Field Stories

Work and Play in the Forest of NNTR
By Aniket Bhatkhande | July 19, 2016

Credits: Photo: Anish Andheria
In the month of May, summer is at its peak at the Navegaon Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR). Professor (Vivek Belhekar - Mumbai University) and I were on a guard survey across tiger reserves in Central India, to assess the impact of donations made by WCT to Anti-poaching Camps (APCs). After a long day, we had reached the final APC for the day. We sat in a make-shift sit out with the forest guard, his assistants or “van mazhoors,” and the guard’s father.

The twilight brought calm to the end of a hard day’s work in the sweltering heat and two missed opportunities of tiger sightings.

While I was feeding in the data from the guard on to my laptop, I noticed from the corner of my eye, my professor’s attention shift. To everyone’s surprise, a sloth bear had made her way to a man-made waterhole. My professor pulled out his camera to record the beauty that was before us. The human attention surprisingly did not jolt this usually elusive creature into running away. Instead she simply returned our gaze for a moment … and then continued to drink. This ‘knowing look’ the sloth bear gave to us that evening would not be easily forgotten.

That same night, my professor and I sat on the veranda of the Nilay Forest guesthouse, situated in the core area of NNTR. The guesthouse was right by the Nagzira Lake. The dim solar powered bulbs were only enough to light up the guesthouse; our surroundings were a deep inky blue. As it was summer then, many kinds of animals would congregate at the last remaining large water body. We stargazed and listened to the sound of animals drink and fishes jumping out of the water. All of a sudden there was silence. We had only our ears to ascertain what was happening right in front of us. And we listened intently. The silence was broken with the sound of a big cat making a run. A run to kill. Our hearts pounded and I had goose bumps all over my arms. The sound of determined running lasted for about seven seconds; until we heard two animals collide. The night resounded with the sound of the deer’s last cry.
In the morning, we were fully armed with sight; but there was nothing left to be seen of the kill.