Trip Report: Bandipur National Park, March 2014

Trip Report: Bandipur National Park 

Dates:           29-31 Mar 2014

Camp:           JLR’s Bandipur Safari Lodge

This trip was organized by a bunch of us from the Nov ’13 NTP batch. It was open to the batch, but just four of us ultimately signed up. With the temperature rising, we were hopeful of productive mammal sightings; the forest fire which broke out a little before the middle of March threatened to put paid to our plans, but the safaris resumed after 4-5 days of disruption. We drove through some of these charred forests on one of the safaris, and the affected swathes can also be seen by the Ooty highway a little beyond the Bandipur reception area. A thousand acres were impacted by the fire, although this is perhaps not necessarily the tragedy it is made out to be. If you want to know why I say so, this is a very insightful piece to read.

Bandipur Mar 14 327

We did four safaris and I wouldn’t exactly say that the outings were brimming over with sightings, in terms of birds or mammals. Certainly not a patch on my last trip to Bandipur just before the south-west monsoon, when the safaris were vibrant with encounters every few minutes. That was in fact one of the best trips I have ever done (three tiger sightings, ten minutes spent backing up right besides a magnificent and very tolerant tusker, a Black naped hare, Ruddy and Stripe-necked mongooses that permitted prolonged and close observation, and plenty of birdlife).

This time in stark contrast, most of the time was spent in driving through a silent forest shorn of leaves (and completely infested with lantana), the jeep throwing up a pall of fine dust which settled on and fouled everything. Despite the subdued productivity, it was nevertheless time well-spent for us, with some intense birding and an interesting tigress sighting.

There was a tree spreading over our rooms, and weighed down with hundreds of golden-orange figs. Naturally, this was a magnet for frugivores of all hues and we spent a considerable amount of time between safaris under this tree and around the camp. Red-vented bulbuls, Plum-headed parakeets, Asian koels, Coppersmith barbets and palm squirrels were probably the most common gourmands – we found these on the tree with near-certainty at any point. Red-vented bulbuls were in force and aggressively so, and given to relentlessly harassing their more timorous red-whiskered cousins. Indian grey hornbills appeared fairly frequently.

Elsewhere in the camp, there were plenty of Purple-rumped sunbirds, Cinereous tits, Blyth’s reed warblers, Asian brown flycatchers, Common ioras, Oriental white-eyes and White-bellied drongos. A coucal was a constant (and constantly calling) fixture right outside our door, where we also spend an enthralling few minutes watching a flock (murder is the correct albeit awkward term) of crows mob a Shikra which had settled down to partake of something dead and delicious clutched in its claws. Unfazed, the Shikra decamped only after consuming its meal entirely, leaving nothing for the crows.

On the safaris, the first and last threw up elephant sightings, something that I was looking forward to. A small herd of three each time. In terms of birds, most common were hoopoes, Grey junglefowl, Brahminy starlings, Red-vented bulbuls, Magpie-robins, Flamebacks, Streak-throated woodpeckers, Jungle mynas and babblers (both Jungle and White-headed).

The tiger sighting happened in the third safari (evening). Our driver got a call and headed to a waterhole called Kadamatur Katte, where a couple of vehicles waited by the bank. Alarm calls were strangely absent though a langur foraged nearby. Deer were missing in the vicinity. A lapwing was calling hysterically though, punctuated by peacock calls. A few minutes later, a tigress walked out of a game trail on the opposite bank, and descended to the water to drink. However she seemed uneasy with the presence of the jeeps and wandered away to the right, disappearing into the undergrowth. Our jeep cranked up and moved in the same direction hoping for another interception when the van behind us, still parked at the same spot, signaled frantically. Backing up, we found that the tigress had returned to the water hole, slid into the shallows, and was lying with her haunches submerged. We spent some time watching her until she hauled herself out of the water and stalked away into a game trail in the shrubbery, to our left this time. Turning around, we drove some distance and parked near a spot where the drivers judged her likely to emerge. Five or six vehicles had congregated by this time, and we all waited in expectant silence.

