Pench – Land Of The Vultures
Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) is known for numberable things, chiefly its incredible landscape. The Pench river divides the reserve into two ranges and has served the wilderness for many years. Prajakta tells us how she sees vultures thriving here.
PTR, one of the healthiest habitats for tigers and other predators in central India, is known for the corridors that connect it with neighbouring protected areas and for the gene pool it protects. For me, Pench is like a colourful storybook with mesmerizing tiger stories on every page.
A few months ago, I joined Pench as a research fellow and started monitoring its tigers using camera traps. Pench is famous for its vulture population too, and I remember the day when, on our daily patrolling trip to Garadiban, we came across white markings at the base of a tall dhoban tree. My field assistant, Iswar dada promptly pointed to the possibility of it being an old nesting site of a vulture. After receiving information about past and present nesting sites and kills in the area, we started an exhaustive vulture survey, that lasted four months.
On one fine winter morning, we chanced upon a kettle of six White-Backed Vultures, my first sighting of the winged scavengers in the land of the tiger. Bipat Admachi one of the veteran van mazdoors of the reserve, said the tall ain and dhoban trees, adjoining shallow water bodies and neighbouring grasslands in the Junaboat camp area were conducive for vulture nests. We reached Tumadimatta in anticipation. After thorough searching, we found one nest covered with dry leaves, and a juvenile vulture peeping out. Shortly after, we found two other nests in the same area. As luck would have it, over the next two months we found four kills and with the help of watchtowers, we could pin-point the minimum number of vultures present in the area.
I still remember the afternoon of March 5, 2015 when we came across a chital beside a waterbody in Junaboat Camp. We asked the van mazdoor to build a portable hide for two. The next day, we settled early into our hides, just as the glistening dew drops faded away. Two hours into hiding, a hoax crow call, and glimpses of a wild boar and jackal was was all we were served. With four hours gone and patience drying up, I decided to leave. Just as I peeped out, I saw two vultures quietly sitting on a nearby dry tree. Obviously, we decided to sit inside for a little while longer.
In just a matter of moments, a whole committee of vultures swooped down to the kill. From seeing nothing, we were now witnessing a marvel. Fifty vultures of five different species: the Eurasian Griffon, the Egyptian, the White-backed, the Red-Headed and the Indian Long-Billed Vultures had all descended to this one spot.
Over the next two hours, we watched rivetted. Other than the vultures, two jackals and one wild boar joined the feast. Later, through camera trap images, we found that a tiger too had stopped by for a bite.
Prajakta is a research fellow with the Pench Tiger Reserve Foundation.
Author: Prajakta Hushangabadkar.