Unlike its neighbours, the Nagarahole and Bandipur Tiger Reserves, Kabini is not cagey or buttoned up. She is open handed, almost lavish in display of her invaluable possessions and reserves, and at times, brazenly showy – oh, she knows how to swallow you whole into her cosmos without making excuses.
– Images: Kaushik Bajibab
Sitting pretty on the banks of the Kabini River, this forest is bursting with life. The day we landed at the reserve, the place was rife with rumours – Black Panther spotted with its mate. Ah, well – it’s the forest department that was blessed with that sight, and we lesser mortals tried to squeeze our “luck” if any, taut with hope.
On the first day, we were welcomed by the oblivious crested serpent eagle –he preferred to ignore us, as we continued to observe him. We found many over the next few days, strangely, all remained unmoved and calm in human presence.
The gaurs quietly stood foraging, and the bull, a true Herculean powerhouse decided to cross the road, quite in haste. He had no patience for intruders. Moving further, the accelerator was eased to maintain respectful distance from an approaching elephant. Strangely, she was alone, the herd was nowhere close, and she looked a little weak too. She kept walking closer towards us, but veered off into the forest after losing interest.
The forest bursts into the backwaters often, sharing borders with its neighbouring reserves, where several birds hung out, including the osprey and the brown fish owl. It scurried off on hearing us. Just after dawn, the sun and the forest wrestled it out, while the latter held ground, the former slashed through in fluidic dance movements. The sight was quite mesmerizing.
Getting its breakfast on time was the white-bellied woodpecker, as he picked worms carefully from a crevice on a tree.
A 3-4 ton of grandiose stood motionless, his bright tusks shining in the light. He flapped his ears a few times expressing displeasure, all along shifting weight from one leg to the other as he continued to rest. Still eyeballing us, he kept wiping one eye with his trunk. He then started kicking the sand, trying to uproot small roots, chewing slowly. When he didn’t find any root, he showered himself with the mud. He was thoroughly enjoying the drill.
A little later, we spotted a calf with two adults. Keeping it well between them, the adults remained calm, while the calf frequently demanded assurance running between the two. The calf would stop to look at us, and then run back quickly to its haven, between the hind legs of its mother.
As we went deeper into the forest, we heard the alarm calls of langurs, and further ahead, the elusive charismatic leader of the forest slowly walked into the bush. Just a 2-3 second glimpse is all we could manage. The very same evening, one of our friends spent good 20-minutes with the same tiger. As he sat mesmerized and frozen, the tiger on its part strolled and lazed around the jeep. Talk about luck!
Every now and then, we spotted the striped necked mongooses – either perched on a shredded bark striking a great pose, or standing on hind legs, reminding us of the meerkats.
The sambars on their part always bounced off, or remained hidden behind bushes, sizing us up.
We had one of the rarest sightings – a sloth bear. He was bang on the middle of the road. Just as he heard us, he quickly scooted into the oblivion. These very shy creatures most often completely avoid any rendezvous with the human kind. Strangely, in Nagaragole, over the last few weeks, many have been spotting a sloth bear by the road, often even walking precariously close to cars and other motor vehicles, absolutely unafraid. Many claim to have spotted the bear on the same road several times over a week. Bizarre!
Though she is tightly hugged by Lantana (an invasive species), at most places she has broken free – bursting onto the banks, pushing the bush deeper into herself, and embracing open vistas fortified with beautiful trees and bamboo. Kabini is truly beautiful.
Tiger, gaurs, elephants, sloth bear, sambars, striped mongooses, brown fish owl, crested serpent eagle, flameback kingfisher, osprey, king vultures, forest wagtails, chestnut headed bee eater, and plum-headed parakeet.