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Thread: Country notebook:m.krishnan

  1. #121
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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: THE MOST STRIKING OF OUR PREDATORS: The Sunday Statesman: 13 March 2016
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    KESTREL

    "THE KESTREL is, I think, the prettiest of our Falcons. This is very much a question of personal opinion, and the nice distinction between prettiness, on the one hand, and beauty or handsomeness on the other. We have smaller Falcons, more powerfully and daintily put together, and many whose flight is far more impressive in its dash and abandon, but I still think the Kestrel, sitting pretty on a perch or hovering and sailing in the air, the prettiest of our birds of prey.

    Much of the charm depends on its colouring. All falcons have the long, pointed, graceful wings of kestrel, and many have tails as full and long, but they usually run to slatey greys and somber browns, heavy moustachial stripes and highly predatory looks. The brick-red back and buff breast of the kestrel, mottled with dark brown spearhead markings, and its touches of grey and blackish flights have a complementary effect, unusual in the plumage of a predator. Looking at the bird, one feels somehow that it is no implacable killer -- and it isn't.

    The English alias for the bird, windhover, so little heard in India, describes its way of life. The kestrel's mode of hunting is to go sailing in circles, about 100 feet above the ground, flapping its long wings occasionally, and fanning and closing its full tail to suit the wind. It scrutinises the scrub below for large insects, little reptiles and the like and when it sees a suspicious movement below, it stops still, threshing the air with quick, small wing-beats, much in the manner of a swimmer treading water, but faster. It often drops much lower, to sight its quarry the better, and many drop again till it is hovering in the air barely 15 feet above the ground. Then, if it sees its prey clearly, it pounces.

    Very different is the kestrel's hunting from that of other falcons, and they have said that the movement seems more or less limited to wingtips; the primaries alone appear to move rapidly up and down, and not the whole wing as in a Pied Kingfisher hanging over the water and searching for fish. No doubt that the movement does seem limited to the wingtips, but that is because the observer is well below the bird and so in that foreshortened view can take note only of quite obvious movements.

    Recently I had the opportunity to watch a kestrel hovering from close quarters, and when I was almost on a level with the bird I noticed that the entire wing moved, I was on the terrace of a tall building, and the falcon was almost level with the parapet, and only 20 feet away from me. Such an opportunity rarely comes one's way, and I used it to the full, watching each tremor of the wing as narrowly as I could. The wings are moved up and down, not with the rowing, rotary action of flight, but still with some measure of lateral displacement besides the up-and-down motion; the whole wing is moved, but since the wing-beats are small, it is the flexible pinions that show the greatest amount of movement -- it is the principle of the lever.

    GM Henry describes another method of hanging in the air adopted by the bird, and the description is so accurate that it is worth quoting. He says, "Where a gale blows up a hillside the bird does not need to fan its wings, or spread its tail, but remains poised for long periods 'with no visible means of support' -- a most fascinating sight." I think the quotation within the quotation is from "Eha", writing of Harriers, but I am unable to verify this now. There is one thing I should like to add to Henry's account of this spectacle: it is not only when there is a gale against a hillside that the Kestrel can perform this feat; I have seen it suspended motionless in the air when there was a strong wind in the Madras area, far from hills; a strong level breeze is, however, necessary.

    Do Kestrels also hunt from their perch, as the White-eyed Buzzard does? I think they do. As everyone knows, they are fond of sitting atop an elevated perch, such as a post or the leafless, dead limb of a tree. I have seen them drop from their perch, at such times, to the ground -- once I actually saw a Kestrel take some insect in this manner, which it ate on the ground before flying up to its perch again."

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 7 January 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

    # A nice sketch of the bird perched on a leafless branch has not been reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : BIRD CALLS : The Sunday Statesman : 10 April 2016
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    BIRD CALLS

    "RECENTLY, writing a note on 'Calls of Indian Birds', I was reminded irresistibly of a story by P G Wodehouse. The long-suffering heroine of the tale, a keen naturalist working as a wage-slave under an uncontradictable boss in Hollywood, asserts himself at last when the man lays down, with a striking lack of originality, that the cuckoo says, "Cuckoo, cuckoo!" She ups and tells him, in front of an outraged army of yes-men, that the Cuckoo says no such inane thing and the its call is, in fact, a spirited " Wuckoo, wuckoo!"

    How she gets the sack in consequence of this closely-studied contribution to natural history and is restored to office and even promoted by a typically Wodehouselan development is the theme of the story. The fact is that if one were to assert that the cuckoo says "Buckoo" or "Luckoo" or even "Tuckoo", that would be as close and fair a rendering of a call as the traditionist's "Cuckoo".
    Birds are not much good at consonants.

    But, of course, a number of birdcalls do seem strikingly like the renderings we know them by. This is because these renderings accurately indicate the syllables, the stresses and the modulations of those calls -- but not their articulation. The Cuckoo tribe in India provide excellent examples of truth of this. My first acquaintance with the INDIAN CUCKOO (Cuculus micropterus) was made in a deciduous forest long, long, ago; I heard the bird's repeated call and guessed its identity from the popular rendering of the call, "Broken pekoe", even before I saw it. Now the same call is rendered differently in different languages: in Bengali it is "Bokotako"; another good rendering is "Kyphul-pukka" and a different version is "Crossword-puzzle".

    There is no question of any similarity in consonants or even in vowels, between these four renderings, but all faithfully echo a call of two closely-spaced words both disyllabic and both with the accent on the first syllable. The "KOEL" and the "BRAINFEVER BIRD" or Papiha (The Common Hawk-Cuckoo) have names that echo their calls.

    The accepted rendering of the LAPWING's call, "Did-he-do-it?", gives the syllabification of the bird's alarm call, and even suggests the sense of urgency in it. The renderings in Indian languages of some birdcalls are no less happy. But all of them can be equally suggestively and more unmistakably rendered in a series of "ki's" (standing for short syllables) and "kee's" (standing for long syllables) if we add a mark to denote where exactly the accent falls, but naturally one prefers a rendering in words, sometimes in romantic words to a system of meaningless sounds.

    The Tamil rendering of the SPOTTED DOVE's coo, "Kappalchhetti kodoo, kodoo kodoo!" is remarkably good and there is a touching little story to explain the words -- I shall not retail the story here since it is best told in Tamil. No doubt other renderings of birdcalls in Indian languages have similar associations with sentiment or a story.

    Not that any sophistication or culture is needed to appreciate, or even to invent a rendering of a birdcall. The best rendering that I know of the RED-VENTED BULBUL's call was provided by my son, when he was four. At that stage of his life, he was most at home in English, the only language that my wife and I have in common, and potatoes boiled in their jackets was part of his regular diet One morning my son came up to me and announced that there was a hungry little bird in the drumstick tree by the kitchen that kept on saying "Big, Big, BIG potato"!"

    What a contrast has been provided by pretty poetic fancy! I don't suppose many people read The LIght of Asia these days, but her is Edwin Arnold's account of Bulbul's song:

    The Koel's fluted note, the Bulbul's hymn,
    The "Morning! Morning!" of the Painted Thrush............

    Whoever heard a Bulbul singing a hymn! Bulbul's are noted not for their ecstatic song but for their cheery, rollicking staccato voices. A last point. It has been said that a distinction between a phrase of many syllables with a defined cadence, used regularly by a bird as a call and birdsong proper lies in the greater complexity and fluency of the song. Not at all. Birdsong can consist of one or two notes and still be authentic song.

    I have heard many gifted avian singers, among them the SHAMA wild in the bamboo jungles but in my list of Indian songbirds I would certainly include the PIED BUSHCHAT, The cock chat's song consists of a single rather cheery clear whistle, repeated a few times from atop some elevated perch; then suddenly this call rises steeply to an untamed and ecstatically sweet note, which ends as abruptly as it began. No rendering in words can suggest the call, and if this is not birdsong, I do not know what is it."

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 25 March 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

    # One beautiful sketch of birds drawn by M.Krishnan has not been reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M.Krishnan : A MIDDAY CHORUS : The Sunday Statesman : 24 April 2016
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    A MIDDAY CHORUS

    " ABOUT one o' clock it came on to rain. It began gradually and mildly, with a great pearl-grey cloud spreading itself across the sky, rendering the midday light wonderfully soft and clear. There was a refreshing coolness in the air, but no palpable breeze. In fact, it was as if the hot, sweltering jungle has been magically air-conditioned and furnished with diffused artificial illumination and a mother-of-pearl ceiling.

    I was lying on my back in sandy riverbed, in a shade tall tree. I had gone to sleep dog-tired and feeling ill, and woken only minutes later to find the sky and air and jungle transformed, and euphoria in me. Almost a hundred feet above me was the top of a giant clump of bamboo leaning over the nullah; a pair of GREY DRONGOs was perched on that swaying bamboo-top and all at once they burst into song -- a series of trilling, wildly sweet calls.

    IMMEDIATELY, as if this was the signal for which the other birds had been waiting, a medley of the musical bird bird voices filled the air. It was a chorus such as I have never heard before -- and I have heard the exhilarating chorus of WHITE-BELLIED DRONGOs in the cold greyness before dawn, the RACKET-TAILED DRONGO's ecstatic song to the rising sun, the welling rhapsody of the SHAMA at the dusk in the bamboo jungle and many mixed dawn-choruses, but this was something different, differently compound.

    A TREE-PIE, nearby, joined in with almost-chimed metallic calls, varied from time to time with its familiar " ting-a-'ling "; the loud melody of a party of HILL-MYNAHs came through clearly, and nearer at hand some other DRONGOs (probably White-bellied) were singing; the cadenced "broken pekoe" of the INDIAN CUCKOO, a call that I love, was so pleasantly repeated from behind the bamboo clump, and less musical voices, the distant screams of PARAKEETs, the jabber of JUNGLE MYNAHs and even the faintly heard axle-crack call of a SERPENT EAGLE circling high overhead somehow did not seem out of place in that chorus. And dominating everything was the insistent, never-ending "papiha, papiha, papiha!" of the HAWK-CUCKOO -- the bird was some distance away, but its call cuts through distances effortlessly and has a peculiar penetration gets through nearer bird voices.

    A great black woodpecker almost the size of a crow ( this was the MALABAR GREAT BLACK WOODPECKER) was hammering away a dead limb of the tree above me, providing the throbbing drum accompaniment to the many-voiced chorus. The hammering of this bird is sustained over a length of one -and-a-half to two seconds, and I have often timed it with a stopwatch. I have often tried to count the number of evenly-spaced billstrokes within this period, but never was able to get a precise count. There were from 15-20 "beats" in each long-drawn throb of hammering. Since these were evenly spaced, each impact and interval must be about 1/20 of a second long. I had thought it would be much shorter.

