem to get into an irritable frenzy when in musth. Very often they seem to be in a deep stupor, though going through their usual activities, almost like sleepwalkers. Both herd bulls and lone bulls get into musth -- I have seen, and photographed, herd bulls very much on musth and the near presence of cows seemed to make no difference to the afflicted animal; it is a fact, that though, that the cows are singularly considerate to the herd bull then.

I have never heard of a wild tusker being dangerous to men because of this condition. The rogues that are such a real menace to jungleside humanity in South India are invariably suffering from some painful injury or which have recovered from such injuries, and almost always these festering wounds that may take years to get cured are gunshot wounds.

According to knowledgeable mahout whom I asked, musth is caused by the overheating of the blood owing to onset of summer, the wrong type of food or some physiological cause. He pointed out that when in this condition, elephants were even more given to long baths, swims and wallows in the mire than usual; I, too, have noticed this tendency. I have seen a wild tusker (much the most magnificent lone bull I have ever seen -- the animal shown in my illustration) repeatedly squirting water over his tender temples and ichor-stained cheeks, directing the water in a jet into the cheeks -- perhaps this black exudation causes cutaneous irritation.

Tame elephants in musth (the dangerous ones) are fed opium to keep them sleepy and safe. As I pointed out in this column two years ago, wild tuskers in musth often display evidence of having used their tusks to dig in the soil; they have firm masses of clay clinging so tight to the ivory that even a swim in the river, or repeated squirtings of water over tusks, do not wash off the adherent earth. Do these animals seek out some root or tuber, which they dig up to consume, and which has a sedative effect on them, even a soporific effect? "

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 9 September 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

# The photograph of the magnificent bull elephant not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
13-06-2016, 02:45 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: The White-breasted Kingfisher: The Sunday Statesman:12 June 2016
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" THE White-breasted Kingfisher in the picture was not calling harshly and loudly when it was snapped - it was PANTING in the sun of a hot, dry March day.

Many birds PANT when it is hot or after a spell of exertion, when they are hot. Pigeons gasp with their beaks wide open, the skin beneath their lower mandible pulsating, after a flight, and so do most game birds when they feel hot -- those who keep poultry must have noticed this. In fact most diurnal birds with wide gape pant freely, and it must be a very real relief to them to do so, for when you or I gasp for breath open-mouthed, we are merely gulping air into the lungs faster than we could through the nostrils, BUT WHEN A BIRD PANTS THE AIR GOES NOT ONLY INTO ITS LUNGS BUT ALSO TO THE AIR-SPACES IN ITS BONES.

But I think that few birds pant on less provocation than this kingfisher. I have seen our three commonest kingfishers the Common, the Pied and the White-breasted, at the same stretch of water on a hot summer day and have noticed only the last panting, though it has exerted itself much less than its Pied cousin.

It is an extraordinary bird altogether, having so largely given up its hereditary profession of fishing in rivers and ponds for hunting from a perch. This is only Indian Kingfisher that can be found away from water, sitting atop a low perch in the open and looking for insects and small fry on which it pounces. It is specially fond of hunting like this in puddles, shallow gutters and irrigation ditches: tadpoles, water insects, land insects like grasshoppers, small frogs and even the small swallowable young of birds and mice are part of its regular diet.

But of course it can fish if it wants to, plunging into the water as boldly as any of its tribe; however, it does not hover over the water searching for prey, as some other kingfishers do. I think that when it has young to feed it brings them up mainly on a diet of fish, tadpoles and other prey taken in the water.

Its nesting hole, like that of most kingfishers, is a deep tunnel driven sideways into a vertical wall of earth, such as a steep bank, and it is specially fond of nesting in wells, making its burrow as low above the surface of water as it can.

Recently, I watched a pair of these birds that had their burrow in the overhanging bank of an artificial pond. The birds had a favourite perch, a tree-root as thick as a finger, which has been cut when the pond has been excavated and was now projecting at right angles to the side of the pond for almost a foot. A weak-stemmed profusely-branched herb grew just above this root, arching over it as it drooped, so that the seated kingfisher was almost completely screened from sight. However, it was keeping a sharp lookout from its hiding place, and I was much impressed by the keenness of the vision.

I never saw the pair perched lovingly side by side on that root, as I have seen these kingfishers on the walls of wells and on trees. Always, while one of the pair sat on this bowered retreat, the other would take up its stand on a telegraph line crossing the pond some 15 ft. above it, and though I am no novice at this game, and tried every trick I knew, however furtively or casually I approached the pond and from whichever angle, the bird on the telegraph line would spot me and fly off to another perch some 20 yards down the line. And the bird on the screened root, which could not have seen me for it was on a much lower level and the bank was between us, would also take alarm and fly away or at times even retreat into its burrow, close by the perch. From the first floor window of the room in which I stayed, I could watch the pond through glasses and at times when I knew that one bird was seated on that root, it would have disappeared by the time I got to the pond, taking the alarm from its partner, and no doubt retreating into its burrow.

Watching these birds from afar, I was again struck by their keenness of sight. No fish or tadpole at the surface of the pond escaped them, though they seemed to be looking the other way; suddenly they would leave their perch, dart straight as an arrow to the water's surface and take their prey, plunging boldly in at times.

The love song of this bird is a neighing call, frequently repeated, very different from its cackling flight-call, and usually uttered from a high perch. The bird is specially given to song soon after sunrise, in summer when it mates. For several summers, a pair of these birds nested in a well only yards from my bedroom window, and I have often heard this rather quavering and weak song. Courting kingfishers look wonderfully beautiful and ridiculous by turns, as they posture with ruffled plumage and half-spread wings, with jerky movements. And their young undergo a sudden and extraordinary transformation, being semi-fledged and callow one day and full-feathered, brilliant kingfishers almost the next day!"

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 30 September 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

# The photograph of a panting White-breasted Kingfisher perched on a tree has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
18-07-2016, 10:39 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: The Laughing Hyena : The Sunday Statesman : 17 July 2016
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" SOME days ago I was asked to arbitrate on a rather noisy point. Three of us was discussing a mutual acquaintance, given to loud, discordant, ill-timed laughter, who had just snubbed us all rudely and one of my friends remarked that the man was unquestionably a hyena, as was proved by his having the very laugh of the beast. At this, my other friend, a lawyer, raised a technical objection on the ground that the laugh of a hyena was a myth. It was this point that was referred to me and, with my usual tact, I satisfied both sides by pointing out that if a faunal epithet was needed for our mutual acquaintance, then surely it would be more appropriate to call him a laughing jackass.

But in point of fact, the HYENA does laugh. Only its laugh is not, like the laugh of that man, a sustained cackle of triumphant derision, but the nature of a friendly overture. I have a photograph (reproduced here) of a Hyena actually laughing, while coming up to be petted by a man it was fond of -- taken that young, hyenas develop a deep attachment their human friends.

The Hyena's laugh is a weird, excited, staccato cacophony, sinister in its general effect in spite of its peaceful import. No other animal is capable of the same vocal expression or anything like it. but sometimes, when I try to get Australia on my radio, that result is strikingly similar. No doubt that the hyena's laugh has a social significance, and is probably used to convey a placatory or friendly approach both in intra and extra-specific relationships, but this is not the call used by a pair of Hyenas keeping in touch with each other. That is a sensibly and economically brief call, much less loud, and since it does not appear to have been mentioned by anyone else so far, I may describe it fully here.

For years, when I was living in Deccan, I had heard a peculiar nocturnal sound, half-yelp, half-mew, repeated at intervals. It did not sound like a bird's call, and enquiry of the Boyas and other hunters of the area brought no enlightenment. A trapper assured me that it was the call of the dinky little Indian Fox, and I assured him even more emphatically that it was not, for this charming creature was not to be found within the valley (though it was almost common, immediately outside it) and, moreover, the call of a fox, as I knew well, was a high, chattering, long-drawn cry. The one night, accompanied by a Boya youth and armed with a five-cell torch, I set out to investigate the call, which we could hear just beyond the road.

IT was 11 o'clock and visibility was excellent, for there was a brilliant moon. We crossed the road and entered the harvested groundnut fields and scrub beyond, but stopped almost at once and crouched behind a bush when we realised that there were two calling animals, and that one of them was coming our way. The ground in front of us was bare and sloped gently upwards, and then dipped sharply down, and suddenly a Hyena appeared on the rise, and trotted towards us.

A Hyena by moonlight is unforgettably beautiful sight. The warm greys and streaky blacks of its long coat, the high ridge of silky hair along the neck and back, and the short, full brush take on a silvery ethereality in that light, and there is no substance at all to the animal -- it is a moving aerial shadow, its fluffy hair and the peculiar give of the hocks in movement (which is quite pronounced) endowing it with a phantom-like, slinking grace. The Boya lad with me was as much moved by the sight as I was, and clutched me tight in his excitement.

The silvery, insubstantial shadow halted, lifted and turned its head, and came out with its short, mewling yelp, a call that was not loud, heard from a mere 20 yards away, but which carried far through the night. From across the nullah to our left, almost a mile away, came an answering call, thin and sharply audible. I heard and saw that Hyena call once more before a nocturnal lorry, rumbling along the road behind us, sent it packing, and since anyhow it was going away, I flashed my torch on its retreating figure and saw every hair distinctly in the powerful beam before it disappeared into the dip.

I may add that I noticed a difference in attitude between a Hyena laughing and one giving voice to its communication call. The animal lays its long, pricked ears back, stretches its head out in a line with the body and shakes itself from side to side in a cringing, fawning gesture when it LAUGHS, but when CALLING to its mate the head and ears are held alertly erect, and it stands still, listening for the response."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 30 December 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

# The photograph of a Hyena laughing has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
16-08-2016, 11:33 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: The Stripe-necked Mongoose: The Sunday Statesman : 24 July 2016
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"THE English word 'mongoose" comes from the Marathi "mangus", meaning mongoose or mungooser (whichever way you prefer to spell it), and in spite of Ogden Nash's "Portugoose" the plural is not "mongeese" but "mongooses". That is as far as etymology goes in getting to know the creature.

Legends so much farther, but curiously enough it is the recent ones that are responsible for much mongoose lore. The Kiplings, father and son, drew and wrote about the fascinating little hunter as only they could, but I am afraid I have little enthusiasm for the Mongoose-Cobra fights illustrated with vivid photographs that have appeared recently in our magazines -- even Ylla's pictures are obvious fakes; in these vivid pictures you see the mongoose flying through the air at the cobra which with open mouth and spread hood, is poised of the strike.

Now, everyone knows that it is not mongooses but Dutchmen that fly. That is how the photograph is contrived -- the snake-charmer throws the mongoose at the cobra and you take your picture while it is still in the air.

The hero of cobra-mongoose battles is the Common Mongoose, the kind that snake-charmers have and that is common in the scrub and around the human settlements. There are several other kinds in our country, some of them much larger. The largest of them all is the Stripe-necked Mongoose which is full twice the size of a big Common Mongoose and is essentially is a forest animal living along the Western Ghats and foothills. Recently I had quite a close and long look at it in a jungle.

I was sitting in a cleft in a big rock, and screened by a small bush, wanting for a herd of Chital that never came, when this Mongoose turned up. It was a big male, over a yard long and powerfully built, and dark chestnut-roan in colour -- it was not very much longer than a big Common Mongoose though it was longer in the body, but it was much heavier built. Subsequently I discovered from booklore that the adult male of this species weighs around seven pounds (twice as much as the Common Mongoose), but asked to guess its weight then, I would have put it at 12 pounds at least -- the luxuriant, bristly coat adds considerably to the impression of heaviness.

The longitudinal black stripe along the neck behind the ear was very conspicuous and unaware of my proximity it proceeded to overturn the stones at the foot of my rock and dig the sandy soil below, using its sturdy nose quite as much as its front paws for excavation. Very soon it found what it was looking for and crunched it up audibly with quick champs of its strong jaws -- a beetle grub, apparently, to judge by circumstantial evidence. The it lay down flat on its belly on the sandy ground, with its limb spread sideways, for a little relaxation, but it was not asleep -- it held its head raised and its alert little eyes were watchful.

After a while it got up, shook itself, and waddled away, the long bushy tail and the long muscular body lending even its waddle a fluent grace. I stayed put, hoping it would come back, moving my camera so as to cover the ground at the foot of the rock and, sure enough, it returned but not along its line of departure -- it came behind and above me, on the rock, took a good long look at me crouched in the cleft below, sniffed loudly and contemptuously, and waddled away!

Though seemingly slower in its movements than the Common Mongoose, and more muscle-bound, it is capable of equal speed and agility, as I have noticed on occasion. But I don't think it is an equally good climber of trees, being so heavy-built.

It is a great wanderer. Years ago one afternoon, I followed a Striped-necked Mongoose for almost an hour, in the open jungle around a plantation. At first it was acutely aware of my presence but after a furlong it apparently decided that I was a harmless vegetarian, not worth bothering about, and went about its affairs, ignoring me, stopping every now and again to investigate a bush or a heap of stones or to dig in loose earth -- but it kept moving restlessly, rarely stopping for even a minute in any one place.

Once it stopped for quite sometime, well over five minutes, at a bush, and ate something zestfully. I was too far away to see things clearly, and dared not move closer for fear it should take alarm, but when it left the bush I inspected it and found a creeper festooning the bush, a creeper with pendent fruits, encased in lampshade-like, inflated calyces. The mongoose had eaten the fruits of this creeper -- the "Cape Gooseberry" (Phicalis peruivana) -- as I could tell from the seeds on the earth below. In spite of its frequent stops, that mongoose took me over three miles in the hour I followed it before disappearing into heavy cover.

This mongoose goes in for a certain amount of vegetarian food as well, though it is a hunter basically, like all mongooses. I believe it is quite capable of killing prey larger than itself, such as mouse deer and no doubt it occasionally kills snakes as well.

When I was a boy there was a magnificent specimen of the Stripe-necked Mongoose in the Mysore Zoo, a gift from a British Army Officer who had left India. This mongoose would eat bananas and groundnut with evident relish, and was given to an impatient, loud snuffle if I delayed the offer of the banana in my hand too long -- this is the only sound I have heard from this species of mongoose. But I remember that even when I went empty-handed to its cage, it welcomed me and would come up to have its neck tickled."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 6 January 1963 in The Sunday Statesman

# The beautiful sketch of the animal lying down on the belly with head held high drawn by the author has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
21-08-2016, 03:17 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan:The Great Black Woodpecker: The Sunday Statesman: 21 August 2016
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"IMAGINE a Woodpecker almost the size of a crow and blacker, with the jet black of its plumage and bill set off by brilliant blood-red on the head, a little white on the spread wings and white on the body above and below the base of the tail, and imagine, further, that the bird is as arresting in its behaviour as in its looks -- and you have the Malabar Great Black Woodpecker.

It is a forest bird as most woodpeckers are, for without wood the birds cannot peck their living from bark and holes in the branches and boles. But while a good few of the tribe (the Golden-backed Woodpecker is a familiar example in the South India) frequent groves and orchards and even city gardens, the Great Black Woodpecker is a bird of the hill-jungles. In an old book that I have on South India's avifauna, it says that this bird "inhabits evergreen forests, ascending the hills to 3000 feet". I have seen it in markedly deciduous forests of the Western Ghats at that height and there it is most conspicuous in summer, when the trees are bare.

The white on the lower back and abdomen, and the white "band" in the wing are displayed only in flight; when the bird is on a tree trunk it looks all black in a top-view or side-view, and it is rarely one gets a frontal view of a woodpecker on a tree. However, the blazing vermilion of the top of its head (the male has more red on the head than the female) and its big black body is striking, even from a distance. But for its outsize black looks, it behaves very like others of its tribe, perching on the boles of trees at an angle of 45 degrees with the stiff tip of its wedge-shaped tail pressed against the bark to give it stance stability, and ascending the tree trunk jerkily (usually in a spiral) and flying from tree to tree with alternations of swift whirring wing beats and a swinging bound through the air with closed wings. It drums, like many other woodpeckers, on resonant dead woods, but its drumming has a depth and carrying power that lesser woodpeckers cannot achieve.

WHY do Woodpeckers drum? The German woodpecker specialist, Heinz Slelman, says that it is not to find food (the investigation of bark and tunnelled wood for prev is carried on much more silently) but to call or communicate with a mate, to get in touch with others of their own kind and to advertise the territory that the birds drum. He adds that they have regular drumming sites in suitable trees that he terms xylophones, though they will often drum on any branch or tree-trunk that happens to be handy and that the sound carries much further than their calls.

On a still morning, the deep, quick throb of the Great Black Woodpecker's drumming is clearly audible from half a mile away and is quite distinctive in its sound and duration. The drumming is done by a rapid, sustained, spasmodic, up-and-down movement of the head on the outstretched neck, not by quickly repeated individual blows of the beak on the wood -- the rapidly moving head and neck are seen blurred like a plucked violin string, and the resulting throb is long-drawn and vibrant and strangely exciting to human ears, and may be to those of woodpeckers, too.

On an average, the drum-throb lasts for about two seconds and there are twenty beats within that time, so that each percussion and interspace are about 1/20 of a second in duration.

The bird has a variety of calls, over which there seems to have some confusion. The calls I have heard are a low, long whinny uttered in flight, and much louder cackles, somewhat varied, indulged in from a tree and occasionally also in flight. The flight call is pleasant and audible only from near. It is not one long call but broken up by the whirr-and-swing rhythm of the flight. The cackles are loud, grating and vary in duration. I quote the book I mentioned earlier in evidence of differences in description of the calls of this bird. "Mr. FW Bourdillon says it has loud and pleasant cry which it utters at intervals when climbing up the stem of some large tree and when passing from one tree to another it emit a loud chuckle. Mr. AP Kinloch calls it note a curious plaintive metallic clang and says that they posses a laugh only uttered in flight."

However, the most vivid description I have heard of this woodpecker and its call came from my wife. One day in March, when I returned to the forest rest house from a long outing, my wife (who had stayed behind) told me of three extraordinary birds she had seen while I was away. She said they looked remarkably like the three witches in Macbeth, and, what was more, she had distinctly heard them shouting, in derisive mockery, "All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!"

It had been a fiercely hot day, and for a moment I felt quite concerned for my poor wife, who had an attack of sunstroke as a child that had left her vulnerable to the heat. But questioning her gently, I realised that she had actually seen and heard some birds, and by skillful cross-examination I was able to identify them as Great Black Woodpeckers -- an identification that was confirmed when I showed her the bird later."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 31 March 1963 in The Sunday Statesman

# The photograph of the bird perched on bole of a tree has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
17-10-2016, 09:57 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The Painted Stork : The Sunday Statesman : 16 October 2016
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" The Painted Stork is a remarkable bird whichever way you look at it, from far away or near, when sailing on high in wide circles or when standing stiffly on one leg on the margin of a leg. Like many other storks, it has an awkward, camelish profile, but then its colouration is both striking and beautiful, and in flight it is strongly graceful.

It is a white stork, patterned in black, and the colours that go best with black and white, so delicately and artistically that its name is almost inevitable. The distinctive beak is neither straight nor curved, but thick and bent near the tip, and is an Indian yellow with just the suspicion of burnt sienna in it; the naked face is also yellow, but with a more pronounced brush of warmness. It would be that the precise shade of this yellow varies somewhat, but descriptions of it vary slightly, but I have observed the bird in my native Thirunelveli area, and more recently at the Ginigera Lake on the Mysore-Hyderabad border, and I noticed no difference in the bill or face. The flights are a glossy, metallic black, and so is the tail (which is hardly seen in repose), and across the breast is a low, wide necklace of black delicately laced with white. On the back and wing, the plumage is rather full, and a shell-pink in colour, or a soft carmine edged with white. The legs and feet are a dull, deep flesh tint.

No wonder, then, that this bird is called Painted Stork, but the old name, Pelican Ibis, by which it was known to our early ornithology, is almost equally apt. If you look at the bird's ungainly figure, it does suggest a very fancy kind of Ibis, with more than a touch of pelican in the bill and head.

Sometimes it feeds in large gatherings, but I have seen it in small parties of about half-a-dozen, and even by itself. It patrols the marshy edges of lake sedately, stiff-legged and deliberate, as if it suffered from the old-fashioned complaint of wind in the knee-joint; and it wades in shallow water searching the squelchy bottom with the parted tips of its mandibles. Its appetite is voracious even for a stork, and it spends much time in feeding. It is also given to roosting in trees, and at time rests flopped down on bent hocks, squatting on its folded legs, a position that must be more comfortable to the bird than it seems.

Though never a bird with a continuous distribution, this stork is less common now than it used to be. The occupation of open country by humanity, which has been such a feature of life in India in the past two generations, has hit our resident waterbirds hard, particularly those species that find their best hunting grounds in inundated low-lying land.

Painted storks often nest in large mixed heronries, alongwith hundreds of waterbirds, but sometimes they breed in a small colony of anything from half-a-dozen to two dozen pairs, in a tall tree, building their nests very close together. In South India, the breeding season is generally late in January or February.

I think that it is when these birds are soaring on a sunny day that they are most fascinating to watch. Like all storks, they are strong fliers, though they do not have the acrobatic air-mastery of the smaller Openbills, and they glide on taut wings high up in the sky, circling with swift ease. They look extraordinarily beautiful then, with the metallic black of their wings contrasting with the glistening white of their sunlit plumage, and the yellow of their beak and the occasional glimpse of the pink of their back as they bank and turn, clear against the deep, dazzling blue of the sky."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 1 September 1963 in The Sunday Statesman

#A beautiful sketch of the bird drawn by the author has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
31-10-2016, 12:00 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: The life arboreal: The Sunday Statesman: 31 July 2016
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(Tree-mastery of Langur)

"RECENTLY I have been indulging in something that no man of my age and avoirdupois should, if he wishes to retain the regard of the fellow men. I have been climbing trees -- though not when anyone was looking.

