Decades ago when Ahalya and myself were trekking inside a forest on the border of Karnataka and Goa, a villager warned us to be beware of bears. We were told that it is much more dangerous than a tiger since it can maul a person and inflict severe injuries. Needless to say, we were a bit scared, but the beauty of the forest egged us on further. Fortunately we didn’t encounter the feared beast…perhaps it sensed our anxieties and graciously kept away from us!
Over the years, we have had close encounters with the tiger, seen the most endangered bird in the Indian subcontinent, but have never had a tryst with the bear.
On a recent visit to Hampi, we were very keen to have a glimpse of it at its favoured habitat, Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary. We got in touch with Mr Samad Kottur, the acclaimed conservationist who has worked tirelessly for the conservation of the sloth bears. It was an inspiring experience to get to know his untiring efforts to rescue these animals and his passion for their conservation. There is paucity of literature about the ecology and behaviour of sloth bear (in comparison to the tiger!) and it was refreshing to hear that Mr Samad is in the process of studying these aspects for his doctoral thesis.
We set off from Hampi one afternoon to Daroji. Soon we were amidst the undulating landscape, with craggy boulders and scrub forest, a favoured habitat for the sloth bears. We waited with bated breath for the bears to make their appearance. The sun was beating mercilessly and after what seemed an endless wait, suddenly a big bear peered from behind a huge rock and looked us. He strolled across the boulders searching for food, licking the rocks and sniffing amidst its crevices. I was transfixed by this sight. With its shaggy coat and ambling stride, it sauntered along its terrain oblivious to our presence. It was distressing to note a fresh wound on its neck. Mr Samad informed us that it must have been the consequence of a territorial battle.
Suddenly the first one made a loud guttural sound and as we were wondering as to what had provoked it, we noticed another bear sneaking into the vicinity. It seemed much younger and swift in its strides as it went searching for food. It was greeted with much anger and after a brief aggressive encounter, was driven away.
Then it started raining…an unusual phenomenon in the dry, parched landscape of Daroji. The bear however seemed to enjoy its arrival as it put its feet up on the rock to savour the coolness. It took shelter under a big boulder and lay down underneath it for a while.
There were others who were sharing the space with the bears. A group of Grey Francolins dancing their way gracefully, foraging for food, a laughing dove with its characteristic call and a pangolin, closely following the bears.
We must have watched this enthralling spectacle for over three hours, but it seemed timeless. We were enveloped in the folds of pristine, alluring nature…
Silence descended as the sun slowly faded away, casting dark shadows and it was time to prise ourselves from this enchanting landscape.
Daroji is near the mythical landscape of Kishkinda, where Lord Rama met Jambavan (King of Bears) during his journey towards Sri Lanka. He was the one who provided a much needed pep talk to Hanuman before he flew off in search of Sita. Unfortunately today while Hanuman is revered and worshipped, not many seem to remember Jambavan, epitomizing the marginalization of its ilk. For some reason references to bears seem limited in folklore, literature and mythology, compared to tigers or elephants. No state has chosen the bear as its state animal and there is no project bear either, though their numbers are declining alarmingly.
It was dark by the time we reached Hampi and the night sky was lit by stars. Ursa Major or the Great Bear was somewhere up there watching us, likely feeling more secure light years away…
Do have a look at these magnificent dwellers of Daroji at: