It was the winter of 2007. I was visiting the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary in the Chikmagalur and Shimoga districts of Karnataka. The sanctuary, which covers an area of 492 sq kilometres, has some marvellous forests. The Bhadra River that winds through the forest is home to wonderful wildlife.
On one of my early morning walks through the forest, close to the rest house where we were staying, chirping bird calls punctuated the air. A peacock yodelled at a distance, a treepie cackled while babblers chattered noisily in the nearby bushes.
In the midst of all the chirping a loud bark startled me. The bark came from quite close to where I stood. Staying absolutely still, I held my breath. Through the trees alongside the path, I noticed movement. An animal made its way stealthily in my direction. It barked again!
Cautiously the animal stepped out onto forest track. It was a barking deer (Muntiacus Muntjak) also known as the Indian muntjac. The muntjac belongs to the deer family. It is reddish-brown and the male has short antlers.
When alarmed, the muntjac has a short, sharp bark for a call and flicks its tail stump, revealing a pure white underside. It is largely a forest deer, seen during the day, feeding alone or in pairs. It often wanders out of forests into cultivated fields and clearings.
The muntjac is called ‘kakar’ in Hindi or the ‘kelaiyadu’ in Tamil. It is commonly found in forests of India up to a height of 2,000 m.
Deer are ruminants, which means that they are even-toed hooved mammals that chew on cud regurgitated from a part of their stomach. They play a crucial role in any forest.
They feed on grass and, while doing so, disperse grass seeds, which cling to their body. They eat fruit, and help disperse seeds as well. Deer are part of the diet of most large carnivores, including the tiger.
Hence it is no surprise that the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, which is now a tiger reserve, has a healthy population of deer, which the tigers can prey upon.
Have you ever visited a wildlife sanctuary or national park? Have you experienced the thrill of seeing wild animals in their natural habitat? Hearing their calls, watching them as they feed? If not, its time to ask your parents to take you on your first visit to the wilds; it is an experience that you will not forget.