It all began with a book that I read by a man who has shot man-eaters in Burma. He says that he has found the erection of a machan over a kill too messy and noisy, and that his method is to use a plank, pierced at the corners for ropes that can be tied swiftly, silently and securely between the branches, and camouflaged with leaves I have long been toying with the idea of sitting up in a tree of my victims, instead of going after them with my 10-lb Reflex camera, so I bought a plank, had it suitably pierced at the corners and laid in a stock of strong pliant rope. I had the plank lashed firmly in place in the fork of a tree overlooking a likely deer path, and climbed up to it; my seat was quite comfortable, though a bit slippery, and I tied a free length of the anchoring rope to the handle of my Superponderosa by way of abundant caution, as the layers say. Then I bent slowly down to peer round the corner to see if the deer was coming, and promptly fell down to terra firma. The tiger-slayer of Burma must have used some rough Burmese timber with an anti-slip surface for his plank and perhaps his plank was wider.

One lives and learns and I did both. My present tree-seat consists of a tubular steel frame, with stout canvas stretched across it, and is slip-proof, though rather uncomfortable after half an hour. What one really needs, for the life arboreal, is a tough elastic pad permanently attached to one's seat, a slim body and a coat of dense hair to protect the skin beneath from bark, and thin long limbs, ending in prehensile paws, also insulated with tough, elastic pads. A long balancing rod or a tail is an additional advantage.

THE LANGUR has all these, and no wonder it is so adept at treetop living. I have spent many hours watching langurs up trees, and at midday when when they rest they adopt the most naturally the restful attitudes. The trees they choose for their rest have the main limbs more or less horizontal, and many upright branches and forks -- these provide them with so many easychairs and lounges. Langurs taking their siesta provide an almost hypnotic picture of easy relaxation. Their gracefully dangled limbs and flowing tails lend their lolling repose a balanced security, but even so a hand or foot rests casually on a branch or other support to ensure that no gust or tree-swaying breeze or other sudden disturbance will upset their equipoise. My picture of an affectionate couple sitting by themselves on a tall teak bough is a faithful tracing from a photograph I took last summer -- during their diurnal rests, langurs often take their repose in company.

A langur's legs are longer than its arms and this is undoubtedly of real use to the animal in the treetop. But on the ground this slight unevenness is no help and langurs usually (and sometimes suicidally) climb down to earth and run away from danger or disturbance. The palms slap the earth at each bound as the langur gallops along and on flat, and hard ground the slaps are clearly audible. Only the toughness of the black skin of its palms and soles saves the animal from really bad abrasions when it runs any distance over hard ground.

Watching the treetop acrobatics of these monkeys, no one can remain unimpressed by its sheer abandon and careless expertness. A langur just bounds along the treetop and then takes off for another tree fully 20 feet away, clearing the distance in a leap high overhead. I have noticed that langurs are specially daring in these leaps when the tree they are jumping to presents, not a choice of stout branches they have to grasp, but a broad area of foliage and fine twigs. At such times they fling themselves bodily at the tree and land, arms and legs outspread, hitting the foliage flat -- this cushions the momentum of the leap, and at the same time they clutch at twigs and pull themselves on to the firmer support of branches. A langur does not hesitate to leap like this into a thorny tree. Its skin must be tough and thorn-proof.

Some time ago, I saw the tree-mastery of a langur fail it sadly. I was watching a big male, and acutely conscious of my scrutiny, it indulged in an elaborate display of bored indifference -- this is often the reaction of a monkey safely up a tree to scrutiny from ground level. The langur climbed to a high, thin, overhanging branch and, perched sideways across it, legs hanging down, began to pick and eat leaf- buds choosily from nearby twigs, then it leaned over sideways and twisting its body, began to scratch its posterior with a hand lazily.

Just as I was thinking that it was rather overdoing this affected balancing feat, it fell clean off the branch, landing with a thud on the grass-covered ground 30 feet below. It did not fall feet first and easily bunched up like a cat or a squirrel, but landed sprawling, and lay for quite one minute, immobile, apparently stunned by its fall. Then it crept through the grass to the tree and crawled slowly up to a fork in which it sat, dangling an injured leg. For three days thereafter it was limping badly, and it was unable to use the injured limb, but in a week it had recovered the use of leg completely, and was leaping about the tall teak-tops with its old noisy abandon."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 3 February 1963 in The Sunday Statesman

#The tracing of the photograph of the affectionate langur couple taken by the author is not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
01-01-2017, 02:29 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The King Cobra : The Sunday Statesman : 01 January 2017
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" SOME years ago, I visited King Cobra country and spent a few days trying to get a glimpse of royal snake, which I had seen only in zoos before. And to this day I do not know whether or not, I have seen a wild King Cobra.

The king cobra which is found in many parts of South India where there are still natural forests left, is probably the most dreaded of all snakes because it is said to attack at sight, with no provocation. I have always felt that this reputation for aggressiveness was a myth, or rather, untrue. There are many recorded instances of people having approached king cobras in Burma (where too they occur) without being attacked, "Eha" shot one in Konkan, when it was up a tree, (the alternative name, hamadryad, suggests its liking for trees), without any provocation from the snake, and others have recorded similar killings.

But there are also many stories in Anglo-Indian literature of sudden and unprovoked attacks by king cobras (there is on e in Mervyn Smith's improbable book) and while many of these are definitely fanciful, some may be true. After all, active intelligent snakes like those of the cobra tribe, do develop a strong sense of territory, and will demonstrate against intruders even if they do not attack. The cobra, which is a lesser version of its snake-eating cousin, will display this aggressiveness, where it has long been in possession of the ground, as I can testify from my knowledge. Once I occupied an old cottage which had known no human tenants for years; immediately after moving in, I found that two cobras were in possession, and knew no peace till both had been disposed of.

On the other hand, too little attention has been paid by naturalists to the quite astonishing tolerance of humanity that a cobra, allowed to live in some place along with people, displays. The practice of letting a cobra live as a co-tenant, once not uncommon in South India, has become almost obsolete with the great increase in human population and the consequent rarity of bungalows in large compounds and the wane of religious and superstitious traditions. But I may assure the reader that "resident cobras" (as they are called in Tamil) have long been known in South and that their innocuousness was quite well-established. Even today, in certain temples, the cobras have free entry, and the worshippers move within inches of them with no fear in their hearts, and no consequences.

Well, it is true that the King Cobra is not merely a cobra but a regal one, and that it is much more of a forest snake but the possibility of its developing a certain tolerance to humanity in places is not to be ruled out. And since it has powerfully developed territorial feelings, the possibility of its attacking fiercely without provocation is always there, particularly when it is guarding the eggs. In short, there is much to be said on both sides.

But still, I am sure its aggressiveness has been grossly exaggerated. Being such an alert, fearless and large snake, it raises the first 6 feet of its length vertically the better to see who has ventured on its territory and expands its huge hood almost automatically -- and the man who has chanced upon the king cobra bolts in terror at once, and afterwards tells a blood-curdling tale of how the brute chased him -- when it was merely demonstrating or just hospitably seeing off the departing guest. The fact is that few have had the scientific curiosity to stay put and watch the snake's next move. A scientifically-minded man, I deplore this waste of opportunity to study the behaviour of one of our least-known snakes, but I also understand this "no-enthusiasm". I believe the venom of the king cobra is no more virulent than that of a young, two-foot long cobra but there is 20 times as much of it and so a bite usually has practically instant results. I myself missed the opportunity to take what would probably have been the first-ever picture of a wild king cobra for an equally reprehensible lack of scientific awareness.

This was in Annamalais, and I was on foot accompanied by a tribesman of those hills, a Malai-Malasar. We are coming home from a long and vain search for the Lion-tailed macaque, along a footpath thickly flanked with bushes and trees. I was in the lead, and noticing a slight movement to my left, stopped dead. A great black glistening snake, as thick as my arm, was in a depression to one side of the path and uncoiling itself, it crossed the path ahead of me, unhurriedly. The snake was about 15 feet from me and took its time crossing the path and disappearing into the thick bush-growth to my right. I turned to ask my companion if it was a King Cobra, and found him already up a tree, an action that struck me, even then as singularly pointless.

I turned back to the snake, and watched it closely as it went away. And I cannot tell how long it was precisely or give a fuller description of it. Perhaps it was fully 12 feet long and was a just-adult King Cobra -- perhaps it was only about nine feet in length and was the grandfather of all rat snakes. I had a loaded camera in my hand and could have photographed the snake -- the light was excellent -- but feared that the thud of the shutter might irritate the snake. Only after it had disappeared did I realise that snakes are wholly deaf to airborne sounds and that I missed a great opportunity if it was a king cobra -- anyway, in a photograph with the head shown slightly away from the onlooker it would have looked a king cobra. All that I can now say in self-defence is that my companion acted no more sensibly for if it was only an enormous rat snake he needn't have climbed the tree and if it was a king cobra he gained no added security by his effort."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 26 April 1964 in The Sunday Statesman

Saktipada Panigrahi
16-01-2017, 01:16 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK:M.Krishnan: Sambar near smouldering trees:The Sunday Statesman:15 January 2017
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" YEARS ago, when I was in a valley in the Deccan ringed with hills, each March great fires would sweep the peripheral jungles and watching the flames ascending the hills, I would wonder how the wild animals fared in these manmade conflagration. Then, one March, I had the curiosity to follow in the wake of the fire. Along with a young Boya I climbed a hill in the morning, and soon came to the jungles, where the ground was burnt and black, and even the trees charred for some eight feet up their boles, though many were still in fresh, green leaf and some in vivid bloom. We were looking for earth-bound creatures, like snakes, that the fire had killed, and found none -- according to the boy with me, the smaller snakes had gone underground, and the larger had taken to the water to escape the flames.

As we climbed to the hilltop, the breeze in our faces and the burnt grass deadening our steps, we came upon an uprooted tree lying in a clearing, still cursing the fire which had died down and grown cold elsewhere -- these dry-timbered, fallen trees often smoke and smoulder for weeks or even months after the forest fires, once their heartwood is aglow, the embers within the boles keeping them burning through dewfall and light rains: the patterns of white ash on the ground tell of the way the trees lay along after the fire had consumed their wood entirely.

WHAT surprised me was not that the fallen tree is still burning days after the fire, but that half a dozen Sambar was lying close to the smoking trunk basking in the warmth of the fire. It was nearly nine in the morning and the sun was hot on our backs; all mist and dew had long since dissipated and even the earth was sun-warmed. A movement by my companion betrayed us to the deer, which were up and away in a flash without even sounding their usual bell of alarm.

TWO had been lying on the wood-ash as their forms in it showed, but the rest had been snuggling close to the embers in the heart of the tree. Later when I told a Boya, wise in the ways of these deer, what I had seen, he said that he too had noticed that they were fond of basking in close company near such fallen smouldering trees, but offered no explanation. Later still and in a drawing room, some sportsmen who fancied themselves pooh-poohed my account of what I had seen, accused me of imagination and worse, logically argued that no deer would snuggle up so close to live embers. I did not dispute the point with them, for I never dispute any point of Natural History with those who think that life is logic and whose only knowledge of our wildlife is limited to that needed to shoot an animal at sight with foolproof weapons.

Well three years ago I came upon proof of this same proclivity of Sambar in the Mudumalai Sanctuary in the Nilgiris, but though I saw the deer lying in the still-warm ash of the almost burnt out tree, they were gone before I could try for a snapshot and what I wanted was the indisputable evidence of a photograph. However, I got my pictures all right last month, in this same area.

A great Terminalia had fallen down, and lay smouldering and half consumed, on the slope of a nullah, partly obscured by the spiky stems of leafless saplings. A dozen Sambar basked by the burning tree, and the only way I could get a picture of them, on elephant back, was to cross to cross the nullah well above them and then descend towards the deer, risking showing myself against the skyline, always a bad way of approach. But it could not be helped, and the first time I had the sense to turn away and retreat the moment I saw that the deer were scared -- I was about 150 yards away then, and it was necessary to shorten this distance to 50 yards for clear picture.

Two days later, I tried again, and got some pictures from far away, too far away as I realised when I had developed my negatives. I gave the deer a rest of three days, and then made my third attempt, without scaring them. I took fully an hour to cover the last hundred yards, stopping for minutes on end frequently; some of the Sambar got up and went away, but they did not go far, and after a while they returned and lay down by the tree again. Once men on elephant back have been "accepted" in this manner, it is usually possible to get quite close to Sambar without scaring them, but I did not do so because I could not get both the deer and the thin, low-hanging smoke into the picture if I moved nearer -- moreover, I was extremely keen on not running the risk of disturbing the deer. After taking my pictures, I made my exit as quietly as I could from the scene, leaving the Sambar still basking by the fire. My photographs, when enlarged to a big size, show the recumbent deer and the smoke clearly enough, but I do not know how the half-tone screen will affect the small print reproduced here.

What stuck me as significant was the fact that the deer had stuck to their rendezvous for over a week, though disturbed twice. Both times I noticed that they made their getaway in twos and threes -- evidently the basking group, which included three fawns and two stags, was a composite one, made up of several parties. Sambar continue to bask by these smouldering trees, usually in exposed situations, till well into the afternoon, chewing the cud from time to time.

On all three days, despite an early morning start, by the time I could get the smouldering Terminalia the sun was well up, and scorchingly hot. Perhaps it is something in the smoke, and in the contact of wood-ash against the skin, that they like, though, of course, it is impossible to be sure that it is not the additional heat of the fire that is the draw. One can never be sure of such things with such wild and wayward creatures as Sambar, the deer that are more truly symbolic of the forest.

In fact we know very little about the habits and prejudices of Sambar, though men have hunted them for centuries, and perhaps there are more legends about them than any other kind of deer. There is the story of their swinging by their necks and antlers from elevated boughs and the mystery of their throat patches, for example, both of which should have had much closer factual verification than they have had so far. Even in the jungle fruits and other things they eat, Sambar are peculiar. Someday I hope to give a fairly full account of these things in this column, but here I may say that Sambar love the fruit of Randla dumatorum, other species of Randla, so "hot" and potent that poachers use the fruit for poisoning fish -- they are so inordinately fond of the fruit of Terminalia bellerica.

It is well known that in cold places, Sambar lie down in pools in the winter mornings, because the water then is less cold than the frost-laden air. Could it be that they lie up near smouldering logs after the sun is well up, because the fire is hotter than the sun?"

-M. Krishnan

This was published on 24 May 1964 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of a Sambar group lying and basking close to a smoking log is not reproduced here.(Record Image)

Saktipada Panigrahi
30-01-2017, 12:57 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: The large and the little of it: The Sunday Statesman: 29 January 2017
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(The Gaur mother with her charming little Infant)

" THERE is a Tamil proverb that says, " The youthful calf knows no fear". I had thought this a piece of metaphorical wisdom, meaning more or less that youth and inexperience rush in where maturity fears to tread, but early this summer, following a small herd of Gaur on elephant back, I realised that tha saving was literally intended, and true to nature.

There was a dozen grown cows and sub-adults in that herd and right at the back, a cow with a very young, golden-fawn calf, perhaps a day old. The calf lay down for periodical rests, when the slow-grazing herd stopped in a patch of grass, as it did from time to time, but when on the move it frisked about with gay abandon, taking each light-bodied leap with jerky vigour and with the tail hoisted high in a flag of high spirits, the way Gaur calves gambol the second day of their lives and it seemed to find the hulking figure of our elephant irresistible.

My interest in that herd lay primarily not in this charming little infant, but in a very large cow in the vanguard with exceptionally thick, out-curved bull-like horns. Has some inept "sportsman" mistaken her for a bull? I thought this likely for she carried two neat round red wounds on her left shoulder, which seen from a distance and through glasses, seemed remarkably like gunshot wounds and on the borders of the sanctuary, in which I was, the most disgraceful kinds of poaching were indulged in. What I wanted was a clear photograph of the wounds, taken from close up.

I anticipated trouble getting close to her; having been shot at she would naturally be very distrustful of humanity and last thing I wished was to move her to a run when she limped slightly and seemed to find walking painful. So I had our elephant posted in the line the herd was taking and if the big cow took fright and sheered away I decided to give up.

She was not the one bit frightened. In fact she almost brushed past our elephant but she was to our left and presented her unwounded right flank to us -- "sportsmen on the border favour 12-bore guns rather than rifles, and therefore I was not surprised that there were no exit wounds. The only thing to do was to wait till the herd had passed on and then taking a parallel course get ahead of the gaur and stop the elephant again, and try to get the big cow to pass us on our right.

It was when the herd had passed us and we were about to turn aside that the little calf's curiosity got the better of it; it took a few wobbly, tentative steps towards us, stopped for a moment, and then came bounding in right up to the elephant's feet to stare at us in round-eyed wonder.

Our mount, an adult tusker, slewed round to face the tiny visitor and swayed agitatedly from side to side. For some reason it did not like its proximity and nothing that the mahut could do, could turn him a little to one side to enable me to take a picture of that calf staring up at us all eyes and fanned-forward ears. The things that can cause a riding elephant uneasiness and even fear would surprise anyone unfamiliar with the great beasts, and it is not as if all of them fear the same things -- they have their whims and fancies in this. I knew that our Vikrama was afraid of Porcupines (a very understandable apprehensiveness) and Mouse Deer and even Vultures at close range; but I did not know he was scared of friendly little Gaur caves that came gamboling at him.

Well, he was and he showed his dislike in a pointed manner. Inserting the tip of his trunk into his mouth he drew up some watery saliva and sprayed it out in a fine jet directed at the calf. Meanwhile the mother Gaur, approaching warily had come up and with steady rhythmic licks of her soothing tongue persuaded the calf to follow her and return to the herd.

This happened four times in all in the course in my attempt to get a close-up of the wounds on the big cow -- and effort in which I failed unaccountably, for every time that cow insisted on passing us on our left. And every time we halted to let the herd pass before trying to get ahead of it, the calf came back on bounding legs to see Vikrama and Vikrama grew more and more agitated with each repetition of the scene. In fact, his dislike of the calf was so acute and evident and the mother Gaur's anxiety was so patent each time she came to rescue her little one, that I had to abandon my effort and take ourselves away though the herd and wounded cow had, by now, "accepted" us.

The mother Gaur tried hard to make her calf follow her whenever they were near the elephant walking well ahead and mooing in a low voice to summon the little one. But once it was within some 30 yards of Vikrama, the calf seemed to find his surely fascination irresistible, and came leaping in to stand within 10 feet of us, to stare up entranced.

The cow would then come up at an apprehensive walk, on tip-toe, with the head held fairly high and when near enough, she would stretch out her neck and lick the calf, a thing that at once brought it out of its trace and induced it to follow her back to the herd.

By exchanging my Rolex for a box-camera with a long lens, I got some pictures of the calf -- not the wonderful close-ups I could have got it if Vikrama had behaved, but some grab-shots taken at about 50 feet, which still serve as a memento of one of the most delightful experiences I have had in the course of my long observation of wild animals."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 21 June 1964 in The Sunday Statesman

#The wonderful photograph of the mother Gaur licking her calf has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
18-02-2017, 03:46 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: Mouse Deer by daylight : The Sunday Statesman: 06 February 2017
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" THE controlled burning of the undershrub that was a feature of the jungles of Kargudi (in the Nilgiris) each summer, has been suspended for two years, with the result that late last February, when the fire spread into the area from around, it was somewhat uncontrolled and fierce. In April I found the forest floor black and bare in many places, and the trees charred a good way up their boles -- in other places, the fire had been no less widespread, but comparatively mild in its effects, leaving the bush growth only singed.

There were Mouse Deer in plenty in the more severely burnt jungles; apparently they found shelter here in the bamboo clumps that had, surprisingly, escaped the fire, and in the fallen trees, charred superficially but sound, and with safe deep hollows in their wood. The rains were delayed, but a thin growth of shrubs and saplings was coming up from the black earth, and this, evidently, was what attracted the animals to these forests.

In previous years, too, I had noticed Mouse Deer in this area, but had few opportunities to observe them. All that I could get were fleeting glimpses of them -- a great, tearing noise in the dry, dusty undergrowth, a glimpse of a tiny patch olive-brown hide with pale cream harness-markings on it, and the Mouse Deer had vanished! From what I had read and heard I thought that these dinky little creatures were crepuscular and nocturnal, and they were out foraging timidly, never far from cover, at dawn and dusk and during the night -- I have seen them active in the jungles of Karwar late at night.

But this time I noticed that even during forenoons they were sneaking about in search of green fodder, though for two or three hours around noon they stayed put in some safe retreat, when the sun was bright and hot.

I remarked on this to the mahut of my riding elephant, a Jane Kuruba who knew those jungles intimately, and his explanations were remarkable. No doubt, he said, the blackening of the forest floor and trees by the fire, and the consequent sombreness of the outlook on all sides, made the artless little creatures imagined that night was already approaching, and that was the time to be up and about! After this I did not discuss Mouse Deer and their habits with him, though for three days he helped me to search for and observe them.

It is a great mistake to suppose that because a man has lived all his life in the jungles, and is unversed in the arts, his understanding of wild animals will be prosaic, factual, and free from anthropomorphism -- the illiterate Kurubu is as capable of flights of poetic fancy in these matters as our highly literate selves, but luckily much less frequently.

By repeated observation of Mouse Deer, I was able to confirm a curious habit that I had observed, less surely and by flashlight, in Karwar years ago. When not alarmed and moving slowly through the jungles, they stop from time to time under a small bush, or in a tuft of tall grass, or beside a tree trunk; and when stopping for such brief rests, a limp often remains trailing, as if frozen in a movement it had begun and not completed, a hind-leg stretched backwards, or a foreleg pointed acutely forward; these attitudes are often maintained for minutes on end, when the animal is engaged in looking around it. But when really needing a rest the Mouse Deer lies down on its belly, with its feet tucked comfortably beneath it.

Mouse Deer nibble at grass and low shrubs and herbs, rather than browse them. Not once have I seen one of the animals grab a mouthful of grass or foliage and bolt it, as Deer and Antelopes do. They eat many of the fallen jungle fruits that deer also do, among them the fruit of Garuga pinnata, Gmelina arborea, and the mohwa.

The Buck is bulkier than the Doe, and has a less sharply pointed face; when panting in the beat with lips parted, the buck's sharp well-developed canines are closely visible, and the tongue is protruded slightly, in a rather dog-like manner. In fact, both in looks and behaviour these dinky little creatures are most un-deerlike, which is hardly surprising, considering that they do not belong to the deer tribe but a family apart from it, the Tragulidae, which consists of two Asiatic and one African Chevrotains. The Indian Chevrotain is our Mouse Deer, commonest in the hill-jungles of South India.

