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Thread: Country notebook:m.krishnan

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : THE SNAKE-BIRD : The Sunday Statesman: 13-July-2014
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    The Snake-bird

    (DARTER)


    "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.

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    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.
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 14-08-2014 at 04:48 PM.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Nectar and Figs : The Sunday Statesman : 3 August 2014
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    NECTAR AND FIGS

    __________________________________________________ ___________

    "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 ! "

    -M.Krishnan

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


    #Two photographs of trees not reproduced here
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 27-08-2014 at 05:26 PM.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M.Krishnan : Call Of The Hunted : The Sunday Statesman :14 September 2014
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    CALL OF THE HUNTED
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    "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.

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    The Common Langur : M.Krishnan : The Sunday Statesman : 31 August 2014
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    THE COMMON LANGUR

    "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.
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 18-10-2014 at 04:04 PM.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: THE RATEL: The Sunday Statesman : 09 November 2014

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    ( THE HONEY BADGER )

    "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.

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    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,
    SaktiWild

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : THE GIANT SQUIRREL : The Sunday Statesman : 23 November 2014

    __________________________________________________ ______________________________________

    " 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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The ' DOUBLE-JUMP' technique : The Sunday Statesman 07 Dec 2014
    __________________________________________________ ______________________________________

    THE 'DOUBLE-JUMP' TECHNIQUE

    "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.

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    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.

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    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,
    SaktiWild

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Some claims for our Wildlife : The Sunday Statesman: 04 January 2015
    __________________________________________________ _______________________________________

    SOME CLAIMS FOR OUR WILDLIFE

    " 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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : The mongoose-cobra fight : The Sunday Statesman : 11 January 2015
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    THE MONGOOSE-COBRA FIGHT

    "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.
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 18-01-2015 at 03:34 PM.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: A tongue a cubit long : The Sunday Statesman :22 February 2015
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    A TONGUE A CUBIT LONG

    " 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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : The Hill Maynah : The Sunday Statesman : 01 March 2015
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    THE HILL MYNAH

    " 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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan : Why it's called the pangolin : The Sunday Statesman : 8 March 2015
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    WHY IT'S CALLED THE PANGOLIN

    "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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : A boxed-in paradox : The Sunday Statesman : 15 March 2015
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    A BOXED-IN PARADOX
    (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

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : A Jungle Mystery : The Sunday Statesman : 19 April 2015
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    A JUNGLE MYSTERY

    " 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?"

    -M.Krishnan

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

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

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ____
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 19-04-2015 at 08:32 PM.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Exercise in Barbet-watching : The Sunday Statesman : 12 April 2015
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    EXERCISE IN BARBET-WATCHING

    "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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The tusker's mud-bath : The Sunday Statesman : 26 April 2015
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    THE TUSKER'S MUD-BATH

    "....................

    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.
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    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

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: Epicurean to the core: The Sunday Statesman : 22 March 2015
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    EPICUREAN TO THE CORE

    "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.

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    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.'
    Attached Images Attached Images  

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    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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: Bear at high noon :The Sunday Statesman : 14 June 2015
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    BEAR AT HIGH NOON

    " 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.

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    Default COUNTRY NOTEBOOK:M. Krishnan: Peace and goodwill in nature:The Sunday Statesman 2015

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : PEACE AND GOODWILL IN NATURE : The Sunday Statesman : 21 June 2015
    __________________________________________________ ________________________________________

    "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.
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 22-06-2015 at 03:25 PM.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Herd responsibility : The Sunday Statesman : 05 July 2015
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    HERD RESPONSIBILITY

    ( 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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: A Langur making use of provision :The Sunday Statesman: 03 May 2015
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    A LANGUR MAKING USE OF PROVISION


    "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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : The Leopard and his spots : The Sunday Statesman: 26 July 2015
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    THE LEOPARD AND HIS SPOTS

    " 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.

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    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.
    Attached Images Attached Images  

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: Adapting Well from Crippling Despair: The Sunday Statesman:
    09 August 2015
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    ADAPTING WELL FROM CRIPPLING DESPAIR

    " 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.
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 27-08-2015 at 03:26 PM.

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    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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The Common Mynah : The Sunday Statesman : 06 September 2015
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    THE COMMON MYNAH

    " 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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Swimming Macaques: The Sunday Statesman: 13 September 2015
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    BONNET MONKEYS

    " 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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : Red Dog : The Sunday Statesman : 25 October 2015
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    INDIAN WILD DOG or DHOLE

    "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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The Aggression of the Vegetarian : The Sunday Statesman : 01 November 2015
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    THE AGGRESSION OF THE VEGETARIAN

    "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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : Barking Deer : The Sunday Statesman : 29 November 2015
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    THE MUNTJAC

    "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."

    -M.Krishnan


    This was first published on 16 April 1961 in The Sunday Statesman

    # One beautiful drawing of the Deer is not reproduced here

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : MORE ABOUT BARKING DEER :The Sunday Statesman:13 Dec 2015
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    BARKING DEER ( MUNTJAC)
    (Contd.)

    " 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!"

    -M.Krishnan

    This was first published on 21 May 1961 in The Sunday Statesman
    Last edited by Mrudul Godbole; 14-12-2015 at 01:20 PM.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : SNAKEBIRD............. : The Sunday Statesman : 27 December 2015
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    DARTER

    " 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.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : INDIA'S NATIONAL BIRD : The Sunday Statesman : 31 January 2016
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    PEACOCK

    " 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."

    -M.Krishnan



    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.

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    __________________________________________________ _______________________________________
    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: THE MOUSE-DEER: The Sunday Statesman : 6 March 2016
    __________________________________________________ _____________________________________

    MOUSE-DEER
    (Chevrotain)

    "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.

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