    The chorus was sustained and continuous and ended as suddenly as it began. I heard the mahout and his assistant summoning the elephant, browsing at a nearby clump of bamboo, just before the Drongos burst into song, and since it takes about 15 minutes to get a reluctant elephant to abandon its lunch and lie down, lay the pad on its back and tie it down securely, probably the chorus extended over that space of time. A lazy drizzle arrived with the elephant, and gradually the rain gather momentum. The bird voices were stilled the minute the drizzle grew brisk.

    We reached the shelter of a permanent observation platform just as the rain came down in earnest. For two hours, it rained heavily without a break, the long, vertical streaks of water coming down relentlessly all around us. Visibility was very poor, and no sound came through the dreary noise of the rain. But when the rain stopped abruptly and the sky began to clear, I saw a curious sight.

    There was a great mango tree close by, and two HILL-MYNAH were practising a remarkable exercise right at the top of its towering bole. There were some holes in the wood high up in the tree, and when I saw them first, through the slackening rain, the birds were sitting in these holes, ruffled up and sheltered from the downpour.

    Then they came out, and clinging to the bark with their claws, slithered down a few yards and then climbed up the bole again using both feet and violently flapped wings to propel them: then they slithered down again and flapped their way up once more. I thought that there was a definite purpose in this game to dry the flight feathers before the birds dared to take wings again. They flew away after five minutes to another tall tree, where they went through the exercise again, thrice of four times, and they flew away for good."

    -M. Krishnan

    This was published on 10 June 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

    # Not reproduced here is the Nice Image of a Hawk-Cuckoo with the caption at the bottom :
    'The Hawk-Cuckoo which builds no nest'

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan : DRACO : The Sunday Statesman : 1 May 2016
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    DRACO

    (FLYING LIZARD)

    "A WHITHERED, brown and yellow leaf fell from the Bijli tree above me and cut a swift arc through the air towards a teak some 25 feet away. And even before it alighted expertly on the teak's thick bole, shrank suddenly, and merged invisibly with the streaked bark. I knew that this was no leaf. True that at times an elliptic, windswept leaf does not twirl dead leaf fashion in the air, but it dashed straightway downwards, but the newly opening leaf of the Bijli (Anogeissus Latitolia) was a small and a shrill green in colour, not broad in the middle, brown-and-yellow and tapering to a long, acuminate tip - moreover, no leaf ever fell so purposefully.

    I moved slowly and casually towards the teak for I knew that from the brown of its bark small, unseen eyes probably watching me. When I was still not close enough to discern the thin, cryptic, molten form of the 'FLYING LIZARD' against the bark, a small, vivid yellow tongue of flame that leaped up from the tree trunk and then died down betrayed the lizard to me.

    The flame-coloured extensile and retractile pouch is at the throat of the lizard; it can be flicked forward towards the chin and then retracted into the throat and when the flying lizard is at rest, it is retracted and invisible. But when it is excited, the gular pouch is shot out and then withdrawn in rapid succession; at times it is kept fully extended for seconds on end. The mechanics of the exra-ordinary display are less dramatic than its effect -- what the eye sees is a bright yellow tongue of flame, about the size of a candle flame and and beautifully blue at the base, repeatedly leaping forward towards the chin and then being extinguished. In the male, the extended gular pouch reaches beyond the chin, the female's pouch is smaller and somewhat peg-shaped; it is less brilliantly coloured, but the female, too, can indulge in the remarkable display.

    Flight is achieved by the extension of a thin membrane on either side of the dorso-ventrally flattened body: this membrane is supported by the lower ribs and is quite in conspicuous when folded up, but forms a broad parachute when spread, an orange-yellow speckled with dark brown (or even brownish purple) dots when seen from below -- this parachute gives the lizard the semblance of a withered brown leaf, yellowing at the edges, as it goes sailing through the air, the tail forming the long acuminate tip of the leaf. The head is small, blunt-jawed and furnished with small warts that serves to disrupt its shape, and the small eyes are hard to see. The molten body is almost invisible against many kinds of bark.

    These lizards are small, about six inches long and much less in heavy in body, limb and tail than the familiar Gecko on the wall. They do not change colour quickly or vividly but I noticed that those that has been resting for some time on the light grey bark of the Bijli grew lighter and grayer in tone. Incidentally the female is larger than the male as a rule -- I say this on my own responsibility, for I can find no mention of this in any book available to me.

    Flight is direct and swift, with both vertical and lateral curvature to the line of flight. Naturally, the lizard drops down and loses height in the course of flight, and though it gains some height in the last foot or two, sailing upwards to brake the momentum; usually it takes off from fairly high up the tree it leaves, and lands fairly low on the tree it goes to. But twice recently, I was astonished to witness flight fully 15 feet in traverse, almost in a horizontal line, with only a lateral curve to the trajectory. Both times there was a distinct carrying breeze, and the lizard took off fairly low, from about 10 feet up a tree trunk; but this was made up by the ascent terminating the flight, so that it alighted on the tree of the destination also some 10 feet up the bole; one of these laterally-arched flights took it over 20 feet, and the other (unmeasured) was probably a few feet less in traverse.

    The more I see of the flying lizard in action, the more I marvel at its airmastery and almost incredible skill as a parachutist. I have seen it leave a tree and circle the bole, inches from the bark in a falling spiral, to alight on the trunk of the self-same tree a yard below -- this manoeuvre was indulged in, apparently in response to my scrutiny and to escape it, the lizard getting to the other side of the tree by the move. I have even seen it flit in a half circle to the other side of the other side, losing only in inches in height in doing so. The creature seems exempt from the laws of gravity and to combine magical gifts of levitation with swift wish-powered propulsion through the air! So far I have not seen it glide upward (except during the termination of its flight), but short of that it can control its flight with
    amazing certainty and skill.

    This Lizard is Draco dussumieri, the only flying lizard to be found in the forests of the South; elsewhere in India, there are other species of Draco differing only in minor details. I do not know why it was called generically, Draco -- the flying dragon of legend has that name but whoever saw such a charming little dragon, even in the world of imagination? Literature on it is meagre or (more probably) beyond my reach. The creature , in spite of its small size, is one of the most remarkable denizens of our jungles.

    It is an inhabitant of tall, deciduous tree forests and I have seen it only where soil moisture was adequate and where there was an admixture of evergreens with the deciduous trees that it loves. I have seen it licking up the common red tree-ants of these jungles and once another kind of ant but have seen it take no other prey.

    The gular pouch seems to be used not only as a signal or a mode of communication but also in its courtship, especially by the males. Many times I have seen pairs together on a tree but close scrutiny was impossible, for they go up the tree and hide or escape by flight. Once I observed, from a distance and through binoculars, three males and a female on a tree. The males did not indulge in any fighting, but chased one another around in circles or may be they were indulging in a kind of dance of elimination -- as it usual when the males are seeking to oust rivals. The female was a very passive onlooker. The males flashed their gular pouches in and out as they ran around -- that drab tree trunk was alive with brilliant flickering flames for almost five minutes, after that the female flew away to another tree via a clamp of bamboos (bamboo clumps are common where these creatures live), followed in swift succession by her suitors.

    Sharp-sighted (these lizards can certainly make out a man from 20 feet away, and an ant from 10 feet), protectively coloured, expert at dodging and twisting on tree trunks and at merging invisibly with the bark and endowed with powers of flight as a last escape, they can not often fall prey to lizard-hunters. However, they are nowhere common. You find them in certain patches of deciduous jungles but not in others close by -- I do not mean that they are given to flitting from place to place through the forest like birds, but they seem to favour only certain places. They do not like dense cover.

    What do they eat besides ants? They are obviously diurnal -- where do they spend the night and how? Do they ever come down to earth from the trees they love, and where do they secrete their eggs? To these and dozens of other questions I do not know the answers, nor can I find them in books. Perhaps some reader living near a deciduous forest or even in it, and not merely an occasional visitor like me can provide the answers to these questions."

    -M. Krishnan

    This was published on 24 June 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

    # The photograph of the lizard on the tree is not reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK : M. Krishnan: MUSTH ELEPHANTS : The Sunday Statesman : 29 May 2016
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    MUSTH ELEPHANTS

    " EVERYONE knows that musth is a thing that afflicts elephants. But what exactly is it? I think they were surer of it in the old days, when they thought that it was a kind of sexual frenzy to which tuskers, denied the company of cows, were prone. Those were the days when people were content with a less pettifogging, more gentlemanly understanding of things -- when malaria was a waterborne malady and men past 40 were given to winds in the joints. The modern craze for exactness was not there.

    For once my dictionary (which prefers to spell the word "must") is unhelpful; it says that "must" is a "dangerous frenzy in some male animals, as male elephants", and adds that the word comes from the Persian and Hindustani "mast", meaning intoxication.

    I have not heard of any animal besides the elephant getting into musth, and to me the " in some animals, as elephants" seems needless, cautious vagueness, but the etymological sidelight is illuminating. The Hindustani (and Hindi) "musth" is not peculiar to elephants. Haven't you heard of the "musth-hawa" of cinematic and folk lyrics? I am not very sure of its precise meaning, and consulting a number of Hindi-speaking people I only get the impression that both in elephants and in winds the adjectival musth is a quality that is at once overwhelming and hard to circumscribe with mere words __ but I understand that the "musth-hawa" is a heavy wind, perhaps even a high wind.

    Turning to other Indian languages, other words are used to denote the condition of musth in elephants; in Tamil, for instance, we use the word "matham". The point I am trying to make is that although such usage is unknown to the idiom of the language, you can use the word "matham" to qualify a heavy, rain-laden wind in Tamil, and make yourself understood: "matham" means an overwhelming fullness, even a madness.

    I have gone into the meaning of the word at such length because when you want to know what, precisely, a word means, you need to know every shade of its meaning and its equivalents in other languages. Unfortunately, all this etymological industry does not help to give a clearer idea of what musth in elephants is! But it is neither an overflowing fullness or a madness -- and still it could be both a frenzy and intoxication, though not both at the same time. To be more specific, at times an elephant in musth seems afflicted with a heavy stupor, and at other times with an insufferable irritability.

    Having had the opportunity to observe tame and wild tuskers in musth, and to discuss the phenomenon with two men who know their Indian elephant, I have seen, over many years and in widely separated areas, late in March or early in April; this does seem to suggest (making due allowance for the fact that I have visited jungles and elephant camps mainly in this time of the year) that is early in summer, in spring, the elephants tend to get into musth, in South India at any rate. Not all the adult bulls in an area get into this condition then -- only a few do. Musth is definitely not a rut, and it does not seem to have a sexual urge behind it. Even the duration of the affliction is not predictable; it may last for a few days, or for months. As a rule, cow elephants do not get into musth, but there are records of wild cows being in musth -- tame cows do not, I believe, get into this condition. Even very old, decrepit may be stricken with musth.