These animals can climb sloping tree trunks, and recently I saw one scramble up a slanting teak and disappear into a gaping hole some four feet up the blow. When I sneaked up to see if it was in, I found nothing -- it had left by another hole at the base of the tree, on the other side.

Mouse Deer need the right kind of cover to survive from their enemies, and they have many, for their whitish flesh is as highly esteemed by predatory animals as by men with snares and nets. Luckily the lantana, which chokes up many jungles where forestry operations have been carried out, provides them with highly suitable cover, but then they have to emerge from its prickly and closely tangled protection to feed. "

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 26 July 1964 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of a Mouse Deer with a foreleg acutely forward has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
26-02-2017, 11:07 AM
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Country Notebook: M. Krishnan: The Vanishing Wolf : The Sunday Statesman : 19 February 2017
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" One of the animals disappearing fast from most parts of India, without anyone bothering to note or regret the fact, is the Wolf. Our Wolf is not specifically different from other Asiatic Wolves -- in fact, the wolf has a wide distribution over the Northern Hemisphere right up to the Pole, and varies so much in size, colour and looks that several geographical races of it are recognised. In our country, Himalayan Wolves are larger than those of Peninsular India, but nowhere do they reach an impressive size, or otherwise specially noteworthy, except for the " Wolf-Boys " reported from time to time.

As I said in this column when the Balarampur Wolf-Boy was in the news, in 1954, I do not believe that a human child can be brought up by a Wolf. Even if a She-Wolf in milk were to abduct and adopt a baby, the long period of dependence on milk and protection of the human infant would result in its quick death, considering the much more concentrated richness of lumpine milk ( it is the milk of Ass that is nearest human milk in composition!) and the fact that after a maximum of six weeks' lactation, the baby would have to chew and ingest lumps of regurgitated flesh and gristle with no help from the foster-mother; after a year, the baby would have to fend for itself.

I wrote, " The only thing we can now say about the Wolf-Boy is that in another 50 years or so it is liable to lose currency, for it seems likely that by then Wolves would have become extinct in peninsular India. But perhaps there will be no real bar to the story".

Well, my forecast is almost fulfilled already!

In places in the North the Wolf still survives, though it had a range all over the plains of India till about 40 years ago. Naturally with the rapid occupation of the open country by humanity the Wolf had to go -- it could not keep the man from the door. The way it went is significant and something worth remembering in our plans for wildlife preservation.

In India the Wolf was never a creature of the forests, in spite of Kipling's stories. It was essentially an animal of the open scrub and thin plains jungles, the kind of country that Blackbuck, Chinkara, the Indian Fox and the now extinct Cheetah and many lesser creatures favour, dead flat in places and bush and grown grass, dotted with wooded hillocks and cut up by ravines in other places. I have seen the Wolf in the flat country around the Tungabhadra dam, where it is no longer to be found.

Wolves attain their finest development in the West and may be as large as a Great Dane -- Ernest Seton Thompson has a record of an American Wolf fully 150 lb in weight. Here they are comparatively small, smaller than an Alsatian, and weighing only some 45 to 50 lb, a hard-bitten, lean animal, a warm grizzle and buff in the plains; the ones I saw, alive and dead, had broad faces and fairly deep long muzzles with a pronounced "stop" and no Roman nose; they were probably the southernmost Wolves in India some 20 years ago.

Wolves do not go about in large ravening packs in India. The pack, usually a family party, is limited to about half-a-dozen members; couples are commoner than packs and of course there are lone Wolves. They subsist on Blackbuck or Chinkara, Hares and other small creatures of the plains including ground birds; unless they take to raiding domestic stock, normally they do not hunt large prey. Occasionally when no other prey is available they may take into man eating; baby-snatching is naturally easier than dealing with adults and undoubtedly Wolves in India have carried away many children.

They are tireless runners, their easy lope eating up the miles effortlessly but I believe they are not capable of any great speed. A friend who chased a couple of Wolves over some very flat country in his car, told me that when pressed they could not do better than 35 mph. This does not, of course, handicap them in their hunting for they succeed in running down their quarry by cunning intelligence and endurance rather than by sheer speed. As anyone's who knows dogs will know, Wolves are highly intelligent, though more governed by instincts than dogs.

It is noteworthy that in all the places where they have died out, they went even sooner than their prey. That is true of the late the lamented Cheetah too and I believe that when the animals of any place become locally extinct by human occupation of their territory or human interference, the predators go before the prey. Since the reintroduction of a predatory animal in numbers sufficient to assure survival of the species into an area already depleted of prey is almost impossible (in India at any rate, where the human factors at the base of all destructive influences are so different from those obtaining elsewhere), obviously this is something where forethought and prevention are possible where there is no cure."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 13 September 1964 in The Sunday Statesman

#An Illustration (sketch) by Ernest Seton Thompson not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
09-04-2017, 02:26 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: Almost human in their unpredictable variability: The Sunday Statesman: 9 April 2017
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" Recent correspondence in The Statesman on the character of the Leopard (particularly the Black
Leopard) reminds one the remarkable variability of the animal was recognised long ago, over 40 years ago, when it was decided that that the Leopard and the Panther were, after all, one and the same species.

It is worth quoting Dunbar Brander on the point. In his book he says, " Blanford writes of the Indian Leopard as follows: 'the size of the animal, the nomber, form and the closeness of the spots, and the length of the tail, are extremely variable characters'. Truer words were never written, and owing to this variability from time to time attempts have been made to establish two distinct species, and one fairly recent author even went so far as to state that there was as many as three. The statement naturally led to the question being reopened, and as soon as the matter was critically examined it was found that the theory did not rest on any solid foundation. Investigation merely to refute error seldom increase knowledge, but in this case the results have been useful, and the differentiation between the Leopard and the Panther has probably been now buried for some time to come."

In this atypically cautious last sentence, Dunbar Brander was prophetic. Some 10 years ago, the late Col R.W.Burton (who knew our wild life as well as anyone) thought that there was a case for a small leopard, as distinct from the Commoner and the larger Panther, in a certain area. I discussed this question with him at some length and told him of the very large and quite small adult Leopards I had known in the Deccan, giving him much details of length, weight and colouration as I had.

The truth is that the Leopard is the most versatile and polymorphic of our wild animals, and that its variability is not limited to its size, coat and markings, but is there even in its temperament and behaviour. To generalise on such an animal from knowledge of a few specimens is not safe.

The Black Leopard is only a melanistic form of the species and not a different variety -- "black" and "spotted" cubs may be born to the same mother at the same time. The idea that Black Leopards are smaller and more lithe than those with a tawny ground colour and are especially untrustworthy and fierce has been there for a long time; this opinion may be found in the shikar and the animal literature of the first three decades of this century, and it does seem to be a fact that Black Leopards are only to be found in dense, semi-evergreen forests. I cannot say anything about the animal from personal knowledge, never having known a wild leopard, but may detail two relevant aspects of its reputation.

First the smaller relative size of the Black Leopard is probably based on an optical phenomenon, the fact that anything very dark looks smaller than it is in fact. You may prove the effectiveness of this optical illusion by cutting two identical rectangles out of black and white card and pasting them, spaced some distance apart, on a natural grey ground -- the black rectangle will seem definitely smaller and, in proportion to its height, longer -- or, to put it the other way round, shorter and "slimmer" in proportion to its length. If you are a painstaking man, you may go further and cut out and paint the two identical paste-ups to the shape and colour of a normal and black leopard. I did this once, to convince a shikari friend of the truth of my argument, and he felt convinced. Fuller recognition of its truth was impossible -- that man was, without exception, the most bigoted man I have ever known. References to large Black Leopards in recent faunal literature also substantiate my view. But of course it could be that the Black Leopard, living in dense forests, does not attain the same body size as normal leopards. Secondly, anything black has a powerful psychological effect on the human mind -- you have only to think of Monday to realise the truth of this. I may add that I know zoo men who said that the Black Leopards they knew were no more difficult to manage, and no more prone to mean violence, than the normal ones. A Black Leopard, of course, isn't really all black. The ground colour and markings of Leopards, like everything else about them vary considerably -- years ago a drawing I made (from death) of an old leopard with a very pale grey, fuzzy coat and Jaguar-like double rosettes was published in this column. Some Leopards a tawny in their ground colour, some darker (a golden burnt sienna) and some even darker (a medium shade of burnt umber); in the darkest of Leopards the ground colour is so deep that the spots do not show up except in direct sunlight, and the animal seems all-black. Incidentally ( and this is a point not detailed by others, so far as I know, though it is fairly obvious) the amount of white on the chin, throat, belly, inside of the tail, decreases directly in proportion to the darkness of the ground colour, and in a Black Leopard there is no white at all.

Black or spotted Leopards, when provoked or excited, are much more prone to charge home than the far more powerful Tiger. This has been cited as proof of Leopard's courage, but I wonder if it is not better evidence of quick temper, or its liability to lose its head. In saying this, I must make it clear that only some Leopards, at times, behave like this. An animal whose courage can never be doubted, the Wild Boar, will take an honourable line of retreat offered, but I have known a Leopard refuse to do so, and persist in aggression.

The truth is you never can tell with Leopards -- they are almost human in their unpredictable variability!"

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 28 February 1965 in The Sunday Statesman
#The photograph of a Black Leopard is not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
23-04-2017, 03:34 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The Green Bee-eater : The Sunday Statesman: 23 April 2017
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" IT is during April and May that the Green Bee-eater nests over the major part of India, though in places it may breed somewhat earlier. By March the nest-holes may be completed already ( as they are often, in the Nilgiris ), and their excavation is always fascinating to watch.

Usually the high sandy bank of a dry watercourse is chosen -- and most watercourses are dry at this time of the year -- or similar vertical face of soft, friable earth. In places, where the earth is soft enough, the embankment of ghat-roads are freely exploited, and where nothing better offers, even a mound of sand in a dry location may be utilised.

A number of nesting pairs now commence tunneling operations on this earth wall driving in deep round shafts into it at right angles to its face just sufficiently wide across to admit the bird freely. The nesting holes usually run two feet or longer into the bank and are excavated by nothing more dynamic than the repeated packs of the birds at the bank; it is amazing how deep persistence can dig into the solid earth! Both birds of a pair engage in this prodigious feat and often the breeding pairs nest in close company, each pair having its nest-tunnel only a foot or less away from its next-hole neighbour.

Once the tunnel is completed, the white eggs are laid in a chamber at its end, and the infant Bee-eaters hatching out in this dark retreat are blind and helpless. Green Bee-eaters choose their nesting sites prudently, usually well above harm -- not all the members of the tribe display this care for the future and the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater often nests in flat sand banks liable to inundation with the summer rains.

EHN Lowther, one of our pioneer bird-photographers, says he noticed that the young were fed grasshoppers in the main. I, too, have noticed this partiality for Grasshoppers in Bee-eaters, feeding their young, a rather remarkable bias considering that many of the other insects they habitually hunt, such as bees and butterflies and even dragonflies, have fewer hard parts to be labouriously removed before being fed to the nestlings. There must be a great deal of nourishment in the plump bodies of grasshoppers; sparrows, too, have marked preference for this prey in feeding their young. Bee-eaters in flight exhibit extra-ordinary air-mastery and timing, flapping sharply up on actually triangular wings to casually pluck some fast-flying prey from the air but perhaps it is when entering their nesting tunnels that their sure sense of timing is most evident. A Bee-eater entering its nest-hole does not alight on its round rim and then go down the passage but flies headlong into the tunnel halting momentarily at the mouth to grip its rim with its tiny feet, and bracing its outspread, in bent tail against the earth below to check itself -- for a moment when it looks as if the impetuous momentum of its homecoming had driven its sharp-beaked head right into the earth of the bank!

Bee-eaters have such tiny sharp-clawed feet, with such shortened tarsi, that one might expect them to be helpless on the ground like swifts but though their feet are meant mainly for perching they are well able to sit on the flat ground and to rise swiftly from it in flight. Early in the morning, when the dew is still on the short grass, Green Bee-eaters may be seen on the ground, often perched on a clod or some little stone -- I think they are hunting grasshoppers then. And in the evenings on a country road, you may see a number of vividly green birds lying in a struggling mass on the road surface -- a party of these bee-eaters having a dust-bath in company. They continue to roll and luxuriate in the warm earth till one is quite near and then rise in a cloud of golden dust and emerald feathers to fly swiftly away to perches high above."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 11 April 1965 in The Sunday Statesman
#The photograph of a pair of Bee-eaters perched on a wire not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
25-06-2017, 11:44 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: Battles Royal : The Sunday Statesman :25 June 2017
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" THE galumphing Tusker shown below was photographed six years ago, shortly after he had won a territorial fight with another lone bull. I saw the vanquished rival too but that gory, raging, brooding giant was in no mood to permit an approach, so no picture of him was possible. The victor on the other hand was at peace with the world, unmarked from its recent encounter, except for a skin-deep abrasion high up the right thigh; he was grazing in a field of lush tall-grass selecting a few blades from each tussock choosily and flapping his ears vigorously, always a sign of contentment in an elephant. I had no trouble getting close enough to take several pictures, though my approach had to be made openly but the thin grey persistent drizzle blurred detail.

ELEPHANTS seldom fight among themselves and as a rule only when they must. The big bull of the herd is not tolerant of strange adult bulls but thrice I have seen lone tuskers keeping together in a close brace for a few days -- I realise how meaningless is the word "lone" is in this sentence but it is necessary to indicate that it is a grown bull living by itself and not a herd bull that is meant. At times, as when there is competition for some choice plot for grazing between two lone bulls or when the master bull of a herd meets an aspiring rival, there is a BATTLE ROYAL.

THE curious thing about these fights is that they are often not limited to single engagement. No one can tell how impressive a bull tusker seems to a much smaller one, but it is seldom that a small bull will take on a really big one.However, a fighting pair is not always evenly matched and one of the pair may be considerably larger -- youth and ambition are often on the side of the lesser tusker and it is not always the bigger animal that wins though it is usually so. When the combatants are more or less of a size, the fight may drag on all day, or even be spread over several days with long breaks between bouts of fighting for feeding, drinking and baths or mud-baths.

AN animal weighing four or five tons cannot keep going for long without food, and both combatants break off from time to time to replenish, the other elephant often grazing in the same locality, though some distance apart. After feeding and drinking, they resume the fight and break off again to feed, and occasionally the intermittent battle may last a week. At times the combat resolves itself more on less into a pushing match and then the slope of the ground on which each combatant is standing may favour or handicap him, but it is seldom that bulls start a fight on a sloping ground.

FIGHTS for the territory or the herd among rival GAUR bulls do not often result in grave injuries and are seldom fatal but unless one of the fighting pair breaks off and runs away quite early in the engagement, among elephants such combats usually result in the loser (and at times even the winner) being grievously wounded, and even in being gored to death. Unlike carnivores, which are expert in killing, herbivores often persist with the attack long after the enemy is dead, and the the victor may stay on for some time after winning the fight periodically to gore the corpse of the enemy.

HOWEVER, the beaten elephant frequently runs away from the locality while he still can. According to my friend, K. Krishnamoorthy, it is such defeated tuskers that turn into rouges. I have the most sincere regard for my friend's knowledge of our forests and wild animals, particularly elephants, but though I realise a frustrated bull often given to raging, I think the main cause for a lone bull developing into a rouge is gunshot wounds inflicted by men.

THE question of Mucknas is especially interesting. these tuskless bulls are common in parts of North-East India and uncommon in the South -- in Ceylon, all bulls are mucknas as a rule. An adult muckna usually has a remarkably thick and muscular trunk, and is often of imposing size. Some people say that in a fight between a muckna and a tusker the greater weight and trunk-power of the former yells, and tuskers seldom fight mucknas -- it is a fact that trunk is freely used in intra-specific fights among elephants. Others say that the tusks (which are also certainly used in such fights) will tell in favour of the bull possessing them and that mucknas fear tuskers. I donot know the truth of the matter, but both schools of opinion could be right, the tusker winning at times and muckna at other times.

WITH the dwindling of their territory because of human encroachments on elephant jungles, one might logically expect these territorial fights to be commoner than in the past but observation of wild elephants yields no evidence to sustain this view. Little can be said for certain on this point, because even if one is lucky enough to collect reliable data on fights between wild elephants in the last ten years or so, no reliable data from the past exists."

- M.Krishnan

This was published on 17 October 1965 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of the galumphing tusker which won the battle has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
23-07-2017, 02:15 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Of Birds and Birdsong : The Sunday Statesman: 2 July 2017
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"SOMETIME ago I heard a caged Shama sing in a by-lane of one of the most congested parts of Madras. Its owner, a Muslim artisan, had built his pet a roomy bamboo cage, considerately provided with two perches. He was careful to give it the kind of food it should get, and though he could afford no luxuries, he had made a cover of fine loose-woven green silk, spangled with tinsel stars. For the cage, he explained that it served to keep the bird relaxed and quiet at night, and save it from frightened by passing cats, while still letting the air in, moreover, for some reason beyond him, it made the bird sing more freely.

In the close confinement of that tiny room, cluttered up with broken chairs and assortment of tin trunks and gaudy cardboard boxes, with children shrieking and playing in the lane outside and an altercation between two women literally next door, the Shama's sustained liquid melody was as surprising and lovely as anything could be but it did not delight me. Not that an anthropomorphic, sentimental feeling for the prisoner dampened my spirits. It was only that song, at all times and of whatever kind is as dependent on the environment and the musical experience of the listener as it it is on the singer, and that I had heard the Shama many times in the dark, cool jungles that it loves.

In particular, I remember a few days in the forest block of Supa in Karwar. The great deciduous was all around our camp, and not far away there was a patch of giant bamboo, and a pair of Shamas had nested in one of the clumps. Every morning and evening before sunrise and at sunset, I would go over to the bamboo patch to hear the Cock's song. The Shama's song has been extensively studied by expert's like Dr. Thorpe, both from its live voice and from recordings (to borrow terms from broadcasting), but few of these men have heard the jungles it lives, and I think that the appeal of birdsong, in particular is much dependent on its setting.

Would Keats have written,

In some melodious piot
Of beechen green and shadows
Singest of summer in full-throated case

If he had only heard the Nightingale singing from a cramped shrouded cage in the smoky murkiness of London? Very likely he would. The much-vaunted Keatsian sensuous imagery has always seemed to me wholly independent of experience or recollection, and entirely the product of imagination conditioned by a feeling for euphony. The man was a songbird in a sense that he could sing from a cage.

However that might be, the Shama should be heard in the deciduous forests that are its natural home. The feathery cool green caves and intricate tracery of the bamboo branchlets provides a fit auditorium for the welling melody ineffably sad to the human ear at one moment and cascading with liquid delight the next. We know of course that birdsong is more instinctive proclamation of territory and part of courtship display than anything else, and we do not know for certain what moods the avian mind can sense. But then, I am writing only of human apprehension of birdsong and nothing that I have ever heard has affected me so spontaneously and deeply as the Shama's song."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 31 October 1965 in The Sunday Statesman

#The photograph of Shama calling has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
01-09-2017, 10:24 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Watchful in the dark : The Sunday Statesman : 18 June 2017
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( Nightjar)

"Thousand of miles of rural roads have been improved and macadamised in the last four years, even in the remote countryside. It is not for the benefit of pedestrians or animal-drawn vehicles that this has been done (both bullocks and men inside bullock-carts prefer something softer underfoot than tarred stone pressure-flattened), but only to provide a better surface for trucks and motor cars. With life getting more swift and mechanised, such improvements are inevitable, and undoubtedly it is a greater boon to have our roads properly surfaced.

However, for animals this is a deprivation. It is not only the lesser wild life that uses our roads and byroads at night. I remember two big leopards that were seen within minutes of each other, sauntering along the main bus-road at Chilkanahatti shortly after sunset: it is well known that both tigers and leopards will freely use earth-roads in the course of their wanderings, Civets too like to run along the roadside, and so do hares and field mice. However, the chief nocturnal users of our roads are undoubtedly Nightjars.

Their reddish-orange eyes, reflecting the headlamps of automobiles from the surface, are quite a feature of our roadways as anyone who has done some motoring by night will know. Recently I traversed seven miles of a newly-tarred jungle road in a jeep after dinner and saw no Nightjars on that stretch, which once used to be studded with their eyes after dark.

Why do these birds squat on the road all night? Having motored through the countryside at all hours, I can say that Nightjars are to be found on the road from dusk almost to dawn. Some other birds, particularly Bee-eaters like the finely powdered earth of our roads for dust baths, but obviously Nightjars are not indulging in a marathon all-night dust-bath --- they sit lightly on the roadway, without stirring the dust by rolling around, as dust-bathing birds do.

I think the reason for preferring roads to open fields and wasteland (Nightjars also frequent such places, especially stony and bare patches of scrub at the foot of hillocks) is that the flat surface cushioned with dust and with no vegetation to obscure a clear view or impede instant flight, gives them exceptional opportunities for hunting. Nightjars hunt moths and other night-flying insects on the wing, and their disproportionately large eyes enable them to see well in the dark. Squatting on the road, they can see a good way along it, and take off in hot pursuit without the risk of brushing their soft-pinioned wings against stiff or thorny twigs or leaves.

If this is the attraction of the roadway to Nightjars, why should they avoid tarred-roads? I am not sure of the answer to this question, but I do not think the hardness of the surface has anything to do with it --- Nightjars often sit on stones and boulders. It could be that the smell of the tar has something to do with it, not by keeping Nightjars away (birds, in general, have little apprehension of smell) but because smell repels insects --- but I confess even to me this seems a somewhat tenuous explanation. The fact remains that the birds prefer earth-roads to metalled highways.

I can provide a fairly accurate assessment of the speed of Nightjars coasting along a road just ahead of nocturnal motorcars. Several times I have noticed that when a car was doing about 20-25 mph, the Nightjar had no difficulty in keeping its distance, flying low, just in front of the bonnet, for 20 or 30 yards before turning sharply and dipping to settle on the roadside. When the speed is increased, the bird either veers sharply to one side to avoid the oncoming vehicle, or shoots up and flutters to let it pass below and then squats on the road once more, in the tracks of the car. Once I caught a Nightjar in my hand, motoring at night, as it flew just overhead --- I have also caught a goggle-eyed plover. Similarly I was surprised at the softness of its plumage and the richness of its pattering and the bird's lightness in the hand."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 3 October 1965 in The Sunday Statesman

#the photograph of a Nightjar has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
16-10-2017, 11:23 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : Raising a Hare and chasing a Rabbit : The Sunday Statesman : 23 July 2017
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"RECENTLY, when a number of wildlife enthusiasts were together, this question came up --- What, after all, are the differences between Hares and Rabbits? The discussion arose out of the Common Hare of Bengal, Lepus nigricollis ruficaudatus, being termed "rabbit" in a paper.

