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Thread: Diary of Manas- Malayan Giant Squirrel and Capped Langur

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    Default Diary of Manas- Malayan Giant Squirrel and Capped Langur

    A forest is the source of many unending stories where the characters are all its living entities. We can easily feel them if we just keep our senses open. Some of these stories are quite flamboyant. For example, a Silver breasted Broadbill performed a spectacular dance for its partner and you witnessed that dance and their mating following that dance. Some of these stories are packed with high voltage actions. For example, a Royal Bengal tiger gave a long and exciting chase for a deer and caught it. And sometimes you yourself become a part of some action stories. For example, you are on a safari deep into a forest and suddenly you realise that you are somewhere in the middle of a fight between two wild elephants, and you are unable to move forward nor backward. You are then the third character of that particular story. The fight was merely between those two elephants, but at that moment you cannot escape the heat that the fight of those elephants create. That gives rise to a climax of excitements. These moments become unforgettable in your memories. And you never in your life forget that forest and that particular place where the two elephants fought. There are some other stories also in the forests which do not have so much of actions or romances. The characters of these stories are not so prominent either. The plots of these stories are short-lived and mundane. If you do not pay minute attentions this will just skip your notice. Most of the stories of many forests of these world are like this only; they pass by unnoticed. That is why there are so much mysteries in the forests. Here in my article I will try to place some stories which fall in the second category.

    That day I was supposed to have my lunch at noon in the Mathanguri forest bungalow. My wife and my son both were tired and disgusted. For the last three days we were making continuous jungle safaris without any rest. All were full day safaris. Our bodies were not permitting any more strain. The tourists usually have their lunch in the Mathanguri bungalow itself while they spend the whole day for jungle safaris, as it is difficult to carry lunch packets all the day with themselves. When one needs food within the forest area the only place where it is available is that Mathanguri bungalow and before entering the forest in the morning one must book their lunch packets for that day through walky-talkies. After one enters the forest areas and travels into the deep forests near the Bhutan border one cannot find any mobile network no place to have food. The staff of the bungalow make an approximate estimate for ensuing one week’s total amount of ration and collect that from a nearby market. On many occasions lunch becomes unavailable even if it is ordered beforehand. This happens when they run out of their stocks of rations and when their estimates come short of the actual demands. I had those bad experiences many a times. On one instance a leopard entered the kitchen and was unwilling to come out of that place. The bungalow staff could somehow drive it out of the room in the afternoon after many hours of effort. That day all the people, the guests and the hosts both, spent the day without any food.

    Now back to my topic, I ordered five lunches for the noon that day. But that much was perhaps not for our quota of meals. Some students from two different schools had arrived there suddenly without any prior information. The commotion created by their loud outburst of joy and freedom broke the inherent silence and calmness of the soundings. The students visited that place for an educational tour. All of them were very young. A message came from the kitchen that arrangements of meals for these students will be made first and then meals for other tourists will be served. My driver cum friend Biku, (his good name is Biku Biswakarma), and after several requests I made some separate arrangements for some rice for my wife and my young son. They stayed back in the bungalow until the food was served to them. I and Biku, along with our armed guard ventured out towards the river. I washed my face with the crystal clear water of the river and looked around. I could see the distant horizon across the river along the large expanse of grasslands of the Panbari range. It was a clear sunny day and was usual Manas in February. A giant spider was waiting patiently in its cobweb for its possible prey.
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    Default Part 2

    Biku was repeatedly pressing me to go as far as possible towards the lower bungalow and he also will accompany me. Biku loves the forest and knows all the nooks and crannies of it. The lower bungalow at the foot of the hill was not there even a few years ago and there was only an old wooden bungalow at the top of the hill. The Mathanguri bungalow is a renowned one worldwide. It is said that the essence of Manas cannot be realized unless one spend at least one night in it. And it is true. I think this is one of the best forest bungalow considering its beauty and position. Obviously, many tourists opt for that bungalow while coming to Manas.

