Do you know what to do if a bison comes charging?,” asked Kuruvi Sidha, a man of the jungles and a naturalist from the indigenous Irula tribe of the Mudumalai forest range in Tamil Nadu. Of course not. I only encounter bison on Discovery Channel.
We were walking around the periphery of the forest. Mudumalai is still virginal in more ways than one. Trekking or camping isn’t allowed here. But due to some British-era laws that are still applicable, a few private properties are allowed permission to remain inside the edge of the forest. It was while staying at a bungalow here that I met Sidha. There are 350 species of birds in Mudumalai. He can recognise more than 250 species just by its call.
As we embarked on a nature walk, Sidha told me about The Great Indian Hornbill — a beautiful black bird with a large yellow beak. “It can give Romeo and Juliet a complex,” he laughed. After laying eggs in the hollow of a tree, the female bird plucks all her feathers and covers the eggs with them. She then sits on the eggs till they hatch. In the meantime, the male Hornbill builds a tightly packed nest around the female leaving just enough space for her beak to poke out of the nest for feeding purposes. For 22 days, the female bird remains in the nest, while the male brings her food. During this time, if the male gets killed or captured, the female Hornbill remains inside the nest until she breathes her last.
After the captivating story, I reminded Sidha about the ‘bison’ when we spotted one some distance away. “If you think you can outrun a bison because it seems sluggish at 400-600 kg, you are a fool,” he said. “More often than not, he will get you. So, stand your ground till the penultimate moment. Then step away from his path. The bison will never turn around and come after you a second time. That’s why the bison is known as a ‘one-charge animal’, as the wild boar,” he cautioned.
But it is the bear that Sidha finds tricky. You can never escape by climbing a tree or running fast. “He will be right behind you,” he says. However, somewhere deep inside the bear is also a scaredy-pooh. “Create an illusion that you are somehow bigger than the bear by jumping up and down and screaming loudly and ferociously. More often than not, he will get scared and run away,” Sidha says. But what if he doesn’t? “Then it is goodbye, world,” replies Sidha without missing a beat.
(Sudha Pillai is a solo traveller, writer, photographer and artist. She blogs at www.asunnysquare.com )