The keyed-up tension settled in a few minutes, and we were trying to determine whether a flock of babblers we could see on a forking track ahead was common or white-headed when the tigress abruptly emerged and cantered across the track a short way ahead, much in the manner of a startled cow. We turned into another road in the same direction and some distance ahead, again found a likely spot where she might emerge. A few more vehicles had added on by this time and a long line waited in patient silence.


Eventually our patience ran out and concluding that we’d lost her, we started on our way and had hardly gone fifty meters ahead when she was spotted sitting amidst the lantana, a short way off the road. Our screeching to a halt however alarmed her and rising, she finally turned around and disappeared into the lantana.

Dr. R had stayed on to do an additional safari after we left, and an interesting sidelight is that he returned to the same waterhole the next evening and noticed that in our excitement, we had probably missed spotting a carcass floating in the water. There was evidently some flutter at the human-like appearance of the carcass, but the forest department staff were informed and presently fished out a dead langur.

(Pic by Dr. R).

_MG_9221 jpg-LANGUR

Here are a few more pictures.

Grey junglefowl, Mr. and Mrs.

Bandipur Mar 14 158

Bandipur Mar 14 422

White-browed fantail:

Bandipur Mar 14 212

Grey francolin:

Bandipur Mar 14 371

Paddyfield pipit:

Bandipur Mar 14 483

Sambar, note the hairless patch on the neck – this is found in adult males and in pregnant or lactating females, sometimes oozes liquid, and is postulated to be glandular in nature:

Bandipur Mar 14 262


Bandipur Mar 14 292

Common mongoose on the main road:

Bandipur Mar 14 267

Stripe-necked mongoose, this is the largest species of mongoose in India:

Bandipur Mar 14 092

Elephant herd in the grass:

Bandipur Mar 14 512

Unnerved by the presence of the jeep, this nervous matriarch turns to flee:

Bandipur Mar 14 076

Tiger tiger burning bright, pic by Dr. R:


Here is the complete list of sightings.


1. Asian brown flycatcher

2. Asian koel

3. Ashy drongo

4. Ashy prinia

5. Asian paradise flycatcher

6. Bay-backed shrike

7. Blue-faced malkoha

8. Blyth’s starling

9. Blyth’s reed warbler

10. Brahminy starling

11. Brown fish owl

12. Brown shrike

13. Chestnut shouldered petronias

14. Cinereous tit

15. Common hawk cuckoo

16. Common iora

17. Common kestrel

18. Common myna

19. Coppersmith barbet

20. Coucal

21. Crested serpent eagle

22. Eurasian collared dove

23. Greater flameback

24. Green barbet

25. Grey francolin

26. Grey heron

27. Grey junglefowl

28. Grey wagtail

29. Hoopoe

30. Indian grey hornbill

31. Indian robin

32. Indian treepie

33. Jungle babbler

34. Jungle myna

35. Large cuckooshrike

36. Lesser flameback

37. Little brown dove

38. Little egret

39. Long-tailed shrike

40. Magpie robin

41. Oriental white-eye

42. Paddyfield pipit

43. Pied bushchat

44. Pigmy woodpecker

45. Plum-headed parakeet

46. Purple-rumped sunbird

47. Racket-tailed drongo

48. Red spurfowl

49. Red-vented bulbul

50. Red-wattled lapwing

51. Red-whiskered bulbul

52. Rose-ringed parakeet

53. Shikra

54. Sirkeer malkoha

55. Small green bee-eater

56. Spotted dove

57. Streakthroated woodpecker

58. White-bellied drongo

59. White-browed fantail

60. White-browed wagtail

61. White-headed babbler

62. White-throated kingfisher

63. Yellow-footed green pigeon


64. Barking deer

65. Chital

66. Common mongoose

67. Elephant

68. Gaur

69. Malabar giant squirrel

70. Ruddy mongoose

71. Sambar

72. Stripe-necked mongoose

73. Tufted langur

74. Wild boar

75. Tiger


76. Terrapin

Book Review: Of Birds and Birdsong, by M. Krishnan


Book review: Of Birds and Birdsong, by M. Krishnan

Edited by Shanthi and Ashish Chandola

Aleph Book Company, published 2012

I have alluded to this exceptional book in a previous post, and have been wanting to publish this review for many weeks now.

