The Lost Art of Reading Pugmarks

A ‘Pugmark’ literally means the mark left by the ‘pug’ (Hindi for ‘foot’) of the wild animal. The trackers ‘read’ the pugmark to gather information about the species, sex, age and size of the animal as also the direction and speed of movement.

In the days of the British Raj, the tribal trackers (particularly the Bheels) would lead the ‘Shikaris’ on the game trail skilfully reading the tracks and signs as they relentlessly pursued the prey. The end of the era of game hunters led to end of patronage for this art and the disappearance of the creed of animal trackers. The wildlife departments are, however, trying to revive the art and rely on the study of pugmarks and other signs to cull out information about the abundance of different species of animals, especially the large carnivores.

The large carnivores that are traditionally tracked with the help of pugmarks are divided into two broad categories:

  1. The ‘Canids’ or the members of the ‘Dog family’ that typically move and hunt in packs often walking long distances in a file.
  2. The ‘Felids’ or the members of the ‘Cat family’ that lead a solitary existence, relying on stealth for hunting down prey. They are good climbers and some like the leopards carry their hunt to a tree for avoiding poaching by other carnivores.

The large carnivores typically leave a four-toed pugmark with a heel pad.

In case of the canids, the claw marks are generally visible in front of the toe pads, the toes are larger compared to the heel pad (to help run down the prey) and the distance of the two middle toes from the top of the heel pad is greater (hyaenas being an exception in this regard). The pugmark of a hyaena is clumped with little space between the pads.

In case of felids, the claws or nails are rarely visible, the soft heel pad is relatively larger (to facilitate stealth) and the middle toes are placed closer to the pad. Furthermore, in canids, the forward most points of the two middle toes are aligned (occur side by side). For felids, the middle toes are at different levels, especially for the hind paws.

Differences in pugmarks of Canids and Felids

 

The hind paws are generally smaller than the front paws in all carnivores.

In addition to identifying the species trackers also make out the sex of the animal from the pugmark. Thus the pugmark of the hind paw of a male tiger is more square as compared to the female’s elongated, rectangular and smaller hind pugmark. There is no difference, however, in their front pugmarks.

The pugmark length of an adult leopard is 7- 9.5 cm, the same as a tiger cub but the leopard has a more compact pugmark with smaller toes and a longer stride. Adult tigers have pugmarks with length 9-17 cm.

Tiger Pugmarks (Felid)

Tiger pugmarks, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Tiger pugmarks, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Pug mark of a tigress, Moriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Pug mark of a tigress, Boriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Pug marks of tiger cub, Moriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Pug marks of tiger cub, Boriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Leopard Pugmarks (Felid)

Leopard pugmark, Laldhang forest range, Lansdowne Forest Division

Leopard pugmark, Laldhang forest range, Lansdowne Forest Division

 

Hyaena Pugmarks (Canid)

Hyena pugmark, Asola-Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary

Hyena pugmark, Asola-Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary

Wolf Pugmarks (Canid)

Tracks of some other wild animals:

Close-up of Sloth Bear's foot

Close-up of Sloth Bear’s foot

Sloth Bear's Claws

Sloth Bear’s Claws

Black Bear tracks, Moriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Black Bear tracks, Boriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Wild boar hoof mark

Monkey’s paw mark

Goral’s hoof mark

Goral's hoof

Goral’s hoof- the separated claws

Dog's pug mark, Mandana

Dog’s typical pug mark with prominent claw marks with the toes, Mandana

References:

  1. Reading Pugmarks- A pocket book for forest guards; Ranjit Talwar & Amir Usmani (WWF -Tiger & Wildlife Programme 2005)
  2. Guide for distinguishing leopard signs from those of other co-existing large carnivores for Asia Minor and the Caucasus; Erwin van Maanen (Anatolian Leopard Foundation 2008)

Morni Wildlife Census- The Methodology

Every year the Haryana Forest Department conducts a census of wild animals in the State in technical collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.While conducting the census in natural forests like Morni the area is divided into beats, 10-15 Sq. Km in size and some beats are selected as a representative sample for the purpose of the census. The census in Morni is generally conducted for carnivores, ungulates, pheasants, monkeys and langurs.