    The physical manifestations are easily recognised. With the onset of musth, the temporal region of the head gets slightly swollen, owing to glandular enlargement beneath the skin, and has a visibly tender look; in old bulls, the hollows above the eyes are exaggerated by this swelling of the peripheral flesh. A thick, back, oily fluid oozes out of a pore on either side of the face, between the eye and the ear, and stains the cheek below.

    Tame elephants in musth are often dangerous, but the tendency seems to be individualistic, some are quite uncontrollable then, and some are perfectly safe. Last April, I was at an elephant camp where there were three tuskers. The oldest of these, an aged beast suffering from tumours and generally in an enfeebled condition, was in musth; so was youngest, a just-adult animal that was suffering from an injury. Both these were not tied up and for quite some time we stood close besides them, studying them. The third tusker at this camp, a burly animal in his prime, was not in musth then; even so, he could not be approached by strangers, for he had a summary way of dealing with those he did not take a fancy to; since 1959 this tusker has been getting into musth frequently, and is a real source of anxiety to his mahout and others at that camp for he has to be kept tied up and is potentially dangerous.

    Tame elephants that are troublesome when in musth are firmly secured at the first signs of the condition, and are fed reduced rations and given sedatives. They are specially prone to attack men then and many mahouts have been killed by their charges when they were in musth.

    Wild elephants, on the other hand, do not seem to get into an irritable frenzy when in musth. Very often they seem to be in a deep stupor, though going through their usual activities, almost like sleepwalkers. Both herd bulls and lone bulls get into musth -- I have seen, and photographed, herd bulls very much on musth and the near presence of cows seemed to make no difference to the afflicted animal; it is a fact, that though, that the cows are singularly considerate to the herd bull then.

    I have never heard of a wild tusker being dangerous to men because of this condition. The rogues that are such a real menace to jungleside humanity in South India are invariably suffering from some painful injury or which have recovered from such injuries, and almost always these festering wounds that may take years to get cured are gunshot wounds.

    According to knowledgeable mahout whom I asked, musth is caused by the overheating of the blood owing to onset of summer, the wrong type of food or some physiological cause. He pointed out that when in this condition, elephants were even more given to long baths, swims and wallows in the mire than usual; I, too, have noticed this tendency. I have seen a wild tusker (much the most magnificent lone bull I have ever seen -- the animal shown in my illustration) repeatedly squirting water over his tender temples and ichor-stained cheeks, directing the water in a jet into the cheeks -- perhaps this black exudation causes cutaneous irritation.

    Tame elephants in musth (the dangerous ones) are fed opium to keep them sleepy and safe. As I pointed out in this column two years ago, wild tuskers in musth often display evidence of having used their tusks to dig in the soil; they have firm masses of clay clinging so tight to the ivory that even a swim in the river, or repeated squirtings of water over tusks, do not wash off the adherent earth. Do these animals seek out some root or tuber, which they dig up to consume, and which has a sedative effect on them, even a soporific effect? "

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 9 September 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

    # The photograph of the magnificent bull elephant not reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: The White-breasted Kingfisher: The Sunday Statesman:12 June 2016
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    THE WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHER

    " THE White-breasted Kingfisher in the picture was not calling harshly and loudly when it was snapped - it was PANTING in the sun of a hot, dry March day.

    Many birds PANT when it is hot or after a spell of exertion, when they are hot. Pigeons gasp with their beaks wide open, the skin beneath their lower mandible pulsating, after a flight, and so do most game birds when they feel hot -- those who keep poultry must have noticed this. In fact most diurnal birds with wide gape pant freely, and it must be a very real relief to them to do so, for when you or I gasp for breath open-mouthed, we are merely gulping air into the lungs faster than we could through the nostrils, BUT WHEN A BIRD PANTS THE AIR GOES NOT ONLY INTO ITS LUNGS BUT ALSO TO THE AIR-SPACES IN ITS BONES.

    But I think that few birds pant on less provocation than this kingfisher. I have seen our three commonest kingfishers the Common, the Pied and the White-breasted, at the same stretch of water on a hot summer day and have noticed only the last panting, though it has exerted itself much less than its Pied cousin.

    It is an extraordinary bird altogether, having so largely given up its hereditary profession of fishing in rivers and ponds for hunting from a perch. This is only Indian Kingfisher that can be found away from water, sitting atop a low perch in the open and looking for insects and small fry on which it pounces. It is specially fond of hunting like this in puddles, shallow gutters and irrigation ditches: tadpoles, water insects, land insects like grasshoppers, small frogs and even the small swallowable young of birds and mice are part of its regular diet.

    But of course it can fish if it wants to, plunging into the water as boldly as any of its tribe; however, it does not hover over the water searching for prey, as some other kingfishers do. I think that when it has young to feed it brings them up mainly on a diet of fish, tadpoles and other prey taken in the water.

    Its nesting hole, like that of most kingfishers, is a deep tunnel driven sideways into a vertical wall of earth, such as a steep bank, and it is specially fond of nesting in wells, making its burrow as low above the surface of water as it can.

    Recently, I watched a pair of these birds that had their burrow in the overhanging bank of an artificial pond. The birds had a favourite perch, a tree-root as thick as a finger, which has been cut when the pond has been excavated and was now projecting at right angles to the side of the pond for almost a foot. A weak-stemmed profusely-branched herb grew just above this root, arching over it as it drooped, so that the seated kingfisher was almost completely screened from sight. However, it was keeping a sharp lookout from its hiding place, and I was much impressed by the keenness of the vision.

    I never saw the pair perched lovingly side by side on that root, as I have seen these kingfishers on the walls of wells and on trees. Always, while one of the pair sat on this bowered retreat, the other would take up its stand on a telegraph line crossing the pond some 15 ft. above it, and though I am no novice at this game, and tried every trick I knew, however furtively or casually I approached the pond and from whichever angle, the bird on the telegraph line would spot me and fly off to another perch some 20 yards down the line. And the bird on the screened root, which could not have seen me for it was on a much lower level and the bank was between us, would also take alarm and fly away or at times even retreat into its burrow, close by the perch. From the first floor window of the room in which I stayed, I could watch the pond through glasses and at times when I knew that one bird was seated on that root, it would have disappeared by the time I got to the pond, taking the alarm from its partner, and no doubt retreating into its burrow.

    Watching these birds from afar, I was again struck by their keenness of sight. No fish or tadpole at the surface of the pond escaped them, though they seemed to be looking the other way; suddenly they would leave their perch, dart straight as an arrow to the water's surface and take their prey, plunging boldly in at times.

    The love song of this bird is a neighing call, frequently repeated, very different from its cackling flight-call, and usually uttered from a high perch. The bird is specially given to song soon after sunrise, in summer when it mates. For several summers, a pair of these birds nested in a well only yards from my bedroom window, and I have often heard this rather quavering and weak song. Courting kingfishers look wonderfully beautiful and ridiculous by turns, as they posture with ruffled plumage and half-spread wings, with jerky movements. And their young undergo a sudden and extraordinary transformation, being semi-fledged and callow one day and full-feathered, brilliant kingfishers almost the next day!"

    - M. Krishnan


    This was published on 30 September 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

    # The photograph of a panting White-breasted Kingfisher perched on a tree has not been reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: The Laughing Hyena : The Sunday Statesman : 17 July 2016
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    THE LAUGHING HYENA


    " SOME days ago I was asked to arbitrate on a rather noisy point. Three of us was discussing a mutual acquaintance, given to loud, discordant, ill-timed laughter, who had just snubbed us all rudely and one of my friends remarked that the man was unquestionably a hyena, as was proved by his having the very laugh of the beast. At this, my other friend, a lawyer, raised a technical objection on the ground that the laugh of a hyena was a myth. It was this point that was referred to me and, with my usual tact, I satisfied both sides by pointing out that if a faunal epithet was needed for our mutual acquaintance, then surely it would be more appropriate to call him a laughing jackass.

    But in point of fact, the HYENA does laugh. Only its laugh is not, like the laugh of that man, a sustained cackle of triumphant derision, but the nature of a friendly overture. I have a photograph (reproduced here) of a Hyena actually laughing, while coming up to be petted by a man it was fond of -- taken that young, hyenas develop a deep attachment their human friends.

    The Hyena's laugh is a weird, excited, staccato cacophony, sinister in its general effect in spite of its peaceful import. No other animal is capable of the same vocal expression or anything like it. but sometimes, when I try to get Australia on my radio, that result is strikingly similar. No doubt that the hyena's laugh has a social significance, and is probably used to convey a placatory or friendly approach both in intra and extra-specific relationships, but this is not the call used by a pair of Hyenas keeping in touch with each other. That is a sensibly and economically brief call, much less loud, and since it does not appear to have been mentioned by anyone else so far, I may describe it fully here.

    For years, when I was living in Deccan, I had heard a peculiar nocturnal sound, half-yelp, half-mew, repeated at intervals. It did not sound like a bird's call, and enquiry of the Boyas and other hunters of the area brought no enlightenment. A trapper assured me that it was the call of the dinky little Indian Fox, and I assured him even more emphatically that it was not, for this charming creature was not to be found within the valley (though it was almost common, immediately outside it) and, moreover, the call of a fox, as I knew well, was a high, chattering, long-drawn cry. The one night, accompanied by a Boya youth and armed with a five-cell torch, I set out to investigate the call, which we could hear just beyond the road.

    IT was 11 o'clock and visibility was excellent, for there was a brilliant moon. We crossed the road and entered the harvested groundnut fields and scrub beyond, but stopped almost at once and crouched behind a bush when we realised that there were two calling animals, and that one of them was coming our way. The ground in front of us was bare and sloped gently upwards, and then dipped sharply down, and suddenly a Hyena appeared on the rise, and trotted towards us.

    A Hyena by moonlight is unforgettably beautiful sight. The warm greys and streaky blacks of its long coat, the high ridge of silky hair along the neck and back, and the short, full brush take on a silvery ethereality in that light, and there is no substance at all to the animal -- it is a moving aerial shadow, its fluffy hair and the peculiar give of the hocks in movement (which is quite pronounced) endowing it with a phantom-like, slinking grace. The Boya lad with me was as much moved by the sight as I was, and clutched me tight in his excitement.

    The silvery, insubstantial shadow halted, lifted and turned its head, and came out with its short, mewling yelp, a call that was not loud, heard from a mere 20 yards away, but which carried far through the night. From across the nullah to our left, almost a mile away, came an answering call, thin and sharply audible. I heard and saw that Hyena call once more before a nocturnal lorry, rumbling along the road behind us, sent it packing, and since anyhow it was going away, I flashed my torch on its retreating figure and saw every hair distinctly in the powerful beam before it disappeared into the dip.