Once in a rare while, we come across a book that has rich topical value, but which can also be read simply for the elegance of its language. Of Birds and Birdsong is one such book (M.R. James’ Ghost Stories is another that readily comes to mind). If you possess a love for the English language, you’ll enjoy this book immensely even if the immediate topic – birds – is not of any great interest.

Madhavaiah Krishnan (1912-1996) was not just an ornithologist. He was a naturalist and photographer par excellence. For a man with so brilliant a mind he was a failure academically, and tried his hand at an astonishing variety of vocations (including implausibly, goat grazing). But he was a prolific writer and wrote a column for The Statesman which ran for an astounding forty six years, the last piece being published on the day of his death. He was also an artful photographer, producing masterful black and white images from the natural world using equipment he had rigged together himself and dubbed the Super Ponderosa. Krishnan served on the advisory committee of the BNHS, on the steering committee for Project Tiger, and on the Indian Board of Wildlife. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1970.


This book brings together various pieces Krishnan wrote about birds, over the years. Some of the pieces are quaint given their vintage, like the ones on partridge and gamecock rearing, and pigeon post. Many others are short, straightforward profiles of certain species – the ones on the sarus crane, painted stork, grey junglefowl and changeable hawk eagle for instance. The more delightful ones are infused with personalized observations and anecdotes. There is an essay on the dangers of putting up nest-side hides, and on the precautions to be taken to prevent nest abandonment. There is another very short piece on the significance of the siesta in the animal and bird world. There are two entire sections devoted to pieces that deal with bird calls, and bird flight respectively.

As I have mentioned before, one cannot but help feel that Krishnan’s keen sense of observation was in a word, staggering. Wondering about the allusion to the sweet voice of the parakeet in Indian poetry while the call itself is a harsh screech in reality, Krishnan observed that the rose ringed parakeet has a “low, long, tremulous, ineffably sweet call” when summoning its young to the mouth of the nest-hole. Elsewhere, he painstakingly counted the number of times a hoopoe folded and unfolded its crest in the duration of a minute, and observed how the flicking of the crest expressed “the entire emotional range of the bird”. On yet another occasion he writes about trying to time the rapping beat of a woodpecker with a stopwatch.

The writing is often laced with a subtly wicked sense of humour.  In the chapter on birds that can be seen on the “interminable perches” of telegraph wires by the railway tracks, he says what can be principally seen are birds that like to perch high and pounce. “However, it is wiser not to be to exact on such matters. I once saw an undoubted quail planted squarely on a passing telegraph wire. What business can any quail possibly have atop this unnatural perch? I do not know, but I am almost sure the quail did not either.

In surmising why the white-browed wagtail is not as accomplished a singer as the magpie robin, Krishnan has a clever explanation. “It is all a matter of tails. If it could jerk its tail right over its head, and fan it out as the Magpie Robin does, no doubt it would sing as wildly and wonderfully, but being only a wagtail, it is content with its modest, sweet little song.

I cannot look at white headed babblers now without this scintillating description coming to mind. “They go hopping along to some corner, and one bird turns a dead leaf over while its fellows look on with a critical slant of their white heads – then, suddenly, the party dissolves in hysterical squeaks, and whirrs across on weak wings to another corner of the compound, where they proceed at once to turn over dead leaves again. Clearly, the birds are daft, but they are a feature of Madras gardens (however nominal the garden) and will always be. By sheer esprit de corps and an inability to take life too seriously, they have prevailed where their betters have given up.

Once every few pages, you are guaranteed to come across a word you’ve never heard of. Krishnan’s vocabulary was immense, and his love for finding the right word was deep. Whoever thought the grey wagtail’s belly was gamboge in colour? I was piqued by use of the word volplaning on multiple occasions and looked it up. Perhaps I’ve seen it used before, but I cannot recollect it.