Luckily, a distinguished zoologist was present, and he was asked to explain the difference. He chose to take his stand on taxonomic anatomy,and pointed out that the line of demarcation between the two was so tenuous as to be almost invisible at times, as was the line between frogs and in certain groups, such as tree-frogs. Hares and Rabbits (and Mouse-Hares), long regarded as rodents, have now been assigned an order of their own, the Lagomorpha( "hare-like in shape" ), mainly on the basis of their having four incisors in the upper jaw and not two as in true rodents. But as between Hare and Rabbit, the line of distinction is rather thin and technical.

This closeness of affinity is reflected in the common or vulgar names of the two animals. The Brer Rabbit of folklore is said to be an African Hare,and the Canadian snow-shoe Rabbit is a true Hare. In our own country, the Hispid Hare of the north-eastern grass forests (Caprolagus hispidus) is considered a true Rabbit by modern taxonomists, thus justifying its alternative name. Assam Rabbit, incidentally, this interesting creature, never common, seems to have become extremely rare now.

Even in their physiology Hares and Rabbits are much of a muchness. The period of gestation, for example, is more or less the same, 28 to 30 days. And both have the remarkable habit of reingestion or refection of eating their own semi-digested faecal pellets, a habit that is an effective substitute for cud chewing (and similar in principle), and which is of considerable value to their survival.

It is only comparatively recently that this coprophagy in Hares and Rabbits has been thoroughly studied, though people seem to have been aware of it in biblical days - the injunction in the Old Testament (this is also to be found in the old Jewis laws) " these ye shall not eat of them that chew the cud-the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof, he is unclean to you" reflects this dim awareness.

Since predators make on distinction between Hares and Rabbits, pouncing on both with equal zest, this habit is of great survival value to these animals, it enables them to eat their food quickly and then, at leisure and in safety, quickly take in the vided, semi-digested soft pellets, to be re-digested thoroughly --the hard pellets finally voided are never eaten.This habit, like cud chewing, also gives them the maximum nourishment possible from fibrous grasses and tough ground vegetation.

However, there are other and appreciable differences between Hares and Rabbits, and these are of considerable importance to us. Physically, Hares are generally the larger animals, they have larger ears as a rule, and much longer hind limbs and are much the faster of the two. Moreover, Hares do not retire into under-ground warrens during the day, but rest in forms they make in grass and herbs, or in a bush, their young are born in such forms, fully covered with hair and with their eyes open, and are soon able to run at speed -- infant rabbits, born in underground warrens, are naked and blind, and take some two to three weeks to develop, though their eyes open on about the tenth day.

The most important difference, to us in India, is this -- Rabbits are a menace to agriculture and Hares are not, at least not to ours. We have only Hares in our country (if we except the hare-like Assam Rabbit) and so are not faced with the problems of rabbit control. Our Hares live mainly on wild grasses and herbs, the familiar dub-grass, Cynodon dactylon, and the goat's foot creeper, Ipomea pes-caprae, being much relished by all our Hares.

This was published on 10 January 1966.

# The photograph of Hare (s) has not been reproduced here.

Sabyasachi Patra
18-10-2017, 11:37 PM
I am sure 99% of the naturalists and photographers would not know the difference between Hare and rabbit. So Shri M. Krishnan’s article is very apt. I checked the Mammals of South Asia to quote a few more info on the subject.

The hispid hare has a head and body length of 38-50 cm and a tail length of 2.5-3.8 cm. It weighs about 2-2.5 kg. The short ears measure about 8 cm each. The colour of the dorsal pelage is brown. The outer fur is rather stiff and bristly.

This hare is confined to restricted area along the terai habitat of the Himalayan foothills. It survives in scattered areas of Nepal and Assam. According to Ghose(1978), the hispid hare in Assam lives in thatch grassland that grows to a height of 3.0-3.5 m during the monsoon. From January to April, when the grassland and associated forests are set on fire, the hares move to cultivated fields and shelter on the embankments of dried-up streams. When the thatch becomes waterlogged during the height of monsoon, the hares move into the forested foothills. In most places, the thatch is intensively exploited as roofing material, and nearly all stands are regularly burned to improve yield. The hare depends on the thatch for cover ad forage and can survive only in areas that are left unburnt for several consecutive years. it is not known whether the young are born blind and naked, though it is reported that they burrow like rabbits (Prater 1980). Habitat destruction and hunting have contributed to its decline (Ghose 1978, Oliver 1978, Bell et al. 1990). The status of Hispid hare according to the IUC is endangered.

The Indian hare has two main subspecies: the black-naped hare (L. n. nigricollis) and the rufous-tailed hare (L.n. ruficaudatus). The head and body of the rufous-tailed hare measures 40-50 cm, and it weighs 1.8-2.3 kg. The black-naped hare is larger, weighing 2.2-3.6 kg. The black-naped hare is distinctive in having a dark brown or black patch on the back of its neck from the ears to the shoulders, and the upper surface of the tail is black. In the northern parts of the Indian hare’s range, this nape patch is grey instead of black, and these hares are the rufous-tailed hares.

In the dry tracts of western India, the desert hare (L.n. dayanus) replaces the rufous-tailed hare. Its coat is yellowish sandy-grey, paler than that of the rufous-tailed hare. Its coat is yellowish sandy-grey, paler than that of the rufous-tailed hare. It has no black patch on the nape and the upper surface of the tail is blackish brown. The rufous-tailed hare ascends the Himalaya up to 2400 m, and the black-naped hare occurs in the Western Ghats at similar altitudes (Prater 1980). (Page 679-680)

Saktipada Panigrahi
08-11-2017, 12:22 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M.Krishnan: Lone traveller among the Bandar-log :The Sunday Statesman :29 October 2017

" There was a party of Langur near the forest rest-house where I stayed last April, and for three weeks I watched the monkeys off and on, mostly late in the afternoons. They were in the trees than (in the mornings they were usually on ground, near the road), busily feeding on the new leaves, and flower buds of bauhinias flanking the road, and almost the first thing I noticed was that there was a lone male, not in the party but always at a distance, following it. This was a full-grown animal, tall and strongly made, and furnished with the most luxuriant whiskers I have seen on a Langur, but less heavy,and younger, than the big male of the party.

Evidently a banished prospective rival. He was never so far from the party that he could not keep track of its movements, and often he was only a few trees away, but took good care to stay well clear of the older, dominant leader. Perhaps there had been a fight that led to his exile, for there were two wounds, very much like tooth marks, on his left shoulder, partly hidden by his thick coat.

The old male of the party did not seem to bother at all about the proximity of his rival, and went about his feeding and rest with leisurely assurance, but no doubt he was keeping a sharp watch. The lone male on the other hand, was patently nervous, fidgety and unhappy. He was aggressive, leaping from tree to tree with a display of speed and muscle, and demonstrating angrily at any of the females of the party that happened to pass beneath his tree and even at me, opening his mouth to exhibit his formidable canines, and raising and lowering his brow in a quick, intimidatory gesture, usually to the accompaniment of a rasping guttural snarl.

A Kuruba whom I met suggested that this Langur was probably mad. Madness, he explained, was by no means peculiar to men; elephants sometimes went berserk,and this Langur had undoubtedly lost his reason, otherwise why leap about in this frantic manner the heat was so enervating, and why indulge in these angry grimaces? But I knew what madness swayed that monkey.

I have often thought, and said, that to try to understand animals, especially mammals, entirely at the level of their intelligence as we are able to assess it (often not taking sufficient notice of their very different perceptions) dose not show much comprehension on our part. Emotionally we have so much in common with them, and while it is true that an application of purely anthropomorphic values to animal behaviour does mislead one. It still helps to realise that animals, too, are subject to passing (or even lasting) moods and emotions, fear, anger, gladness, hate, love, and even silliness.

There were six adult female monkeys in the party and only two with young -- and these young were no longer infants, but able to fend for themselves, and covered with whitish grey hair. Beyond the road, at the timber yard, there was another party of Langur in which there were several mothers with infants in arms, much younger, black coated infants. What demented this solitary Langur was probably that he had reached the full vigour of his maleness, and was denied the companionship of a female and it could well be that party leadership was also in issue.

Would he eventually oust the older male as leader? Perhaps, but just now the she-monkeys were loyal to their leader, and hostile to him. Once, when the leader had gone to the river along with the two females with youngsters, and the rest were feeding in the bauhinia trees, he went up aggressively to the trees, and the she-monkeys came down in a body to bare their teeth and snarl at him, and he went away at an energetic gallop. Knowledgeable observers have reported that among monkeys (even among Langurs), sexual love is marked by dominant assertion and brute force. At times may be; but I have often watched Langur in love, and certainly their courtship was tender, with a sentimental tenderness that never failed to amuse me."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 1 August 1966

# The photograph of the Langur with long tail has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
26-11-2017, 03:52 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The Giant Squirrel : The Sunday Statesman : 26 November :2017
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" WHAT does the word "giant" suggest to you ? The largest size of toothpaste? Something outsize and ultimate in sheer bulk and perhaps also something ogrish? Well, the Giant Squirrel is nothing like that though it is so much larger than the familiar little striped squirrel. It is a most attractive creature, graceful and dainty in spite of its size and superbly coloured in the richest chestnut, black and cream-in fact though not the largest of our squirrels (the large Brown Flying Squirrel is a shade larger) it is the handsomest of all squirrels.

It is a pleasure to watch its movement in treetops. It flows along in swift grace and it is capable of covering 20 ft. in a leap from one tree to another. Some time ago I watched a Langur and a Giant Squirrel racing along the treetops in company apparently just for the heck of it, and the monkey for all its superior size and frenzied energy was only a little faster.

The bests and territorial claims of these squirrels have always interested me, and I was able to observe them over several days last summer - they were going about in pairs then but had no young with them. After about a few days I was able to tell the three pairs in the area I was observing from one another and though their territories did overlap to some extent and though they often wandered furlongs away in search of leaf-buds and fruit in the evenings they were always "at home" and as night fell, retired to chosen nests high up.

Midday siesta

There were several of these football-like nests in the territory of each pair. During the day the pair was not always together and sometimes went to different nests for a siesta more often, however, they sought leaf-shade at noon lying perfectly relaxed along a branch with a thick canopy of foliage overhead the broad , dorsiventrally flattened body hugging the curve of the branch and the legs dangling idly on either side and the tail pendent. They were often utterly immobile in this posture for upwards of an hour but not sound asleep.

When feeding they often adopt a stance that leaves both pairs of limbs free balanced not along the thick limb of a tree but right across some twig just stout enough to carry their weight, perched on the twig on their belly with the head and forelimbs dangling on one side, balanced by the pendent hind limbs and tail on the other side. This posture however, is not sustained for a long time and is purely a feeding attitude that leaves the hands free to hold or clutch the young leaves or fruit they are feeding on.

Incidentally, these squirrels can flatten out their bodies to some extent and the breadth of their flattened bodies and long, heavily-haired tails help not only in their leaps from tree to tree, but also when they slip occasionally and fall to the ground from a height breaking the momentum of the fall. All wild Giant Squirrels unless in poor health, have fluffy tails well covered with hair, so different from many tails of zoo specimens.

Docked in battle

Once, years ago I saw a Giant Squirrel that had only a stump of tail apparently having escaped from the enemy like Tam O 'Shanter's mare with the mere loss of appendage. I watched it for a long time and though it was in company of another squirrel with a luxuriant tail it did not seem greatly handicapped by the loss of its balancer.

What enemies do these forest-living squirrels have? They are highly arboreal and though quite at home on the forest floor seldom descend to the ground when the termites swarm though, they come down to catch the insects close to the ground. We have few diurnal hunters that can chase and capture these nimble creatures in the treetops to which they prudently keep But being strictly diurnal the Giant Squirrel is very vulnerable at night and may be previous occasionally take them from their rests, asaMalaisar once assured me they do.

The greater owls in particular the Eagle-Owls, do hunt them at night and even by day they are not safe from the larger birds of prey. I once saw a Crested Hawk-eagle carrying a Giant Squirrel in its talons.

Man seems to be their chief enemy. All forest tribes hunt this squirrel in many ways most of them cruel and are usually so furtive in their hunting that few get to know about their love of giant squirrel flesh. In most places these squirrels are extraordinarily shy of man and no wonder, it is a real pity, for if left in peace and judiciously encouraged, they soon lose their fear of humanity and become almost semi-tame, and in our sanctuaries few animals can be more charmingly attractive to the visitor than these beautiful, confiding squirrels."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 14 November 1966

# A photograph of Giant Squirrel has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
25-12-2017, 01:08 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: There was a gorging Jack...The Sunday Statesman :03 December 2017
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"AT last I reached the banyan I had spotted from half a mile away, and lay down gratefully in its shed. The heat had dried up everything in the neighbourhood the dusty earth, the withered shrubs, and even the grass.

There was a small pool, almost only a puddle, in the deep beyond the tree, and for a moment I felt tempted, but all the notions of hygiene inculcated in one over the years barred me. The water was not merely muddy, but also very dirty, and the sides of the pool bore the hoof-marks of many cattle I looked the other way, and noticed that there was a wind on the horizon raising the dusty - underneath the tree the air was stagnant.

When I turned slowly to the pool again, a less hygienically- educated drinker was slaking its thirst in it. A Jackal was standing knee- deep in the thick water, cooling its hot, tired legs,and drinking so daintily that I could not hear the sound of its lapping, though I was only ten yards away.

I lowered my head and lay very still watching the Jackal. When it had drunk its fill it stepped daintily on to the further side of the pool, and selecting the patch offered by a drier-up lantana, lay down in it. It circled around a few times, chasing its tail, and then lay down - I believe no animal of the dog tribe bothers to go through this ritual unless it feels like a good sleep.

It was compact in its repose, well covered by that little shade, lean jaws on out- stretched paws, tail hugging a flank and almost at once it dropped off to sleep. After a while it slowly stretched itself, turned over a little on one side, and was more relaxed and limp.

Moving slowly and very softly (silence can be achieved if one takes care and goes really slow) I crept up on the sleeper till I was right over it - I could have reached down and grabbed its throat before its swift responses could have saved it, but of course I had no such urge. I noticed the fleas on its harsh, grizzled coat, and saw the fulvous hair on its muzzle had turned partially white, evidently this was a very old jackal. The pads of the feet were deeply rutted, and on the left forepaw two toes were missing and there was a deep, healed wound suggesting a misadventure with a steel trap.

As I stood watching, the Jackal's body went to a sort of convulsion the legs scrabbled in a rowing movement, the muzzle was pushed forward and the mouth partly opened, and an eager whimper pulsated the throat - no one who knows the dogs could mistake what was happening, the Jackal was dreaming and perhaps hunting in its dream.

When the sleeper was quiet and relaxed again, I went back to my banyan. It occurred to me that if I climbed to a fork 5 ft up I could see the Jackal in comfort, with little chance of its seeing me the noise of my climb roused it at once. It sprang to its feet and looked up unerringly at me - then its jaws dropped down, wide agape with the tongue out, and wrinkle creasing the angles of the jaws below the cheeks. I believe this expression does not indicate amusement in animals, but uncertainly and surprise and also an anxious desire, but I could not help thinking how comic the sight of a awkward man scrambling up a tree must have seemed to any watcher. It left unhurriedly, gliding over the scrub at an effortless, ambling pace and I descended from the banyan and went back to the village."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 12 December.

#The photograph of the Jackal on move with the tongue out has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
20-02-2018, 11:49 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : The Inner elephant : The Sunday Statesman : 21 January 2018
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"AN adult Elephant, it is estimated, eats from 55 lbs to 600 lbs of green fodder daily. The estimate is based on experiments conducted by Sanderson and others on well-fed tamed elephants, and while it is generally unsound equating the behaviour of captive elephants with others of their kind living free, this is the only basis we have for assessing the quantity of green fodder consumed by a wild elephant in a day.

That apart, actual observation of wild elephant shows that much of the waking life of the great beast is spent in feeding. It should be realised that the elephant do not graze or browse as most ruminants do, quickly eating up what they get, but are deliberate and choosy in their feeding. Grass is plucked out in a bundle,dusted against the knee to free if from adherent earth,and then placed crosswise in the mouth with the roots and lower stalks, and the leaf tips projecting from either side of the jaws; the roots and basal culms, or the roots alone and the blades,are then severed and rejected at one bite, depending on whether the grass is fresh or not and whether the culms are juicy; the mouthful is then masticated and swallowed,and then another clump of grass investigated and pulled out.

Tall grass of many kinds and tree foliage are the bulkiest fodder that elephants eat,but even when feeding on these they take a long time picking and choosing,dusting and rejecting,and then finally chewing up what they wish to eat. moreover,they like variety in their diet and will often search long and patiently for some titbit that they specially fancy. I have seen a big wild tusker spend well over an hour in plucking the tiny,pink heads of the flowers from a patch of Mimosa pudica, and carefully conveying them to his mouth.

It is usually said that wild elephants are very wasteful in their feeding and trample down more than they eat. This is not true. This mistaken belief arises from the behaviour of wild elephants then raiding crops or when feeding near human habitations, when they fear intrusion from men. They dislike,with excellent justification,all the things that represent human intrusions into their old homes,and will pull down huts and posts erected by men. And when feeding in an area where they apprehend disturbance and harassment by men they are very noisy and wasteful.

In the deeper jungles, as I know from repeated careful observation, they are extremely tidy and economical in their feeding,and do not trample down the vegetation indiscriminately-in fact, except that I had watched a large herd for days in a certain locality, I could not have believed that so many elephants had fed there-their trails, suggested half-a-dozen beasts and not over 40, because they had trodden in one anothers' footsteps.

It is a well-known fact that no jungle area,however small, has ever perished in our country by elephants or other large wild animals destroying or consuming the vegetation: it is no less well known that entire forests, several square miles in area,have disappeared and been converted into barren ground within two or three years by human depredation.

To give some idea of the wide variety of the natural diet of elephants I provide a list which is, I repeat, only indicative and not comprehensive.This takes no note of what tame elephants eat(I know one that has a passion for chewing gum!),and of cultivated crops like sugar cane and millets.

Bamboo is much eaten, and elephants in company often pull down an entire clump to get at the less woody culms; however,no great damage is done thereby, as the aerial shoots come up again from the rhizomes. Tall grasses of several kinds, pandanus, the dwarf date palm (phoenix humilis), and some plants of the arrowroot and ginger families that cover the forest floor in moist localities, are all part of the regular fodder of elephants. The succulent shrub, Ardisia solanacea provides them with water when the summer is dry-it grows in brakes by forest streams.

A number of shrubs,such as Helicteres isora and Hibiscus lampas serve to vary the fodder,and among the trees whose foliage they specially like are species of Albizzia, Zizyphus trinervia,and Grewia tiliaefolia-Diospyros melanoxylon foliage when tender is greatly fancied,and in elephant jungles one often sees young trees of this species pollarded by the beasts making a clean sweep of the crowns. The young shoots of teak and the bark of Grewia species and especially of kydia calycina, are also much relished.

Quite a few fruits, such as those of the screwpine, wild date, Careya arborea,Terminalia bellerlca, and species of Emblica are great favourites with wild elephants. Regarding the last, my experience has been that while some wild elephants like the " nelli " fruit ("amla"), some do not seen to care for it - the fruit is usually picked from the ground, when ripe and fallen, and not plucked from the "nelli" trees.

- M. Krishnan

#This was published on 3 April 1967.

@ The photograph of a herd of Elephants has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
20-02-2018, 10:18 PM
Correction : ...eats from 500 lbs to 600 lbs of green fodder daily.

Saktipada Panigrahi
25-02-2018, 11:15 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: Twisting & turning at top speed:The Sunday Statesman: 25 February 2018
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" The BLACK DRONGO is one of the few birds that practically everyone knows, though we are, as a nation, singularly unaware of the creatures that share this India that is Bharat with us, and the charm that they lend to life here. It is not a big bird, but it is bold and black and energetic, and endowed with a distinctive, deeply cleft tail, the kind of bird that no one can help noticing, so it is noticed and known.

Its names proclaim its character. It is the KING CROW in english, "Bhim raj" in Hindi, and "Valiyan" in Tamil, the last meaning "the powerful one" - no doubt it has other names in other Indian languages indicative of its might in such small compass.

Its mastery in the air, and the ability to twist and turn at top speed, and its fearlessness makes it the terror of all nest-raiders that many imprudently come too close to its nest. It believes in the dictum: "Thrice is he alarmed who has his quarrel just, but four times he who gets his blow in fust" and since justice is on his side when crows and similar thieving birds come near its nest, it is actually seven times armed! It shoots up into the air on quick-beating, broadly triangular wings, and plummets down on the unfortunate crow or kite as if it would transfix the enemy with its beak; invariably the trespasser beats a hasty retreat, and the pair of king crows follow it for some distance, speeding the parting guest.

Many observers have pointed protection from the nest robbers. Such associations, which are not really symbiotic because only one party to it is benefited, are not uncommon among birds and beasts.

King Crows like to perch high, on telegraph wires, posts and the exposed branches of a tree, keeping a sharp look-out for insects and other prey from their vantage point; where there is pasture, they also go riding on the backs of grazing cattle and goats, snapping up the insects that their mobile perches disturb. Unlike bee-eaters king crows often come down to ground to deal with prey that they can see there.

It is in the air that one really sees the bird at its best. The broad but short and sharply pointed wings are a dark, translucent brown when expanded and so is the forked tail, by their sudden changes from translucency when open to black opacity when shut, provide a visual complement to the dizzying twists of the bird's flight, and there is even an audible echo of these movements in the whir that the sharp expansions and contractions of the pinions and rectrices produce.