    I may add that I noticed a difference in attitude between a Hyena laughing and one giving voice to its communication call. The animal lays its long, pricked ears back, stretches its head out in a line with the body and shakes itself from side to side in a cringing, fawning gesture when it LAUGHS, but when CALLING to its mate the head and ears are held alertly erect, and it stands still, listening for the response."

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 30 December 1962 in The Sunday Statesman

    # The photograph of a Hyena laughing has not been reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: The Stripe-necked Mongoose: The Sunday Statesman : 24 July 2016
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    THE STRIPE-NECKED MONGOOSE

    "THE English word 'mongoose" comes from the Marathi "mangus", meaning mongoose or mungooser (whichever way you prefer to spell it), and in spite of Ogden Nash's "Portugoose" the plural is not "mongeese" but "mongooses". That is as far as etymology goes in getting to know the creature.

    Legends so much farther, but curiously enough it is the recent ones that are responsible for much mongoose lore. The Kiplings, father and son, drew and wrote about the fascinating little hunter as only they could, but I am afraid I have little enthusiasm for the Mongoose-Cobra fights illustrated with vivid photographs that have appeared recently in our magazines -- even Ylla's pictures are obvious fakes; in these vivid pictures you see the mongoose flying through the air at the cobra which with open mouth and spread hood, is poised of the strike.

    Now, everyone knows that it is not mongooses but Dutchmen that fly. That is how the photograph is contrived -- the snake-charmer throws the mongoose at the cobra and you take your picture while it is still in the air.

    The hero of cobra-mongoose battles is the Common Mongoose, the kind that snake-charmers have and that is common in the scrub and around the human settlements. There are several other kinds in our country, some of them much larger. The largest of them all is the Stripe-necked Mongoose which is full twice the size of a big Common Mongoose and is essentially is a forest animal living along the Western Ghats and foothills. Recently I had quite a close and long look at it in a jungle.

    I was sitting in a cleft in a big rock, and screened by a small bush, wanting for a herd of Chital that never came, when this Mongoose turned up. It was a big male, over a yard long and powerfully built, and dark chestnut-roan in colour -- it was not very much longer than a big Common Mongoose though it was longer in the body, but it was much heavier built. Subsequently I discovered from booklore that the adult male of this species weighs around seven pounds (twice as much as the Common Mongoose), but asked to guess its weight then, I would have put it at 12 pounds at least -- the luxuriant, bristly coat adds considerably to the impression of heaviness.

    The longitudinal black stripe along the neck behind the ear was very conspicuous and unaware of my proximity it proceeded to overturn the stones at the foot of my rock and dig the sandy soil below, using its sturdy nose quite as much as its front paws for excavation. Very soon it found what it was looking for and crunched it up audibly with quick champs of its strong jaws -- a beetle grub, apparently, to judge by circumstantial evidence. The it lay down flat on its belly on the sandy ground, with its limb spread sideways, for a little relaxation, but it was not asleep -- it held its head raised and its alert little eyes were watchful.

    After a while it got up, shook itself, and waddled away, the long bushy tail and the long muscular body lending even its waddle a fluent grace. I stayed put, hoping it would come back, moving my camera so as to cover the ground at the foot of the rock and, sure enough, it returned but not along its line of departure -- it came behind and above me, on the rock, took a good long look at me crouched in the cleft below, sniffed loudly and contemptuously, and waddled away!

    Though seemingly slower in its movements than the Common Mongoose, and more muscle-bound, it is capable of equal speed and agility, as I have noticed on occasion. But I don't think it is an equally good climber of trees, being so heavy-built.

    It is a great wanderer. Years ago one afternoon, I followed a Striped-necked Mongoose for almost an hour, in the open jungle around a plantation. At first it was acutely aware of my presence but after a furlong it apparently decided that I was a harmless vegetarian, not worth bothering about, and went about its affairs, ignoring me, stopping every now and again to investigate a bush or a heap of stones or to dig in loose earth -- but it kept moving restlessly, rarely stopping for even a minute in any one place.

    Once it stopped for quite sometime, well over five minutes, at a bush, and ate something zestfully. I was too far away to see things clearly, and dared not move closer for fear it should take alarm, but when it left the bush I inspected it and found a creeper festooning the bush, a creeper with pendent fruits, encased in lampshade-like, inflated calyces. The mongoose had eaten the fruits of this creeper -- the "Cape Gooseberry" (Phicalis peruivana) -- as I could tell from the seeds on the earth below. In spite of its frequent stops, that mongoose took me over three miles in the hour I followed it before disappearing into heavy cover.

    This mongoose goes in for a certain amount of vegetarian food as well, though it is a hunter basically, like all mongooses. I believe it is quite capable of killing prey larger than itself, such as mouse deer and no doubt it occasionally kills snakes as well.

    When I was a boy there was a magnificent specimen of the Stripe-necked Mongoose in the Mysore Zoo, a gift from a British Army Officer who had left India. This mongoose would eat bananas and groundnut with evident relish, and was given to an impatient, loud snuffle if I delayed the offer of the banana in my hand too long -- this is the only sound I have heard from this species of mongoose. But I remember that even when I went empty-handed to its cage, it welcomed me and would come up to have its neck tickled."

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 6 January 1963 in The Sunday Statesman

    # The beautiful sketch of the animal lying down on the belly with head held high drawn by the author has not been reproduced here.
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 16-08-2016 at 11:44 AM.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan:The Great Black Woodpecker: The Sunday Statesman: 21 August 2016
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    THE GREAT BLACK WOODPECKER

    "IMAGINE a Woodpecker almost the size of a crow and blacker, with the jet black of its plumage and bill set off by brilliant blood-red on the head, a little white on the spread wings and white on the body above and below the base of the tail, and imagine, further, that the bird is as arresting in its behaviour as in its looks -- and you have the Malabar Great Black Woodpecker.

    It is a forest bird as most woodpeckers are, for without wood the birds cannot peck their living from bark and holes in the branches and boles. But while a good few of the tribe (the Golden-backed Woodpecker is a familiar example in the South India) frequent groves and orchards and even city gardens, the Great Black Woodpecker is a bird of the hill-jungles. In an old book that I have on South India's avifauna, it says that this bird "inhabits evergreen forests, ascending the hills to 3000 feet". I have seen it in markedly deciduous forests of the Western Ghats at that height and there it is most conspicuous in summer, when the trees are bare.

    The white on the lower back and abdomen, and the white "band" in the wing are displayed only in flight; when the bird is on a tree trunk it looks all black in a top-view or side-view, and it is rarely one gets a frontal view of a woodpecker on a tree. However, the blazing vermilion of the top of its head (the male has more red on the head than the female) and its big black body is striking, even from a distance. But for its outsize black looks, it behaves very like others of its tribe, perching on the boles of trees at an angle of 45 degrees with the stiff tip of its wedge-shaped tail pressed against the bark to give it stance stability, and ascending the tree trunk jerkily (usually in a spiral) and flying from tree to tree with alternations of swift whirring wing beats and a swinging bound through the air with closed wings. It drums, like many other woodpeckers, on resonant dead woods, but its drumming has a depth and carrying power that lesser woodpeckers cannot achieve.

    WHY do Woodpeckers drum? The German woodpecker specialist, Heinz Slelman, says that it is not to find food (the investigation of bark and tunnelled wood for prev is carried on much more silently) but to call or communicate with a mate, to get in touch with others of their own kind and to advertise the territory that the birds drum. He adds that they have regular drumming sites in suitable trees that he terms xylophones, though they will often drum on any branch or tree-trunk that happens to be handy and that the sound carries much further than their calls.

    On a still morning, the deep, quick throb of the Great Black Woodpecker's drumming is clearly audible from half a mile away and is quite distinctive in its sound and duration. The drumming is done by a rapid, sustained, spasmodic, up-and-down movement of the head on the outstretched neck, not by quickly repeated individual blows of the beak on the wood -- the rapidly moving head and neck are seen blurred like a plucked violin string, and the resulting throb is long-drawn and vibrant and strangely exciting to human ears, and may be to those of woodpeckers, too.

    On an average, the drum-throb lasts for about two seconds and there are twenty beats within that time, so that each percussion and interspace are about 1/20 of a second in duration.

    The bird has a variety of calls, over which there seems to have some confusion. The calls I have heard are a low, long whinny uttered in flight, and much louder cackles, somewhat varied, indulged in from a tree and occasionally also in flight. The flight call is pleasant and audible only from near. It is not one long call but broken up by the whirr-and-swing rhythm of the flight. The cackles are loud, grating and vary in duration. I quote the book I mentioned earlier in evidence of differences in description of the calls of this bird. "Mr. FW Bourdillon says it has loud and pleasant cry which it utters at intervals when climbing up the stem of some large tree and when passing from one tree to another it emit a loud chuckle. Mr. AP Kinloch calls it note a curious plaintive metallic clang and says that they posses a laugh only uttered in flight."

    However, the most vivid description I have heard of this woodpecker and its call came from my wife. One day in March, when I returned to the forest rest house from a long outing, my wife (who had stayed behind) told me of three extraordinary birds she had seen while I was away. She said they looked remarkably like the three witches in Macbeth, and, what was more, she had distinctly heard them shouting, in derisive mockery, "All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!"

    It had been a fiercely hot day, and for a moment I felt quite concerned for my poor wife, who had an attack of sunstroke as a child that had left her vulnerable to the heat. But questioning her gently, I realised that she had actually seen and heard some birds, and by skillful cross-examination I was able to identify them as Great Black Woodpeckers -- an identification that was confirmed when I showed her the bird later."

    - M. Krishnan


    This was published on 31 March 1963 in The Sunday Statesman

    # The photograph of the bird perched on bole of a tree has not been reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The Painted Stork : The Sunday Statesman : 16 October 2016
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    THE PAINTED STORK

    " The Painted Stork is a remarkable bird whichever way you look at it, from far away or near, when sailing on high in wide circles or when standing stiffly on one leg on the margin of a leg. Like many other storks, it has an awkward, camelish profile, but then its colouration is both striking and beautiful, and in flight it is strongly graceful.

    It is a white stork, patterned in black, and the colours that go best with black and white, so delicately and artistically that its name is almost inevitable. The distinctive beak is neither straight nor curved, but thick and bent near the tip, and is an Indian yellow with just the suspicion of burnt sienna in it; the naked face is also yellow, but with a more pronounced brush of warmness. It would be that the precise shade of this yellow varies somewhat, but descriptions of it vary slightly, but I have observed the bird in my native Thirunelveli area, and more recently at the Ginigera Lake on the Mysore-Hyderabad border, and I noticed no difference in the bill or face. The flights are a glossy, metallic black, and so is the tail (which is hardly seen in repose), and across the breast is a low, wide necklace of black delicately laced with white. On the back and wing, the plumage is rather full, and a shell-pink in colour, or a soft carmine edged with white. The legs and feet are a dull, deep flesh tint.