Like any exceptionally good writer, Krishnan could be brilliantly evocative when he needed to. Sample this. “I remember spending a delightful hour beside the lake at Siruvani. The great, verdant trees and feathery clumps of bamboos on the shores mirrored in the still water to endow it with a dark, viridian calm. It was almost a scene of idyllic quiet, except that it was all too wildly beautiful to be idyllic, too like something out of a barbarian dream of paradise, and a barbarian that I am, it held me fascinated. Then an egret came flying round the corner, flying low over the water, dazzlingly white and clear against the profound umbers and greens of the reflected forest, each slow, rhythmic stroke of the wings duplicated in the mirror below. Halfway across, the bird stalled and hung in the air, the pinions of the forwardly directed wings splayed out with the braking action, the horn-black, yellow-footed legs dangling and almost touching their twin image on the lake’s surface, the head and neck stretched sinuously forward as it scrutinized something in the water below. For a moment then the stillness was perfect, and for that moment it was no dream but paradise in fact.

Krishnan was a voracious reader and there are umpteen literary references and allusions scattered all through the book – Lockwood Kipling, William Blake, Richard Lovelace, et al. Moreover there are plenty of references from nature writers of his and earlier generations – men like Konrad Lorenz, Douglas Dewar, ‘Eha’, G.M. Henry, G.P. Sanderson and David Cunningham.

Literary aesthete aside, the book has a wealth of information on over a hundred species of birds from the subcontinent. Much of this is derived from painstaking personal observation over the years. And the anecdotal narrative makes it good fun to read, for most part.

In summation, I found this book breathtaking. If you are reading this blog, you probably have some sort of interest in the natural world and if you do, this book definitely belongs on your bookshelf.

There is a useful ‘notes’ section at the back of the book which among other things, gives the current names of many of the birds. I however felt that these alone could have been footnoted along with the text, for more convenient referencing rather than being placed separately and at the end. But this is admittedly a minor inconvenience.

Trip Report: Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve Oct ’13

Trip Report:        Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve

Dates:                   26/27/28 Oct 2013

Camp:                   Wild Valley Farm, Germalam P.O.

Companions:       GK and VR



STR: Wikipedia Abstract

Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve (STR) was declared as a PA in 2008 with 524 sq kms of area. In 2011, another 887 sq kms were added, bringing the size to 1,412 sq kms – which makes it the largest wildlife sanctuary in Tamilnadu. STR is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, and is contiguous with BRT Tiger Reserve, Mudumalai National Park, Bandipur National Park and Masinagudi (Sigur Plateau). Sathyamangalam falls under Erode district, overlaps two taluks (Sathyamangalam and Gobichettipalayam) and is the fourth Project Tiger reserve in TN (after Mudumalai, Anamalai and KMTR).

The topography varies from scrub and thorn jungle in the plains, to lush shola forests at higher altitudes. A December ’11 camera trapping study estimated the presence of 28 tigers. In the same year, the population of elephants was estimated at 850. A 2009 wildlife survey had estimated 10 tigers, 866 elephants, 672 gaur, 27 leopards, 2,348 chital, 1,068 blackbuck, 304 sambar, 77 barking deer and chausingha, 843 wild boar, 43 sloth bears and 15 striped hyenas. Mr. Daniel (see later) mentioned a tiger scat study that had enumerated some 46 tigers in the area.

Paranormal Phenomena

The area is infamous as being the haunt of the sandalwood and ivory smuggler Veerappan for years.  You can find online references to STR as one of the most haunted spots in India after his slaying. Strangely, four people we separately asked were puzzled or amused by the question and seemed to be completely unaware of any such reputation the place possessed. We went looking for spooky stories, but this came a cropper. So much for the supernatural.

Wild Valley Farm

We stumbled on the place online and it turned out to be a great choice. The farm is near a village called Germalam, exactly 205 kms from my home in Bangalore, via Kanakapura road/NH209. To get there, you drive to Kollegal and ask for the road to MM Hills/Udayarpalya. Some 20-30 kms down this road, you see another road forking off to the right, with a large signboard that reads “Wildlife…” something (“Wildlife Conservation Society”?) This road leads straight to Germalam, where you’ll need to turn left to get to the farm. Germalam is 60 kms from Kollegal, and is a very short distance from the Karnataka border.

