White-lipped Green Pit Viper is a venomous tree snake that feeds on small mammals, birds and small frogs. It was photographed at around 2 AM on an iron staircase leading to the rooftop. The photographer was walking back ‘barefoot on the roof’ after a star gazing session when he spotted the green blighter curled up on the staircase. It could have fallen down from the Jacaranda that arches over the roof. Or it could have been attracted by the geckos feeding on the insects buzzing around the wall mounted light along the staircase. It took some persuasion and prodding with branches broken from the Jacaranda tree before it allowed the star gazer the right of passage!
The photograph taken with a phone camera is an important record of a major range extension as the pit viper is not known to occur this far west in the Shivaliks. The author had heard an account of a woman from Gajhan village getting bitten on her head by a green snake while collecting tree fodder in her village in Morni. Her head is said to have swollen instantaneously to an enormous size. The lady lived to tell the tale.
Striped-burrowing frog/Greenstripe frog (Cyclorana/Litoria alboguttata)- is a frog of the woodlands and grassy patches generally seen in temporary pools and around ditches. It has a distinctive yellow-green glossy stripe that runs down the middle of the back. Equally prominent is a dark streak from the snout through the eye, ear disc, over shoulder to beyond forearm. The green stripe has distinctive longitudinal skin folds from shoulder to groin. The frog is about 3″ in size – females are larger than males. The frog is olive-brown above and white below. The fingers are unwebbed, toes about half-webbed. The skin of the back has scattered warts and ridges.
The frog is called a burrowing frog because during summers it retreats underground by burrowing and retaining a bladderful of dilute urine that serves as a water reserve (also called a water-holding frog). It becomes inert inside the burrow and develops an impermeable cacoon of partially shed skin to prevent water loss. They emerge after the summer rains.Its rapid ‘quacking’ call can be heard from the ground or from under water.
Barking deer/ Common or Indian Muntjac/ Kakar is one of the smallest deer (about 2′ at the shoulder) with a long and flexible body and very short legs. Body is golden-brown, lower parts are creamy-white including upper portion of its long tail that is carried erect when the deer is running. A glimpse of the tail is all that one manages as the deer melts into the surrounding shrubs.
Barking deer at Mandhna, Khol-hai-Raitan WLS
The face is dark brown with a large ‘V’ formed by folds of skin that gets accentuated by streaks of black hair above the eye-brows covering the prominent ridges of bone that merge with the short horns that curve backwards and are shaped like hooks or claws. Females have only bony knobs in place of the horns.
Kakar- The fearsome mark of V
Barking deer at Mandhna, Morni hills
The male has short but vicious tusks/ canines in the upper jaw with which it will fight off a foe when cornered. The deer licks its face with its extra long tongue that produces a curious rattle when the deer runs. The hoofs are upright and the deer walks and runs daintily with a spring. The head is lowered while running.
Barking deer’s head lowered and tail raised while running
The hoarse, resonant bark is frequently heard in early morning or evening or when the animal is alarmed. It will sometimes give away its position by letting out a bark at short intervals sometimes for as long as an hour. The deer remains in dense cover or at the fringe of dense shrub cover but can be spotted drinking water at watering holes in hot summers. The deer is found in scrub forests and hilly slopes. It is present in reasonable numbers in Morni hills and its characteristic loud bark can be frequently heard in this area. The author has prepared this video of the Barking deer in the forest near Mandhna that falls within the Khol-Hai-Raitan Wildlife Sanctuary.
Barking deer at Mandhna, Morni hills
Males are solitary and territorial and scent mark their territory. The females also move alone, barring the reproduction season.
Large Game Shooting in Thibet, the Himalayas, Northern and Central India (1892) Alexander Angus Airlie Kinloch
Nilgai/ Blue Bull/ Roz/ Rojh (Boselaphus tragocamelus Pallas) is the largest antelope of Asia, with the adult weighing over 250 kg. Adult males are blue-grey with thin black legs (having transverse white bands) and white markings/ spots on ears and cheeks. Nilgai is nearly 5 feet high at the shoulder and the body slopes sharply to the rear. A ‘beard-like’ tuft of tough coarse hair hangs under the mid-throat area. Males have short, black, smooth horns that curve forwards. Females are pale- brown in colour. Nilgai’s skin is tough and relatively smooth. Body hair is thin and wiry. The mane is erect and prominent. Tail is long and tufted. Nilgai has a sharp vision and hearing.
