Everybody at Velavadar seems to have big ears. Everybody carnivorous that is. The ears of the hundreds of graceful blackbuck are typically antilopine (it's a word, I promise, though bizarrely used mostly to describe kangaroos). So too those of the many muscle-massive nilgai standing in the shade of acacias on the plain.
More remarkable are the ears of the predators here. As we drive along a dirt track in the solid heat of a Gujarati afternoon, our quiet, razor-eyed driver Haider (primed, I later learn, by the knowledge of a den) picks up a dot on the retaining bank of a waterhole many hundreds of metres away. Through binoculars it is the head of a dot with very large ears. All the better for losing heat with. It turns its face, this dot, revealing a long square snout. All the better for smelling with. This dot is an Indian wolf, one of only thirteen individuals believed to be in Velavadar.
We drive along another road, to get closer and to have the sun on our backs. From here, though they are still distant, we can see three wolves. One adult rests at the base of the bank in the heat, like - and yet so unlike - my mother's dogs piled against the Aga. A well-grown pup is silhouetted at the corner of the bank, glowing gold in the afternoon light. A third animal, another adult, lopes to the edge of nearby scrub.
They are rangy these wolves, lean and spare. Jackal-like perhaps, though long-legged, big-eared and powerful, even at this distance. It is marvellous that a single species can so well adapt to semideserts in Gujarat and snow-fields in Ladakh, without mention of the countless other habitats that wolves roamed and owned across the world before humans drove them out.
We leave this lean family to their rest in the heat and drive to the home of another family, bigger eared still. As we reach a well-known den, some fifty metres from the road in the grass, a four-month striped hyena cub, round-shouldered and huge-eared, is ambling through the gilt grass. It slumps to its den and, for today, is gone. We will try for both wolves and hyenas again tomorrow.
As he turns the jeep, further on, Haider's quick eyes spot a jungle cat in the grass. But this jungle cat's ears are far too big. Its black tail-tip, sharp nose and quick bright eyes tell us this is an Indian fox. It trots away through the grass, with the light-footed, mischievous spring of foxes the world over.
Today we have seen no cats. But we have seen three species of carnivore, each beautiful and beautifully adapted to this rare, demanding environment. Tomorrow we return to the park and will hope to see more of the wildlife that hides in its breeze-rippled grass.
|A young male blackbuck attempting to impress|
|The park's only white blackbuck (a whitebuck?)|
is second from the right
|An impressive fact and an unfortunate apostrophe|
|My room at the beautiful Blackbuck Lodge|