WVF is owned by S.R. Daniel, a very amiable and interesting man who lives on the place. He is one of those rare people who’re actually living out their dreams, having bought 100 acres of uncultivated land  at the back of nowhere in his late twenties, and then having settled there and learned to farm successfully. We had some very interesting conversations with Mr. Daniel. His love for the place, its people and the animals came through very clearly. Especially memorable were his anecdotes about the relentless struggle to keep wild elephants out of the farm.  This quest to elephant-proof the farm seems to be a big part of Mr. Daniel’s life and he talked about the big bulls that aren’t deterred by the electric fencing.

These elephant fences are single wires strung out at heights varying from 6.5 feet to 7 feet or so, and connected to an electric fence machine that spits out a pulse of high voltage (4,000 volts) and low wattage (Ampereage?) at intervals of about a second. The pulsing and low wattage ensure contact doesn’t kill. Getting entangled in the wires however can, and we heard of cattle as well as inebriated men getting killed this way.

Coming back to the topic of the bull elephants, Mr. Daniel spoke of them hurling a branch or trunk to get the wire to sag, and then flooring the entire contraption, fence post, wire and all by stamping down on the live wire with their forelegs, notwithstanding the shock of the electric current. Alternatively, they’d get hold of one of the posts with their trunk, and heave it right out of the ground, uprooting poles for 50 meters or so on either side in the process, and bringing the whole arrangement crashing. I was reminded of Dr. Lucy King’s experiment with beehive fences in Kenya (see Sanctuary Asia, October ’13 issue). These fences have wires between posts from which the hives are suspended, and if the pachyderm attempts to dismantle or even touch the fence, it sets the hives swinging. Dr. King found that the resultant angry buzz the bees make is enough to get the elephant to back off. The hive fence also generates an additional income for the farmer. I did mention this to Mr. Daniel, though I’m not sure if he found the idea convincing enough to attempt.

We crossed under the live fence-wires a couple of times, gingerly stepping across, bending much lower than was required, and staying low well after the wire was passed. For all the caution exercised, we discovered later that we had been trudging right under one of these fences strung between our tent and the toilets, blissfully unaware of its electrifying presence a few inches above our heads.

The staff on the farm is polite and hospitable, and the frosting on the cup-cake is the dogs – five of them – Bilbo the lab/GSD, Rover his brother, Spike the Dobermann and a couple of Lhasa Apsos. They are, especially the first three, delightfully friendly. Bilbo slept on the grass outside our tent once he figured we liked dogs as much as he did. And the cherry on the frosting is the Red Spurfowl calls in the darkness that resound through the forests around the farm, vaguely reminiscent of something plopping into water. Grey junglefowl call too, and so do peafowl – all of which are very pleasant sounds to those of us who love our forests. And during the day, bulbuls, sunbirds and other birds set up a cacophonic chatter. The farm is verily a birder’s paradise, at least in winter.

Accommodation is by way of fabric tents pitched on grass plots near the forest edge, with no power supply. The tents overlook a patch of turmeric and gooseberry beyond which lies the forest’s edge. Each tent holds upto four camp cots, and little else. The farm has a total of 20 such tents, and they are erected when booked and dismantled after. Toilets and bathrooms are in a regular, electrified facility about 50 meters away. The arrangements are not luxurious by any stretch, but certainly clean and functionally adequate. Dining arrangements are a little way off, near a large kitchen constructed for the purpose – there is a little al fresco dining area with a delightful view. No, not quite al fresco, but you can eat on the porch whilst looking at the forest with the ever-present elephant fence-wire in the foreground. We must say we quite enjoyed the simple south-Indian fare. All the wandering in the forests and the clean air helped sharpen our appetites too.

The weather in October was warm and dry during the day for most part (though it must have been cool enough on the farm), with a nip in the air come evening. Nights are pleasantly cold.

