It is easy for the inexperienced eye to easily conclude “Oh these forests have no animals” when they don’t seen any animal. Contrary to their notion, the exact opposite seems to be happening to a person who knows to read the tell tale signs animals leave behind and unfold the story that would have been enacted by the denizens of the jungle. Picturesque descriptions of such stories in forests have been excellently narrated by Jim Corbett and Kenneth Andreson in the numerous classics they have written. Most of the stories they encountered seems to still be the same for any keen observer who steps into the forests especially on to the jeep tracks or beat roads as it’s called.
Recently, as a part of accessing the impact of Sorimuthian pilgrimage on the forests; a team undertook extensive occupancy surveys along the roads near the main road where there is vehicle movement. Teams of 2-3 individuals walked on these roads and documented any signs of animal movement in its various forms from Hoof or Pugmarks, excreta, scent mark, scrape marks etc on the ground. Each such encounter invariably had some small little story to tell and was indeed one of the factors which kept the enthusiasm going in doing such thankless and seemingly monotonous work.
On one such survey along the famous “Puckel’s path” our team comprising of Abisheka, Dr Ganesh , Samuel and Seshadri began a survey at around 1530hrs, rather late in the evening. We soon encountered a lot of evidence of Chital and sambar and were having this gut feeling of sighting some or the other animal like the Sloth bear, which had been previously sighted by Rajkamal on the same trail. At some distance away from the main road, we came across fresh, beautifully preserved pugmarks of a sloth bear who had very casually ambled along the road which was laden with fine clayey soil brought in by the recent rains making it perfect for imprinting the human like paw in it. The marks seemed so fresh that for a moment, we all looked around to possibly catch a glimpse of the bear which might just be around the corner! The bear had walked on the road for more than 100m and all of a sudden, we saw pugmarks almost one fourth the size of the adult and realized that the bear was accompanied by its cub. The cub, as per the discontinuity in pugmarks, had come almost all the distance piggy back and had got down and walked with its mom for a short distance before they had turned into the forest and disappeared in the mix of grass and thorn scrub. Such are among the countless other stories that lay wait to be stumbled upon by passing naturalists with keen eyes to decipher the treasure locked up in form of signs and clues!