    No wonder, then, that this bird is called Painted Stork, but the old name, Pelican Ibis, by which it was known to our early ornithology, is almost equally apt. If you look at the bird's ungainly figure, it does suggest a very fancy kind of Ibis, with more than a touch of pelican in the bill and head.

    Sometimes it feeds in large gatherings, but I have seen it in small parties of about half-a-dozen, and even by itself. It patrols the marshy edges of lake sedately, stiff-legged and deliberate, as if it suffered from the old-fashioned complaint of wind in the knee-joint; and it wades in shallow water searching the squelchy bottom with the parted tips of its mandibles. Its appetite is voracious even for a stork, and it spends much time in feeding. It is also given to roosting in trees, and at time rests flopped down on bent hocks, squatting on its folded legs, a position that must be more comfortable to the bird than it seems.

    Though never a bird with a continuous distribution, this stork is less common now than it used to be. The occupation of open country by humanity, which has been such a feature of life in India in the past two generations, has hit our resident waterbirds hard, particularly those species that find their best hunting grounds in inundated low-lying land.

    Painted storks often nest in large mixed heronries, alongwith hundreds of waterbirds, but sometimes they breed in a small colony of anything from half-a-dozen to two dozen pairs, in a tall tree, building their nests very close together. In South India, the breeding season is generally late in January or February.

    I think that it is when these birds are soaring on a sunny day that they are most fascinating to watch. Like all storks, they are strong fliers, though they do not have the acrobatic air-mastery of the smaller Openbills, and they glide on taut wings high up in the sky, circling with swift ease. They look extraordinarily beautiful then, with the metallic black of their wings contrasting with the glistening white of their sunlit plumage, and the yellow of their beak and the occasional glimpse of the pink of their back as they bank and turn, clear against the deep, dazzling blue of the sky."

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 1 September 1963 in The Sunday Statesman


    #A beautiful sketch of the bird drawn by the author has not been reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: The life arboreal: The Sunday Statesman: 31 July 2016
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    THE LIFE ARBOREAL
    (Tree-mastery of Langur)

    "RECENTLY I have been indulging in something that no man of my age and avoirdupois should, if he wishes to retain the regard of the fellow men. I have been climbing trees -- though not when anyone was looking.

    It all began with a book that I read by a man who has shot man-eaters in Burma. He says that he has found the erection of a machan over a kill too messy and noisy, and that his method is to use a plank, pierced at the corners for ropes that can be tied swiftly, silently and securely between the branches, and camouflaged with leaves I have long been toying with the idea of sitting up in a tree of my victims, instead of going after them with my 10-lb Reflex camera, so I bought a plank, had it suitably pierced at the corners and laid in a stock of strong pliant rope. I had the plank lashed firmly in place in the fork of a tree overlooking a likely deer path, and climbed up to it; my seat was quite comfortable, though a bit slippery, and I tied a free length of the anchoring rope to the handle of my Superponderosa by way of abundant caution, as the layers say. Then I bent slowly down to peer round the corner to see if the deer was coming, and promptly fell down to terra firma. The tiger-slayer of Burma must have used some rough Burmese timber with an anti-slip surface for his plank and perhaps his plank was wider.

    One lives and learns and I did both. My present tree-seat consists of a tubular steel frame, with stout canvas stretched across it, and is slip-proof, though rather uncomfortable after half an hour. What one really needs, for the life arboreal, is a tough elastic pad permanently attached to one's seat, a slim body and a coat of dense hair to protect the skin beneath from bark, and thin long limbs, ending in prehensile paws, also insulated with tough, elastic pads. A long balancing rod or a tail is an additional advantage.

    THE LANGUR has all these, and no wonder it is so adept at treetop living. I have spent many hours watching langurs up trees, and at midday when when they rest they adopt the most naturally the restful attitudes. The trees they choose for their rest have the main limbs more or less horizontal, and many upright branches and forks -- these provide them with so many easychairs and lounges. Langurs taking their siesta provide an almost hypnotic picture of easy relaxation. Their gracefully dangled limbs and flowing tails lend their lolling repose a balanced security, but even so a hand or foot rests casually on a branch or other support to ensure that no gust or tree-swaying breeze or other sudden disturbance will upset their equipoise. My picture of an affectionate couple sitting by themselves on a tall teak bough is a faithful tracing from a photograph I took last summer -- during their diurnal rests, langurs often take their repose in company.

    A langur's legs are longer than its arms and this is undoubtedly of real use to the animal in the treetop. But on the ground this slight unevenness is no help and langurs usually (and sometimes suicidally) climb down to earth and run away from danger or disturbance. The palms slap the earth at each bound as the langur gallops along and on flat, and hard ground the slaps are clearly audible. Only the toughness of the black skin of its palms and soles saves the animal from really bad abrasions when it runs any distance over hard ground.

    Watching the treetop acrobatics of these monkeys, no one can remain unimpressed by its sheer abandon and careless expertness. A langur just bounds along the treetop and then takes off for another tree fully 20 feet away, clearing the distance in a leap high overhead. I have noticed that langurs are specially daring in these leaps when the tree they are jumping to presents, not a choice of stout branches they have to grasp, but a broad area of foliage and fine twigs. At such times they fling themselves bodily at the tree and land, arms and legs outspread, hitting the foliage flat -- this cushions the momentum of the leap, and at the same time they clutch at twigs and pull themselves on to the firmer support of branches. A langur does not hesitate to leap like this into a thorny tree. Its skin must be tough and thorn-proof.

    Some time ago, I saw the tree-mastery of a langur fail it sadly. I was watching a big male, and acutely conscious of my scrutiny, it indulged in an elaborate display of bored indifference -- this is often the reaction of a monkey safely up a tree to scrutiny from ground level. The langur climbed to a high, thin, overhanging branch and, perched sideways across it, legs hanging down, began to pick and eat leaf- buds choosily from nearby twigs, then it leaned over sideways and twisting its body, began to scratch its posterior with a hand lazily.

    Just as I was thinking that it was rather overdoing this affected balancing feat, it fell clean off the branch, landing with a thud on the grass-covered ground 30 feet below. It did not fall feet first and easily bunched up like a cat or a squirrel, but landed sprawling, and lay for quite one minute, immobile, apparently stunned by its fall. Then it crept through the grass to the tree and crawled slowly up to a fork in which it sat, dangling an injured leg. For three days thereafter it was limping badly, and it was unable to use the injured limb, but in a week it had recovered the use of leg completely, and was leaping about the tall teak-tops with its old noisy abandon."

    - M. Krishnan


    This was published on 3 February 1963 in The Sunday Statesman

    #The tracing of the photograph of the affectionate langur couple taken by the author is not reproduced here.
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 31-10-2016 at 12:15 PM.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The King Cobra : The Sunday Statesman : 01 January 2017
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    THE KING COBRA
    (Hamadryad)

    " SOME years ago, I visited King Cobra country and spent a few days trying to get a glimpse of royal snake, which I had seen only in zoos before. And to this day I do not know whether or not, I have seen a wild King Cobra.

    The king cobra which is found in many parts of South India where there are still natural forests left, is probably the most dreaded of all snakes because it is said to attack at sight, with no provocation. I have always felt that this reputation for aggressiveness was a myth, or rather, untrue. There are many recorded instances of people having approached king cobras in Burma (where too they occur) without being attacked, "Eha" shot one in Konkan, when it was up a tree, (the alternative name, hamadryad, suggests its liking for trees), without any provocation from the snake, and others have recorded similar killings.

    But there are also many stories in Anglo-Indian literature of sudden and unprovoked attacks by king cobras (there is on e in Mervyn Smith's improbable book) and while many of these are definitely fanciful, some may be true. After all, active intelligent snakes like those of the cobra tribe, do develop a strong sense of territory, and will demonstrate against intruders even if they do not attack. The cobra, which is a lesser version of its snake-eating cousin, will display this aggressiveness, where it has long been in possession of the ground, as I can testify from my knowledge. Once I occupied an old cottage which had known no human tenants for years; immediately after moving in, I found that two cobras were in possession, and knew no peace till both had been disposed of.

    On the other hand, too little attention has been paid by naturalists to the quite astonishing tolerance of humanity that a cobra, allowed to live in some place along with people, displays. The practice of letting a cobra live as a co-tenant, once not uncommon in South India, has become almost obsolete with the great increase in human population and the consequent rarity of bungalows in large compounds and the wane of religious and superstitious traditions. But I may assure the reader that "resident cobras" (as they are called in Tamil) have long been known in South and that their innocuousness was quite well-established. Even today, in certain temples, the cobras have free entry, and the worshippers move within inches of them with no fear in their hearts, and no consequences.

    Well, it is true that the King Cobra is not merely a cobra but a regal one, and that it is much more of a forest snake but the possibility of its developing a certain tolerance to humanity in places is not to be ruled out. And since it has powerfully developed territorial feelings, the possibility of its attacking fiercely without provocation is always there, particularly when it is guarding the eggs. In short, there is much to be said on both sides.

    But still, I am sure its aggressiveness has been grossly exaggerated. Being such an alert, fearless and large snake, it raises the first 6 feet of its length vertically the better to see who has ventured on its territory and expands its huge hood almost automatically -- and the man who has chanced upon the king cobra bolts in terror at once, and afterwards tells a blood-curdling tale of how the brute chased him -- when it was merely demonstrating or just hospitably seeing off the departing guest. The fact is that few have had the scientific curiosity to stay put and watch the snake's next move. A scientifically-minded man, I deplore this waste of opportunity to study the behaviour of one of our least-known snakes, but I also understand this "no-enthusiasm". I believe the venom of the king cobra is no more virulent than that of a young, two-foot long cobra but there is 20 times as much of it and so a bite usually has practically instant results. I myself missed the opportunity to take what would probably have been the first-ever picture of a wild king cobra for an equally reprehensible lack of scientific awareness.

    This was in Annamalais, and I was on foot accompanied by a tribesman of those hills, a Malai-Malasar. We are coming home from a long and vain search for the Lion-tailed macaque, along a footpath thickly flanked with bushes and trees. I was in the lead, and noticing a slight movement to my left, stopped dead. A great black glistening snake, as thick as my arm, was in a depression to one side of the path and uncoiling itself, it crossed the path ahead of me, unhurriedly. The snake was about 15 feet from me and took its time crossing the path and disappearing into the thick bush-growth to my right. I turned to ask my companion if it was a King Cobra, and found him already up a tree, an action that struck me, even then as singularly pointless.