The one inconvenience we faced staying on the farm was the distance from there to the starting point for our drives – Hasanur – 23 kms away. This required a headstart, which meant leaving at 5 AM to link up with our guide at 5:45 AM. In the evenings, this distance had to be factored to ensure we returned to the farm in time to get our dinner (latest by 9:30 PM or so). But despite this constraint, there are enough reasons to visit the farm again and we would recommend it to anyone wishing to visit the area.

The Outings

VR had discovered a most resourceful fellow who was a driver to the ranger for 9 years and consequently knew the topography of the place intimately. We covered as much ground as we did because of this. And cover ground we did. In the two days on which we drove into the forests, we covered 400 kilometers, much of it over boulder strewn stretches, dry stream crossings and generally rubber-ripping non-roads. In any event, the Scorp (“Vanessa”) held up her end of the bargain remarkably well in these proceedings.

So this is what we broadly did:

Day 1:


This is a delightful stretch of wilderness. Mixed deciduous and shola forests, with ample roadside sightings in the late evenings. The road is tarred and in grand condition.

We came upon a sloth bear in the fading light, intent on digging out what were presumably termites. Enormous male in his prime. He sniffed and snorted around a circle some 10 feet in dia, completely ignoring us as we sat with the engine turned off, hardly 10 feet away – except for one irritable moment when he rose on his hind legs and flashed the white V on his chest as he warned us off. We watched him in silence for a good ten minutes before he made off into the undergrowth. That’s the longest I’ve ever watched a sloth bear for, not counting the Daroji Bear Sanctuary sightings where one can watch sloth bears at one’s leisure and often for hours, but from a very long way off. (I did hear recently that the Daroji sightings are now a thing of the past, with the elimination of the stone-crushing units that dot that landscape – and that they have now apparently dispersed across a much larger area).

This must have been the Night of No Fear, since we also came across a pair of Indian Civets cavorting on the roadside in the darkness, quite unmindful of our presence.

A short while later, on the drive back to Germalam, we ran into another bear, a much smaller one, but this one fled as soon as it spotted us.

Day 2:

First leg: Germalam-Hasanur-Dimbum-Bhavani Sagar-Sujilkuttai-Kulithurapatti-Karavanrayan Koil-Alli Mayar-Dimbum

To traverse this route, one needs to first tackle the 29 hairpin bends down the Dimbum escarpment (including an infamous one called the raikal bend which spirals up seemingly interminably and then abruptly spins out in the opposite direction). There is a lot of heavy lorry traffic on this stretch, and the narrow road, steep inclines, hairpin bends and heavy loads make for a potent combination.

Re-entry into the forest then is beyond Bhavani Sagar (with its lower Bhavani Sagar dam), and the trail meanders through dry scrub jungle where Blackbuck can be sighted, until the Moyar/Mayar river is reached. This is the Moyar river valley and you can spot White-rumped and possibly other vultures patrolling the skies in this area. I am confused by the differing spellings for this river – Mayar and Moyar. Our guide’s take was that the original/correct name is Moyar, but that it has morphed into Mayar or the enchanted river on account of its vagaries, coming into flow suddenly and unpredictably.

At Alli Mayar, the road ran into the river quite literally, and diagonally at that, requiring a crossing through rushing waters 2.5 to 3 feet deep, for a distance of around 100 feet. I didn’t have the nerve to attempt the crossing (in my defense, the Scorp was hardly three months old), and we turned back to Dimbum, wisely I think. I don’t believe there are too many options for towing a Scorp with a flooded engine block out of the Moyar in the middle of that forest.

The roads on this outing varied from poor to worse, inside the forest. The boulder-strewn slopes that flank stream crossings tend to be especially vicious as far as tyres and underchassis are concerned. You cannot attempt this route in a vehicle with inadequate ground clearance.

Second leg: Dimbum-Mavanattam-Begaletti-Thalaimalai- and then a u-turn shortly before reaching Chikkahalli, at a place called Dasarapallam, to return to Dimbum via the same route and thence to Hasanur.This Dasarapallam is reputed to be the stretch of forest where Veerappan had secreted his celebrity abductee Dr. Rajkumar for several months.

