I was at Bhimbetka a few years ago (more at: http://www.profraguram.com/musings--reflections/the-timeless-beauty-of-bhimbetka ) and was totally entranced by the surfeit of images in the rock shelter 4, often referred to as the Zoo Rock. It was teeming with a vast array of animals, more than two hundred of them! There were plenty of bulls, cows, buffaloes, tigers, lions, elephants and many kinds of deer. My attention was drawn to a deer with majestic antlers which I had not set my eyes on till then. Later on I discovered that it was the Barasingha.
My first sighting of this regal animal in the wild was at Kaziranga. On a misty morning, we saw several of them in the central zone, wending their way through the marshy terrain. I was told that it was endemic to the region and is often referred to as the Eastern Barasingha. They had a striking presence with their twelve point antlers.
It took me couple of years to find their cousins in central India. On a recent trip to Kanha, more than having a glimpse of the tiger (which incidentally gave a wonderful darshan: http://www.profraguram.com/musings--reflections/tryst-with-the-tiger ) I was keen to find the counterparts of the swamp deer, the hard ground swamp deer. The central Indian Barasingha is a highly endangered deer species being the only world population endemic to the Kanha National Park. It is the last repository of these magnificent deer. The expansive grassy plateaus and rolling meadows of Kanha provide an appropriate habitat for the hard ground Barasinghas largely due to outstanding conservational efforts.
We could hear their bugling calls even before sighting them. Perhaps it was their rutting season.
It was indeed a privilege to sight so many of them during our sojourn in Kanha.
Barasinghas are the embodiments of beauty…
As they waltzed across the meadows
Elegant and graceful
Savouring their freedom
Amidst boundless open grass
(Images At: https://goo.gl/photos/L9g1oL2KvorCdb586 )
Though adapted to the hard ground conditions, their penchant for swamps seemed striking as they showed an inclination to linger around moist pockets, often around water bodies. I often wonder whether ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny or it is an issue of adaptation for survival.
Though Kanha provided the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling to write the Jungle Book, he probably never visited it. Reportedly he essayed his remarkable descriptions of Kanha based on letters written to him by a lady towards whom he had a romantic inclination!
Barasingha features in his Second Jungle Book in a story "The Miracle of Purun Bhagat". It is the story of an influential Indian politician who abandons his worldly good and ventures into the jungle to become an ascetic. During his stay, he befriends the wild creatures around him, reflecting on the meaning of existence. The relationship between Purun Bhagat and the animals is a fascinating part of the story. Among the animals he befriends is Barasingha, who becomes close to him because he rubs the velvet of this stag’s horns. Purun Bhagat offers shelter to Barasingha in the place where he is staying. There is a sudden heavy downpour of rain and Barasingha awakens him, warning him of a massive landslip. They leave the place just in time.
Paradoxically Barasingha who warned Purun Bhagat of imminent danger, is itself in a very vulnerable situation!
In an effort to draw attention to the importance of conserving the Barasingha, Kanha has become the first tiger reserve in India to officially introduce a mascot other than the tiger: Bhoorsingh the Barasingha to spread awareness to save it from possible extinction. Incidentally, Barasingha is the state animal of Madhya Pradesh.