    I turned back to the snake, and watched it closely as it went away. And I cannot tell how long it was precisely or give a fuller description of it. Perhaps it was fully 12 feet long and was a just-adult King Cobra -- perhaps it was only about nine feet in length and was the grandfather of all rat snakes. I had a loaded camera in my hand and could have photographed the snake -- the light was excellent -- but feared that the thud of the shutter might irritate the snake. Only after it had disappeared did I realise that snakes are wholly deaf to airborne sounds and that I missed a great opportunity if it was a king cobra -- anyway, in a photograph with the head shown slightly away from the onlooker it would have looked a king cobra. All that I can now say in self-defence is that my companion acted no more sensibly for if it was only an enormous rat snake he needn't have climbed the tree and if it was a king cobra he gained no added security by his effort."

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 26 April 1964 in The Sunday Statesman

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK:M.Krishnan: Sambar near smouldering trees:The Sunday Statesman:15 January 2017
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    SAMBAR NEAR SMOULDERING TREES

    " YEARS ago, when I was in a valley in the Deccan ringed with hills, each March great fires would sweep the peripheral jungles and watching the flames ascending the hills, I would wonder how the wild animals fared in these manmade conflagration. Then, one March, I had the curiosity to follow in the wake of the fire. Along with a young Boya I climbed a hill in the morning, and soon came to the jungles, where the ground was burnt and black, and even the trees charred for some eight feet up their boles, though many were still in fresh, green leaf and some in vivid bloom. We were looking for earth-bound creatures, like snakes, that the fire had killed, and found none -- according to the boy with me, the smaller snakes had gone underground, and the larger had taken to the water to escape the flames.

    As we climbed to the hilltop, the breeze in our faces and the burnt grass deadening our steps, we came upon an uprooted tree lying in a clearing, still cursing the fire which had died down and grown cold elsewhere -- these dry-timbered, fallen trees often smoke and smoulder for weeks or even months after the forest fires, once their heartwood is aglow, the embers within the boles keeping them burning through dewfall and light rains: the patterns of white ash on the ground tell of the way the trees lay along after the fire had consumed their wood entirely.

    WHAT surprised me was not that the fallen tree is still burning days after the fire, but that half a dozen Sambar was lying close to the smoking trunk basking in the warmth of the fire. It was nearly nine in the morning and the sun was hot on our backs; all mist and dew had long since dissipated and even the earth was sun-warmed. A movement by my companion betrayed us to the deer, which were up and away in a flash without even sounding their usual bell of alarm.

    TWO had been lying on the wood-ash as their forms in it showed, but the rest had been snuggling close to the embers in the heart of the tree. Later when I told a Boya, wise in the ways of these deer, what I had seen, he said that he too had noticed that they were fond of basking in close company near such fallen smouldering trees, but offered no explanation. Later still and in a drawing room, some sportsmen who fancied themselves pooh-poohed my account of what I had seen, accused me of imagination and worse, logically argued that no deer would snuggle up so close to live embers. I did not dispute the point with them, for I never dispute any point of Natural History with those who think that life is logic and whose only knowledge of our wildlife is limited to that needed to shoot an animal at sight with foolproof weapons.

    Well three years ago I came upon proof of this same proclivity of Sambar in the Mudumalai Sanctuary in the Nilgiris, but though I saw the deer lying in the still-warm ash of the almost burnt out tree, they were gone before I could try for a snapshot and what I wanted was the indisputable evidence of a photograph. However, I got my pictures all right last month, in this same area.

    A great Terminalia had fallen down, and lay smouldering and half consumed, on the slope of a nullah, partly obscured by the spiky stems of leafless saplings. A dozen Sambar basked by the burning tree, and the only way I could get a picture of them, on elephant back, was to cross to cross the nullah well above them and then descend towards the deer, risking showing myself against the skyline, always a bad way of approach. But it could not be helped, and the first time I had the sense to turn away and retreat the moment I saw that the deer were scared -- I was about 150 yards away then, and it was necessary to shorten this distance to 50 yards for clear picture.

    Two days later, I tried again, and got some pictures from far away, too far away as I realised when I had developed my negatives. I gave the deer a rest of three days, and then made my third attempt, without scaring them. I took fully an hour to cover the last hundred yards, stopping for minutes on end frequently; some of the Sambar got up and went away, but they did not go far, and after a while they returned and lay down by the tree again. Once men on elephant back have been "accepted" in this manner, it is usually possible to get quite close to Sambar without scaring them, but I did not do so because I could not get both the deer and the thin, low-hanging smoke into the picture if I moved nearer -- moreover, I was extremely keen on not running the risk of disturbing the deer. After taking my pictures, I made my exit as quietly as I could from the scene, leaving the Sambar still basking by the fire. My photographs, when enlarged to a big size, show the recumbent deer and the smoke clearly enough, but I do not know how the half-tone screen will affect the small print reproduced here.

    What stuck me as significant was the fact that the deer had stuck to their rendezvous for over a week, though disturbed twice. Both times I noticed that they made their getaway in twos and threes -- evidently the basking group, which included three fawns and two stags, was a composite one, made up of several parties. Sambar continue to bask by these smouldering trees, usually in exposed situations, till well into the afternoon, chewing the cud from time to time.

    On all three days, despite an early morning start, by the time I could get the smouldering Terminalia the sun was well up, and scorchingly hot. Perhaps it is something in the smoke, and in the contact of wood-ash against the skin, that they like, though, of course, it is impossible to be sure that it is not the additional heat of the fire that is the draw. One can never be sure of such things with such wild and wayward creatures as Sambar, the deer that are more truly symbolic of the forest.

    In fact we know very little about the habits and prejudices of Sambar, though men have hunted them for centuries, and perhaps there are more legends about them than any other kind of deer. There is the story of their swinging by their necks and antlers from elevated boughs and the mystery of their throat patches, for example, both of which should have had much closer factual verification than they have had so far. Even in the jungle fruits and other things they eat, Sambar are peculiar. Someday I hope to give a fairly full account of these things in this column, but here I may say that Sambar love the fruit of Randla dumatorum, other species of Randla, so "hot" and potent that poachers use the fruit for poisoning fish -- they are so inordinately fond of the fruit of Terminalia bellerica.

    It is well known that in cold places, Sambar lie down in pools in the winter mornings, because the water then is less cold than the frost-laden air. Could it be that they lie up near smouldering logs after the sun is well up, because the fire is hotter than the sun?"

    -M. Krishnan

    This was published on 24 May 1964 in The Sunday Statesman

    #The photograph of a Sambar group lying and basking close to a smoking log is not reproduced here.(Record Image)

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: The large and the little of it: The Sunday Statesman: 29 January 2017
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    THE LARGE AND THE LITTLE OF IT
    (The Gaur mother with her charming little Infant)

    " THERE is a Tamil proverb that says, " The youthful calf knows no fear". I had thought this a piece of metaphorical wisdom, meaning more or less that youth and inexperience rush in where maturity fears to tread, but early this summer, following a small herd of Gaur on elephant back, I realised that tha saving was literally intended, and true to nature.

    There was a dozen grown cows and sub-adults in that herd and right at the back, a cow with a very young, golden-fawn calf, perhaps a day old. The calf lay down for periodical rests, when the slow-grazing herd stopped in a patch of grass, as it did from time to time, but when on the move it frisked about with gay abandon, taking each light-bodied leap with jerky vigour and with the tail hoisted high in a flag of high spirits, the way Gaur calves gambol the second day of their lives and it seemed to find the hulking figure of our elephant irresistible.

    My interest in that herd lay primarily not in this charming little infant, but in a very large cow in the vanguard with exceptionally thick, out-curved bull-like horns. Has some inept "sportsman" mistaken her for a bull? I thought this likely for she carried two neat round red wounds on her left shoulder, which seen from a distance and through glasses, seemed remarkably like gunshot wounds and on the borders of the sanctuary, in which I was, the most disgraceful kinds of poaching were indulged in. What I wanted was a clear photograph of the wounds, taken from close up.

    I anticipated trouble getting close to her; having been shot at she would naturally be very distrustful of humanity and last thing I wished was to move her to a run when she limped slightly and seemed to find walking painful. So I had our elephant posted in the line the herd was taking and if the big cow took fright and sheered away I decided to give up.

    She was not the one bit frightened. In fact she almost brushed past our elephant but she was to our left and presented her unwounded right flank to us -- "sportsmen on the border favour 12-bore guns rather than rifles, and therefore I was not surprised that there were no exit wounds. The only thing to do was to wait till the herd had passed on and then taking a parallel course get ahead of the gaur and stop the elephant again, and try to get the big cow to pass us on our right.

    It was when the herd had passed us and we were about to turn aside that the little calf's curiosity got the better of it; it took a few wobbly, tentative steps towards us, stopped for a moment, and then came bounding in right up to the elephant's feet to stare at us in round-eyed wonder.

    Our mount, an adult tusker, slewed round to face the tiny visitor and swayed agitatedly from side to side. For some reason it did not like its proximity and nothing that the mahut could do, could turn him a little to one side to enable me to take a picture of that calf staring up at us all eyes and fanned-forward ears. The things that can cause a riding elephant uneasiness and even fear would surprise anyone unfamiliar with the great beasts, and it is not as if all of them fear the same things -- they have their whims and fancies in this. I knew that our Vikrama was afraid of Porcupines (a very understandable apprehensiveness) and Mouse Deer and even Vultures at close range; but I did not know he was scared of friendly little Gaur caves that came gamboling at him.

    Well, he was and he showed his dislike in a pointed manner. Inserting the tip of his trunk into his mouth he drew up some watery saliva and sprayed it out in a fine jet directed at the calf. Meanwhile the mother Gaur, approaching warily had come up and with steady rhythmic licks of her soothing tongue persuaded the calf to follow her and return to the herd.

    This happened four times in all in the course in my attempt to get a close-up of the wounds on the big cow -- and effort in which I failed unaccountably, for every time that cow insisted on passing us on our left. And every time we halted to let the herd pass before trying to get ahead of it, the calf came back on bounding legs to see Vikrama and Vikrama grew more and more agitated with each repetition of the scene. In fact, his dislike of the calf was so acute and evident and the mother Gaur's anxiety was so patent each time she came to rescue her little one, that I had to abandon my effort and take ourselves away though the herd and wounded cow had, by now, "accepted" us.

    The mother Gaur tried hard to make her calf follow her whenever they were near the elephant walking well ahead and mooing in a low voice to summon the little one. But once it was within some 30 yards of Vikrama, the calf seemed to find his surely fascination irresistible, and came leaping in to stand within 10 feet of us, to stare up entranced.