This was a repeat of the previous day’s route. While passing the spot where we’d had the stretched bear sighting the previous evening, I remarked that this was the spot and turned to point and as luck would have it, the same sloth bear was in the exact same spot. And curiously, this time accompanied by a Grey Junglefowl cock, pursuing him for any stray, wholesome insects he was dislodging. The sun was just starting to set and mellow evening light still suffused the forest, so we could see him much more clearly than on the previous occasion. We screwed up with the camera, having forgotten to reset the exposure comp a few minutes earlier. The images we got were frame-filling, but irredeemably blurred and overexposed. Yet another lesson to promptly return the exposure comp setting to zero if it is ever tinkered with – this is not the first image to be ruined on account of this oversight.

This was déjà vu day, as after Bruin, we again ran into a civet on the way back, perhaps one of the same pair we ran into the previous evening.

The highlight of the evening however was a glorious Makhna mock charge. A Makhna, for the uninitiated, is a tuskless male elephant (unlike the African elephant, only the males carry tusks in case of the Asian Elephant, and that too not all of them). Shortly before we reached Chikkahalli, we came across a massive tuskless bull feeding right beside the road. I was intent on my driving and drove right past, missing him completely. The guide urgently whispered and we slammed to a stop, backed up and sat watching him in silence. He was hardly 40 feet away and we were obviously way too far into his comfort zone (do I correctly remember the recommended safe distance for motorists as 100 feet?).
The elephant then started showing signs of agitation, decided to get his retaliation in first (a la Jack Reacher), and came hurtling towards the Scorp with a short warning trumpet. There was a shallow rainwater ditch between us, but it was hardly designed as an elephant barrier. The animal stopped some 15 feet away after effortlessly snapping a 6-inch wide bamboo stem with his trunk in a demonstration of disgust, and I dutifully moved the car a short distance ahead to pacify him. He then resumed feeding, still showing signs of agitation. We left in a short while to avoid precipitating a second charge.

I’ve seen plenty of mock charges, but they were all with the perceived comfort of having a professional safari driver at the wheel. This was the first time I’ve experienced a charge while at the wheel myself, and this ups the feeling of anxiety. In any case, I’ve found mock charges at close proximity to be intimidating enough to send my pulse racing in each case. I think I’d freeze in place if I were on foot instead. We read about the signs of mock charges vis a vis intent to make contact – flaring of ears, outstretched trunk, trumpeting – but I somehow lose the capacity to assess these the moment that grey-brown mass comes hurtling through the lantana.

After this incident, I remembered what I’d read as a child about Makhnas in E.P. Gee’s The Wildlife of India; Gee surmised that Makhnas tend to be larger and stronger than tuskers as a rule, to compensate for their lack of in-built weaponry. Elephants are large, Makhnas are larger, and all objects appear larger than they are in the dusk!

It should be noted that most of the routes described here are closed to the public, and that there is no organized tourism in STR. Permission to enter the jungle has to be obtained from the forest department.

Hasanur figures on the itinerary not because it lies en route to Germalam (it does not), but in order to pick up and drop our guide who lived there. It is a short way ahead from the Germalam turn-off.

There would be broadly three categories of visitors to this forest I’d imagine, excluding the politico-VIP-types who’d get in anyway. Bands of men or youngsters out to drink, hoot at elephants, maybe bathe in the river, and generally have a jolly good time. Families, out to look at some wildlife, with someone who can get them into the forests. And then amateur naturalists with a serious interest in the forest and its wildlife. It makes a lot of sense for the forest department to find a way to encourage the latter category, and to make some money in the process. Look at what Jungle Lodges & Resorts has done in Karnataka. The Kerala Forest Department does this in some limited way I assume, from what we’d seen in Gavi/Periyar TR earlier. I haven’t seen meaningful eco-tourism deployment anywhere in TN, and that is a pity. We were refused entrance in KMTR, and met with a very lukewarm response in Top Slip, and these are all places with tremendous ecotourism potential.