Early in the morning, before sunrise, king crows indulge in a chorus. Other drongos also do so, and some of them, like the white-bellied and grey drongos, have musical voices by comparison. But though the pre-dawn calls of king crows have a harsh sharpness, at that hour, when it is cold and the blackness is turning to a clear grey, they have an exhilarating quality.

Through the day they are usually silent, but as nightfall approaches they grow vocal again, and often come out with a quick grating double call, almost identical with the call of the shikara. Whether this is mimetic or just due to coincidence is a thing I do not know, though it is true that drongos as a family, are sometimes given to mimicry. But then, why should this shikara-call be sounded only at roosting time and not early in the morning as well? "

- M. Krishnan

* This was published on 12 June 1967.
# The photograph of a Black Drongo has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
25-03-2018, 12:06 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : A Skink would a-courting go : The Sunday Statesman :18 March 2018
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"Of the lizard family one may well say: " How are the mighty fallen!" Once pre-historic lizards dominated life on earth, but those great monsters and dragons died out long, long ago, and today the degenerate representatives of the family scuttle along walls and hedges, and hide in crevices in stone and bark. In fact, with the exception of the crocodiles and alligators, none of them is really dangerous, or even frighteningly big.

All the same, they retain their primitive urges and passions, and are both violent and secretive in their ways. The life of most small lizards consists of hunting prey and escaping being killed, furtive solitude and sudden displays of intimidation. One would expect love to be a brief and somewhat violent urge with such creatures, and in many lizards love is like that. Therefore it was a surprise and a revelation to me when I followed a pair of courting Skinks for five days in my backyard some years ago, and noted that their intimacy was marked by a protracted courtship and many tender overtures that were ludicrously human at times.

They were the common Skinks of our plains (Mabuiya carinata), and both were very big. The female, over 10 inches long, was darker, and had the dark chocolate "hyphen-marks" on the skin prominently displayed; but because it had a regenerating tail, was much less in length; it was markedly paler. Both skins had a faint mauve blush over the dominant olive green of the skin~I do not know if this blush signified breeding condition.

For the first two days, the pair would not allow a really close approach, but thereafter "accepted" me, and I was with the pair from morning till late in the evening each day, seldom further then two yards away, often much nearer. I was using a folding camera with a proxar lens for close up pictures, and had to get the lens an estimated 18 inches from my subjects for the pictures. The pair kept close together, and except occasionally when hunting,were never more than 10 ft from each other. At nightfall the Skinks retired to a pile of stones, and disappeared down the many deep tunnels in the pile, and did not come out till the sun was up next morning.

It was during the early rains, in July-August, that I watched this pair, and at midday, if the sun was shining, they would bask in close proximity, bodies usually touching on a big slab of stone; if it rained, they found ample shelter under this same stone, which had a hollow space beneath it.

There were many other Skinks in my backyard, all of them considerably smaller, and invariably they ran away from the vicinity of the courting couple. The male was gallant in its attitude to its mate, never disputing any prey, and allowing the female to take the cockroaches I offered occasionally.

Tactile stimuli and responses seemed to play an important part in the leisurely progress of the courtship.
The male often snuggled up to the resting female, touching it with the body, sometimes caressing it with the snout. On the fourth day they mated, and mated again, twice. On the fifth day there was a sustained downpour and they disappeared from sight - in fact, I did not see them together again. I saw the female a week later, on the tiles of my bathroom in which it had, apparently, found a congenial home for the rains."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 7 August 1967
#The photograph of the pair of Skinks not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
02-05-2018, 06:18 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : The goggle-eyed one : The Sunday Statesman : 22 April 2018
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" The small group of extraordinary birds known as the Burhinidae is noted for its enormous eyes, its members being nocturnal and crepuscular in their habits. The most familiar of them in our country, the Stone Curlew, is also called the Goggle-Eyed Plover, and its larger relative, the Great Stone Plover to be found along broad rivers and on the the coastline, has even larger eyes.

It is a bird as big as a hen, with a big head on a robust, long neck, and sturdy legs ending in three forward-pointing toes, on which it can run quite fast. The streaky, mottle grey, brown, black and white of its plumage renders it inconspicuous against the stony river beds and sand-banks it frequents, but its great, slightly tiptilted beak, and its huge, staring yellow eyes, sometimes give it away, even from a distance -- and it is seldom one sees it from close by,for unlike the Stone Curlew which freezes and stays put when it sees an intruder, trusting to the cryptic colouration of its plumage, the bird flies off at once, to land a safe distance away, and keep a sharp lookout.

Two years ago, in November, I came across a party of six Great stone plovers on the broad, dry bed of the Torsa in North Bengal; there were many thin streams in the river-bed, most of them shallow and, at one point on the stony, scrubdotted expanses between the streams. I came across these birds. It is said that the Great Stone Plover mates for life and that it usually goes about by itself or in a pair, but at times it associates in small parties, such as the one I saw, when not breeding. Throughout the week I tried ineffectually to get close to these watchful birds to photograph them; they kept very much together, in a close kit.

I would walk casually at a tangent towards them, pretending to be interested in the ground at my feet, and once or twice I even tried walking backwards towards them, though the uneven, pebble-strewn ground did not encourage reverse gear, but however artfully casual I was they would not permit me to get closer than 60 yards-and since there was no cover, a concealed approach was out of the question. As soon as they felt I was too near, they would rise in a body with penetrating, rather plaintive alarms, and skim over the broad bed of the Torsa to another section. Years ago and in the Deccan, I succeeded in getting fairly close to one of these birds, and when it discovered me, it came out with a very different sound of alarm or surprise, a low, harsh "grrr" ----apparently it is given to swearing at intruders on occasion.

The bird also has the the curious habit of jerkily bobbing its head up and down in a quick movement when apprehensive -- a gesture hard to describe in words, but unmistakable, once seen. When I was in North Bengal that November, I noticed that a migratory Lapwing which I also saw on the Torsa's bed and which I could not place exactly had the identical habit. The huge eyes of this bird are said to be adapted to nocturnal hunting, but the birds I saw were feeding actively by day as well-not resting in such shade as there was. They hunted the pebbly ground for crabs and insects and I frequently observed them packing at something and then swallowing it.

The greatest avian night-hunters, the Owls, have their great eyes set side by side in a flat face, to give them frontal, binocular vision. The Great Stone Plover has its eyes very differently placed, on either side of its head, and the eyes can see not only in front and to either side but also behind to some extent --when looking at the back of the head of this bird, one can see the rear rims of the eyes, and from personal experience I am satisfied that it dose not need to turn its head round to see what is behind it--so much of the area of the side of the head does each eye cover."

- M. Krishnan

# This was published on 16 October 1967.
* The photograph of a Great Stone Plover has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
17-06-2018, 03:18 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M.Krishnan : An Elephantine Inhibition : The Sunday Statesman : 17 June 2018
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"SOME YEARS AGO I saw, in a cinema house, a documentary on a kedah, showing the elephants soon after they have been impounded in the stockade. I like wild Elephants too much to care for the sight of them milling around in a panic, bewildered and trapped but an incident in the documentary roused my anger, though it seemed comic to everyone else in the auditorium. A little calf, separated from its mother in that melee was shown approaching a grown cow, which promptly sent it flying with a kick and the commentator said something about the myth that elephants are considerate to all young of their kind.

Well that is no myth and that man said what he did out of ignorance. Anyone who has watched elephants closely will know that never, even when moving in a tight-packed crowd and in a hurry, do the huge adults trample on an infant or kick it accidentally. Such care in social animals in usually instinctive and not the result of an intelligent realization of their responsibilities by the weaker members of the herd. Sometimes such behavior is induced or guided by instinctive reactions to colours.

The phrase "a red rag to a bull", conveys the immediacy of an animal's response to colour, though it has no basis, for bulls are colour-blind and see red only as a shade of grey. Crows as is well known react strongly to something black. On a recent tree-photography trip I used a view camera and the usual square of black cloth a photographer throws over his head to focus on the ground-glass. The crows wee so violent in their response to my black cloth that I had to get it covered with a square of thin khaki after which they left me in peace.

Elephants on the other hand, seem to instinctively avoid contact with anything black. I think they are not able to see things right under them very well and believe that quite a few men who have fallen while running away from a charging wild elephant, or dived into cover and crouched owe their lives to this inability of elephants. In a herd, it is likely that the adults are not able to see an infant that is right beneath or besides them clearly except perhaps as a dark blurred mass and I think the dark colour of the little one serves to save it from being trampled accidentally.

Wild elephants uproot and damage milestones posts and similar things when they are left or painted, white or some light colour but usually leave them alone if painted black - this is further evidence of the theory. An experienced electrical engineer once told me that the bases of the pylons carrying the power-lines through elephant jungles are invariably painted black to save them from being damaged by the great beasts.

An even more interesting example of this instinctive reaction to black is provided by the pilgrims who undertake the climb up Sabarimala in Kerala to the shrine of Aiyappan they wear black shirts and black dhoties not out of regard for any religious convention but out of prudence - they have to traverse through several miles of elephant forests, and believe they are less prone to attack if dressed in black.

At first sight this simple dodge might seem the complete solution to the problems of people living near or right inside elephant jungles. Wild elephants are undoubtedly the animals they dread the most and hostile brushes between the great beasts and men are much more frequent than is generally thought - not all cases of men killed by elephants are reported. It may be thought that in such places all that people have to do to secure immunity from attack by wild elephants is to wear black and tar their shed and dwellings.

I think such a practice will definitely lessen the risk to humanity from wild elephants but not eliminate it. I am thinking of the calf that got kicked in that documentary and also of the fact that animals are often moved by instincts that are mutually opposed, and go by what dominates them at the moment. An elephant may well attack something black when driven by fear or anger as everyone knows, elephants do fight among themselves at times.

In deep hill-jungles where men have not yet occupied their terrain, elephants tend to run away from humanity. But where they have been constantly disturbed and harassed by men who have invaded and occupied their homes and occasionally shot at, they develop a lasting hatred towards humanity. It would be quite necessary to stop the disturbance of the elephants and bar cultivation inside the jungles, before the inhibiting potential of black can be exploited effectively,and that would be an exceedingly difficult thing to do in India today."

- M. Krishnan

# This was published on 19 February 1968.
@ The photograph of a herd of elephants has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
27-06-2018, 08:54 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Myths about Snakes : The Sunday Statesman 13 May 2018
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Myths about Snakes

" ONE afternoon in September some years ago, I walked two furlongs along a forest road to a hilltop rest house, and in the course of that short walk I saw five different Cobras.

They were all medium sized, but I saw them in different places; in the grass and bushes bordering the road. In every case there was no doubt about the identity of the snake, for on a circumspect approach it raised its head and spread its hood in warning at which point I halted and prudently retreated a few paces. Thereafter the snake just went away, slowly and sinuously disappearing into cover. Two of these Cobras were a dark, olive-grey, two were a lighter olive-brown, and one quite pale, a wheaten brown in colour. I can not tell you their sex -- I did not know, and I do not know.

Encountering an elderly tribesman who knew the ways of the creatures of the place, I asked him if he could tell me why so many Cobras were about that afternoon, resting beside but not actually on the road. His answer was to draw me aside by the arm, swiftly and suddenly, and point to the surface of the earth road; near were I had been standing was yet another snake, a small brown Saw-scaled Viper, a snake with a peevish temper and prone to attack, though less deadly than a Cobra.

I said it was sure to rain. We had been having a spell of very dry weather and though I could see no clouds or other signs of a shower, I remembered that once in a place far from where we were, there had been a spell of dry weather and that one morning I had seen three snakes in succession and that shortly afterwards rain had come down in torrents. I told my companion of this, and he nodded his head sagely. Naturally, he argued, if a downpour was in the offing, the snakes would come out in numbers, for if they stayed within their subterranean daytime retreats they would get flooded. He wrinkled his aged nose and announced that he could smell the rain, faintly and far off, and I too, could. Neither that afternoon nor that night nor during the fortnight following I spent in the place was there so much as a thin drizzle.

Subsequently I have consulted men wise in the ways of serpents about a phenomenon, but naturally, with so little circumstantial evidence, they could not say why there should have been so many snakes about that day. I asked one expert if it could be that they were moved by a mating urge and he was non-committal, but remarked that the possibility merited examination. Scent perception is subtle and complicated in snake; they "taste" smell, with the aid of their bifid tongues and a special sensory organ they have (the Jacobsen's organ) and in this they are probably near-scented, but they also go by normal olfactory smells, and therefore are probably also able to scent from far off.

All this being thus, I asked the expert if what I had seen could not be a number of male snakes, attracted by the scent of a female somewhere near, and he agreed that the possibility needed further examination. In the old days, when people believed in myths about snakes and had not the scientific outlook, no doubt anyone could have told me what exactly the sight of so many snakes in succession presaged, but now we know better and are cautious.

Although this has nothing to do directly with this incident, is it not likely that the story so often told, of the revenge of poisonous snakes (notably the Cobra) has also a scent motivation? It is a fact that at times a male and female snake stay in the same area and keep in though with each other, it is also a fact that snakes have been known to behave towards a dead mate and encountering a man turn aggressive. Moreover, being in the same area, the snake not killed is likely to encounter the killer by chance.

It is not necessary to presume that this roundabout explanation is the likeliest. I can say from personal knowledge that Cobras are resentful of human invasion of a territory they are used to and if wounded or harassed they turn very aggressive. It could well be that an attack by the survivor of a pair is intelligent or intentional and directed towards the man on the spot specifically. However, I am unable to find any factual basis for the accounts of the revengeful survivor following the very man that killed its mate over a long distance, and exacting retribution."

- M. Krishnan

# This was published on 27 November 1967.
* The photograph of Common (Spectacled) Cobra with its head raised and hood spread has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
12-08-2018, 01:39 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: The Wild Buffaloes of Assam : M.Krishnan: The Sunday Statesman: 12 August 2018
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" THE WILD BUFFALOES of Assam are really wild --- that is, they have never been tamed. Now, all strains of the familiar village buffalo are descended directly from this wild progenitor and most of them look very like it except that they are smaller and, being domesticated much less aggressive. However,this difference in temperament and build between the wild and the village buffalo is entirely a question of degree and not, as in many other domesticated animals a radical change fixed in the strain.

Take domestic strains of the humped cattle, for instance. In many places in India they have been allowed to run wild and after generations they remain very much what they were. And they finest pedigreed draught breed anywhere, the very distinctive Amrit Mahal was actually evolved under semi-wild conditions so as to improve its mettle and rangy power.

Village buffs, on the other hand, if given their freedom soon become almost indistinguishable from their wild ancestor. The "Wild buffaloes" of Ceylon are really feral, that is domestic stock allowed to run wild. And authentic wild buffalo bulls will seek out village herds and mate with the domesticated cows in them. In fact, near Kaziranga village there is such a wild bull, of imposing proportions.

The point I began with is that Wild Buffaloes in Assam have never been domesticated and that Assam has played a notable part in saving this most magnificent of wild oxen from extinction.

It is a curious fact that although the domesticated buffalo was much-prized all over India 2,000 years ago and exported to other countries, the Wild Buffalo (a peculiarly Indian animal if one excludes Nepal) had a comparatively limited range, more or less confined to the delta areas of eastern India north of the Godavari. It was rapidly wiped out over most of the area, and today it is Assam that is the main stronghold of our Wild Buffalo.

There are several herd distributed over Kaziranga sanctuary but this is not the only sanctuary in Assam which can boast of these noble animals, there are plenty in Manas, and also in the less well-known Laokhowa and Sonai Rupa sanctuaries.

At Mihimukh there was a herd that like many other animals here, permitted a close approach. In Wild Buffaloes the horn is mainly of two types, long sabre-curved and more or less alongside the reck or rising upwards in a steeper curve both horn types occur in the same herd and a cow in the Mihimukh herd (cows generally have longer but thinner horns than the bulls) and quite remarkable horns almost meeting overhead in a circle. The bull of this herd massive and long though not tall, was given to a demonstration that amused me. I took my time gradually getting close to him on elephant back in an aimless-seeming zigzag and every time he felt we were approaching close he would stop stare at us, and then come trotting three steps forwards in an intimidatory gesture to come to a rocking halt about 70 feet away, then he would go back.

Another demonstration indulged in by a long bull we surprised at a wallow was much more the usual threat-gesture of wild oxen, he lowered his head and butted the mire savagely. GAUR bulls and even the bulls of domestic humped cattle demolish termite heaps and mounds of earth in such demonstrations. It is of course wise to halt when any wild animal is demonstrating and beat an unostentatious retreat, but it is my experience that when a Gaur or Buffalo bull really means to charge, he wastes no time on formal demonstrations.

Except that we are familiar with village, buffaloes and that they look so like the wild ones the sanctuaries of Assam would be more renowned for their Buffaloes than even for their Rhinos. Anyway nowhere else is there such a large population of Wild Buffaloes and Assam's achievement in saving these magnificent beasts deserves more acclaim than it has had."

- M. Krishnan

# This was published on 24 June 1968.
* The photograph of a massive buffalo has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
24-08-2018, 12:28 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M.Krishnan : Muckna at Bokani : The Sunday Statesman : 19 August 2018
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[at BOKANI, Kaziranga]

" THE INDIAN ELEPHANT, in spite of name, has a wide distribution outside India, in neighbouring countries such as Ceylon, Burma and Siam. Incidentally it is quite distinct from the African Elephant, and not merely a different species as most people seem to think,the Indian and African Elephants belong to different genera altogether, there is only one species of the genus ** Elephas, E maximus **, which is the Indian Elephant, there are two species of genus Loxodonta, the African Elephant, of which only one is larger than ours.

Usually when an elephant is distributed over several countries, territorial races of it are distinguishable. The Tiger has a few such races, the Manchurian and the Indian, for instance -- within India, the white tigers of Rewa are a distinct kind, if not a race, but I am afraid there is no such animal as the Royal Bengal Tiger. Though ** Elephas maximus** has such a wide distribution in SE Asia, it is impossible to distinguish territorial races of it.

No less an authority than GP Sanderson says that seeing two tamed elephants, one Wild caught in Burma and the other in South India, no one can say which came from where without prior knowledge. For a somewhat different reason, I too think this true. Although I have no personal acquaintance with elephants from Burma, as Sandarson had, I have seen elephants from foot-hills of the Himalayas to the farthest South, and though I have noticed pronounced differences between individuals in their tusks, bodily shape and relative proportions (particularly in large herds) these differences have no territorial basis.

However, certain tendencies are more pronounced or more usual, in some areas than in others, Ceyonese elephants, for example are tusk less. Tusk less Bulls or Mucknas are found all over India and everywhere generally endowed with much thicker trunks than the tuskers and often more powerfully built. But Assam has the greatest number of mucknas of any region, and Kerala probably the least -- the commonness of mucknas in Assam is reflected in their elephant control rules which make it compulsory for a licensee shooting a tusker to shoot a muckna as well.

In South India, Kurwar, and elsewhere I had seen several mucknas, but none that was outstandingly big. So when a kind friend went miles out of his way to inform me that a singularly impressive muckna was visiting the shallow water at Bokam. I set off at once for this remote interior area of the Kaziranga sanctuary.

When I arrived there in the afternoon, after a long ride on elephant back, he was there, on the other side of the bheel. there was no cover and the wind was not favourable but I made my way slowly on foot to the edge of the water for a better look at him. Seldom I have seen as superbly proportioned a bull elephant and I have seen some.

His trunk seemed almost as massive as his thick-muscled limbs and was generously flecked with pink -- the tip being entirely pink -- there were pink flecks on the face and ears too. The tail was so long that the brush at the tip almost touched the ground, and his build was not only massive and powerful but also beautifully balanced. He was in musth, and his cheeks stained black. He did not mind me silting on the water's edge across the bheel but the people behind me moved into view and he made of.

An hour later he was at the long stretch of water directly in front of our camp. Luckily, this water was thickly fringed with tall grass and I could approach unseen. However, when I got near enough the light was dead wrong against me, and I got only a rim-lit silhouette.

By moving 60 feet to one side and getting into the grass and partly into the water a good picture could be taken, but four grass stems were in the way I asked the willing young man who had accompanied me and was now lurking behind to remove them, gesturing with my hands to indicate a sawing with the knife and saying 'cut' I should not have spoken but only gestured. He hacked at the stems and hearing him the great beast moved off.

He didn't go far. He stood behind a tree facing me, and I stayed put on the slippery wet bank,half hidden by grass, I was confident he could not see me unless I moved and perhaps he too felt he could not be seen, standing behind a thick hole that did not hide his great bulk. For fully half an hour he stood there watching, as immobile as an elephant can be. Then, with aloud sigh he turned and disappeared into the forest and we did not see him again.

Subsequently, by two careful measurements of the impress of this forefeet in the clay, making due allowance for the slight spread I found his height at the shoulder was 9 feet 2 inches I have seen taller elephants and a superbly-built tusker just an inch or so under 10 feet in height -- but this muckna impressed me tremendously."

- M. Krishnan

# This was published on 8 July 1968.
* The photograph of superbly-built Muckna has not been reproduced here.

Sabyasachi Patra
27-08-2018, 02:07 PM
The Wild Buffaloes don't often get the recognition they deserve. Such massive fellows. Just because we are used to watching domesticated buffaloes so we don't feel anything new in this species. However, one needs to be a bit cautious. Several times in Kaziranga I found that the wild buffalo herds were cautious and ran away on our approach. Except for one which was wallowing and came very closer to inspect us and gave us some looks, one may get the impression that these are tame creatures. Lest one makes such a mistake and get down from vehicle or move closer if you are on foot, one may get a nasty attack.

In Satyamangalam there is a herd of feral buffaloes. They are known to attack man as they perhaps feel they are going to be again captured. A researcher R. Arumugam's assistant was attacked many years ago. The poor man survived with stitches from the local hospital despite some grass and other vegetation remaining within the body. Perhaps the higher level of resistance power of the tribals helped.

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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: The Wild Buffaloes of Assam : M.Krishnan: The Sunday Statesman: 12 August 2018
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" THE WILD BUFFALOES of Assam are really wild --- that is, they have never been tamed. Now, all strains of the familiar village buffalo are descended directly from this wild progenitor and most of them look very like it except that they are smaller and, being domesticated much less aggressive. However,this difference in temperament and build between the wild and the village buffalo is entirely a question of degree and not, as in many other domesticated animals a radical change fixed in the strain.