Carnivores: The carnivores like tiger, leopard, hyena, jungle cat, jackal, Indian civets etc are known for their tendency to use dirt roads, forest trails, foot paths, river beds and nallahs. Typically three such trails/ search paths are selected in each beat for intensive search with each path ranging from 3 to 5 KM. The field staff deputed for the census are required to familiarize themselves with the beat topography and forest type at least ten days in advance and to identify the trails for the search. They mark the GPS coordinates of the centre of the beat and also the start and end point of each trail. The trails are named individually for purpose of recording data on the data sheet. During the census they look for signs like pug marks, scats (droppings), scrapes, claw rakes, vocalization (roar, howl etc), direct sighting etc . While recording each sign a mention is made of the forest topography and the forest type.

Ungulates and Pheasants: For ungulates (‘hoofed’ animals) typically sambar, chital, nilgai, hog deer, goral, chinkara, wild pig, and blackbuck and for pheasants (Indian Peafowl and Red Jungle fowl) as well as langurs and monkeys a straight line of about 2 km is marked in the beat. The staff mark the GPS coordinates of the end points and name the line transect. On the day of the census the staff are instructed to avoid bright coloured clothes as they walk up and down the line recording the sighting of animals. Care is taken while preparing the transect for the to and fro movement to cause minimum disturbance and to not create a proper path. The sighting on the line is recorded first. The perpendicular distance from the transect is mentioned while recording sightings away from the transect. Data pertaining to habitat characteristics (number of trees with species, number of cut/lopped trees,shrub cover, distance to nearest road, village and trail) and fecal pellet groups of ungulates (used for estimating the abundance of each species) is recorded for a sample of 5 circular plots of 10 metre radius marked at 400 metre intervals on the line transect. The habitat characteristics, density of of ungulates and density of carnivore signs are then used to estimate the abundance of carnivores.

Wildlife Census: Beat, Trail and Line Transect

The latest census in Morni was conducted in May 2012 and the findings revealed an apparent increase in the number of carnivores.

P.S. The findings of a wildlife census are only broadly indicative and do not give any exact estimates. The difficulties associated with the exercise can be gauged from the complexity and expertise involved in interpreting scats (droppings) of wild animals- just one of the signs recorded during the census. Scats reveal information on the type of animal, its diet and its health to the expert who looks for clues in the size, colour and shape of scats and combines this information with additional clues from the habitat, tracks etc.  The task of interpretation is however not easy as there is considerable overlap and changes in pattern with change in diet. Thus while typically the deer scat is round and dimpled yet if  the moisture in the diet increases the scats start resembling  cow  dung. The wildlife scientists will sometimes pick up samples and study the pH value in the lab to positively identify the species!

Morni Wildlife (Herpetofauna): Kashmir Rock Agama

Kashmir Rock Agama (Laudakia tuberculata)- a common, medium-sized (5-6 inch), brownish lizard  found in the Himalayas. It is terrestrial and lives in holes and crevices and stone walls. The stone ‘dangahs’ or retaining walls in Morni have these olive-brown lizards living in the holes left as an outlet for releasing the percolated rainwater.  Kashmie agama is omnivorous and feeds on ants, butterflies, grasshoppers, crickets and other insects as also tender leaves, flowers and seeds of wild plants. It nips off the buds of flowering plants and is not a welcome garden guest! It is diurnal and can be spotted basking in the sun almost perfectly camouflaged against the rock. It is not poisonous but is known to have a painful bite. It breeds from May to August and lays upto 20 eggs in a single clutch.

The Kashmir Agama has a flat, elongated depressed light-brown head with prominent ridges on both sides extending longitudinally from  above the eye to the nostril. A low spiny ridge from below the eye leads to the tympanum (ear drum). The tympanum is large and distinct and is marked by prominent scales along the circumference. The snout is of moderate length. The trunk is depressed and flat and back is covered with small keeled scales. The tail is long (upto 10 inches), depressed at the base and gradually becomes conical and tapers to a point. The limbs are strong. The third and fourth fingers of the forelegs are the longest and equal in length, the second and fifth are shorter and equal in length, the first is the shortest. The fourth toe of the hind leg is the longest and longer than the third and the fifth that are equal in length, the second is considerably shorter and the first is the shortest. All fingers and toes are slightly compressed and armed with strong claws.

The ground-colour of the upper parts is a dusky brown and the lower parts are whitish. The back is speckled with black/yellowish spots on both sides of a light vertebral line. The throat is reticulated with greenish veins.

