Wild visitor at Lakeside

wild boar at LakesideWhile walking in our area of land set aside for wildlife this morning I met a local family.

Mum, Dad and baby wild boar were happily rooting away for breakfast. Although I wondered why they would be hungry after digging up some of the plants in our gardens last night!

Unlike boar that you might find elsewhere, these are not aggressive unless they feel threatened. On seeing (even hearing or smelling!) humans, they take off into the densest vegetation they can find. I always feel privileged to see them, but do wish they would not run away and hide before I can take a photo! Thankfully I have one that I took a few years ago. This photo was taken just after the dry season and before the new growth had come through. As you can see, this animal looked hungry. The boar I saw today were much better fed!

Boar can be a bit of a pest. Once Lakeside has settled for the night and no one is around they will come in and dig up the succulent roots of plants. It is just bad luck that the tastiest roots are those of the plants in our flowerbeds and not weeds!

You may see a lone boar (males tend to be solitary) or a pair. If really lucky you could see mum and dad with a family of little ones! Young boar stay with their mother until they are adult. In some places you can see as many as 20 boar in a group, although in this valley you are more likely to see less than 10.

The wild boar is the ancestor of the domestic pig and the two species will inter-breed. So, any feral pigs you may see on rubbish heaps on the outskirts of villages could well have some boar blood.

 Boars forage mostly at dawn and dusk and into the night so you are unlikely to see them during the heat of the day. They are omnivorous and will eat anything they find – grass, nuts, berries, carrion, roots and tubers, insects and small reptiles. They are also a menace for our ground-nesting birds as they will take both the bird and the eggs.

As the boar is one of the bigger mammals in the valley they don’t have many predators. A fox or local dog may take a piglet, but only the leopard will take on a full grown boar.

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Elephants at Lakeside!

elephants at Athoor damThe drought is really taking hold.

For the first time ever, elephants have come over the Palani Hills to our valley in search of water and food. Five elephants visited over the weekend. The crowds of local people made them nervous so we kept our distance!

Today’s Hindu newspaper tells the story.

People in our area are hoping and praying for a good summer monsoon to help replenish water supplies, for ourselves and the animals. If we don’t get it we then have to wait until November.

On a positive note it has just started raining. Maybe the elephants have brought us good luck – and good rain!

 

A rare glimpse of a rare animal – the Giant Grizzled Squirrel

I took this picture of a Giant Grizzled Squirrel yesterday. The photo was taken in the Palani HIlls of Tamil Nadu, but I won’t say exactly where as these animals are on the ‘at risk’ register and are protected. To find out more about these beautiful animals please see my earlier post here.

What a privilege to spend time observing this beautiful creature.

Great Grizzled Squirrel, Tamil Nadu, India

Giant Grizzled Squirrel, Tamil Nadu, India

Gaur – a natural hazard on the golf course!

Anyone who plays golf will know that there can sometimes be natural hazards on the course which may interfere with play. But I would bet that most people who play golf in the western world have never had to cope with a natural hazard which is found on our local course!

My husband, Pete, is a keen golfer and will occasionally drive up to Kodaikanal for a round. In that area you will find the gaur – a huge bovine that looks like a bull on steroids! Although it is classed as vulnerable the gaur is quite common around Kodai. They like to come onto the golf course at night to graze – and can cause havoc on the greens with their enormous hooves! To combat this the groundsmen erect and maintain a net fence around each green; the holes in the netting are large enough not to interfere with the flight of a golf ball but the net appears as a barrier to the gaur who will walk round it!

Netting surrounding the green on Kodaikanal Golf Course

Netting surrounding the green on Kodaikanal Golf Course

The gaur is the tallest species of wild cattle, a full grown male can easily be 6 feet at the shoulders and some can reach over 7 feet! It is very strong and massively built – they can be almost 11 feet in length (2.5 to 3.5 meters); the average weight is around 650 – 1,000 kg with the occasional big bull reaching up to 1,500 kg; females tend to be about three-quarters the size of the males. Both sexes have huge horns.

Gaur are among the largest living land animals. Only elephants, rhinos, the hippopotamus and the giraffe consistently grow heavier. This is definitely one hazard that you would not want to meet on your local golf course!

