One of the most common questions I’m asked is which is your favourite wild animal. Whenever I’m asked this question, I throw the question back and ask to guess the answer. The answer I get is often the Tiger. No doubt, It is a majestic and elusive creature of wild and yes I am infatuated by tigers but that doesn’t mean it is my favourite animal from the wild. Surprised! Read on.
I’m yet to see all types of mammals from the wild. So honestly my answer would stand debatable to an extent. So I decided to qualify the top 5 on my own personal experience, the ability of aninal to mesmerize us by its beauty/charm/behaviour, elusiveness and rarity of sighting. So let us begin.
#5 Sloth Bears- IUCN Red list status – Threatned
Most of my unique bear memories are from childhood. Bears are unpredictable. The unpredictability of bears is the reason they are my favourites. They are the most feared animals from Indian jungles. More people are attacked by bears than by Tigers. They don’t like surprises and they attack to defend when surprised. They have poor eyesight, no wonder if you suddenly come in front of them they will attack. I have already written a blog on my experience with bears. Bear come at #5 because of unpredicatble moods that I have seen them showcasing in the wild to name a few – while in a feeding frenzy, charging to defend cub, charging tiger cubs in self defense and standing tall on hind legs when surprised
#4 Elephants- IUCN Red list status – Endangered
Pachyderm can be seen freely roaming in wild terai regions of northern India, across Bramhaputra plains in eastern India and along with patches of eastern ghats and western eastern ghats as well. They are part of my top 5 because of the fact that they are the real giants of the earth yet humble simple and entertaining. Watching them feed, drink water, play in the river or form special formations to protect the young calf, it is always an unique experience. If you get to see a newborn with the herd, you will have a time of your life. Newborns take years to gain expertise in handling the tusk. They struggle to use the trunk and that’s where your lifetime experience starts.
#3 Tigers – IUCN Red list status – Endangered
As I said earlier tigers aren’t top of my list. No doubt they are majestic to look at and elusive to sight but they are creatures of habit just like humans. If you know the territory of a tiger and behaviour pattern of that tiger, they can be predictable and easy to track. However, they are the apex predator and need due respect. What I love about them is that they are least concerned about vehicles around them. They are mostly cool and relaxed. Sometimes you can come across the extremely shy individual and rarely a short-tempered one. I have seen them all. Seeing the predator in his natural environment is unmatched experience and capturing these striped predators on camera is an addictive thing. You know what I mean, if you have been following my journey.
#2 Dhole – IUCN Red list status – Endangered
Here is my #2. The most ruthless hunter from forests of India. They can be easily confused to be not considered as a hunter by novice wildlifer. This happens because of size similar to stray dogs we see in our cities. Look at them and you will see they are unlike city dogs. Dholes or Indian wild dog weigh not more than 20kg as an adult yet they can easily bring down prey who weighs 4 times more, a prey which can run at extremely high speeds. How does he do it? Stamina and team work. They communicate using whistles during hunts. Similar to wolves, wild dogs live in a group called clan(Wolves live in Pack- FYI) Clan is made of a mating pair and other members. To hunt they select a prey, strategize to kill and chase the prey down. Unlike tigers, they don’t kill by strangulating the jugular but start biting of prey alive when it’s running for its life. The prey ultimately succumbs due to blood loss and dholes starting consuming it alive. The prey cries and wails to closed ears of dholes. Ruthless! They can easily finish an 80kg deer in less than an hour. They have the highest hunting success rate amongst all hunters and can be easily spotted in central Indian forests. They are highly ruthless,gregarious and entertaining, hence they come at #2
#1 Leopard – IUCN Red list status – Vulnerable
The Ghost is what I call them. They are the shyest and elusive of all predators you will see in the wild. Expect a few places in India like Jhalna or Bera leopards are difficult to spot. I have extensively written on a leopards ability to adapt and keep hiding even around human habitats. They are the next level of stealth machines of nature. I have had so many experiences where the leopard was around and I couldn’t see him or his presence was felt but I couldn’t see it. And even If I could see one, it lasted for a short time, at times split second. My first leopard sighting happened after more than 50 safaris. They have the ability to be around you and yet not be seen. This is what brings the Ghosts to #1
I hope I was able to give you some sense of what to expect if you see these 5 animals from wilds of India. IMHO saying that one particular mammal as best will not be fair since every living being of jungle plays an equally important role in maintaining the equilibrium of the ecosystem. So next time when you visit a wildlife sanctuary don’t just look out for these five mammals but also search for the other spirits of wild.