Living Life in the Wilderness
Habitat Degradation and Its Threat to Wildlife
Debashish Dutta, a natural history photographer, returns to joanmatsuitravelwriter.com this month with a story of tranquility and peace. With sheer delight and awe-inspiring details and photographs, Debashish conveys the inherent beauty of biodiversity and why we are obligated to preserve and protect our planet. Join him on his expedition to Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.
I watched her intently as she moved around the undulating and at times rocky terrain with the subtle deftness of a ballerina. The lovely golden light of the early February morning glistened against her silky-smooth coat while her big dreamy eyes reflected the contentment she felt in her life.
For those who are tuned; the cradle of nature reminds them of the existence of God and the sheer greatness of his kingdom. And the satisfaction visible on the faces of the denizens of the forest a reminder to mankind about how simple, beautiful and harmonious life can be on the same planet that also houses the humans whose destructive force knows no bounds.
The doe’s eyes were talking to the ones she loved – a small family that was happily munching on the fresh morning grass and a little fawn that was happily prancing around his mother. They were experiencing joy.
After my advent in Pune in 2015; I have been doing my bit of research on happy hunting grounds around town for passionate wildlife lovers and serious natural history photographers. That is how I discovered Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.
Nestled in Baramati at a distance of 70km from Pune, it is arguably the smallest wildlife sanctuary in the country. Officially that is – because in India we have enough and more delightful spots of nature still relatively or totally unknown to the marauding city crowds who would waste no time in destroying their peace and solitude. There is an unwritten but well-understood rule amongst nature lovers and that rule is to maintain the secrecy and sanctity of a natural hotspot.
Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary is just about five sq. km in area. It has a big heart though and because it is relatively unknown; its peace and tranquility are still intact. The serenity has attracted a variety of mammals and bird species like the very rare Indian Grey Wolf, the Indian Fox, the Striped Hyena and the Indian Gazelle (Chinkara). The avian population on record has been the Indian Thick-Knee, White-bellied Minivet, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Laggar Falcon, Bonelli’s Eagle, Chestnut-Bellied Sandgrouse, the Indian Courser, and a few others.
When I headed for Mayureshwar; my main focus was on the Indian Gazelle. Locally called the Chinkara; Gazelles have always been one of my favourite ungulates because of their grace, charm, beautiful lithe structure akin to a seasoned athlete, flawless coat, lovely big and expressive eyes and the two-tone colour scheme of their coat. India, unfortunately, has been blessed with only one species of Gazelle. Africa, on the other hand, has a wide variety. In fact, of the 91 antelope and gazelle species in the world, the African continent is home to 72 of them. The Indian Gazelle closely resembles the Tommies or Thomson’s Gazelles visible in large numbers on the African savannah.
Back to the doe and family, I was watching. I had been on the same spot for over an hour. There was an obvious chill in the air reinforced by a relatively stiff northeasterly wind. The ability to be still, quiet, patient and watchful are good virtuous to have in the wilderness. They allow you to become one with the surroundings and enable you to soak in the unspeakable joy that only wilderness can offer to a human. The stillness allows the animal to relax and prevents a breach of the animal’s circle of fear.
Given the open terrain of Mayureshwar; it was possible for me to stay put inside my vehicle. The firmly planted bean bag on the window sill afforded my Nikon D750 a firm foundation for when it is coupled with the Nikkor 200mm-400mm/F4 VR II. The combined weight becomes substantial and a firm foundation is mandatory to avoid camera shake. My goal was to compose some nice frames capturing the doe in action solo and with her family.
Unfortunately, Mayureshwar has received some negative feedback from people who are obviously not tuned to the rhythm of nature. A simple Google search will reveal uneducated and half-baked commentary from visitors whose exposure to natural habitats and the sheer vastness of their variety is minuscule. Now, these are visitors who want to quickly see a few big animals and leave. Their heart is not in nature and their understanding of jungle craft zero. Thus, those who understand that the Earth is blessed with a myriad of forest types and terrains are able to appreciate the diversity. They are also able to appreciate the fact that nature has blessed the planet with an astounding array of wildlife and not just the big cats and mammals. Sadly, we have lost a large number of them due to our own callousness, greed, and lack of respect for the planet we live in.