Take domestic strains of the humped cattle, for instance. In many places in India they have been allowed to run wild and after generations they remain very much what they were. And they finest pedigreed draught breed anywhere, the very distinctive Amrit Mahal was actually evolved under semi-wild conditions so as to improve its mettle and rangy power.

Village buffs, on the other hand, if given their freedom soon become almost indistinguishable from their wild ancestor. The "Wild buffaloes" of Ceylon are really feral, that is domestic stock allowed to run wild. And authentic wild buffalo bulls will seek out village herds and mate with the domesticated cows in them. In fact, near Kaziranga village there is such a wild bull, of imposing proportions.

The point I began with is that Wild Buffaloes in Assam have never been domesticated and that Assam has played a notable part in saving this most magnificent of wild oxen from extinction.

It is a curious fact that although the domesticated buffalo was much-prized all over India 2,000 years ago and exported to other countries, the Wild Buffalo (a peculiarly Indian animal if one excludes Nepal) had a comparatively limited range, more or less confined to the delta areas of eastern India north of the Godavari. It was rapidly wiped out over most of the area, and today it is Assam that is the main stronghold of our Wild Buffalo.

There are several herd distributed over Kaziranga sanctuary but this is not the only sanctuary in Assam which can boast of these noble animals, there are plenty in Manas, and also in the less well-known Laokhowa and Sonai Rupa sanctuaries.

At Mihimukh there was a herd that like many other animals here, permitted a close approach. In Wild Buffaloes the horn is mainly of two types, long sabre-curved and more or less alongside the reck or rising upwards in a steeper curve both horn types occur in the same herd and a cow in the Mihimukh herd (cows generally have longer but thinner horns than the bulls) and quite remarkable horns almost meeting overhead in a circle. The bull of this herd massive and long though not tall, was given to a demonstration that amused me. I took my time gradually getting close to him on elephant back in an aimless-seeming zigzag and every time he felt we were approaching close he would stop stare at us, and then come trotting three steps forwards in an intimidatory gesture to come to a rocking halt about 70 feet away, then he would go back.

Another demonstration indulged in by a long bull we surprised at a wallow was much more the usual threat-gesture of wild oxen, he lowered his head and butted the mire savagely. GAUR bulls and even the bulls of domestic humped cattle demolish termite heaps and mounds of earth in such demonstrations. It is of course wise to halt when any wild animal is demonstrating and beat an unostentatious retreat, but it is my experience that when a Gaur or Buffalo bull really means to charge, he wastes no time on formal demonstrations.

Except that we are familiar with village, buffaloes and that they look so like the wild ones the sanctuaries of Assam would be more renowned for their Buffaloes than even for their Rhinos. Anyway nowhere else is there such a large population of Wild Buffaloes and Assam's achievement in saving these magnificent beasts deserves more acclaim than it has had."

- M. Krishnan

# This was published on 24 June 1968.
* The photograph of a massive buffalo has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
14-09-2018, 09:26 AM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Hog-deer : The Sunday Statesman : 2 September 2018
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" THE animal I saw most often in the Kaziranga sanctuary, in bush-covered scrub and around bheels was the Hog-Deer -- and still the picture of it here is a zoo specimen.

The Hog-deer has no strongly gregarious feeling like its cousin, the Chital, it goes about by itself, or in a pair or in small parties but both when it is by itself, or in a pair or in small parties but both when it is by itself and when in the company of its fellows, it bolts into cover at the sight or scent of man whether he be on foot or on elephant back. And since it is not a large animal,one needs to get at least within 20 yards for a clear picture even when using a long lens- something I never succeeded in doing I wish now that I had sat up in a hide some likely spot- if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

The Hog-deer, in spite of its dissimilar looks and habits is so closely related to the Chital that it will interbreed with it in captivity I do not know if in nature the two animals interbreed perhaps not for they favour different grounds and their ranges seldom overlap. In the Kaziranga sanctuary there are no Chitals - it is the domain of the Hog-deer as the Jaldapara sanctuary of Bengal also is.

Why did it get its name? It is said that in its thick body and neck the old stag is somewhat porcine and the gait is also said to pig-like " When running it keeps its head low down and moves without that bounding action go characteristic of deer ", says the unusually reliable Prater in his * Book of Indian Animals *.

This sentence has always puzzled me. Most deer run with the head outstretched not held high, when they are bolting- the Sambar and the Muntjak for instance - I think all deer inhabiting bush-clad scrub or tree jungles where there is undershrub do so, and I have seen Chitals running with their heads stretched out when bolting through scrub country. Furthermore I have seen Hog-deer bound along, sometimes bounding along for quite some distance.

In fact it is only when studying an old stag at close quarters in a zoo that I have been able to see any resemblance to a hog. The somewhat grizzled coat of old males, their thick bodies and thick necks, do suggest a far-fetched resemblance to a boar, but certainly not to our Wild Pig. A peccary, perhaps. In short I can see no justification for the name. When one catches a glimpse of Hog- deer borting through cover, it is quite impossible to mistake them for pig for what one sees then is a flash of chestnut, a colour that no one associates with wild pig. sometime in a fleeting glimpse, and in country where both animals occur, I have not been sure whether what I saw was a hog-deer or a Muntjak, but that is about the only mistake that one can make seeing this deer momentarily- incidentally and irrelevantly, the Muntjak, is another deer which suffers from many misnomers .

At certain bheels in the Baguri area, hog-deer are almost gregarious. They are in several parties close to one another in the mornings and evenings sometimes as many as hundred more or less together. Even when bolting they keep close, so that the question whether they are a group of parties or a herd is somewhat academic. But watching from afar the way the groups grazed somewhat apart when undisturbed I am sure they do not run in herds.

Hog deer fawn are spotted and look very like Chital fawn during their first year of life except that the spots are larger and on a darker ground of chestnut-brown.

All meaty creatures are hunted even such unlikely-seeming creatures as rats and adjutants. Being a grass-eater myself, I have no idea of excellence of hog-deer in a steak or curry but I am told though the vension provided by other deer is even better, the hog-deer is eminently edible. And it is thick and meaty. It is hunted wherever it is found, by every class of hunter from those armed with guns to those armed with bows and arrows. In fact, tribals are so much more its enemies than more sophisticated poachers in protected areas, that if only the hog-deer knew its Shakespeare it can ruminate with a much deeper apprehension than we can over the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune! "

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 14 October 1968

# The photograph of the Hog-deer has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
28-10-2018, 10:57 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Barasingha :The Sunday Statesman : 28 October 2018


" In KANHA they call their own distinctive variety of the Swamp Deer Cervus duvaucela branderi, the Barasingha. Using the name for this deer in correspondence with some authorities I have, apparently, caused eyebrows to be raised, and in the replies I received the name was put within quotation marks -- " barasingha ".

The Kashmir Stag is also called barasingha, and evidently the contention of some people is that the name should be limited to that animal,and not be applied to Cervus duvauceli, which should be called the swamp deep. There are two subspecies of the swamp deer, one inhabiting swampy ground and marshes in the Terai, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and the Sundarbans*, which has somewhat spongy and splayed hooves and a comparatively larger skull, scientifically distinguished as Cervus duvauceli duvauceli, and the other the branderi of Madhya Pradesh which lives on hard ground and has compact hooves and in the old stags, darker antlers. In both subspecies the number of tines carried by the adult stag varies, but is generally twelve on each antler,which is why the animal is called "barasingha". The Kashmir Stag (which is a cousin of the Scottish Red Deer) has also often twelve points, but more often more, and is also called barasingha. Both deer have other vernacular names.

In the circumstances, I am unable to see the force of the argument that only the Kashmir Stag should be termed barasingha. On the contrary, there is something gained by calling the Kashmir Stag the Hangul (one of the standarized names), and the hard-ground subspecies of Cervus durauceli the barasingha - the name of Swamp deer can then be applied to the other subspecies. Anyway, the alternative, hard-ground swamp deer is a contradiction in terms.

In a note to follow I shall discuss the decline of the noble deer in Madhya Pradesh and possible schemes of reviving it, here I shall merely record what I saw of it in May last in the Kanha National Park.

There were two main herds, consisting of hinds and a few small stags, about 80 animals in both herds together; in one herd there were 3 young fawns and 2 in the other, the objects of peculiar interest and importance, for they represent the future of a dying race. Apart from these two herds, there was a party of 5 big Stags, all in hard horn; among them was a fine animal which carried what were probably the most magnificent antlers of the tribe, and although I never saw him, I heard that there was another lone Stag in a grove near the lodges even more impressive in build and antlers. There are only about a hundred barasingha in all in Kanha today.

During the day the two main herds could often be seen lying down in the open, very relaxed and chewing the cud. Occasionally I saw a deer lying down with the head flat on the ground at the stretch of the neck, a posture that would render it very hard to see even in low, thin cover. Sometimes a stag ran around with a lot of grass entangled in his antlers, and people said this was the silly animal's attempt at camouflage. Actually,it is no such self-conscious effort, barasingha stags clean their antlers mainly by thrashing the grass with them, and this carrying of grass on the horn is merely the result of this instinctive habit.

What impressed me most was the seeming lassitude of the deep. Swamp deer(of both subspecies) are highly gregarious, more gregarious than any other Indian deer, and where they flourish they go about in vast herds, the herds keeping fairly close to one another. There is a survival value in vast numbers,and apparently these deer, like other deer of the cold North and some birds, are rather dependent on their sheer numbers.

However that might be, the two subspecies of the swamp deer are less unapproachable than say, Sambar or Chital (Chital have become rather tame in places, and I refer only to Chital where they are still very shy). Making allowances for all this, I still thought the Barasingha of Kanha rather simple. I do not know if this lassitude is the result of some debilitating infection or not, but the deer were definitely less wild and warythan the Swamp Deer I had seen in definitely Assam and U.P.

A thing that caused much concern to the authorities of the park was that in recent years the breeding of the deer had been infructuous, too many young being still-born. It was heartening to see young fawns in both the main herds. "

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 16 Feb 1969.

#The photograph of two Barasingha Stags not reproduced here.
*The Swamp Deer is extinct in the Sundarbans now.

Saktipada Panigrahi
02-11-2018, 12:59 PM
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------COUNTRY NOTEBOOK:M. Krishnan : A Hunter turned scavenger :The Sunday Statesman:9 September 2018

" The Greater Adjutant does occur in the Kaziranga Sanctuary; in fact a pair had nested in a tall red silk-cotton tree near Kaziranga village in 1967-68, but it is a rare bird here. The common stork of the sanctuary is the Lesser Adjutant slightly smaller in size without the fleshy pouch at the throat, and with sparse down on its crown, wholly bald in its larger cousin.

I found it wherever I went, on the edges of bheels, or on the swampy or even on dry open land, hunting insects, frogs, fish and even small reptiles and mammals. It was usually solitary. At times I saw an Adjutant parading its beat, and another a hundred yards away, and a third and even a fourth still further off, in clearings inside the jungle it was usually truly solitary.

It was also in the treetops, singly or a few together in a tree. It did not seem to be gregarious in its roosting here, and on several occasions I saw Adjutants roosting by themselves in some tall tree. But when it soared it was always in a party sometimes as many as two dozen getting together to sail in effortless graceful circles on high. All storks are good fliers and given to soaring and an Adjutant on the wing of a very different bird from its grotesquely ugly and large self on land.

Storks stretch their necks straight out in flight, even when soaring -- in fact this is the token of the flight silhouette by which the tribe can be distinguished, even from a great distance, from the Herons and the Egrets. The Adjutant however, folds back its neck in a tight "S" like a Heron when in the air, so that its neck is invisible in flight and only the long bill jutting out in front and the legs trailing behind serve to distinguish it from a vulture when it is soaring in company on high at such times of course, it can never be mistaken for a heron, for herons are not given to soaring. But often it circles so high that the bill and legs can hardly be seen.

Although it does not seem to congregate at garbage heaps as its greater cousin does, this Adjutant too is given to scavenging, when the opportunity offers. When something dies and vultures gather to feast the Adjutants too are there, to take their share but never in a crowd like vultures -- only one or two, or at best a few along with the regular carrion feeders.

The Adjutant's broadsword bill is not suited to rending flesh, and so it waits till a vulture near it has detached a piece of flesh from the carcass, and then robs it. Feeding vultures are highly rapacious, and gobble up what they are able to tear apart in a great hurry so that any bird robbing them has to be very alert to get any thing at all, but the Adjutant is a fast mover when it has to be.

I watched an Adjutant at a bheel in Bokani for over an hour using the small but efficient telescope that the normal lens of my 35 mm camera becomes when a special eye-piece is screwed on to it. It stood slumped and inert at the water's edge as all hunting waterside birds stand and in repose its neck was partially or even wholly retracted; when it sighted prey, the bill did not dart out at the end of the shot-out neck in a lightning thrust as the bill of herons and darters do but the necks was slowly extended till the great down-pointed bill was above its victim and then with a smooth movement the prey was neatly picked up between the mandibles~for all its seeming resemblance to a broadsword, the bill of the bird is really a giant pair of pincers. I could not always see what prey it had caught, as most of the time the bird rudely turned its back on me, but only once or twice when apparently it had caused a frog, did it jerk, drop and grab the prey to kill it, a fish it caught was held crosswise in the bill at first, then neatly turned lengthwise without being dropped, and finally swallowed, very much in the manner of Black necked Stork.

In February when I was in the sanctuary, the Adjutants were not breeding. But I saw a few nests presumably the previous year's. The bird is said to nest gregariously, but several nests I saw were by themselves, high up red silk-cotton trees."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 28 October 1968

# The photograph of the Adjutant Stork not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
25-11-2018, 10:36 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M.Krishnan : Darker and Smaller : The Sunday Statesman : 25 November 2018

" Over many seasons of observations of Gaur in Mudumalai Sanctuary of Madras, I gained the impression that there are two kinds of them -- the differences between them are not sufficiently marked for any distinction into two sub-species, and they frequent the same forests and are found together, and both kinds are quite distinct from wheat coloured Gaur of the Pulneys I noticed the difference between Gaur years ago when watching a composite herd split into two, the smaller and darker cows, with long, black hair on the threat formed a herd, while the larger, lighter brown cows with no long hair on the throat formed another herd; the herd bulls in either herd were big, but the larger of them went with the larger sized cows.

Now this sanctuary, alongwith the Bandipur Sanctuary of Mysore, is probably the best area in the world to study Gaur, and in subsequent years I kept a sharp lookout for the two kinds I had noticed, in the Karudi AND Theppakkadu areas of Mudumalai Sanctuary.

Gradually I felt surer that there were two kinds, and that not environment but heredity (Gaur herds are largely family parties and both kinds share the same territory) was responsible for their differences.

Once a visit to the Periyar Sanctuary of Kerala in 1960, I noticed that the Gaur herds I saw there were of the larger, browner kind.

I should make it clear here that the differences between two kinds is hard to make out in the adult bulls, whether they are herd bulls or lone bulls and it is the grown cows that one can discern these differences so hard to put into precise words -- in the main, it is that in one kind the cows are smaller, much darker, and with long, black hair on the throat, and that in the other kind the cows are big, varying in coat from a deep umber to a light raw umber and have better developed horns ~ incidentally, the largest bulls I have seen had a distinct brownness to their black, particularly on the flanks. This is not a difference arising from differences in age, for it is clearest in the adult cows of either kind.

The Gaur I saw in the Kanha National Park belonged to the darker and smaller kind.

All the cows I saw had long, black hair on the throat~ I have seen similar, but noticeably smaller cows in the Palamau National Park of Bihar. Although in fine condition and well developed, the Gaur at Kanha (even the biggest bulls) definitely do not attain the size the animals do in the Western Ghats.

Kahna offers exceptional amenities to a herbivore that is mainly a grazer like Gaur, for the rolling maidans offer it excellent pastures. But it is not always that animals follow logic in such matters -- Chital for example, seem to reach their best development (and are most gregarious) in open jungles and scrub, and not in tree forests where the under-shrub is lush.

At Kanha
I think Gaur look their best on open ground. One sees their superb musculature and build to the best advantage in clear lighting against a homogeneous background. At Kanha one can see them in the open maidans, and at times in numbers -- I saw a herd of 27 including the big bull and two calves one evening.

On another occasion I saw three bulls grazing in company on a rise above a nullah. They are more or less of a size (one the oldest was a shade smaller and other two almost identical) very black and shiny and all three past their prime.

Incidentally I believe that the darker and smaller kind of Gaur that the hair slips with old age in the bulls, the black shinning skin showing through. I have seen big bulls of considerable age in the South whose coats were fully covered with hair -- the biggest bull I have ever seen was a uniform Vandyke brown all over."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 4 May 1969

# The photograph of a large Gaur has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
29-12-2018, 09:25 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Stag parties in Kanha : The Sunday Statesman : 18 November 2018


" I looked for Stag-parties of Chital in the Kanha National Park. Here, as in places in Uttar Pradesh, the deer can be seen in large herds in comparatively open country, and on somewhat similar ground. In the Masinagudi area of the Mudumalai Sanctuary of Madras, I have repeatedly observed large Stag parties in September- October.

In other gregarious deer, such as Swamp Deer, such seasonal schools of adult males are well known.

Chital are highly gregarious, particularly when living not in tree forests, but in open scrub jungles; but so far as I know, no one before me has reported regular herds of Stags among them. I have watched such Stag-parties in the Masinagudi area over many years -- in September-October herds consisting only of Stags, at times over 150 in strength, can be seen here; some of the Stags are in hard horn, some in velvet and quite a few have polled heads, having just shed their antlers, so that from a distance (and it is hard to get close to these deer in the open country) they look like big hinds.

However, by watching them through glasses as they crossed a ridge in a line, silhouetted against the I had satisfied myself that there were only adult Stags in the herd. Sometimes (and this is true of Swamp deer, too) an old or sub-adult hind or two may be found with a school of Stags, but this does not make it any less of Stag-party.

In Kanha, I was not able to see any large school of Chital Stags. But I was there in May; may be in the cold weather, after the rains, there are big herds of Stags to be seen here too, though the grass and herbage will be obscuringly tall then. However, I did see quite a few small parties,from 3 to 9, consisting entirely of stags. These were in hard horn, and among them were some superb animals, with magnificent antlers. Many of them were limping, and carried flesh wounds.

There is no definite rut, confined to a particular season or part of the year, among Chital, even in North India; Stags in velvet and in hard horn, and very young fawns, may be seen at all seasons. Moreover, the courtship is a rather prolonged process as among most herbivores, though the climatic act of mating is quick, a fact little appreciated by most naturalists and unknown to quite a few of them. As in most deer, Chital stags, when they engage in combat, attack each other from close quarters and with savage fury. The brunt of the sudden forward thrust, with the head lowered and the entire body weight behind it, is usually borne by the clashing, interlocking antlers, one of the combatants gets pushed back after awhile, and disengaging its locked antlers, turns quickly round and runs away, but it does not always escape unscathed; a glancing thrust from the antlers of the opponent, following up, often inflicts a nasty flesh wound. Apparently the limping stags I saw were fellows in misfortune, suffering from such wounds."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 6 April 1969.

#The photograph of Chital stags in a herd not reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
01-01-2019, 11:52 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : The Slender Loris : The Sunday Statesman : 30 December 2018


" By the time I was 41, I had to admit that I had lost my long fight with myself, and that what people euphemistically term the spread of middle age, and botanists more bluntly secondary thickening had overtaken me. And on my forty-first birthday I wrote these lines on the Slender Loris, in envy and regret.

I wish I were a Slender Loris
And not a massive human being.
In such a change of course
Much more is
Lost that is gained, for though agreeing
With men in lacking tail and manners,
On evolution's path it lingers
Bar back' we have reached the
All the days it sleeps with shaking Fingers
Over sun-shy eyes, no fasination
Lmoels its night; slow-limbed
The stories
Or trees it climbs for insect plunder.
But still I wish I were a loris --
Beyond all argument it's slender

By no means an inspired verse, but factually very sound. The Slender Loris (and even the Slow Loris of north-east India, with its body and limbs much thicker) is a featherweight, the size of a kitten and slim, with a very narrow waist and hard, thin limbs; the great goggle eyes are set on by a patch of dark fur around each of them and as one might guess from its owl-face and big, round orbs, it is a creature of the night.

It is highly arboreal, and spends the day in sleep, deep in the shady cover of a tree top, with its face buried in its chest, bird like and often with its hands over its eyes to shed them from the glare, especially when it is forced to keep awake by day. It is from its round face and its habit of shading its eyes with its hands that it gets its Hindi name, Sharmindi-billi (the bashful cat).

Lorises are among the small creatures the are missed easily, and so are seldom seen.In fact I can recall seeing a loris only thrice-a pair of slow Lorises high up a tree in Bhutan,and a Slender Loris twice in the south, also up trees and on both occasions late in the evening. Unfortunately for it, the slender Loris is credited by superstition with the ability to bring one luck, and its gnomelike looks are so unusual the it is commonly kept in a cage and exhibited in zoos, and as a captive animal (usually exposed to much more glare that it can tolerate) it is by no mean unfamiliar.

It is not only that they do not give it a cage large enough and deadly enough small in sleen in comfort through the day on some suitable perch -- they often give it the wrong diet as well, bread-and-milk and bananas. I do not know if a slender Loris is exclusively insectivorous when wild; perhaps it also eats eggs and even small tree-living lizards when it can find them, and soft fruits and other vegetarian fare. But I am quite sure that it dose need insect food or some suitable substitute.

In fact, its dentition is hardly that of a fruit-eater and, as I learnt in the most unpleasant manner imaginable, it has sharp teeth. To get the picture reproduced here I had the two captive Lorises taken out of their cage and placed on a long length of tamarind bough, with one end planted into the earth. Somehow those Lorises did not want their picture taken. As soon as they were put on the bough, they climbed quickly down and made for the security of their cage, moving over the ground at an awkward, shambling shurie much faster than on the bough, I caught them both and gently redeposited them on the bough, and in the process got a sharp nip from one, which confirmed my views on its dentition.

A man whom I know, who kept a Loris for a pet, told me that the animal once made a bid for liberty, and on being chased, entered a pool of water and swam across, using a rhythmic breast-stroke, only to be caught on reaching the farther bank. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this report, but believe it, for most animals can swim when they have to."