References:

  1. The Reptiles of British India; Albert C.N.G. Gunther (1863)

Kashmir Rock Agama, Rasoon, Bhoj Balag (27-2-2011)

Kashmir Rock Agama, Rasoon, Balag (18-9-2010)

 

Kashmir Rock Agama- Reticulated Green Throat

Kashmir Rock Agama -Vertebral Line

 

Kashmir Rock Agama Lizard, Rasoon (2-10-2011)

Kashmir Rock Agama at Rasoon (Courtesy Rajesh Pandey)

Kashmir Rock Agama at Rasoon (Courtesy Rajesh Pandey)

Morni Wildlife: Rhesus Macaque

Rhesus macaque/ Rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) is greyish brown in colour with a pink face that is clear of fur. It is about two-feet in size with a tail less than a foot long.  It is diurnal and lives in trees and on the ground. It is mostly herbivorous and feeds largely on fruit (often meeting its water needs from ripe and juicy fruits). It also eat seeds, roots, bark, cereals, termites, beetles and ants. It is known to lick dewdrops from leaves and drink rain water collected in tree hollows. Troops can occasionally be spotted gathered around streams and rivers for drinking water.

Rhesus monkeys move in large troops with females outnumbering the males. The group is led by a sub-group of co-dominant males.

The dominant rhesus monkey will make a silent open mouth stare while standing on all fours with the tail sticking straight out. The less dominant monkey will show submission by making a silent bared teeth face or a fear grimace or by presenting its rump!

The rhesus monkey screams, screeches, pant-threats, growls and barks.

Humans and macaques share 93% of their DNA sequence and the rhesus monkey has been used extensively in medical research including development of vaccines. It has been launched into space by NASA and the Russians!

In India the Rhesus monkeys are revered because of their link to Lord Hanuman and it is a strong taboo to kill a monkey. Large troops of monkeys can be seen at Berwala where devotees of Hanuman can be seen feeding them bananas against the better judgment of the wild-life experts.

Rhesus Macaque at Birshikargarh WLS

Rhesus Macaque at Berwala (Courtesy Rajesh Pandey)

Feeding of monkeys at Berwala

Morni Wildlife (Herpetofauna): Indian Skipper Frog

Indian Skipper Frog/Skittering Frog (Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis) is a common South Asian acquatic frog that can be seen swimming in pools of stagnant water, floating close to the vegetation at the edge, with the eyes above the water. It ‘skitters’ away noisly when disturbed, skipping over the water surface and may dive if provoked further. Emperor Babur noted this peculiarity when he wrote about it in Baburnama, ‘The frogs of Hindustan are worthy of notice. Though of the same species as our own, yet they will run six or seven gez on the face of the water.’ It is slimy, medium-sized (6-7 cm)and has a dark olive-brown back with black blotches. The underside is white. It can leap out of water even when floating. It feeds on insects on the water surface and may also eat tadpoles and small fish.

Indian Skipper Frog, Baoli at Rasoon

Indian Skipper Frog- Eyes

Indian Skipper Frogs

 

References:

  1. Memoirs of Zehir-ed-Din Muhammed Baber, Emperor of Hindustan; Bābur (Mogulreich, Kaiser), John Leyden, William Erskine (1826)

Morni Wildlife: Golden Jackal

Golden Jackal/ Asiatic Jackal (Canis aureus) resembles a wolf in overall appearance but is smaller and lighter with shorter legs and tail, a narrower muzzle and an elongated body. The adult is about 3 feet in length, a foot-and-a-half high at the shoulder and weighs around 10 Kg.The fur is buff coloured on the shoulders, ears and legs. The back has black hair. The belly, chest and sides of legs are creamy white. The golden jackal typically lives in pairs, the breeding pair being followed by the offspring.The pair patrols and marks territory together. The golden jackal may dig a burrow for giving birth or build a lair in a thicket. It is omnivorous and feeds on rodents, insects, hares, reptiles, birds and fruit. The golden jackal has a long wailing howl and it typically howls at dawn, midday and the evening hours. During the days of the British Raj the golden jackal was hunted for sport.

