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REVELATIONS OF FOREST


 

Aaron Ajay Mathews

It was an Onam festive mood in Kerala when I made up my mind for leaving to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala which is around 50 kilometres from Munnar. I didn’t have a reply for my mother’s enquiry about going to Chinnar during the festive season, but there was something calling me into that dry deciduous forest where many wildlife enthusiasts have left the path half explored because of the extreme conditions there. Just prior to leaving for Chinnar I was talking to my mother and I suddenly told her this time I will come back with “White Bison’s” photo. I still can’t make out what made me say those words. I have been to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary many times and have heard about the rare “White Bison” or “Albino Gaur”, but till that day I never wished about getting a photograph of that mysterious animal that always have fascinated the photographers and researchers but returning empty handed was their fate.

I took the early morning bus to Munnar and then travelled the rest of the distance by a jeep to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. Last time when I went there the forest was suffering from heavy drought, since Chinnar is in a rain shadow region. This time its different, the trees look more happy, animals look much healthier, even the birds were chirping and singing with happiness by the arrival of monsoon. I set up my camera and had few chit chats with the tribal people and forest officers there who always been a great support to me in exploring that wilderness. My all time friend and my guide Palaniswamy was there to welcome me with a smile. As we were walking through the river bank Palaniswamy told me that nowadays we don’t see much animals around here as they have moved themselves towards Amaravati Dam, which is in Tamil Nadu side. The first two days I found myself wandering inside the forest without any aim or target.

It was the third day I came up with the wish to see and photograph “White Bison”. I expressed my wish to Palaniswamy who took bit of time and replied, “Sir for last three months we haven’t seen a single bison here”. He even told me that there was a research team from Mumbai looking for Bison but their fate was to return without spotting one. I told Palaniswamy with an assurance “The Forest will reveal the bison to us”.  We trekked around eighteen Kilometres from morning till afternoon and we ended up seeing only some Deer, Sambar, Elephants etc.

As we were walking towards the river we had to climb two huge hills and then walk through bushes which have thorns on it. We struggled through our path to the river and somehow climbed the two hills then we took a small break to relax our lungs which were panting for breath.

Palaniswamy took my binoculars and slowly went forward towards the cliff and started searching for bison there. Suddenly Palaniswami shouted with joy and excitement and told me that there is a large group of bison grazing down the hill. I got up and ran towards him and looked through the binoculars, yes he was right, and there indeed was a large group of bison. We started searching for the “White Bison” among those and to our surprise we found it hiding behind a large bush. We started descending downhill to get a close look at that magnificent animal. We at last reached almost 50 meters close to the bison. I started clicking continuously. I saw the evening sun glazing through the fur of the bison which made it look like golden coloured. I wanted to get closer but the herd sensed our presence and we were in a very vulnerable situation exposing ourselves completely to the herd.

I saw the Alpha male coming forward which looked like at least weighing two tons. He came forward towards us showing his huge and sharp horns.  We tried following them to get a better picture, but got warning again couple of times from the bison and had to drop the plan.

I returned back to my room with a heart full of happiness and gratitude towards the forest which revealed its hidden gem to me. I again refreshed my lesson from the nature which states “Love the nature and its creatures then it will reveal its treasures”.

The writer is a Wildlife Conservationist & Photographer

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