    The cow would then come up at an apprehensive walk, on tip-toe, with the head held fairly high and when near enough, she would stretch out her neck and lick the calf, a thing that at once brought it out of its trace and induced it to follow her back to the herd.

    By exchanging my Rolex for a box-camera with a long lens, I got some pictures of the calf -- not the wonderful close-ups I could have got it if Vikrama had behaved, but some grab-shots taken at about 50 feet, which still serve as a memento of one of the most delightful experiences I have had in the course of my long observation of wild animals."

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 21 June 1964 in The Sunday Statesman

    #The wonderful photograph of the mother Gaur licking her calf has not been reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan: Mouse Deer by daylight : The Sunday Statesman: 06 February 2017
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    MOUSE DEER

    " THE controlled burning of the undershrub that was a feature of the jungles of Kargudi (in the Nilgiris) each summer, has been suspended for two years, with the result that late last February, when the fire spread into the area from around, it was somewhat uncontrolled and fierce. In April I found the forest floor black and bare in many places, and the trees charred a good way up their boles -- in other places, the fire had been no less widespread, but comparatively mild in its effects, leaving the bush growth only singed.

    There were Mouse Deer in plenty in the more severely burnt jungles; apparently they found shelter here in the bamboo clumps that had, surprisingly, escaped the fire, and in the fallen trees, charred superficially but sound, and with safe deep hollows in their wood. The rains were delayed, but a thin growth of shrubs and saplings was coming up from the black earth, and this, evidently, was what attracted the animals to these forests.

    In previous years, too, I had noticed Mouse Deer in this area, but had few opportunities to observe them. All that I could get were fleeting glimpses of them -- a great, tearing noise in the dry, dusty undergrowth, a glimpse of a tiny patch olive-brown hide with pale cream harness-markings on it, and the Mouse Deer had vanished! From what I had read and heard I thought that these dinky little creatures were crepuscular and nocturnal, and they were out foraging timidly, never far from cover, at dawn and dusk and during the night -- I have seen them active in the jungles of Karwar late at night.

    But this time I noticed that even during forenoons they were sneaking about in search of green fodder, though for two or three hours around noon they stayed put in some safe retreat, when the sun was bright and hot.

    I remarked on this to the mahut of my riding elephant, a Jane Kuruba who knew those jungles intimately, and his explanations were remarkable. No doubt, he said, the blackening of the forest floor and trees by the fire, and the consequent sombreness of the outlook on all sides, made the artless little creatures imagined that night was already approaching, and that was the time to be up and about! After this I did not discuss Mouse Deer and their habits with him, though for three days he helped me to search for and observe them.

    It is a great mistake to suppose that because a man has lived all his life in the jungles, and is unversed in the arts, his understanding of wild animals will be prosaic, factual, and free from anthropomorphism -- the illiterate Kurubu is as capable of flights of poetic fancy in these matters as our highly literate selves, but luckily much less frequently.

    By repeated observation of Mouse Deer, I was able to confirm a curious habit that I had observed, less surely and by flashlight, in Karwar years ago. When not alarmed and moving slowly through the jungles, they stop from time to time under a small bush, or in a tuft of tall grass, or beside a tree trunk; and when stopping for such brief rests, a limp often remains trailing, as if frozen in a movement it had begun and not completed, a hind-leg stretched backwards, or a foreleg pointed acutely forward; these attitudes are often maintained for minutes on end, when the animal is engaged in looking around it. But when really needing a rest the Mouse Deer lies down on its belly, with its feet tucked comfortably beneath it.

    Mouse Deer nibble at grass and low shrubs and herbs, rather than browse them. Not once have I seen one of the animals grab a mouthful of grass or foliage and bolt it, as Deer and Antelopes do. They eat many of the fallen jungle fruits that deer also do, among them the fruit of Garuga pinnata, Gmelina arborea, and the mohwa.

    The Buck is bulkier than the Doe, and has a less sharply pointed face; when panting in the beat with lips parted, the buck's sharp well-developed canines are closely visible, and the tongue is protruded slightly, in a rather dog-like manner. In fact, both in looks and behaviour these dinky little creatures are most un-deerlike, which is hardly surprising, considering that they do not belong to the deer tribe but a family apart from it, the Tragulidae, which consists of two Asiatic and one African Chevrotains. The Indian Chevrotain is our Mouse Deer, commonest in the hill-jungles of South India.

    These animals can climb sloping tree trunks, and recently I saw one scramble up a slanting teak and disappear into a gaping hole some four feet up the blow. When I sneaked up to see if it was in, I found nothing -- it had left by another hole at the base of the tree, on the other side.

    Mouse Deer need the right kind of cover to survive from their enemies, and they have many, for their whitish flesh is as highly esteemed by predatory animals as by men with snares and nets. Luckily the lantana, which chokes up many jungles where forestry operations have been carried out, provides them with highly suitable cover, but then they have to emerge from its prickly and closely tangled protection to feed. "

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 26 July 1964 in The Sunday Statesman

    #The photograph of a Mouse Deer with a foreleg acutely forward has not been reproduced here.

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    Country Notebook: M. Krishnan: The Vanishing Wolf : The Sunday Statesman : 19 February 2017
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    THE VANISHING WOLF

    " One of the animals disappearing fast from most parts of India, without anyone bothering to note or regret the fact, is the Wolf. Our Wolf is not specifically different from other Asiatic Wolves -- in fact, the wolf has a wide distribution over the Northern Hemisphere right up to the Pole, and varies so much in size, colour and looks that several geographical races of it are recognised. In our country, Himalayan Wolves are larger than those of Peninsular India, but nowhere do they reach an impressive size, or otherwise specially noteworthy, except for the " Wolf-Boys " reported from time to time.

    As I said in this column when the Balarampur Wolf-Boy was in the news, in 1954, I do not believe that a human child can be brought up by a Wolf. Even if a She-Wolf in milk were to abduct and adopt a baby, the long period of dependence on milk and protection of the human infant would result in its quick death, considering the much more concentrated richness of lumpine milk ( it is the milk of Ass that is nearest human milk in composition!) and the fact that after a maximum of six weeks' lactation, the baby would have to chew and ingest lumps of regurgitated flesh and gristle with no help from the foster-mother; after a year, the baby would have to fend for itself.

    I wrote, " The only thing we can now say about the Wolf-Boy is that in another 50 years or so it is liable to lose currency, for it seems likely that by then Wolves would have become extinct in peninsular India. But perhaps there will be no real bar to the story".

    Well, my forecast is almost fulfilled already!

    In places in the North the Wolf still survives, though it had a range all over the plains of India till about 40 years ago. Naturally with the rapid occupation of the open country by humanity the Wolf had to go -- it could not keep the man from the door. The way it went is significant and something worth remembering in our plans for wildlife preservation.

    In India the Wolf was never a creature of the forests, in spite of Kipling's stories. It was essentially an animal of the open scrub and thin plains jungles, the kind of country that Blackbuck, Chinkara, the Indian Fox and the now extinct Cheetah and many lesser creatures favour, dead flat in places and bush and grown grass, dotted with wooded hillocks and cut up by ravines in other places. I have seen the Wolf in the flat country around the Tungabhadra dam, where it is no longer to be found.

    Wolves attain their finest development in the West and may be as large as a Great Dane -- Ernest Seton Thompson has a record of an American Wolf fully 150 lb in weight. Here they are comparatively small, smaller than an Alsatian, and weighing only some 45 to 50 lb, a hard-bitten, lean animal, a warm grizzle and buff in the plains; the ones I saw, alive and dead, had broad faces and fairly deep long muzzles with a pronounced "stop" and no Roman nose; they were probably the southernmost Wolves in India some 20 years ago.

    Wolves do not go about in large ravening packs in India. The pack, usually a family party, is limited to about half-a-dozen members; couples are commoner than packs and of course there are lone Wolves. They subsist on Blackbuck or Chinkara, Hares and other small creatures of the plains including ground birds; unless they take to raiding domestic stock, normally they do not hunt large prey. Occasionally when no other prey is available they may take into man eating; baby-snatching is naturally easier than dealing with adults and undoubtedly Wolves in India have carried away many children.

    They are tireless runners, their easy lope eating up the miles effortlessly but I believe they are not capable of any great speed. A friend who chased a couple of Wolves over some very flat country in his car, told me that when pressed they could not do better than 35 mph. This does not, of course, handicap them in their hunting for they succeed in running down their quarry by cunning intelligence and endurance rather than by sheer speed. As anyone's who knows dogs will know, Wolves are highly intelligent, though more governed by instincts than dogs.

    It is noteworthy that in all the places where they have died out, they went even sooner than their prey. That is true of the late the lamented Cheetah too and I believe that when the animals of any place become locally extinct by human occupation of their territory or human interference, the predators go before the prey. Since the reintroduction of a predatory animal in numbers sufficient to assure survival of the species into an area already depleted of prey is almost impossible (in India at any rate, where the human factors at the base of all destructive influences are so different from those obtaining elsewhere), obviously this is something where forethought and prevention are possible where there is no cure."

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 13 September 1964 in The Sunday Statesman

    #An Illustration (sketch) by Ernest Seton Thompson not reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: Almost human in their unpredictable variability: The Sunday Statesman: 9 April 2017
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    ALMOST HUMAN IN THEIR
    UNPREDICTABLE VARIABILITY
    ( LEOPARD )

    " Recent correspondence in The Statesman on the character of the Leopard (particularly the Black
    Leopard) reminds one the remarkable variability of the animal was recognised long ago, over 40 years ago, when it was decided that that the Leopard and the Panther were, after all, one and the same species.

    It is worth quoting Dunbar Brander on the point. In his book he says, " Blanford writes of the Indian Leopard as follows: 'the size of the animal, the nomber, form and the closeness of the spots, and the length of the tail, are extremely variable characters'. Truer words were never written, and owing to this variability from time to time attempts have been made to establish two distinct species, and one fairly recent author even went so far as to state that there was as many as three. The statement naturally led to the question being reopened, and as soon as the matter was critically examined it was found that the theory did not rest on any solid foundation. Investigation merely to refute error seldom increase knowledge, but in this case the results have been useful, and the differentiation between the Leopard and the Panther has probably been now buried for some time to come."

    In this atypically cautious last sentence, Dunbar Brander was prophetic. Some 10 years ago, the late Col R.W.Burton (who knew our wild life as well as anyone) thought that there was a case for a small leopard, as distinct from the Commoner and the larger Panther, in a certain area. I discussed this question with him at some length and told him of the very large and quite small adult Leopards I had known in the Deccan, giving him much details of length, weight and colouration as I had.

