By Kamolika Roy Chowdhury
A chance close-up with a brown mongoose―endemic to the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka―catapulted me from obscurity to a contributor on the NCF blog. And this experience of mine might endear me to many a wildlifer or prove to be a cause for envy for some ‘world famous‘ photographers.
It was a rainy evening in March this year when I heard an excited scream from Jegan who was standing outside our house in Valparai. Even before I could comprehend much, Jegan rushed in and said that he had sighted a brown mongoose just outside our house. This initial excitement was followed by a hurried phone call to Divya Mudappa and I remember hearing an equally excited response from the other side of the line.
After his excitement died down, Jegan explained to me that the brown mongoose he had just sighted was endemic to the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. Not much is known about its habits and habitat and so far the only published photographs have been taken with a camera trap and that too is a night-time shot. I forgot all about the brown mongoose till I actually came face to face with it on a May morning.
It was a warm May morning at about 11:30 and I was standing outside the kitchen door of my house in Valparai, chatting with an old friend over the mobile, when I was suddenly distracted by the cacophony of a group of jungle mynas and a Western Ghats Striped Squirrel in the nearby mango tree. They were apparently disturbed by something.
I looked in the direction of this commotion only to find myself being stared at by a creature. It was about eight feet away from me―with a furry brown coat and a conspicuously bushy tail. I suppose it had been there for sometime, but I had been unmindful and oblivious to its stealthy entry. I was taken by surprise at its sudden appearance and took a few moments to gather my wits about me. Suddenly, I recalled the incident of two months ago. Oops! The creature was nothing but a brown mongoose!
Without wasting much time, I promptly fetched the camera and clicked some pictures of it. As I did not have my 300 mm lens at that moment, I had to restrict myself to using the wide angle lens and I shall always regret not having been able to use my zoom lens to click it at such close quarters.
The animal had apparently come to the garbage pit (dug outside our kitchen for disposing vegetable waste) in search of food and found itself in the midst of jungle mynas and a squirrel, which were pretty much perturbed by its proximity. The mongoose made several patient albeit futile attempts to enter the pit and choose its pick but unfortunately it was not to be. The mynas perceiving it to be a potential threat were not prepared to take any chances and swooped on it numerous times.
The mobbing often compelled the mongoose to run and take cover, only to defy the birds and return to the pit. This was repeated several times before the mongoose finally called off its pursuit and returned to the bushes from where it had emerged. Its defiant approach made it evident to me that food was on its list of priorities that morning. The entire episode lasted for about 10-15 minutes and all the while the mongoose, though aware of me, chose to ignore my presence.
After this, I chanced upon the brown mongoose again a few days later near the same garbage pit. However, contrary to the previous encounter, it didn’t retain its bold disposition and fled at my appearance.
The most recent encounter with the mongoose last month was most interesting. It was not alone but with a younger member from its family―a baby mongoose! In this context, let me tell you that owing to the saturation of the garbage pit outside the kitchen we were compelled to dig a new one. The window of one of the rooms overlooks this new pit.
Jegan and I stood at the window one morning at about 8 a.m. when he suddenly stopped speaking and pointed towards the garbage pit. Looking in the direction, I sighted two mongooses. I suppressed an excited squeal when I saw that it was the brown mongoose accompanied by its baby―a miniature version of its own self. The baby followed its mother and its puzzled movements and unsure steps indicated that it was still in its initial period of training. Mother and baby were out to explore the new garbage pit, though it didn’t appear very promising. After a quick peep into the pit, mother signaled to the baby to move on and we both watched on till they disappeared quietly into the bushes. Or perhaps, the mother was wary of our presence and decided to play safe.
Enchanting indeed, but the brevity of this particular encounter didn’t permit us to take any picture of this rare sighting. In retrospect, it occurred to me that during my first encounter with the mongoose, the bold disposition on the part of the adult mongoose could have possibly been triggered off by the hungry baby in its den.
Ever since my first meeting with the brown mongoose I have been on the look out for it in order to make up for the picture I couldn’t take. However, during all my subsequent meetings it has caught me unaware leaving me with little or no time for preparation in order to fulfill my desire. I admit that my inability to fulfill my desire left me frustrated but it has been compensated by the very sight of this beautiful animal and I shall always cherish those magical moments.
Kamolika Roy Chowdhury