- M.Krishnan

This was published on 13 July 1969
#The photograph of Lorises has not been reproduced here.

Sabyasachi Patra
21-01-2019, 11:34 AM
Sighting of a slender-loris is so difficult these days unless one is out in the night with torch. I would love to see one swim. Wonder how fast it can swim.

Murugan Anantharaman
30-01-2019, 07:51 AM
I have never seen a loris in India. I was fortunate to spot a slow loris last year when in the jungles of Borneo. There were 2 of them, large eyes, one had a brown coat and the other a greenish tinge in its coat, moving super slow but distinctly looking at our torch light.

Saktipada Panigrahi
24-02-2019, 06:45 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : The Mocking Bird : The Sunday Statesman : 10 February 2019


(Green Pigeon)

" Those who have spent some time in the deeper forests might have heard, probably when they were alone and immobile, a loud, fluent, mocking bird voice and looked for its source and found nothing. Bird-calls are difficult to render in words because, lacking consonant and even defined vowels, it is only their fortuitous resemblance to familiar phrases in their syllabic break-up that provides the rendering into words, and this is dependent as much on the hearer as on the call. But about the undercurrent of mockery in this particular call-to human ears- there is little doubt.

The first time I heard the call I had been following a heard of elephants along a forest road, and on leaving the road to continue following the great beasts lost them suddenly round a bend (a thing which is quite easy to do, in spite of the huge size of elephants). After a while I realized that I had also my way, and didn't have the foggiest notion where the road was. I tried getting back to the road along a nullah and after two miles sat down in the shade of a giant flaf for rest and reorientation. It was then that I heard this call. I could not place the direction from which it came exactly, though the call was loud and seemed quite close, and although I looked hard all around and above I could see nothing that might have been responsible for the sound. Then I heard it again and though I could not see the bird, it was very clear to me what it was saying. "You fool !" it said "you are miles from the road". I was.

It was only after another such experience with the voice that I located its owner; it was the Harial (the Green Pigeon) and naturally I had missed seeing it; against a leafy tree top the bird is almost invisible- and with a call so uncolumbine in its accents and intonation, even if I had seen a Harial near where the call came from, I would have looked elsewhere for my bird.

Last summer, near Churna in M.P., I tried sitting up during the day beside the only stream in the neighbourhood, a mere chain of half-a-dozen elongated, shallow puddles in the dry, sandy, rocky bed of the stream. It seemed most unlikely that any animal would come there during the scorching heat of the day, but the concentration of Sambar and Pig slots on the impressionable sand tempted me to put up a hide of dry grass and sit up for two days. At the end of it, it was clear that the animals came to the water only after sunset, but the bird life of those little pools was most interesting. In the evening flocks of Harial and Rose ringed and Plum- headed Parakeets came there, to guzzle the coarse river sand.

Right by my hide there was a leafless, twisted tree, bristling with dry branches, and I counted over 30 Harials in it they quarreled for perches on it like all pigeons, and they were very pigeon- like in their take off with audibly flapping wings, and they sat there for an hour or longer peeking all round to make sure that no one was there in the neighbourhood, before they dropped to the stream-bed to drink and eat sand. I had ample opportunity to listen to them and noticed that a cock serenading a hen on a treetop, further up the bank, had a recognizably pigeon-like call, very different from the usual, mocking call. I thought of many renderings of the common call, but came up with nothing better than
"You fool ! You are miles from the road".

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 5 October 1969

# The photograph of the birds on stream-bed has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
25-02-2019, 08:55 PM
Apropos of the posting above on 24-02-2019 : 6.45 p.m, the Correct Caption may please be read as under:


(Green Pigeon)

I sincerely regret for the mistake.
Saktipada Panigrahi

Saktipada Panigrahi
04-03-2019, 11:32 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Elephants in Musth : The Sunday Statesman : 3 March 2019

" THERE were quite a few tuskers in the herd of Elephants ( which I thought a composite herd ) at the Corbett National Park, and in the evenings, when they came out of sal cover and crossed open ground to get the water, they were usually by themselves. There was a small, mean-looking old bull with both tusks broken off short who was said to have a nasty temper, and a massive, medium-sized bull with short blunt tusks, also well past his prime, who had the habit of grazing steadily towards human intruders till they moved off. Besides these, there were three sub-adult tuskers, and I thought that was the lot.

Then one evening a much more impressive bull, with yard-long symmetrically curved tusks, taller than other bulls and longer and heavier in the barrel came out of the sal forest. The herd and oter bulls were half a mile away, and this bull crossed the narrow belt of open scrub behind the rest house and made straight for the Ramganga.

I had a good look at him as he crossed the clearing, the slanting light of the descending sun illuminating him warmly and bringing out every little surface detail in sharp relief. He was in his prime, probably about 40 or 45 years old, with a black skin flecked with pink on the trunk and a pink trunk-tip, and covered thinly with red dust, and on either side of the face, between eye and ear there was red patch, as if the iron of his hide rusted there - this was where the dust had settled on the sticky exudation from his musth glands.

I followed him discreetly, keeping well behind, as he went down the boulder-strewn path through the forest to the river. Once he was at the water, it was possible to approach much closer among the opposite bank but although the photographer in me urged me to do so. I had the sense to stay hidden at a sufficient distance so that I could watch once again a big tusker in musth spraying the cooling water over the irritating patches on either side of his brow where the secretion from the musth glands had spread over the skin.

Bull elephants in musth, as I reported in this column some years ago, often carry clinging, hard-packed day on their tusks, even after bath, and I had supposed because they had used their tusks, after a bath, and i had supposed this was because they had used their tusks to dig up something, some corm or luber deep in the earth, which when they are in musth, the deep digging fixing the earth so firmly on to the ivory that even subsequent spraying with water could not wash it off - I have seen a tusker swim right across the fast flowing Periyer with his head submerged most of the time and when he climbed ashore the mud was still clinging to his tusks.

Soon after a bath, the elephants throw dust, or at times mire, all over themselves; this habit cannot possibly fix the earth so firmly to the tasks that it stays on after the next bath - there should be no confusion on this account.

Well, I spent one of the pleasantest hours I have have lived through watching the great beast drink deep at the Ramganga and then spray the water systematically all over his head and body. Then clean-washed and glistening black, he crossed the river where it was shallow, climbed on to the bank on which I was, and searched around till he found a suitable patch of dry earth which he kicked up with his forefeet till it was loose and powdery; then picking up
( Contd.)

Saktipada Panigrahi
04-03-2019, 01:16 PM
Elephants in Musth
(contd. from previous page)

... the dust in his trunk, he threw it over himself. After this, he went up to the steep earth bank, and selecting a clear spot on its perpendicular wall, drove its tusks into it, using his great mass to bury them deep, and stood leaning his weight against the bank. Luckily, I had a small pocket-telescope with me (the normal lens of my 35 mm camera screwed on to a special eyepiece, and most useful implement) and was able to watch entire operation closely.

As he stood, leaning his buried tusks, the compression of the attitude on the head and face caused the musth to flow out of the temporal glands, and no doubt the fact the pores in the skin over them have been freshly washed free of all clogging matter helped in this. I suppose elephants in musth get some relief by expressing the secretion from the tumid glands in this manner. After a while he leaned back, pulled his tusks out of the earth and sauntered away, and I noticed lumps of impacted clay sticking to his tusks, and realized at last what causes tuskers in musth to carry hard clay on their ivory."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 14 December 1969.

# The photograph of the lone tusker in musth has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
29-05-2019, 01:36 PM
__________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ___________________________________________
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Fish, Feathers and Oil : The Sunday Statesman : 19 May 2019
__________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ___________________________________________


" FISH as everyone knows, lives in the water and naturally the creatures that live by hunting them have to seek their prey beneath the surface, in rivers and lakes and estuaries. However, not all these hunters, particularly among the birds, swim submerged in hunting their prey.

Egrets and Herons and their tribes wade in the shallows, catching their victims with a lightning down-ward thrust of their beaks, their long, retracted necks being violently extended to power the movement.

Kingfishers and Raptorial fish-eaters ( such as Sea Eagles and Ospreys ) plunge down from the air at the surfacing fish, grabbing the prey in their beaks and talons, and Pelicans often hunt in company (as cormorants also do at times) driving the fish towards one another and scooping them up in their capacious beaks.

The Darter, however, is a true underwater hunter, and a bird that hunts alone. It drops quietly from its perch into the water with hardly so much as a splash, and goes scouting for fish under water, lifting its dagger-billed head and long, snaky, powerfully-kinked neck above the surface from time to time to breathe or to have a look around, or to swallow its catch - the popular name that it has, " Snake-bird ", come from the resemblance that it has then to a snake in the water raising its head above the surface.

It does not spear its prey, spitting it through on the pointed bill, as was once supposed but catches it like any other fish-eater, between its mandibles. It swallows its prey in the air, raising its head above the surface, and flicking the fish deftly into the air to catch it, usually head down and swallow it.

After a spell of hunting, it leaves the water and flies up to some convenient perch, an exposed branch of a waterside tree or a column or deadwood projecting from the surface, and spreading its ample wing and long tail, sits airing them. And when they are properly dry, it oils its plumage carefully, rubbing its bill over the gland just above the tail to smear it with oil, and then rubbing it all over its feathers.

A water-bird does not take kindly to overmuch oiling of its plumage, for once the delicate but firm inter-meshing of the hair-like bards that make up each feather gets clogged with oil, the bird cannot fly and loses the airiness of its feathers. It is because of this the pollution of the sea with waste oil from coastal factories kills off great numbers of oceanic birds. What is needed is just a little oil on the feathers, to keep the water from rendering them soggy, and not too much of it, and the oil-gland of the bird produces the right grade and quantity needed for this thin insulating film.

Cormorants (close relative of the Darter) have the same habit. After a spell of underwater hunting, they too sit atop exposed perches and hangout their wings to dry before oiling the plumage. But they lack dagger bill and long, strong snaky neck, and almost reptilian plumage pattern of the Darter."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 26 July 1970.
The photograph of a waterbird hanging out its wings for drying has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
06-06-2019, 05:55 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : A King among Fishers : The Sunday Statesman : 02 June 2019


" EDWIN Arnold was never a major poet. Even in India and as author of THE LIGHT OF ASIA he is, probably unfamiliar to most people today.But in the course of his classic on the Buddha's life he describes many Indian birds rather prettily and among them the Pied Kingfisher which he calls " the Pied Fish-Tiger ".

Not a specially happy appellation, I think. There are other birds that hunt fish which have the power and predatory features and fierceness that would fit the name better, the Osprey and the Fish-Owl, for instance, though I concede they are not pied black and white.

However, the fish would probably agree with the poet for there are few more inveterate fish-hunters. Perhaps this bird is the most piscivorous of the kingfishers, though it does at times take other small fry from water, it lives almost entirely on fishes mainly on the smaller kinds. It is never found away from water, and while it frequents lakes ans estuaries as well it is typically a bird of broad, fast-flowing rivers. I have never seen it at a pond, as I have seen others of its tribe.

The manner of hunting too is much more active and predacious than that of other kingfishers. It does not sit perched on some bank or bough overlooking water keeping a sharp watch for approaching prey, but flies low and swift over the water, and when it spots a rising fish, it hovers above it on quick-beating wings, hanging in the air very much in the manner of a Kestrel, and then plummets straight down on its victim. It may plunge a foot or more into the water to reach the unlucky fish, and it is not often that it misses its aim.

On this point, however, I am unable to agree entirely with other observers, who say it rarely fails to come up with prey. I have seen it come up empty-billed many times. Recently at the Periyar Sanctuary of Kerala, I had the opportunity to watch four of these kingfishers (two pairs, I think - this bird is often to be seen in pairs, separated by some distance while hunting) for a whole hour, one afternoon. Naturally I was not able to watch all the birds all the time, because they were hunting a considerable stretch of water and I could not observe the other birds while watching one of them. But from 27 plunges, only 17 were successful. Incidentally the bird in my picture (one of the four birds I watched at Periyar) is a male. The female Pied Kingfisher lacks the double necklace, having only one incomplete band of black across the white chest."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 23 August 1970.
#The photograph of the male Pied Kingfisher has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
07-07-2019, 10:46 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Monkeying in the deep : The Sunday Statesman : 7 July 2019
(Swimming ability)

" THE MACAQUES as a family, are good swimmers. The Rhesus, the most familiar monkey of the North, does not take to water, can even swim submerged for some distance. Once I saw a Rhesus plunge into the water and swim about 10 yards submerged before surfacing and have many times seen these monkeys actually preferring a short cut across water to skirting a large pool, when at some convenient point the farther bank was near. They are not afraid of deep water, but take care to avoid strong currents.

Many people must have read newspaper accounts of a big Rhesus Monkey that plunged into a lake to rescue a human child that had fallen in. I was unable to verify this story, but see nothing intrinsically impossible in it. An unreasoned, instinctive urge to rescue an infant of its own kind in similar circumstances might well have been extended to a human infant.

My picture will prove that the Bonnet Monkey, the commonest monkey of the South and a macaque, is also a strong swimmer and does not hesitate to carry its baby with it while swimming, riding high piggy back and not clasped to the abdomen as usual, naturally not! The she-monkey was crossing a deep, wide temple pond when I took the picture.

Nothing is known about swimming abilities of the other Macaques of India -
the pigtailed and stumptailed macaques of Assam and liontailed monkey of the Southern hills. But probably they can swim well. I was given an account of how a liontailed macaque swam across the deep pool beneath a waterfall in Courtallam (in which pool I was nearly drowned), by man who claimed to have watched the feat.

But do Langurs swim? I doubt they do. Of the four Langurs in our country, three (the Nilgiri black Langur, the Golden Langur and the Capped Langur) are highly localised forest monkeys of whose life we know little. The Golden Langur (presbytis qeei) occurs in the Bhutan side of Manas, but from enquiry I learnt it was not* to be found on the Indian side. That proves nothing. The Manas is a wide fast-flowing river that most animals might not care to cross.

But I doubt if Langurs swim. I have mentioned three highly restricted kinds of Langur, and the fourth, the Common Langur, is not only common but is also the only monkey with an All India distribution from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas, from Maharashtra to Assam. I have often watched it near water in many different forests in the country (for it is essentially a forest monkey) and though it drinks regularly, the caution of its approach to water and the way it hugs the land while drinking, preferring to drink from puddle near a lake or pond direct, suggests a distrust of water.

I wonder if some reader who has been more fortunate than I can tell me if he has actually seen a Langur in deep water, and if at a pinch it can swim some distance, say, when it has accidentally fallen into deep water. Many animals which seldom enters water can swim a few yards, inexpertly, if they must. Even I can."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 18 October 1970

* The Golden Langur (discovered in 1956) has subsequently been found in the adjoining and other forests of Assam in India. .
# The photograph of a She-Bonnet Monkey with baby riding on her back swimming and crossing a pond has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
28-07-2019, 12:24 PM
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COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : A Tiger of the Treetops : The Sunday Statesman : 28 July 2019
__________________________________________________ _______________________________________

Crested Hawk-Eagle

"IN September, going along a forest road at the foothills of the Nilgiris I saw a bird of prey in a treetop far ahead of me. It was sitting hunched on a horizontal branch, tearing with its beak at something held in its talons.
I was curious to know what it had killed, the prey seemed to be no bird, being a brown-grey mass with no feathers.It is a sound rule to presume that any bird you can see has seen you already, for a bird's vision is infinitely sharper and longer than ours. But this was bent on what it was doing, literally bent over its prey, and I thought I could creep up from behind for a closer look.

In this I succeeded better than I had hoped to. I got right up to the tree it was on without its being aware of me, but the bole hid it from view. Keeping my body behind the bole, I leaned my head out to one side and peered up.

It was a Crested Hawk-Eagle and its victim was a young hare - that much I could see at once. I could get only a back view of the bird, but the thick, powerful legs, feathered white to the toes, and the dark white-tipped plumes on top of the head dancing in the breeze is unmistakable. Evidently the kill had been made only minutes previously - the belly skin had been flayed and the bird was tearing at the flesh, and a slow, dark drop of viscous blood dropped down from the bough.

I kept still and silent, but all at once it knew I was there. It lifted its head from the hare, and keeping the body immobile, slowly turned its head to look down at me along its back; one glaring cadmium-yellow eye and then both as the face was turned further round stared down at me and then it lifted its wings slightly, took a small hop along the bough, and shed into the air the hare held in both feet, with only its head and long ears dangling down from the comprehensive clutch of the talons. With strong even beats of its powerful wings the Hawk-Eagle crossed the clearing, flying low, rose effortlessly above the tree-line sailed beyond and dropped out of sight behind the trees.

That hare was only three quarters grown and probably weighed only three pounds but still I felt surprised at the ease with which the bird handled its prey - after all that Crested Hawk-Eagle which was only a little larger than a Common Kite (though it had powerful pillar-like legs and thick murderously taloned toes) could not have weighed much over four pounds - from its slim compact build I thought it was a male - as in most birds of prey, the female is bigger built and more powerful.

Years ago in a rather similar open tree forest, I saw a Crested Hawk-Eagle carrying a fully grown hare, and more recently a giant squirrel. There are eagles much larger in size than this hawk-eagle, but this is a far bolder and fiercer hunter than they, in fact, the Hawk-Eagles as a tribe are among the greatest hunters among birds, and attack and kill prey larger than themselves, such as peafowl, which few of larger eagles do.

Though a handsome and impressive bird when seen from near from near its mottled browns and yellows merge with the colour and texture of bark and boughs, and it is inconspicuous in the treetops which it loves.It flies strongly and I think it has a longer wing than text-books give it credit for and it soars at times as well, but it is essentially a bird of tree-tops.

From its elevated perch it keeps a sharp lookout, often bobbing and angling its head to get a sharper focus, for something to come out of the cover into the open a bird, or a small mammal or even a snake. It drops swiftly down on its victim and the powerful talons squeeze the life out of it, the beak being also used to kill it at times. Its mode of hunting is more a specialised kind of thug-gery than the long soaring flights and spectacular stoops of the eagles and falcons - in fact it hunts rather like a Short-winged Hawk, lurking in cover to kill, and that is probably why it is called a Hawk Eagle."

- M. Krishnan

# This was published on 7 March 1971
+ The photograph of the Hawk-Eagle has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
09-08-2019, 10:56 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Wallowing in the mire : The Sunday Statesman : 4 August 2019
Wallow in the mire

" AFTER A BATH, especially after swimming across a river, Elephants love nothing better than to kick up the earth into a fine powder with their forelegs, and to dust themselves all over their gleaming bodies with the dry earth.Very young calves,and even older calves do not indulge in these dust-baths after a plunge into water but the sub-adults do.If there is a patch of mire handy,they proceed to it a and squirt the mud all over themselves and while cows also indulge in this slinging of mud over themselves it is the grown bulls that seem fondest of it, wallowing in the mire till they have acquired a regular plaster of it over their bodies, heads and limbs.

Obviously, a wallow in the mire is cooling and gratifying when the sun (which our elephants do not like) is hot especially in dry summer. But even when it is cloudy and the air is humid, as during the monsoons,elephants love a mud-lark. I have watched a herd of a dozen elephants spend over an hour in a shallow, muddy pool on an overcast September day picking up the mire in the crook of their trunk tips and slinging it over themselves and even their fellows. Only a young cow, with an infant calf (barely a week old) refrained from the orgy. Even Quite young calves will lie down and play in the their trunks to fling it over themselves till they are older.

As said, it is the bulls, especially the lone bulls (which feel no urge to follow the herd when it moves off) that indulge most zestfully in these mud-baths.Years ago I came upon a tusker that was a deep crimson all over except for a little white showing through on his tusks he had dusted himself with some dry fine, crimson earth after a good mud-bath. However, the muddiest elephant I have ever seen was a long bull I saw in the Bandipur Sanctuary of Mysore in October,1968.

He was behind a big bush, and it had been drizzling, and for a moment I thought he was a huge anthill wet with the rain. Then it occurred to me that a wet anthill would not gleam with oozing mud, and I looked again and saw the anthill moving. He was looking at us from behind that bush,and when we stopped he came out into the open for a closer look - a tusker so comprehensively plastered with mud that even his tusks were a dark glistening raw umber, that had evidently been enjoying a thorough roll in a patch of deep mire, about a furlong away.

My picture, in black-and-white though clear enough, does not adequately convey the muddiness of old Muddy as I saw him then.He was just a moving mass of clayey wet earth, with no surface detail, and with his features merging into one another because of their common, umber- coloured earth nesa.

Various reasons have been assigned for this elephantine love of mud-other animals,too,pig rhinos and wild buffaloes(and even tame ones),love a good wallow in the mire.All these animals have thick hides,and the elephant and rhino with the hide much creased in addition. Undoubtedly mud serves to cleanse their creased and pitted skin more thoroughly then water especially when coated on after a plunge in water, for it clings on till dry and then flakes off.The virtues of a good plaster of mud as a cutaneous tonic and palliative area known even to smooth thin-skinned humanity, but probably this logical, cause-and-effect reasoning dose not adequately cover the question. There is also the recreational and voluptuous enjoyment of a mud-bath to be considered."


@ This was published on 28 March 1971
# The photograph of a massive tusker has not been reproduced here

Saktipada Panigrahi
01-09-2019, 10:13 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : Tiger, tiger, not burning bright :The Sunday Statesman:1 September 2019

" THE TIGER, according to the experts, does not burn bright in the forests of night, and even by day its orange-ochre and white pelage boldly striped with black is obliterative serving to break up contour and merge with the streaky grass and bushes. In assessing the cryptic patterning of the tiger's coat two things should be remembered. First, most of the animals it preys on (deer, pig, cattle and the like) are colour blind so far as we know and can see things only in terms of black grey and white, somewhat like panchromatic film. Second at night when light levels are low and the tiger usually hunts even our colour sensitive eyes cannot readily distinguish between colours.

I have had considerable difficulty in spotting a leopard in the under-shrub and even been totally unable to make it out from near, but not a tiger. No doubt that is because of the tigers much larger size. But even when in heavy cover when it is only glimpsed through intervening foliage and twigs the tigers face has certain conspicuous features the circles of white around the eyes (the "sunspots") marked with black bars and spots the white whiskers framing the face and the white chin (closely spotted with black only near the mouth) its mask gives away the tiger when it looks up at one from cover. However when hunting or hiding it seldom looks up. It keeps its head lowered as if it knows in some dim instinctive way that by lowering its head its chin would no longer be visible,and that even its whiskers and "sunspots" would be less noticeable in the fore-shortened view. The white underside of the body and the white insides of the limbs heavily striped with black, are naturally not seen when the animal is in cover or crouching.

