Photographs by Kamolika
A bizarre encounter with a couple of wild dogs recently etched an indelible mark on my mind. Wild dogs are generally known to be averse to human presence. But our recent encounter with this beautiful canid is bit different. Commonly, naturalists and wildlife photographers take pains to watch them from a distance and photograph them. But this time, roles were swapped. It was their turn now. They watched us …..from a distance.
This anecdote goes two-three weeks back when the rain gods had mercy and Valparai got a breather from the heavy showers that engulfed it during the past one month. It was a sunny day with intermittent showers and the weather seemed perfect for a long drive. We unanimously decided to undertake a long drive and zeroed in on Shekalmudi as the destination, at a distance of about 30 kilometres from Valparai.
We passed through several tea estates, stopping for brief photography sessions on the way. At Solayar dam, we topped to catch a quick bite. Post-lunch we crossed a small market place after the dam and just when we were out of its din and entering the tea estate again, we caught sight of a wild dog sitting on the edge of a tea garden.
The tea garden was about six feet above the level of the road and the mud around perfectly blended with its reddish brown coat but it was the green tea bushes in the background that gave it away. It was late in the afternoon, say 2.30 p.m. The wild dog was watchful and appeared to be on guard resting behind a stone. It was totally unprepared for our sudden intrusion. It must have seen many a passer by, but none who would stop and watch it and least of all pull out gadgets and click pictures.
Fearing it would flee at our unanticipated appearance, without much ado we clicked as many pictures of it as possible till the dog started becoming wary and uneasy at our presence and very reluctantly walked into the bushes. We peeked through the bushes lest we miss out on some other member of its pack, but there were none in the vicinity. Contemplating various reasons why a wild dog opted to sit at the edge of a tea garden looking out on the road, we hypothesized that probably there was a kill in the tea bushes yonder there which it was guarding. The air around was rent with a foul stench of dead meat, which further strengthened our supposition.
After the wild dog left, we decided to move on towards our original destination – Shekalmudi. Words cannot express our emotions after this extraordinary but pleasant meeting. It was indeed a close encounter with a wild dog, the closest we’ve had so far. The lush green around was mesmerizing. The silence of the hills was occasionally broken by the melodious song of the Malabar Whistling Thrush. A heavy but short-lived downpour mid-way and warning by a passing estate worker of poor road conditions due to a tree fall ahead prevented us from going any further. At the nearest suitable point we made an about turn and headed back. On the way back, we jokingly remarked that while returning, we must be on the lookout for the ‘wild doggies’. It was as if the wild dogs could read our mind. This time the sentinel encountered earlier was accompanied by a second one and both the wild dogs seem to maintain a strong vigilance.
Since we were on the lookout for them, they were easy to spot. They were lying apart from each other in the same place, where we had seen the first wild dog. The time elapsed between the first encounter and the second was roughly about an hour. While one withdrew into the bushes as soon as we stopped the car, the second one, which was perhaps, the one we had encountered first, refused to budge. While we both went berserk clicking as many pictures as possible, this wild dog sat there watching us intensely from its perch without batting an eyelid and with an expression of amusement that can best be described in the following words. “It is business as usual for us…but …who are these two intruders?”
We admit our guilt of intruding as unwanted visitors during the possible meal time of these two dogs but we assure you that their sight was irresistible and most nature lovers would choose to absolve us of this guilt.
After being contented that we had had as many pictures as possible, it was time to say farewell to the wild dog that had so patiently obliged us and kept us company without withdrawing. It had been nearly twenty minutes that the wild dog and we had been together and not for a moment did the wild dog shift its gaze from us. As we were getting ready to move, the silence was broken by sounds of laughter of children coming from a distance. The voices seemed to draw closer and a group of three to four school children came into sight. The wild dog twitched its ears, look towards the direction of the sound and with one last look at us, slowly but reluctantly retreated into the tea bushes.
Following closely on the heels of the school children was a stray dog. We feared that if it smelt the rotting meat, it might search for the source, which could give rise to a possible tiff between the wild dog and its domestic counterpart. We left the wild dog behind and moved on. About 50 metres away, in the adjacent garden, a group of female estate workers were busy engaged in plucking tea leaves. We volunteered to warn them about the presence of wild dogs nearby. They disclosed a surprising fact. They told us that the presence of wild dogs was not new to them. The spot was a regular haunt for these wild dogs that waited every afternoon for chicken waste to be dumped in the thick vegetation across the road. The waste was dumped by a broiler shop in the market nearby. The foul smell, which we earlier presumed was from a kill in fact emanated from the chicken waste.
Laughing at our own theory of wild dogs guarding their kill from stray dogs and other animals we moved from there. Once we were clear off the tea gardens and entered the crowded market place again, we saw an interesting signboard on a broiler chicken shop, which read as follows:
‘More taste, less waste’.