Golden Jackal, Bunga reservoir

Morni Wildlife: Leopard

Leopard (Panthera pardus) an agile and stealthy predator with powerful jaws and can run at a speed of 60 KM/HR. Its the smallest amongst the four ‘Big Cats’, smaller than the lion, tiger and jaguar but can hunt big animals because of its large jaw. It has short powerful legs and can climb trees while carrying large carcasses. The size and weight of leopards vary with quality and availability of prey in the habitat.The males are larger than the females. The coat is golden yellow with black open rosettes. The spots are solid black on the face, limbs and underbelly. The leopard can jump to a height of 10 feet and can jump across 20 feet. It can be seen resting on branches and will carry its kill up a tree and hang it from a branch. It will feed on deer, monkeys,rodents, reptiles, insects, birds, amphibians.It grabs the prey by the throat and strangles it by biting with its powerful jaws. Leopard is a solitary hunter and hunts largely at night. The leopard roars, growls and meows! Females give birth to cubs in caves, crevices and thikets.Cub mortality rates are very high in the first year after which it can fend for itself.Leopards avoid humans and unless incapacitated do not hunt humans. But man-eating leopards are very difficult to hunt down as the animal is exceptionally stealthy and cunning.
The leopard is commonly spotted in and around the Morni hills. The hill women foraging for fuel and fodder in the wilderness frequently come across the big cat. The animal is, however, difficult to photograph. This photograph was taken by Sachin Ranade a research biologist at the Vulture Breeding and Conservation Centre in the Bir Shikargarh Wildlife Sanctuary. This leopard was frequently spotted near a large Banayan tree close to the Centre.

Leopard at Bir Shikargarh WLS (courtesy Sachin Ranade)

There is only one reported incident of a man eater leopard when a boy from village Chhaila was killed in August, 1989 by a leopard that was later shot by Kirnesh Jung, the nephew of the legendary Col. Sher Jung on the rocks near Sherla that are called the Tiger Point.

Morni Wildlife: Grey Langur

Grey langurs are largely grey (with a touch of yellow) with a black face and ears. The typical male is about 2 -1/2 feet in length, with a longer tail. A big langur can weigh over 20 kg.The langurs walk on all fours though they sit with the body held upright. Equal amount of time is spent on the trees and the ground.The grey langur is diurnal and sleeps at night in the high branches of trees.Langurs are preyed upon by leopards, wolves, pythons etc. The animal is primarily a herbivore and feeds on leaves, seeds, pods (of Maljhan creeper in Morni), wild figs (beda nuts, gular figs, chimbal figs etc in Morni), herbs, roots, grasses, mosses, etc It also feeds at termite mounds, on spider-webs etc. The langur moves in groups with the stronger males siring most of the young.Younger females rank higher in the group and are more reproductively successful.In uni-male groups when the existing male is displaced by a newer stronger one, the latter often kills the infants sired by the former.The Grey langur has a wide array of barks and also grunts, rumbles and screams.
Langurs are generally considered sacred and rarely hunted. The damage to habitats poses a threat with langurs damaging crops to meet their food needs.

A study by the Department of Zoology, Kurukshetra University in the period June 2009- June 2011 estimates the number of langurs at 432 with a male:female ratio of 1:3.2. 24 ‘troops’ were identified with size ranging from 14- 30 and 66.66% of these were bisexual, the rest being all male. The langurs were found to be shy, feeding on natural foods and keeping their distance from human settlements.

Grey Langur, Morni hills

Grey Langur, Morni hills

Grey-Langurs at Morni

Grey-Langurs at Morni

Grey-Langurs, Morni road

Grey-Langurs, Morni road

Grey langurs, Mandhna-Kadiyani track, Morni hills

Grey langurs, Mandhna-Kadiyani track, Morni hills

Langur family drinking water at Bunga reservoir

Langur family drinking water at Bunga reservoir

Grey Langurs at Bunga reservoir

Grey Langurs at Bunga reservoir

Grey langurs on Dhak tree

Grey langurs on Dhak tree

 References:

  1. Group size and composition, sex ratio and birth seasons in Hanuman langurs in Morni Hills of Haryana India; Girish Chopra, Madhu Bala Bhoombak and Parmesh Kumar; J. Exp. Zool. India Volume 15 (No.1, 2012)

 

Morni Wildlife

Morni hills were a popular location for hunting in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Afghan invader is said to have camped at Pinjore for tiger hunting in the Morni hills in 1765. Col. R .R. Gillespie the legendary braveheart of the British Indian Army, is said to have camped at the hills in 1807 also for tiger hunting. Tigers frequented the jungles of Morni and Pinjaur as late as the close of the 19th century. The District Gazetteer of Ambala, 1892-93 reports depletion in the numbers of tigers and panthers due to excessive hunting. A few bears were still to be found in the hills. The number of the wolves and hyenas in the hills and broken grounds below the Shiwaliks was much larger. Wild pigs posed a menace to the crops under the hills and in the riverine tracts. Chital, Sambar and Kakkar (Barking Deer) were plentiful. The hills were famous for Pheasant and Jungle Fowl shooting. The small game shooting included hares and grey partridges. By 1913 Sirmur State had completely prohibited the hunting of tiger.