    The tourists visit this place time and again and some of them want to spend a night or two there. Thereby the government earns some revenue and afterwards consider expanding the infrastructure there. With more tourists there will be more revenue. That is how there has come up a new bungalow with so much haste at the foot of the hill. Presently the number of people who can stay here at night is twice the number that could stay previously. This way the human activities increase. The usual silence of the forest is broken and the wild animals feel disturbed. The leopards and other animals of the cat family do not feel easy to move around undisturbed the bungalow areas as before. On the other side, the Capped langurs frequent the neighbouring areas of the bungalow for some readymade food. The tend to forget their own food habits and become dependent on thrown away and leftover crumbs of cakes and biscuits, oranges, chocolates etc. I’ve heard that to cope with the increasing number of tourists the government has made a plan to construct one more bungalow at the top of the hill. This is a stark example of the policies of our law makers on the conservation of nature!

    I visited Manas quite a number of times. But I spent one night at Mathanguri only once. On every other occasion I visited Mathanguri during the day only but did not spend the nights there. But the night I spent there has made a permanent place in my memory. The nights at Mathanguri is different in so many respects and is really very beautiful exhilarating. And one must experience that place which is so beautiful.

    That the portion of the lower bungalow had no occupancy and therefore was empty. The surrounding area was for that reason undisturbed. The armed guard gentleman checked out all the sides, kept his firearms at his side and sat there apprehending no danger. I had some biscuits which Biku gave him and Biku and I went a little distance away from there and stood there. The trees started shedding their leaves. The silk cotton trees had started blooming. The sky was covered with scattered clouds.
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    Default Part 3

    A large group of Capped langurs were sitting on the branches of the trees in front of us. They were busy with themselves. Suddenly a pair of Malayan Giant squirrel caught my notice. They were some distance away from the group of the Capped Langurs. One was following the other from this tree to that tree. The colours of their skins were visibly different. One of the squirrels had more brownish patches on its hind legs and on its back and was larger in size than the other. The second one which was following the first was dark in colour and was smaller in size. This difference in colour among the Giant Malayan squirrel is natural. This depends on the amount of melanin deposits on their skins. The dark and small squirrel starts following the bigger squirrel. This may be due to two different reasons. Firstly, during breeding period the male squirrel follows and chases the female which is a part of their foreplay. Their breeding season starts around the month of March. The time I am talking about was in the middle of February. It was not possible for us to identify which was the male and which one was the female. I could not see the mammary gland in either of the squirrel even after trying my best. Then are both of them were male? I could not say that for sure. Here comes the second possible reason. The more colourful one was present there beforehand. It may be assumed that it was the dominant one in that area. And the dark one was the intruder.

    A researcher named Ludek J Dobroruka of the erstwhile Czechoslovakia made extensive observation on Malayan Giant squirrel between 1969 and 1974. He observed that the squirrel which stays in a particular area behaves like a dominant one and when some other one visits from outside it is considered as intruder in that place and remains submissive in nature. If the dominant one turns out to be male then the intruder is always seen to follow the dominant one. On many occasions the dormant one is seen to clasp the intruder and performs the ritualized copulatory behaviour. One researcher R H Horwich has written in his book named "The ontogeny of social behaviour in the Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)" that in situations like this the grey squirrel performs the precocial sexual play in a similar manner.

    Ludek J Dobroruka had some more observations on how the intruder behaves. They may sometimes shrink themselves, may bend forward or may keep their front legs folded a little bit to display their submissiveness. Now if we look closely the series of pictures here we can see that, the front and colourful one is the dominant one and he has hold his head high, is moving forward with confident strides and has kept his tail straight and its hairs upright while the hind one has its head lowered, the front legs are not stretched that way and the tail is limp.
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    Default Part 4

    A few moments later I came to know for sure that the follower dark squirrel was the intruder one. In this picture it is clearly seen that it is keeping its two front legs folded most of the times which is a clear display of its submissive nature. But the front one has kept his two front legs flung forward and suspending on either sides of its body.
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    Default Part 5

    The joy of observation does not end here. A few moments later the dominant one was seen to try to smell at a particular spot on the branch of a tree.
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    The next moment it rubbed the Anogenital part of its body on a particular point on the tree for a few moments. If we minutely observe in this picture we will see that it has raised the rear portion of the tail, has bent it back and has forcefully pressed its genital on one spot on a branch of tree.