    The truth is that the Leopard is the most versatile and polymorphic of our wild animals, and that its variability is not limited to its size, coat and markings, but is there even in its temperament and behaviour. To generalise on such an animal from knowledge of a few specimens is not safe.

    The Black Leopard is only a melanistic form of the species and not a different variety -- "black" and "spotted" cubs may be born to the same mother at the same time. The idea that Black Leopards are smaller and more lithe than those with a tawny ground colour and are especially untrustworthy and fierce has been there for a long time; this opinion may be found in the shikar and the animal literature of the first three decades of this century, and it does seem to be a fact that Black Leopards are only to be found in dense, semi-evergreen forests. I cannot say anything about the animal from personal knowledge, never having known a wild leopard, but may detail two relevant aspects of its reputation.

    First the smaller relative size of the Black Leopard is probably based on an optical phenomenon, the fact that anything very dark looks smaller than it is in fact. You may prove the effectiveness of this optical illusion by cutting two identical rectangles out of black and white card and pasting them, spaced some distance apart, on a natural grey ground -- the black rectangle will seem definitely smaller and, in proportion to its height, longer -- or, to put it the other way round, shorter and "slimmer" in proportion to its length. If you are a painstaking man, you may go further and cut out and paint the two identical paste-ups to the shape and colour of a normal and black leopard. I did this once, to convince a shikari friend of the truth of my argument, and he felt convinced. Fuller recognition of its truth was impossible -- that man was, without exception, the most bigoted man I have ever known. References to large Black Leopards in recent faunal literature also substantiate my view. But of course it could be that the Black Leopard, living in dense forests, does not attain the same body size as normal leopards. Secondly, anything black has a powerful psychological effect on the human mind -- you have only to think of Monday to realise the truth of this. I may add that I know zoo men who said that the Black Leopards they knew were no more difficult to manage, and no more prone to mean violence, than the normal ones. A Black Leopard, of course, isn't really all black. The ground colour and markings of Leopards, like everything else about them vary considerably -- years ago a drawing I made (from death) of an old leopard with a very pale grey, fuzzy coat and Jaguar-like double rosettes was published in this column. Some Leopards a tawny in their ground colour, some darker (a golden burnt sienna) and some even darker (a medium shade of burnt umber); in the darkest of Leopards the ground colour is so deep that the spots do not show up except in direct sunlight, and the animal seems all-black. Incidentally ( and this is a point not detailed by others, so far as I know, though it is fairly obvious) the amount of white on the chin, throat, belly, inside of the tail, decreases directly in proportion to the darkness of the ground colour, and in a Black Leopard there is no white at all.

    Black or spotted Leopards, when provoked or excited, are much more prone to charge home than the far more powerful Tiger. This has been cited as proof of Leopard's courage, but I wonder if it is not better evidence of quick temper, or its liability to lose its head. In saying this, I must make it clear that only some Leopards, at times, behave like this. An animal whose courage can never be doubted, the Wild Boar, will take an honourable line of retreat offered, but I have known a Leopard refuse to do so, and persist in aggression.

    The truth is you never can tell with Leopards -- they are almost human in their unpredictable variability!"

    - M. Krishnan

    This was published on 28 February 1965 in The Sunday Statesman
    #The photograph of a Black Leopard is not reproduced here.

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    __________________________________________________ _____________________________________
    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M. Krishnan : The Green Bee-eater : The Sunday Statesman: 23 April 2017
    __________________________________________________ _____________________________________

    THE GREEN BEE-EATER

    " IT is during April and May that the Green Bee-eater nests over the major part of India, though in places it may breed somewhat earlier. By March the nest-holes may be completed already ( as they are often, in the Nilgiris ), and their excavation is always fascinating to watch.

    Usually the high sandy bank of a dry watercourse is chosen -- and most watercourses are dry at this time of the year -- or similar vertical face of soft, friable earth. In places, where the earth is soft enough, the embankment of ghat-roads are freely exploited, and where nothing better offers, even a mound of sand in a dry location may be utilised.

    A number of nesting pairs now commence tunneling operations on this earth wall driving in deep round shafts into it at right angles to its face just sufficiently wide across to admit the bird freely. The nesting holes usually run two feet or longer into the bank and are excavated by nothing more dynamic than the repeated packs of the birds at the bank; it is amazing how deep persistence can dig into the solid earth! Both birds of a pair engage in this prodigious feat and often the breeding pairs nest in close company, each pair having its nest-tunnel only a foot or less away from its next-hole neighbour.

    Once the tunnel is completed, the white eggs are laid in a chamber at its end, and the infant Bee-eaters hatching out in this dark retreat are blind and helpless. Green Bee-eaters choose their nesting sites prudently, usually well above harm -- not all the members of the tribe display this care for the future and the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater often nests in flat sand banks liable to inundation with the summer rains.

    EHN Lowther, one of our pioneer bird-photographers, says he noticed that the young were fed grasshoppers in the main. I, too, have noticed this partiality for Grasshoppers in Bee-eaters, feeding their young, a rather remarkable bias considering that many of the other insects they habitually hunt, such as bees and butterflies and even dragonflies, have fewer hard parts to be labouriously removed before being fed to the nestlings. There must be a great deal of nourishment in the plump bodies of grasshoppers; sparrows, too, have marked preference for this prey in feeding their young. Bee-eaters in flight exhibit extra-ordinary air-mastery and timing, flapping sharply up on actually triangular wings to casually pluck some fast-flying prey from the air but perhaps it is when entering their nesting tunnels that their sure sense of timing is most evident. A Bee-eater entering its nest-hole does not alight on its round rim and then go down the passage but flies headlong into the tunnel halting momentarily at the mouth to grip its rim with its tiny feet, and bracing its outspread, in bent tail against the earth below to check itself -- for a moment when it looks as if the impetuous momentum of its homecoming had driven its sharp-beaked head right into the earth of the bank!


    Bee-eaters have such tiny sharp-clawed feet, with such shortened tarsi, that one might expect them to be helpless on the ground like swifts but though their feet are meant mainly for perching they are well able to sit on the flat ground and to rise swiftly from it in flight. Early in the morning, when the dew is still on the short grass, Green Bee-eaters may be seen on the ground, often perched on a clod or some little stone -- I think they are hunting grasshoppers then. And in the evenings on a country road, you may see a number of vividly green birds lying in a struggling mass on the road surface -- a party of these bee-eaters having a dust-bath in company. They continue to roll and luxuriate in the warm earth till one is quite near and then rise in a cloud of golden dust and emerald feathers to fly swiftly away to perches high above."

    - M. Krishnan


    This was published on 11 April 1965 in The Sunday Statesman
    #The photograph of a pair of Bee-eaters perched on a wire not reproduced here.

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    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: M.Krishnan: Battles Royal : The Sunday Statesman :25 June 2017
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    BATTLES ROYAL


    " THE galumphing Tusker shown below was photographed six years ago, shortly after he had won a territorial fight with another lone bull. I saw the vanquished rival too but that gory, raging, brooding giant was in no mood to permit an approach, so no picture of him was possible. The victor on the other hand was at peace with the world, unmarked from its recent encounter, except for a skin-deep abrasion high up the right thigh; he was grazing in a field of lush tall-grass selecting a few blades from each tussock choosily and flapping his ears vigorously, always a sign of contentment in an elephant. I had no trouble getting close enough to take several pictures, though my approach had to be made openly but the thin grey persistent drizzle blurred detail.

    ELEPHANTS seldom fight among themselves and as a rule only when they must. The big bull of the herd is not tolerant of strange adult bulls but thrice I have seen lone tuskers keeping together in a close brace for a few days -- I realise how meaningless is the word "lone" is in this sentence but it is necessary to indicate that it is a grown bull living by itself and not a herd bull that is meant. At times, as when there is competition for some choice plot for grazing between two lone bulls or when the master bull of a herd meets an aspiring rival, there is a BATTLE ROYAL.

    THE curious thing about these fights is that they are often not limited to single engagement. No one can tell how impressive a bull tusker seems to a much smaller one, but it is seldom that a small bull will take on a really big one.However, a fighting pair is not always evenly matched and one of the pair may be considerably larger -- youth and ambition are often on the side of the lesser tusker and it is not always the bigger animal that wins though it is usually so. When the combatants are more or less of a size, the fight may drag on all day, or even be spread over several days with long breaks between bouts of fighting for feeding, drinking and baths or mud-baths.

    AN animal weighing four or five tons cannot keep going for long without food, and both combatants break off from time to time to replenish, the other elephant often grazing in the same locality, though some distance apart. After feeding and drinking, they resume the fight and break off again to feed, and occasionally the intermittent battle may last a week. At times the combat resolves itself more on less into a pushing match and then the slope of the ground on which each combatant is standing may favour or handicap him, but it is seldom that bulls start a fight on a sloping ground.

    FIGHTS for the territory or the herd among rival GAUR bulls do not often result in grave injuries and are seldom fatal but unless one of the fighting pair breaks off and runs away quite early in the engagement, among elephants such combats usually result in the loser (and at times even the winner) being grievously wounded, and even in being gored to death. Unlike carnivores, which are expert in killing, herbivores often persist with the attack long after the enemy is dead, and the the victor may stay on for some time after winning the fight periodically to gore the corpse of the enemy.

    HOWEVER, the beaten elephant frequently runs away from the locality while he still can. According to my friend, K. Krishnamoorthy, it is such defeated tuskers that turn into rouges. I have the most sincere regard for my friend's knowledge of our forests and wild animals, particularly elephants, but though I realise a frustrated bull often given to raging, I think the main cause for a lone bull developing into a rouge is gunshot wounds inflicted by men.

    THE question of Mucknas is especially interesting. these tuskless bulls are common in parts of North-East India and uncommon in the South -- in Ceylon, all bulls are mucknas as a rule. An adult muckna usually has a remarkably thick and muscular trunk, and is often of imposing size. Some people say that in a fight between a muckna and a tusker the greater weight and trunk-power of the former yells, and tuskers seldom fight mucknas -- it is a fact that trunk is freely used in intra-specific fights among elephants. Others say that the tusks (which are also certainly used in such fights) will tell in favour of the bull possessing them and that mucknas fear tuskers. I donot know the truth of the matter, but both schools of opinion could be right, the tusker winning at times and muckna at other times.

    WITH the dwindling of their territory because of human encroachments on elephant jungles, one might logically expect these territorial fights to be commoner than in the past but observation of wild elephants yields no evidence to sustain this view. Little can be said for certain on this point, because even if one is lucky enough to collect reliable data on fights between wild elephants in the last ten years or so, no reliable data from the past exists."

    - M.Krishnan


    This was published on 17 October 1965 in The Sunday Statesman

    #The photograph of the galumphing tusker which won the battle has not been reproduced here.

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