The indiscriminate hunting over the centuries has taken a heavy toll of the wildlife diversity in the hills. While, wildboars continue to be a menace, the deer population is highly depleted. Sambar, Kakkar and Neelgai can still, however, be sighted. Tigers are long gone. The leopard population in the Morni and the adjoining Kalesar hills is estimated at 30. Bears are no longer sighted. The spread of lantana and the resultant forest fires have destroyed the plentiful hares and the jungle fowls and other small game living in the scrub. Jackals can be sighted occasionally. Grey langurs, monkeys and Monitor Lizards are present in significant numbers.

Encounters with Leopards:

A female leopard with her cubs was sighted at the Berwala Bird Sanctuary by two lady birdwatchers in January 2009. The leopards target Gorals (mountain goats) that are plentiful in the area. According to the locals, the Berwala temple, a modest whitewashed shrine surrounded by thick mango trees on the road to Morni, is frequented by ‘tigers’ (leopards?). The temple is the site for an annual fair.

 

Berwala Temple, The Leopard Haunt

Leopard sightings are frequently reported by the villagers of Sherla, a village located at a height of 1100 metres. An outcrop of large rocks on the Morni-Sherla Taal-Nahan road that is surrounded by scrub is locally referred to as the ‘Tiger Point’. Leopards are said to frequent these rocks that have deep niches that afford shelter to the wild cats. A man-eater that killed a boy in 1992 is said to have been shot at this point by the shikari of the wildlife department.

Tiger Point

A one and a half year old leopard was found dead in a seasonal rivulet in Badisher in June 2010, probably mauled by an older leopord in a territory dispute. Leopard has been sited on numerous occasions in the vicinity of the Rasoon – Deorah track in October/November 2011. A local reported spotting a leopard near the Chandrawal Resort Hill with a Grey Langur infant held by its neck. The leopard was within a few feet of two young girls but did not harm them. Local women who visit the forest in this area for firewood and grass also report frequent leopard siting on the track to Deorah.

Sources:

  1. Notes on some Mammals found in the Simla District, The Simla Hill States, and Kalka and adjacent country; Author:P. T. L. DODSWORTH, F.Z.S., M.B.O.U. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society Vol. 22 (1913)
  2. District Gazetteer of Ambala, 1892-93

					

Morni Wildlife: Common Indian Monitor

Common Indian Monitor/ Bengal Monitor (Varanus bengalensis) is a large lizard that can be upto 6 feet in length and can weigh over 7 kg (males being larger and heavier).The mature monitor is light brown/grey with dark spots. The younger monitors are more colourful and banded.The tongue is forked like the snake.The lizard is not poisonous.External slit like nostril openings are positioned between the snout and the eye.The monitor can close these openings when needed to keep out water etc. The teeth are fused to the jaw bones and are placed one behind another.The lungs of the monitor allow faster respiration and permit greater activity levels. The monitor is usually seen solitary hunting on the ground and feeds on insects, beetles, snails, ground birds and their eggs, rodents, frogs, lizards, snakes etc. It also feeds on fish and can climb trees to feed on roosting bats. It seeks shelter in burrows they dig or in rock crevices. It is diurnal and gets active with the sunrise and enjoys basking in sunlight. It is shy and scrambles into scrub on spotting humans.The Bengal monitor has a keen eyesight. It is preyed upon by pythons, birds and large predators. It can move fast on ground and is an efficient climber and swimmer.The strong claws of the monitor give it an iron grip while climbing and was said to have been used by Shivaji’s army for scaling over the walls of the enemy fort.The monitor lizard is hunted for its skin that is used to make percussion instruments. Its body parts are used for folk remedies.The meat and body parts are used as an aphrodisiac in Chinese traditional medicine. There is demand for its meat in winters due to ritualistic and mythical beliefs.

Bengal Monitor

Common Indian Monitor