The human mind is boundless and unstoppable. Sitting still and at least some distance away from the daily humdrum of life underneath a vast and beautiful blue sky; my mind had wandered to distant shores and days gone by. This is another unique state of mind of a person deeply in love with nature and one who always finds solace in jungles. While soaking in the natural beauty around and marveling at another inimitable creation of God; my mind reminded me that my beloved jungles are being destroyed cruelly all around and my heart started to lament!
Habitat destruction, ecosystem pollution, deforestation, species vulnerability and extinction, and such horrendous thoughts kept flowing in and out of my mind. Gut-wrenching photos of the recent burning of the Amazonia filled my eyes. Has the decay of the human mind reached such a nadir that those hands which set the Amazonia on fire did not tremble and hesitate? Were they not deliberately oblivious to the fact that the Amazonia supplies 20 percent of the world’s supply of fresh Oxygen?
Just then my driver whispered. We noticed that the Chinkara family had moved a certain distance uphill. To ensure that we were correctly aligned with the angle of light; we had to circumvent a bit to catch up with the doe and her family again.
In Mayureshwar; one can easily alight from a vehicle and scan around, however, that is likely to scare the animal away. The Chinkara is shy of human beings; if approached, the animal gives a series of snorts and prances away with a peculiar bounding gait. When alarmed, the herd takes off at a frantic pace, then stops 100 to 200 m away to discover the cause of the alarm. Therefore, stay put in your vehicle. Always wear camouflage clothes in a jungle except in Africa where camouflage clothing is restricted to forest staff and the rangers. Avoid perfumes for they too will scare an animal. They are not used to strong synthetic smells. Dark glasses are a no-no, especially when dealing with big cats, apes, primates and large herbivores. They can trigger an alarm and a retaliation.
I noticed that the doe and her little one had been joined by a male. How do you figure if the Chinkara is a male? Size apart, consider its horns. They appear straight when seen from the front. In profile, the horns of an adult male have an S-shape. The females have much slenderer and smaller horns compared to the males. Like other gazelles, adult Chinkara males are territorial and have a clear perimeter of operations. Other males are not tolerated but wandering females from other clans are always offered an opportunity to join the male’s harem. The male marks his territory by fecal mounds and uses these spots regularly. A Chinkara male is always around his lady in estrus and guards her aggressively. They copulate often and I was lucky to get some good shots while the couple was in action.
The little fawn was around all the time making merry. Chinkara females like most living beings make for doting mothers. I saw many tender moments between mother and baby and those scenes were heartwarming, to say the least. The fawn is with the mother for about a year and then ventures out on its own. Chinkara families are like humans with a size typically not more than five to six individuals.
The corrupt human mind looks at development as an opportunity to make money and makes development a bad word. Unfortunately, this is a global truth and as a result of the warped sense of development; our planet has lost a multitude of species and innumerable biodiversity hotspots. Extinct species will never return and damaged natural ecosystems are almost impossible to reinstate because forest ecosystems develop over millions of years. They cannot be replaced ever by plantations.
Maybe there is still some time left. Therefore, people should look around. Nurture a natural spot that you chance upon or happens to be in your neighbourhood. Mobilise sensible people and ensure peace and tranquility of that little Garden of Eden. Debashish Dutta, Natural History Photographer
Getting to Mayureshwar is simple once you are in Pune. Hire an SUV or MPV or drive down yourself. If you start at about 7 a.m.; you will be able to cover the 70 km distance in 1.5 hours. Google Maps is all you need for guidance. The entrance is at 8 AM and the fee is basic. Carry your own water bottle, tuck in a few sandwiches and munchies.
Please do not litter. Once inside; figure a tree by the side of the road where you can park your vehicle. Set up your equipment if you are a photographer or videographer. Settle down. Let the jungle take over.
Debashish Dutta is a BBC Earth and Nikon Asia recognized professional Natural History Photographer. Visit his website www.fromdawntodusk.in for a detailed insight into his wildlife portfolios. He is also Global Director & Head – Operational Risk for a major financial services firm.
Read a companion story by Debashish Dutta, Wild Girls Uninterrupted.