The large animal moves with surprising agility and will lower its head and charge ferociously when threatened. The British game hunters of 19th century report instances of vicious defensive attacks by nilgai that would bring down the hunter with the horse! The Mughals referred to the antelope as nil-ghor, blue-horse.
A peculiarity of the nilgai is that it defecates at the same spot forming dung heaps.
Male and female groups move seperately and intermingle only during breeding.
Nilgai is typically found in low hills, scrub forests and grasslands and is destructive for crops. It feeds on grasses and leaves. It is considered sacred by the Hindus and this has saved it from large scale hunting. Nilgai is hunted by packs of dogs with instances being reported in the Bir Shikargarh forest of Morni-Pinjore. Nilgai calves are preyed upon by the leopards who, however, stay clear of the adult males.
19th century artist’s impression of the ‘nyl-ghau’ Author yet to photograph it in the wild in Morni!
The Naturalist’s Library: Mammalia (Vol.4); Ruminantia Part II ; William Jardine (1836)
Himalayan Grey Goral (Nemorhaedus goral) belongs to the sub-family of a goat-antelopes, being intermediate between the goat and the antelope, and is a little over 2 feet high at the shoulder. It weighs about 40 kg. The head with a solid, heavy skull is goat-like. So is the short tail. The short legs and the coarse-shaggy hair are also goat like. The goral’s horns, however, are antelope-like. Gorals (both sexes) have short horns (6 inches or so) marked by rings, diverging slightly as they curve backwards. The ears are upright and deer-like.
The Grey Goral is a brownish-grey tinged with black with a black spinal stripe. The chin, upper-lip, lower-jaw and throat is white. A black stripe on the fore-leg runs over the knee. Males have a short mane. Gorals are extremely agile and are found on steep hill-sides and cliffs. They graze in small parties though older males may frequently move alone. Gorals are well camouflaged and are generally sighted (if at all) atop hills silhouetted against the sky-line. They are active in early morning and late evenings and spend most of the day resting on rock ledges. They feed on grass and leaves.
Tracks: The hoof-marks of gorals are distinct from that of the domesticated goats in that there is a clear gap or a wedge between the front claws.
Goral’s hoof mark near Aasrewali check dam, Morni hills
Indian Wild Boar (Sus Cristatus Wagn.) is a relatively large boar that can reach 3 feet height at the shoulder and can weigh nearly 150 Kg. The coat is black-grey and is sparse. The mane is heavier. The well-developed tusks in males curve outwards and project from the mouth. The lower tusk is typically 6 to 9 inches in length. The tusks are sharp and potent weapons as well as tools. The wild boar inhabits the scrub forests and are known to ravage crops. They descend on the fields after dark and feed in late evenings and early mornings. They feed on crops, grass, roots, insects, snakes, small reptiles and even the decaying flesh of dead animals. They have a powerful sense of smell, although sight and hearing is limited. They are intelligent and fearsome in combat and even a tiger is afraid of attacking a mature male. They can attack humans if threatened. The males are aggressive during mating season. Typically, the male charges with its head lowered, the tusks ready to slash the enemy viciously. The female charges and bites, especially when accompanied by piglets! They breed all year round and multiply rapidly with 4 to 6 young being born to a litter. The adult male is solitary when not breeding.
Hoof-marks: The wild boar leaves a distinctive track when it walks. It is a cloven-hoofed animal with 4 toes- 2 cleaves (at the front) and 2 dew claws (at the rear). The wild boar’s dew claws are located lower down on the leg and they touch the ground when it walks. Thus, the wild boar leaves imprints of all four toes, the front cleaves and the hind dew claws. Deer, by contrast, leave imprints of only the cleaves as their dew claws are located higher up and do not touch the ground.
