With Jackals in the Mowgli Land
I had visited Pench National Park in the month of October in 2011. The park had just opened post the monsoons and denizens of this beautiful central Indian park were still coming to terms with the vehicular traffic inside the forest. The taste of the early morning tea I just finished at the local tea shop right outside the gate was still fresh and within a few minutes a cacophony of cheetal alarm calls attracted my attention. The langur monkeys on the tree tops reciprocated their grounded friends as I strained my eyes for the predator who had taken these folks by surprise.
Sudden movement in the grassland and through my binoculars I looked at the direction in which the guide pointed his finger. A jackal pair emerged out from the grass and headed towards my vehicle flashing their furry coat that was shining brightly in the soft morning light filtering through the tendu leaves. As the pair moved closer to the road, a couple more from this family gushed out in the open from behind my vehicle. Within minutes the youngsters from the clan had a playful fight right on the small patch of light that was acting like a spotlight on the theatrical drama happening in front of my vehicle.
I thought this was the best of jackal action that Pench could offer me and 4 months after the incident I headed back to Pench again in search of the famed collared tigress and her extraordinary 5 cubs who had battled the jungle dangers for more than a year and are shaping up to become the fine young torch bearers of the Mowgli land.
With the family of 6 in mind I kick-started my 10 day endeavor in Pench. The forest offered me much more than the 6 I was looking for and with Mother Nature showering her blessings; my total count was an astounding figure of 14 odd sightings during the entire period. This however will not be the reason why Pench will be edged to my memory forever…
It was my 6th drive in the park. The freezing chill of the morning dramatically went down as the sun went up. Post a dry morning round, I entered the park in the noon with light at its harshest best. I decided to quickly find a nice cool area in the forest for a breather and wait till the light and weather was a bit conducive for photography and safari respectively.
As we neared Baghdeo Tiraha (Baghdeo crossing) I noticed an injured cheetal fawn lying on the edge of the road. My vehicle stopped to inspect the cause of death and before we could react, the murderer sprung out of the grassland.
A slight warning snarl, a thick golden coat and with a bold and agile attitude the jackal stood besides its prized trophy. But this was just the beginning of this action packed afternoon.
A deep cut in the stomach of the cheetal made it immobile but the young fawn was not short of courage. He lifted his head up and saw the killer approaching. With his head up he watched the jackal using his muzzle power to rip inside his belly and the feast had begun. A couple of jungle crows and the white backed vulture was waiting patiently for their turn.
In the next 25 minutes, the initial dressing was done and the jackals tore apart the intestines of the cheetal and while I thought the young prey had seen the last of Pench, his tail wagged again. In the wild the line between life and death is very narrow. The 45 minutes struggle was hard to shoot at times for looking at a painful death was not easy.
Such moments are a part of the daily happenings of any forest… though disturbing at times it’s the law of the jungle.