Day 3

We dispensed with the drives on day 3 and opted for a “long” trek organized by Mr. Daniel. Slipping under the electric fence below the dining area, we entered the bamboo forests by the Moyar with two guides, one a short distance ahead and another just behind us. Mr. Daniel repeatedly warned us against trying to catch up with the leading guide, as he might make himself scarce in a trice in the event of an elephant charge, leaving us at the mercy of the elephant. The lag would give us a head-start if we were to encounter an angry elephant. The reason for his caution became apparent very soon, with large deposits of elephant dung appearing just about every ten feet in the forest. This area is quite obviously infested with elephants, though there was some temporal respite in the fact that their movement in this area was almost always nocturnal. There was not much birdlife active in the jungle in the forenoon, and the forest was largely silent barring some junglefowl calling dispiritedly at intervals.

We climbed for a distance of around three kilometers and then descended by another route. The trek was moderately easy, with a little bit of clambering up rocky slopes. What was surprising was the unlikeliness of the places where we found elephant dung – on steep boulder-strewn slopes where it was hard to imagine an elephant making his way.

Mr. Daniel had told us about a Brown Fish Owl that we might encounter, we did see a large bird beside the Moyar that took to flight at our approach, but we couldn’t determine if it was this worthy or a CSE/CHE. GK found a discarded Chital stag’s antler that I carried home with me – it is much heavier than you’d imagine and I pity the stag that carried two of these around on his head. Incidentally, I read somewhere that deer seem to use their antlers solely for sparring with other stags of their own species, and do not even attempt to use them in any manner of self-defense when confronted with a predator or other assailant.

Overall as far as the trek was concerned, we got ourselves some good exercise on our feet and the delight of being in the forest, but not much by way of sightings. And no elephants either despite all the signs scattered everywhere. Thank God for that, I suspect both GK and VR would easily outrun me, not to mention our two guides (note to self: restart the thrice-a-week running schedule before venturing into elephant-infested forests again).

Post script: Kenneth Anderson aficionados will find bells ringing a chorus in their heads with all the place-names that leap straight out of his stories – Gedesal, Thalavady, Thalaimalai, Dimbum and so on.



  1. Asian Blue Fairybird
  2. Ashy Crowned Sparrowlark
  3. Asian Koel
  4. Barn Swallow
  5. Bay-backed Shrike
  6. Blue-faced Malkoha
  7. Blue Jay
  8. Brahminy Kite
  9. Brahminy Starling
  10. Brown Rock Chat
  11. Brown Shrike
  12. Changeable Hawk Eagle
  13. Chestnut Headed Bee Eater
  14. Coppersmith Barbet (calls)
  15. Crested Serpent Eagle
  16. Drongo
  17. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
  18. Eurasian Collared Dove
  19. Golden Oriole
  20. Green Bee-eater
  21. Grey Headed Fish Eagle
  22. Grey Junglefowl
  23. Grey Francolin
  24. Grey Tit
  25. Hoopoe
  26. Hovering raptor – unidentified, with rapid fluttering of wings while hovering in place
  27. Indian Bushlark
  28. Indian Grey Hornbill
  29. Indian Robin
  30. Jungle Bush Quail
  31. Jungle Prinia
  32. Lesser Flamebacked Woodpecker
  33. Little Brown Dove
  34. Long Tailed Shrike
  35. Magpie Robin
  36. Owl (unidentified/indistinct in the morning darkness)
  37. Peafowl
  38. Pied Bushchat
  39. Purple Sunbird
  40. Purple-rumped Sunbird
  41. Red-rumped Swallow
  42. Red Spurfowl
  43. Red Vented Bulbul
  44. Red Wattled lapwing
  45. Red Whiskered Bulbul
  46. Rufous Treepie (calls)
  47. Shikra
  48. Small Green Barbet
  49. Small Minivet
  50. Spotbilled Duck
  51. Spotted Dove
  52. White-browed Wagtail
  53. White-throated Kingfisher
  54. White-rumped Vulture


  1. Blackbuck
  2. Blacknaped Hare
  3. Bonnet Macaque
  4. Chital
  5. Common Langur
  6. Elephant
  7. Gaur
  8. Indian Civet
  9. Malabar Giant Squirrel
  10. Sambar
  11. Sloth Bear
  12. Star Tortoise