The three days we spent at Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala whizzed by with some stunning encounters with wildlife. We startled a sloth bear who was looking for food along the forest tracks. The bear stood on its haunches, no more than 25 metres from us, peered at us (bears have poor eyesight!) then decided we were not a decent meal, and scurried up the hill slope back into the forest! Up in the trees, we spotted the Malabar giant squirrels chattering away, as they fed on fruit and nuts. In the distance, we heard calls of the endemic and endangered lion-tailed macaque, a black monkey with a lion-like tail. Dozens of leeches climbed on us, and fed on our blood, reminding us that they were denizens of this forest, and we, just visitors!
However, the primary purpose of our visit was to observe the butterflies of Shendurney. Despite the weather being mostly cloudy, with little sunshine, we spotted more than 50 species of butterflies. Endemic species are those that are native or restricted to a particular area. Roughly about 335 species of butterflies are found in the Western Ghats. Of these, 34 species are endemic to the area and we saw 15 such butterfly species during our three-day visit!
Amongst the prettiest butterflies that we saw was the red-disc bushbrown (Heteropsis oculus). This butterfly belongs to a subfamily of butterflies called browns. Most of the butterflies belonging to this ground are brown coloured. They prefer the shade and are active during cloudy weather. Hence the weather suits them perfectly. The red-disc bushbown is dull in colour, mottled brown on the lower wings, but when it opens its wings, it has bright orange patches on the upperside of its wing. Within this orange patch, are two white-centered black spots or ‘eyes’. Every time the red-disc bushbrown sits, just before it folds its wings over its back, it quickly opens and shuts its wings, flashing the colour. This may be a possibly way for it to startle potential predators!
Once we came across a red-disc bushbrown feeding on carnivore scat (dropping of an animal). It was so intent on feeding that our presence made no difference to it, and it refused to fly away! I got really close while photographing it as it was too busy feeding to take notice of me. “Go away and let me feed” it seemed to say, and we followed its advice, leaving it to relish its meal!