Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Jarakh aur naar

Yesterday our views of the striped hyena in Velavadar were brief and some of my clients did not see it. Our views of the three wolves, in the crushing, distorting heat of the Gujarati afternoon, were very distant. In the crisp cool light of this morning we saw both species beautifully.

Having left the hyena cubs in their den last night, this morning we went to them as soon as the park gates opened at seven. It seemed at first as though they had already gone to earth for the day, but soon a pair of great ears twitched above the light grasses and one cub, an exquisite faded gold with soft charcoal stripes, padded home. Soon it was joined by another and my three jeeps watched in silence as these two young animals raised their blunt big noses at the coming day and took to their den.

The rest of the morning we spent with wolves. The first was seen not far from the track, in the edge of a patch of thornscrub on which greater spotted eagles perched and through which crows flapped. Inside it seemed was a kill. Long-legged and lean, this wolf moved through the front of the scrub and inside, seen and unseen between and behind acacias.

Then it was lost and, sadly, a feral dog came to the kill, so we left. But, stopping at a tower to scan the grass, one of my clients found a second wolf, distant but coming closer. Across the plain and over a short-grass fireline we saw it pass: big tan ears and brindled flanks and a gait that looked easy, lazy even, but which covered ground with deceptive speed. Frightening speed if you are the wolf's prey.

This wolf left the park in the distance. Amazingly the first reappeared, visiting a waterhole to our left; we had unwittingly disturbed its course to another waterhole in the early morning. Behind the bank it drank, then emerged to follow the same path as the first, languidly crossing the fireline and the park's grass before us.

Just ten days ago I was watching wild dogs in Kanha, bright sparks of canid energy, always alert, always on the move. The wolf's mien is quite different. Its energy is latent. There is spring in its gait but no hurry. There is attention in its gaze but no fuss. Focus and relaxation in one beauteous, plains-treading animal.

We saw much more in Velavadar this morning, We will be there again this afternoon, with chestnut-bellied sandgrouse coming to the waterholes and wild boar bashing through the small trees. With Montagu's harriers, wolf-like in their ease of movement, over the plains, and larks - ashy-crowned sparrow-lark, crested, greater short-toed, rufous-tailed - filling the afternoon's heat with the purr of their wings and the chime and chatter of their throats. We may perhaps see again the naar, the wolf, the jarakh, the hyena, or any other of the secrets of this wild place of dust and sun and heat and grass and smiles.

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