This is not my photograph, but it certainly shows the size of these beasts!

This is not my photograph, but it certainly shows the size of these beasts!

Giant Grizzled Squirrel – threatened inhabitant of the local forest

Grizzled squirrel

There is a small river valley near here where we take guests for a walk to experience the natural life on offer in the foothills of the ghats. There are always birds to be seen – ranging from small minivets to black eagles – and sometimes a langur monkey or two can be seen playing in the trees. There are also deer and gaur (Indian bison) in the area although I have not seen them. What I have seen though is the Grizzled Squirrel.

The Grizzled Giant Squirrel is a large tree squirrel that is only found in patches of forest along the Kaveri River and in the hill forests in Tamil Nadu and Kerala along with a few places in Sri Lanka. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as near threatened due to habitat loss and hunting. A Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary (covering over 480sq. km) was set up in 1988 in Srivilliputtur, Tamil Nadu to protect ‘Ratufa macroura’ which is the smallest of the giant squirrels found in the Indian subcontinent. The squirrel has a head and body length of 25 to 45 centimetres (9.8 to 18 in), and tail measuring roughly the same or more giving a total length of 50 to 90 centimetres (20 to 35 in). It has small rounded ears with pointed tufts. The home range of an individual is between 1,970 and 6,110 square metres, and the species breeds just once a year, producing a single offspring.

The squirrels spend most of the day feeding, although they do take a ‘siesta’ during the hottest part of the day (just like most of the local inhabitants!) They feed mostly on fruits and seeds but when these are scarce they will eat tender leaves and shoots. Unusually for squirrels these animals tend to build two dreys (nests), usually in forked branches so that they can make a quick ‘get away’ in any direction if threatened.

I’m not sure why the squirrels are in this area (there may be a forest ‘corridor’ linking to the sanctuary) but I feel very privileged to have seen them. In order to protect the animals I won’t say where this spot is so if you want a chance to see them you will just have to come and stay at Lakeside!

Grizzled Giant Squirrel

Hare today gone tomorrow?

If you sit quietly at Lakeside in the early mornings you are likely to see one of the black-naped hare which live in the area.  I took these photos this morning.

These animals prefer to live in open fields and plains where they can see predators from a great distance which makes Lakeside an ideal home (although some sub-species prefer to live in the denser forest areas where there is more cover). The hare is a nocturnal animal and spends its days lying in a scooped out hollow or ‘form’ made in a patch of grass. The hare has a pale brown coat with a black patch on the nape, and a short gray tail. The under parts are white.

Indian black-naped hare

Indian black-naped hare

The hares are not often seen in other parts of the valley, but they are common – and make up a good percentage of the diet of animals in the Reserve Forest which borders our land.  The local leopard, mongoose and foxes are all partial to the taste of hare!

Black-naped hare

Farmers consider the hare to be a menace because of its love for cultivated crops – especially carrot, radish, peas and cabbage.  Farmers have snared and shot these animals in the past but this made little impact on the numbers; the biggest cause for its decline in certain areas has been the destruction of areas of plant cover.  The black naped hare is not endangered, but in the last three or four years the species has become the target of poachers and some wildlife experts are becoming concerned.

Indian Blacknaped hare

In the first week of September 2011 forest officials conducted a series of raids and arrested 21 poachers from Virudhunagar district in Tamil Nadu whose target was specifically the black-naped hare.  The gang were using a specially made conical net with lights to attract and catch the nocturnal hares then sending the dead animals to different districts using public transport.

march hare

It used to be thought that the one or two reported cases of hare poaching was by local individuals hunting the animals for meat, but this does not account for the huge numbers which are now being hunted in some areas.  The main reason seems to still be for meat (the meat is considered to be very delicate) but there are now suspicions that they are also being hunted for their skins.

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The Indian Hare is the prey of many small mammals in the jungles and forests of south India including the jungle cats, mongoose, jackals and foxes. If poaching drastically cuts hare numbers it will automatically affect the population of these species too

 Is it too much to hope that the only hunting of these beautiful animals will be by people like myself armed with nothing but a camera?

blacked naped hare Tamil Nadu India