A Chance Encounter At Satpura

Some field experiences live with you forever. One such incident has been etched in my memory forever. It occurred when I visited Satpura Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh early this year in January. I had merged my work trip and vacation; and hence right after completing my work in Pachmarhi, I stayed in Madhai, an ecotourism venture of the Satpura Tiger Reserve, a two hours drive from Pachmarhi.

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A beautiful view on the trail in Satpura Tiger Reserve

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A relaxed Sambar doe on the banks of a lake in Satpura

A very good friend, David, hosted me at Forsyth Lodge located in Madhai. Here I stayed for 3 days. The lodge is located on the edge of Satpura Tiger Reserve and the enchanting 44 acre land of Forsyth’s looks no different than a forest. A little walk in the campus of the lodge itself, one can often sight Mottled wood owl, Oriental honey buzzard, Quails, Indian hare and occasional visits from the leopard. Colorful butterflies, wolf spiders and dragonflies are abundant on the campus.

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A view form one of the cottages at Forsyth Lodge

The  incident I am about to narrate occurred when David; one more naturalist, a jeep driver, a forest officer and I set out for a night safari in the buffer zone of the Satpura Tiger Reserve. As we left, I could feel my heart beats rising thinking of the possibility of my first encounter with the leopard. During the safari, we spotted Eagle owl (Bubo bubo), quite a few Nightjars (Caprimulgus species) and scurrying hares out of bushes. We were nearing the end of the safari, but there was still no sight of the leopard. A little disappointed, I wondered when I would ever get to see those great big cats in the wild atleast once! We were returning and somehow I had the feeling that I won’t see my leopard in Satpura.

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A Nightjar on the safari road

Suddenly the Forest Officer spotted some movement in the huge Mahua (Madhuca longifolia) tree on the way back close to the main road to the Lodge. Flood lights in the direction and we realized two Civets were foraging (searching for food) on the tree unaffected by the flood of light thrown on them. We pulled out our binoculars to have a better look but it was so dark that we could barely see anything. The only available light was the flood light. Slowly we were approaching the tree and the civets happily enjoying whatever they were eating, didn’t bother to stop. We were so engrossed in watching the civets, that we didn’t realize one of them was actually coming right down the tree in our direction completely unaware that humans were waiting under the tree in a jeep watching her come down. (I am feminizing the civet, but I really have no clue what was its gender).

We had our breaths frozen as we saw how close a wild animal was approaching humans which it would avoid in usual circumstances. This one was unlike any of them. Call her a fool or very bold, she kept coming closer and closer until she was at arm’s length. We were trying not to bat an eyelid and remain as calm as possible. Only David’s fingers moved on the camera and the only sound heard were its clicks. She was completely unaware of our existence – just a mere metre away and kept happily sniffing the ground for food, she walked away in slow motion. We were so surprised by this amazing sighting that David and I stood still looking at each other lest the incident might just vanish from our memory in a puff of breath. It was such a magical moment; we were completely shaken by the sheer amazement of how close the civet had come! We slowly realized the reality of the moment and that it wasn’t a dream, hugged each other out of sheer joy of one the best wildlife moments we had experienced. With this experience, we finished our night safari and returned back to the lodge.

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The Civet which blessed us with one of the best wildlife experience.

 I wasn’t so sad after all that I hadn’t seen a tiger or a leopard yet. The civet sighting made my day. 🙂

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