The other greater cats have no harlequin masks. The lion and the puma, the leopard and the jaguar, have less conspicuously white chins and whiskers and hardly any "sunspots". But if you wish to know how truly obliterative a tiger's seemingly vivid colouring is you have only to go to one of these modern zoos where they have a large open air enclosure, planted with tall grass and bushes and insulated by a deep moat into which they let out lions and tigers (sometime by turns). You will then see that in cover the seemingly dull, whole coloured tawny coat of the lion is much more readily seen than the striped coat of the tiger.

Another conspicuous feature of the tiger's pelage is the light coloured spots, almost white, at the back of each ear heavily rimmed with black. Many other animals of the cat family also have such ear-spots, but in none of them are they as flagrant as in the tiger. Even in the tiger, it is only when the animal is seen from behind or partly from behind, that the ear spots are so conspicuous. Why should there be any need for a tiger to be visible from behind?

The theory has been advanced that in the cats, the ear spots serve a function in aggressive displays, that the ears are turned around so far that their backs become visible from the front when the animal is threatening a possible adversary. With specific reference to the tiger, this theory may be discounted. At no time have I seen a wild or captive tiger (and some of the fresh-caught ones I have seen have been singularly savage and prone to aggressive displays) turn its ear round in this manner.

It is not necessary any longer in modern scientific natural history, to prove a function or to attribute a specific function for every morphological peculiarity noticed.

It could be that the remarkably flagrant ear spots of the tiger serve no purpose, but probably they do serve an important purpose, in enabling other tigers to follow a leading tiger when no communication by voice or displayed attitude is possible."

- M. Krishnan

# This was published on 16 May 1971.
@ The photograph of a tiger cub in the forest with white spots at the back of the ears has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
04-10-2019, 12:09 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Hazaribagh Sambar : The Sunday Statesman : 22 September 2019

" THE FEATURE of Haharibagh National Park is its Sambar. By day, they stay in deep cover, but with dusk come out to the roadsides and licks and the rare pools of water. In the course of three summers, in 1968,69 and 70 I have seen many hundreds of Sambar in Hazaribagh at night, and early in the morning and late in the evening, and while undoubtedly many were these animals I saw more than once, they were of all sizes, from young fawns to dark, burly old stags with impressively heavy antlers.

Two features about these Hazaribagh Sambars were especially noteworthy. Most of the Stags were in hard horn when I saw them, and in full-grown animals the 'browtine' was usually exceptionally long and heavy, though the antlers themselves were of medium size. This notable development of the brow tine is a feature of Sambar in parts of Orissa, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh ; I have not seen enough Sambar in Uttar Pradesh to be able to say if this is a feature of the animals there, too, but Sambar seen elsewhere in peninsular India did not display this development of the brow tine.

The second and more note-worthy, feature of Sambar here was that though I kept looking for it specially, in not a single animal did I notice a 'sore-patch'. The occurrence of the sore-patch in Sambar at the base of the throat,where it joins the chest in a symmetrical, median, bare extravasated patch of variable size, with a small, central, white-lipped tubercle when well developed) is something already discussed in this column years ago (23 August 1964). I do not propose to recapitulate that discussion here, but it may be said that the invariably symmetrical, median ventral location of the patch at the base of the neck, as well as the fact that in the same animal the sore- patch diminishes and increases in size, suggests a glandular origin for it - it may, for these very reasons, be also connected in some way with the nervous system. Anyway, the sore-patch is something peculiar to Sambar, not known in any other kind of deer.

Schaler thinks the sore-patch has a glandular origin, and suggests that it is probably connected with the rut in Sambar and serves to establish a scent- trail. I am unable to agree with the latter part of this view : I do not think the sore-patch has any sexual significance, for I have seen it on Sambar both in summer and in winter (November- January), and also on stags in velvet - I have even seen, and photographed, a heavily gravid hind with an extensive patch, and also hinds with very young fawns that displayed it - the hinds, not the young.

To return to Hazaribag , how is it that Sambar here are so unanimously free of the 'sore-patch' in February-March, when most of the stags are still in hard horn - when I have even seen stags following hinds and sniffing at their hind quarters? "

- M. Krishnan
This was published on 30 January 1972


Saktipada Panigrahi
15-12-2019, 07:53 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : THE JUNGLE CAT : The Sunday Statesman : 10 November 2019
The Jungle Cat

" One of the animals long familiar to villagers where human settlements and agriculture adjoin scrub and forest, is the Jungle Cat, Felis Chaus to be specific - and, as will be apparent later in this note, there is need to be specific.

The earliest extant Tamil poetry, some 18 centuries old, has a brief vivid reference to it :

"The round-footed Jungle Cat
Waiting at dusk at the edge of Jowar-field.
Waiting with inexorable patience
For the atrutting red-watiled village
Rock to stray near."

I spent my boyhood in the scrub jungles and forest of what used to be the Tamilian and Telegu tracts of the Madras Presidency, and have often seen the Jungle Cat. Later in the Deccan, I saw it again, many times - once, a Jungle Cat got somehow into my pigeon-house and slaughtered my racing homers, as most predators will when in the midst of thronging prey, and after watching it for a while as it crouched in a corner and spat at me, I let it go. I let it go. I mention this past experience only to say that in my youth and prime I knew the animal well, and had no difficulty in telling it apart from domestic cats run wild (which is also quite common in the scrub-jungles around villages), even when I could get only a brief glimpse of it. For one thing,it was twice as big as its domestic cousin turned feral,with a comparatively short tail ringed with black at the tip, standing almost as tall as a jackal.

During the past few years,however, when I had occasion to see and even closely observe jungle cats in forests all over the peninsula, and in UP. West Bengal and Assam,I have not always been able to tell it apart from feral cats with certainly. Perhaps it is that with this greater opportunity and closer observation I am finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile the animals actually seen with textbook descriptions of Felis chaus.

The textbooks describe the Jungle Cat as an animal with a foot-long tail and about 18 inches high, long-legged and varying in colour from "sandy grey to yellowish grey" (a ground-colour difficult to comprehend) with the tail ringed with black towards the end and black tipped; the ears are said to be reddish, "ending in a small pencil of black hairs",and while there may be vestigial stripes on the underside and flanks,the body is unmarked. The weight is given as from 10 to 12 pound. The Jungle Cats I saw varied from fulvous grey to a grey with a distinct red tinge to it (a ferruginous grey) in ground colour, and sometimes a neutral grey, with the chin, throat, insides of the limbs and the chest and abdomen much paler.Adults animals did not show any patterning on the body, but carried the characteristic rings at the end of the tail and the black tip~ the tail was comparatively short, and noticeably so in short adults.

The ears always showed the pointed tuft of short, dark hairs. The iris varied in colour from yellow ochre to a pale green, and was not always pale green as stated in the text- books. It will be seen that except for the marked ferruginous ground colour of many Jungle Cats seen (especially in the Nilgiris and in West Chanda in Maharashtra) there is no discrepancy in colouring between the taxonomic descriptions and the specimens I observed."


This was published on 17 September 1972

# The close-up photograph of a Jungle Cat has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
01-01-2020, 07:27 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : THE GIANT SQUIRREL : The Sunday Statesman :29 December 2019

" The big, handsome Giant Squirrel was a regular visitor to the Range Office at Kargudia in the Mudumalai Sanctuary, during September last. She was wild alright, and completely free to go where she pleased, but over the years she had been accustomed to take tidbits, like crisp biscuits and nuts, from the men there.

In the mornings she usually stayed in the forest around, and could be called up to the trees in the Range office compound with a judicious display of something she specially fancied,but this worked only when she had an appetite;sometimes,when she had already had a good feed off teak or Terminalia tomentosa fruits,or the young leaf of Garuga pinnata or Anogeisus latifolia, she would stay put in the treetops and no amount of calling or the proffer of inducements would bring her down.

I did not try to offer her anything myself; but left this to the men who said she knew then and trusted them, and confined myself to the photography I was using a 10-inch lens focused by guessing the distance and setting the lens on its footage-scale,and a muffled flash to illumine the dense shadows~I had quite enough to keep my fully occupied without also trying to make friends with a stranger.

However, I did notice that the squirrel's readiness to answer the summons of those who claimed that she was actually fond of them was much dependent on how hungry she was, but it could be she did know and recognise them.

This squirrel had a grownup daughter with her when I saw and photographed her last September.The young doe was quite as long as her mother and every bit as richly and beautifully coloured, but much less substantial, and was under a year old.

On occasion the younger squirrel accompanied her mother to the Range Office compound, but was much more wary and shy:she generally kept to the treetops and would not come down the bole to take the nuts or biscuits offered, though sometimes, when some tit bit had fallen to the ground, she would race down, pick it up, and race up the tree again to eat it from a safe height.

When her mother was eating some sizeable morsel, hanging head down and gnawing the food held in her paws (these squirrels, all squirrels in fact, seldom eat food held in their paws when facing the treetop~ when they are going up the bole), at times the younger squirrel would come down to her and nibble the food held in the maternal paws. I was impressed by the tolerance shown by the older squirrel towards her daughter.

I mentioned how squirrels hang head down when nibbling food held in the paws.There is a reason for this. They hang on to the bark of the tree-trunk with their outspread hind legs their sharp, curved claws cannot support their body weight.

Quite often a Giant Squirrel nibbles food held in the paws while hanging head down from a branch, with the long tail pendent from the other side counterpoising the paws and head, and the body weight balanced securely across the bough on the belly. But when hanging down from a tree trunk, the grip of the dug-in hind claws supports the weight of the squirrel, eased no doubt by the fact that the entire body is closely applied to the bole along the abdomen and chest.

I had an acute reminder how efficient the grip of the hind claws can be when I was photographing the big doe.Her daughter was up a tree behind me and decided to share the food. She took a short- cut via my bent head to where her mother was~suddenly I felt something heavy and alive land on my thin-thatched dome,then felt the sharp prick of the claws as the young squirrel took off from by head to the tree trunk on which her mother was.For minutes afterwards,the blood came up in droplets out of the punctured wounds on my nose and scalp.

Watching these squirrels,which do not get un-interestingly tame when not caged,I thought how attractive a feature of many of our sanctuaries they could be, if the officials in charge to not try to tame to tidbits and near human presence, as at the Mudumalai Sanctuary. Giant Squirrels are found all over India in the deciduous forests, and are to be found in most sanctuaries."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 8 April 1973.

#The photograph of the Giant Squirrel has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
08-03-2020, 04:22 PM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M.Krishnan : THE OUTLAW : The Sunday Statesman : 19 January 2020


"EVERYONE knows the Wolf of the fable which, seeking justification for killing it, blamed the kid drinking downstream with fouling the water.

Somewhat similarly, men who have invaded their immemorial homes and brought the jungle and scrub under the plough kill the wild animals, from the field-rat to the elephant, on the grounds that they are crop-raiders - the larger harbivores and the carnivores of course, constitute a menace to humanity or might do so, and so must be shot down. It is ironic that with these justifications for killing wild animals sustained over many generations in our country the only creature on whose head a general government reward was set was a beast that never has caused man's crop any damage, or caused him harm in any other way.

Actually the reward was paid not on the production of the head but of the brush of the Dhole popularly miscalled "Wild Dog" though it is much more distantly related to the domestic dog than the Wolf and the Jackal. Stray cases of Dhole killing domestic calves have been reported, but from diligent inquiry of herdsmen in places like Moyar border in the Western Ghats, Periyar in Kerala, west Chanda in Maharashtra and Mandla in Kanha, where both Dhole and cattle are common, I am satisfied that the killing of domestic stock by these predators is so rare that it can safely be ignored as factor provoking reprisals. Being through going carnivores, Dhole do not raid crops, and they have never been known to attack men. Why, then, were they singled out for being proscribed as vermin and a general reward being offered for their destruction?

The reason is plain to see, though it has not been specified by anyone so far. In the days of Sahiblog,Shikar was the one great solace and pastime of white men bearing their tropical burden in India, and quite a few Indians were (and still are) dedicated to the pastime. To shoot deer, buck and other "game animals" was (and is) the consuming passion of these noble sportsmen, especially those of them employed in the Indian Army and political services, and when the reach their favourite hunting grounds after week of strenuous preparations and eager anticipation, they sometime found the game sparse and fugitive because hunting Dhole had been in the field ahead of them. Later in this note, I shall return to the point, but the general belief is that when dhole enter a forest, the herbivores quit the area in a body. Now this was insufferable, an unlicensed rival hunting game in the hunts of these sportsmen and, worse still, doing it more efficiently. So the Dhole was proscribed.

Everywhere, in every period, men have sought pious, or at least plausible, justification for their capital decrees, and the reason given for outlawing the Dhole was that these pestilent predators would, unless kept sternly in check, kill off the beautiful deer and the other beautiful game-animals. Further, the mode of hunting practiced by Dhole was condemned, anthropomorphically as cruel and inhuman, and this provided an added excuse for their slaughter.

There is no need to argue the point tediously. Two self-evident and conclusive facts will suffice to prove my point. First, for thousands of years before sportsmen came forward to save the game (their game) from the hated predator, deer and other herbivores and Dhole have co-existed in India without any dwindling of the population of the former. Second, only men, and no other predators, have been responsible (intentionally or otherwise) for the rapid, large-scale decline of the wild flora and fauna, both here and abroad.

True that Dhole do tear down their quarry and consume it piecemeal as they chase it, but they cannot hunt animals much larger than themselves any other way. A big Dhole weighs some 18 kg. and Chital, Pig and Sambar (their main prey) weigh from three to twelve times as much. On two occasions have closely watched Dhole killing, an adult Chital stag once and an adult Sambar hind the other time and in both instances the victim died in a few seconds, though its true that its death was brought about by many tearing mouths.

Tribal hunters who use nooses and hooks hidden in baits to kill deer and antelopes, inflict much greater and longer agony on their victims, and we are certainly right in prohibiting such cruel forms of hunting by our brethren, but it is not for us to try, anthropomorphically, to be wiser and more merciful than nature, and to take sided and interfere with the balance of nature. But for Dhole, Chital and Pig would have over-run the land in many tracts, and brought about the end of herbivores by exhausting the fodder, for example in the Masinagudi area of the Mudumalai sanctuary.

I have seen deer grazing un-concernedly while a party of Dhole trotted past -- more to the point, this indifference of the prey to the dreaded predator on occasion has been recorded by some of the old time shikaris, by the very men who built up the governmental prejudice against the Dhole. Of course it is true that much oftener the prey do panic and scatter when hunting Dhole arrive on the scene, but their fight is only temporary and only to areas immediately around where, probably, there is better cover. when not breeding, Dhole are much given to wandering over considerable territory in packs and frequently shift their hunting grounds, and if everywhere their prey abandoned their homes and escaped from them, the Dhole would have died of starvation long ago and the prey have no homes left. Moreover, having exquisite noses and hunting their quarry mainly by ground-scent, tiring it out over a long chase by virtue of their superior stamina and not by superior speed, Dhole should have no difficulty in escaping prey, and flight per se does not insure a better chance of survival to the prey. Finally, all close observers must have noticed that while the presence does panic and scatter the bprey, they do not leave the area en masse.

Even today, even in sanctuaries where all the animals are supposed to be protected, men kill or try to kill Dhole on sight I have seen sanctuary officials going after Dhole with a loaded rifle in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Mysore. The cause of conservation is not helped, bu only handicapped, by such partisan and traditionally implanted prejudices# in those who have the running of our sanctuaries."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 03 June 1973

# Such prejudices are no longer permitted in National Parks and Tiger Reserves now.

Saktipada Panigrahi
09-03-2020, 08:36 AM
COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : The Cat that almost was : M.Krishnan : The Sunday Statesman : 23 Feb 2020
The Cat that almost was

TWO months ago, I ate a variety of mango sedulously cultivated in the Deccan, in far away Madhya Pradesh. No one knows how and why these local fancies and preferences spread out centrifugally across the country.

And it what was the vogue in ratters in Anantapur a hundred years ago had extended to rest of India, we would have few cats in our homes. We would have CIVET-CATS, instead

Even only 25 years ago, when I was living in the Deccan and kept dogs and milch-goats and racing homers, a kindly old lady who lived next door used to deplore my taste in pets. We lived from harvest to harvest in those days, and stored grains and pulses and gram for the year in enormous earthen-ware jars as tall as man - and naturally we had to be on our guard against rats. My neighbour conceded the utility of my goats, but was critical of my dogs and pigeons and the dogs, perversely were very fond of her "What good are these big clumsy dogs?" she would ask. "they are much too large to follow a rat through drains and narrow passages and a rat has only to climb up to a shelf to be safe from them. Why don't you have the wits to get yourself a Civet-Cat? With a Civet in the house you need never to be bothered with rats".

Then she would tell me of her younger days and how she like many others there, kept Civets to keep the house free of rats. She assured me that taken in hand young, a Civet can safely be given the run of the house and would not run away when grown as a Mongoose will. It was lean, quiet and affectionate, and peerless as a ratter. The trouble was getting it in the first place: if only young Civets were as easily available as kittens, no one would keep cats.

I have no personal experience of keeping Civets, but can well understand their exceptional qualifications as useful and dependable pets - it is the small Indian Civet that I am writing of, of course. Years ago, a wilder and more nocturnal creature, a Palm-Civet, took up residence in the many layered tile of my kitchen roof, and lived there for years till the old roof collapsed and was replaced with a concrete slab.

Somehow, the potential of the Civet as a valuable and arrestingly attractive domestic animal does not seem to have been investigated outside the Deccan and the surrounding tracts. In the old days, before synthetic perfumes were produced in such profusion, Civets were kept in barrow, barred cages, for the sake of the secretion from their subcaudal glands which was scraped off and refined into scent, Civet. This was valued not only for its perfume, but also for its alleged therapeutic virtue. But the Civet-Cat was seldom kept and prized as a pet. Zeuner does not even mention it in his History of Domesticated Animals.

By nature,Civets are less strictly carnivorous than cats, and feed on variety of things - insects,grubs,crustaceans,birds when they can catch them, and such reptiles and small mammals as they can overpower, and also many wild fruits and even, I suspect, some tubers. A captive specimen I used to know was fond of bananas. Obviously such an omnivorous animal is not hard to feed and rear, and since it tends to stay where it grew up, returning home even if occasionally it goes away on a voyage of discovery, a Civet shall be easy to keep and can be given the run of the house instead of being cooped up in a cage. and it is not an animal that is demanding and wants to be noticed and petted from time to time, like some other domestic pets.

I have watched Civets hunting in the grass and shallow puddles of the borders of a lake; frogs, perhaps crabs, and insects were what they were obviously hunting. I have seen them eating the fruit of Carisa, and even of a Lantana, and other small jungle berries. Once I saw a Civet up a jamun tree that was in fruit; Civets can certainly climb trees if the want to, but I do not know whether it had climbed the tree for the ripe fruit, or for some other reason. It saw me when I saw it, climb down the tree, and made off."

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 26 August 1973
#The painting of a small Indian Civet has not been reproduced here.

Saktipada Panigrahi
11-03-2020, 11:32 AM
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. KRISHNAN : An in-between Bird : The Sunday Statesman ; 16 February 2020


" THE COUCAL belongs to the Cuckoo tribe : it is one of those ground-cuckoos that do not foist their eggs on other birds, but laboriously build nests and hatch and their young. It is quite a common bird, being found both in forests and in countryside, and even in cities where there are trees and bushes, and it is by no means inconspicuous, a big blackbird the size of a crow, with a heavy corvine bill and a long, broad tail with the back and rounded wings alone chestnut.

The name by which it is known to many people, CROW PHEASANT, reflects both its long tail and addiction to ground cover. Not that it walks easily, as a pheasant does: it is much more at home in trees, but it is often to be found in low bushes and even on ground, and given to hiding in bush cover. But even when when it is hiding, its low booking voice gives it away.

In spite of being so common, most people hardly seem to know it.They have the oddest notions about it, and think it is some sort of crow not much given to flying. People will believe anything you may tell them about it - I myself believed that it is a lucky omen to see a Coucal when setting out to do anything. It is an "age-old superstition" entirely of my own manufacture, and in places where I established it 30 years ago, they now tell me this is an immemorial traditional belief!

Perhaps the oddest thing said about the bird by one of our official wildlife experts, when I was showing a party of foreigners (one of whom is a knowledgeable ornithologist) around a sanctuary. A Coucal happened to fly across the forest road ahead of their jeep, and the expert, wishing to impress his guests, turned solemnly to them: " That is the only endemic pheasant known in South India" he informed them, " and its modification is still a mystery".

But of course its nesting is no mystery. It builds a big, rounded nest deep inside a bush or a bamboo clump, and hunt painstakingly for grasshoppers and other plump insects with which to feed its young. Apparently, such insects stripped off the chitinous limbs and other hard parts are both digestible and nourishing- even the grain-loving finches feed their nestlings on such prey.

As bird-watchers keen on garden birds know, the Coucal is a voracious and omnivorous feeder. It lives on fruits, such insect or reptilian prey as it can catch, and eggs and young of other and smaller birds - it is an inveterate nest-robber.

Its call is a deep, sonorous, repeated hoot, which Dewar compares to the voices of some owls, but I do not think there is much in common - owls have less less sonorous and metallic hoots, and to my ear the call nearest the Coucal's is no bird voice but the joyous, early morning hoop of the langur, though of course the two are once distinguishable.

There is the only call of the bird you will find recorded in textbooks, but it has another and more private voice for intimate occasions. Waiting for a sambar stag in a primitive but more effective hide out a mango tree, I had the privilege of eavesdropping on a pair of Coucals seated on a branch just below me. They sat in close company, and indulged in a low, guttural conversation, punctuated with side way tilts of their heads, a muttering irresistibly reminiscent of two querulous old men grumbling together! They must have been a courting pair, I think, and what I overheard was their whispered sweet nothings to each other! "

- M. Krishnan

This was published on 19 August 1973