A Thrilling Night Vigil


A Thrilling Night Vigil

Mount Jarga, the second highest peak of Aravali Hills, is situated about 50 km northwest of Udaipur city. The entire range is covered with dry deciduous forests. Jarga is also the starting point of river Banas that is the largest river of Rajasthan. We had heard about the presence of Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) that has not yet been reported from these jungles. So we set out to explore these forests in the summer of 1980.

 
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A Thrilling Night Vigil

Mount Jarga, the second highest peak of Aravali Hills, is situated about 50 km northwest of Udaipur city. The entire range is covered with dry deciduous forests. Jarga is also the starting point of river Banas that is the largest river of Rajasthan. We had heard about the presence of Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) that has not yet been reported from these jungles. So we set out to explore these forests in the summer of 1980.

We also planned to study the behavior of the Grey Jungle Fowls of these forests. Mercury was touching 44 C to 46 C in the shade and the few remaining waterholes in the jungle were drying up rapidly.

Searching through the forest relentlessly day and night we came across a small waterhole on the third day. Due to evaporation, the water in it had become so shallow that the fish in it were dead, decaying and floating on the surface. Those alive were gasping their last. The area around this waterhole was stinking miserably.

We decided to spend the night over this waterhole. We prepared a hide close to it and settled in it at 6PM to start our vigil. At quarter to six a male Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) approached the waterhole and started eating the dead fish.

After half an hour it left the waterhole and stretched itself in the sand a few acres away and remained there for about an hour. Another Jungle Cat approached the water but was shooed off by the first. The first started having its meal of fish again.

It was a bright moonlit night; I suppose it was the night before the full moon. At 8.50PM, fully gorged, the cat retired and stretched lazily over the sand bed about 25 ft from us. At quarter past nine we saw a rare occurrence, which left us dazed. A snake, probably a cobra, slowly slithered towards the waterhole. When the snake was about 12 ft from the cat, it caught sight of the snake and crouched for an attack. I started my stopwatch to see the duration of the fight.

When the snake was about 7 ft from the cat it sensed danger and gathered itself to meet the attack. But before it could raise its hood properly the cat was on it and the next moment we saw the cat standing with the limp body of the snake held in its mouth by the head. The sound of this attack resembled that of a whip. The attack was so swift that we could hardly follow the movements. A moment later it was dragging the snake towards the jungle. The entire episode took nine seconds.

The cat went off in the dense jungle but reappeared again after two hours. As it was standing near the water a Hyena appeared on the scene and strolled towards the water. Seeing the approaching Hyena the cat melted away from the scene. The Hyena came quite close to our hide, scented us and went off.

The cat became dominant again, alternately eating and resting throughout the night. It drove away two more jungle cats, a male and a female, by simply rushing towards them.

On analysing the entire happenings, I presumed that the cat attacked the snake because that waterhole fell in its territory and consequently the fish of that water was its property. That is why it also attacked other jungle cats when they tired to intrude on its domain. The other cats were guilty of intrusion so they put up no resistance and ran away.

When the hyena approached, the cat withdrew because the hyena was too big for it to deal with.

In the morning we started searching for the remains of the dead snake. We followed the trail for about 100 yards but due to hard ground and tangled undergrowth we lost the trail thereafter.

The swiftness of the Jungle Cat was simply marvellous. The technique to kill a snake adopted by it was quite interesting and new to me. It caught the snake in its mouth and immediately tossed it on the ground. This broke the vertebra of the snake. It went limp and could not resist as it usually does when some animal catches it.

The snake usually curls around the body of the animal. But in this case the cat broke the entire vertebra immediately and overcame the snake.

It was an interesting and remarkable night vigil.

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