Wild boar hoof mark near lake at Aasrewali check dam, Morni hills
Remains of a wild boar killed by a leopard at Aasrewali, Morni hills
The pig: a treatise on the breeds, management, feeding and medical treatment of swine; William Youatt (1847)
Sambar deer– a large deer that can exceed 5 feet height at the shoulder and can weigh over 500 kg! Females are generally smaller. Males have large, rugged antlers nearly 4 feet long that are shed annually in summer months. The antlers are valued for ornamental purposes. The locals in gujjar-villages of Morni foothills use it for preparing medicines. The coat is a shaggy grey-brown. The males display a short, dense mane that is raised when threatened. They prefer the cover of deciduous shrubs and grasses and are found upto a height of 3500 metres in the Himalayas . The young are preyed upon by the leopards in the Shivaliks. The adult males live alone for most part of the year and the females live in herds. The alarm call is a loud scream or sharp, high-pitched sounds. Packs of wild dogs are known to attack sambars in the Bir Shikargarh forest. The male lashes at the enemy with his antlers. The Sambar is found near water sources and is a good swimmer. Sambar feeds on grasses and fruits.
Sambar stag, Bir Shikargarh, Morni hills (Photo Courtesy Rajesh Pandey)
Mane of a sambar stag, Bir Shikargarh forest, Morni-Pinjore
Indian Flying Fox/ Greater Indian Fruit Bat (Pteropus giganteus) is a very large bat of the forests that typically lives in colonies close to a large water body. The bat weighs around 2 Kgs, is over a foot in length and its wing span can exceed 4 feet making it very conspicous in flight. The ears are pointy and the nose is black, thin and elongated. The body has a rufous/ reddish-brown coloured fur and wings are black and leathery. The bat has a musky odour. The eyes are large and the bat has excellent vision. This nocturnal bat wraps itself in its wings like a cape (for warmth and protection) as it rests/ sleeps hanging upside down by the powerful claws of the hind feet. The bark of the tree can get damaged with the sharp claws of the bat. Large colonies of bats roost in camps during the day time. The dominant males get the best roosting sites in the camp. The bats will chatter and squawk loudly if threatened by an approaching stranger. It leaves its roost after sunset to feed on nectar (extracted with their long tongues) and fruits like mango, fig, guava, neem and banana (chewed with their strong molars) and can be destructive for orchards and vineyards. The bat generally swallows the juice, spitting out the pulp and the seeds!! It helps to pollinate flowers and distribute seeds.
The flying fox does not find its way by sound (echolocation) and rather depends on its excellent vision and smell. The hearing ability of the flying fox is is also sharp.
It mates on the roosting site from July to October and the young are born ‘live’ emerging feet first with eyes open! They are tended by females for 5-8 months and the ‘infant’ clings to the mother even in flight when she flies from the roost to find food. The flying fox is also a strong swimmer!! The large wings work as flippers while swimming.
The flying fox is considered sacred in southern India, but is hunted in other parts as a source of protein and for fat which is believed by some to have medicinal uses.
Incredibly, this lovely fox-like bat is placed in Schedule V of the The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, that is, it is treated as vermin alongwith rats, mice and crows!
Indian Flying Fox, Mallah, Morni hills (Photo courtesy Kuljit Bains)
Indian Flying Fox at Mallah, Morni hills (Photo courtesy Rajesh Pandey)
The Sacred Flying Fox of India – A few privileged colonies of flying foxes are protected by time-honored tradition; Marimuthu, G.; (1988); BATS Magazine, Volume 6, No. 2
Yellow-throated Marten (Martes flavigula) a brightly coloured marten of Asia with a powerful build. It is the largest marten of the Old World (weighing about 5 kg) and is about 5′ long with the long shiny black tail constituting 2/3 of the overall body length. Its fur is a mix of golden-yellow-brown, black and white. The small pointed head is black. The chin is pure white.Limbs are short and strong.Ears are short and pointed. The front paws and fore-limbs are black. The chest and throat are bright golden-yellow and hence the name.
It hunts in pairs during the day and feeds on rats, hares, snakes, ground birds and even cats, wild boar piglets and muntjac fawns. It emits a foul odour from its anal glands when threatened. It does not fear humans and is believed to dig up and feed on human corpses! It is an agile tree-climber and can jump from branch to branch.