It is early morning in mid-April, and Dorai and I are out in the field. We’re moving along a dry stream bed, towards the starting point of a survey transect, when something suddenly catches Dorai's eye. Dorai beckons to me and points to a large cluster of flies hovering in a patch of sunlight ahead of us. We draw level with it and find ourselves face to face with a recently killed sambar fawn.
I barely begin to examine the carcass, when Dorai calls to me yet again, this time pointing to some tracks on the damp stream bed, saying “Sev Nai” or red dog with a wide eyed look. Closer inspection revealed that the tacks were of dhole (Asiatic wild dog). It appeared to be an almost textbook dhole kill. The fawn had been disemboweled and all the vital organs in the abdominal cavity, intestines included, were missing – presumably eaten.
This is in line with the observed hunting behaviour of dholes, that are known to kill their prey by feeding off the flanks and abdominal region. Also, dholes have been seen to be tolerant of scavengers at their kills. We saw confirmation of this a day later when on our way back, we saw that the carcass had been moved and as we approached, two wild boar scampered away from the kill. The dead fawn was surrounded by boar prints and looked visibly diminished. Truly amazing to see live confirmation of things I’d only read about in books.
In the forest, live interactions are not very common and so we rely heavily upon indirect signs, like scats and tracks to decide whether or not a particular animal is present. Dorai almost instinctively looks in all the right places and has been quick to detect the signs of several animals. We have however been faced with herds of elephants and stampeding gaur and these direct signs are recorded too.
We have been on field for approximately three and a half months and have encountered signs of several mammal species like elephants, gaur, three kinds of deer, langurs, sloth bears and several more. Its been an incredibly exciting time encountering these amazing creautures in their natural habitats and following the trails they make through their territories.
Stay tuned and in my coming posts, I’ll show you how exactly we carry out this survey and the tools we use ....
1. Dhruv Athreye in February 2018 began a survey of mammals in the Palani Hills and is publishing notes of his field work.