    The researcher Ludek J Dobroruka has written, “Scent marking is frequently seen amongst the Sciuridae (5). In giant squirrels urine marking is very common and conspicuous in both sexes. The anogenital area is pressed to the branch and the animal moves slowly forward as it urinates (Fig. 4). The squirrels may gnaw certain areas, leaving small patches bare of bark, a pattern reminiscent of marking in the Grey squirrel Sciurus carolinensis (12). These bare patches are darker than the rest of the branch and rather sticky. The marking points are often checked olfactorally and the urine marks are always renewed. Not only are they impregnated with urine, but they are also marked by rubbing the cheek glands against them.”

    It has raised the rear portion of the tail, has bent it back and has forcefully pressed its genital on one spot on a branch of tree.
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    Default Part 7

    I saw a similar type of behaviour about three years ago in this Manas itself. Please note here that the squirrel is marking its area by peeling the barks of the tree just in front of him.
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    Default Part 8

    I diligently went through the research paper on Malayan Giant squirrel by the researcher Debrorukar at some earlier time. This was because I take a keen interest on the Giant squirrels and I love to know more about them. In the meantime Biku has been telling me that a young capped langur is sitting very close by. Then I saw the baby langur and found it to be very curiously watching the other Giant Squirrels.
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    Default Part 9

    Suddenly something happened. The intruding dark squirrel happened to come face to face with the young capped langur. So far everything was calm and quiet. But on that very moment in the peaceful story of the forest the mercury of excitement went upwards abruptly. The capped langur was staring at the squirrel with an attacking motive as if it would pound on the squirrel that very moment while the later did not budge and remained still.
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    Both of these creatures of Manas are on the list of vulnerable species. Both of these mammals live their entire lives on the trees. There are many similarities on the list of their food habits. Perhaps the only food which the langurs eat but the squirrels do not are the small vertebrate creatures. All the primate species of the world, such as baboon, capuchin, chimpanzee, usually eat small vertebrate animals. But that langur was very young. They were not supposed to attack the squirrels. Still I was waiting in apprehension, if the young langur does that! I remember one incident of many years ago. An Indian researcher H. S. Sushma reported from Indira Gandhi wildlife sanctuary in Tamilnadu in 2001 that an adult male lion-tailed Macaque chased a sub adult Indian Giant squirrel and caught it. It then critically wounded the squirrel, took it at the top of a tree and started peeling its skin and then ate it. That was the first report of a Lion-tailed Macaque catching and killing a Giant squirrel weighing more than two kilograms even if the giant squirrels are much faster than most other monkeys. I was wondering if a similar type of an incident repeated there! I was so much excited that I removed my eye from the viewfinder of the camera. But then I thought that squirrel did not emit any alarm call. And everything was fine after all.

    Everything was normal since then. Both of them backtracked in their own safe positions. An unwanted fight was going to happen but didn’t happen ultimately. An unusual sense of peace prevailed there. By then the mother langur has caught its child’s hand. It then looked towards us and was perhaps assuring us that nothing serious happened.
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    Default Part 11

    The those two squirrels were back with their normal activities, hopping from this tree to that tree, sometimes sitting with folded legs. I lost myself as I continued watching them. After a while I saw two squirrels to be sitting just in front of each other with their front legs folded. Then, are both of them in the mood of submissiveness? Maybe both of them have entered into other’s territory. Debroruka has observed that two squirrels show submissive or dominant behaviour only inside their marked and feeding territory. Therefore the dominant and submissive ranking are subject to change with the change of territories. I was then wondering, was that place where I first saw the colourful squirrel was own marked territory? All these questions frequent my mind and as I try to find the answers I become engrossed with more questions. All the birds then start chirping here and there.

    Manas remain where it always did. The characters of the story return to their own selves. Suddenly, I turned back and found that my son and wife had come there to call me to join them for lunch. It was already too late and the door of the kitchen would shut soon. I did not wait there anymore and returned to the bungalow hastily.


    Originally written in Bengali - Samrat Sarkar
    Translation into English - Bishwajit Debnath
    Photo - Samrat Sarkar
    Equipment - Canon EOS 7D + Canon 500mm f4 + Monopod, Olympus OMD EM1 + Zuiko 12-40mm PRO
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    The behavior of the Malayan Giant squirrel nicely described and the photographs help it to make it more clearer. The description of Manas and the photographs showing the beautiful landscapes has made me to want to visit the place soon (hope it is possible this year . Thanks for sharing.

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