Sloth Bear, Indian Rock Python and more, Cauvery WLS, Aug 2021

Author: Ravi Kailas (ficustours@gmail.com)

Dates: 5th to 7th Aug 2021

A brief visit to the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, a small protected areas along the Cauvery River in south India, turned out to be productive in unexpected ways, including for three different sightings of Sloth Bear, all with cubs, an Indian Rock Python with a belly full of something substantial, and a sighting of the uncommon White-naped Woodpecker. There were also several sightings of the patchily distributed Grizzled Giant Squirrel and Mugger Crocodile, four species of Owls, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Lesser Fish and Bonelli’s Eagles, among a modest diversity of birds and other wildlife. Among the animals I had hoped to see, realistically, but did not, were Smooth-coated Otter and Yellow-throated Bulbul, and there were also those that I had hoped to see, with a wing and a prayer, like Rusty Spotted Cat and Ratel, both species recorded on camera traps from the landscape, that proved duly elusive. This visit was in the middle of the ‘wet’ season, when the open woodland is relatively lush, and, significantly, when the Jamun (Syzygium cumini), a riverine species here, were fruiting copiously – a major attraction for Sloth Bear, as it turned out, and also a well known food source for a plethora of frugivores. There were also a variety of macro-fauna, including congregations of butterflies, mostly Plain Tiger and Common Crow, feeding on plant juice from a shrub along the river, various dragonflies, a skink, Oriental Garden Lizard and South Indian Rock Agama. This brief visit highlighted the productiveness of this modest stretch of protected area along the river, despite obvious disturbances like livestock grazing within the sanctuary, and likely others like collection of forest produce and possibly a background hum of illegal small game hunting/fishing. Troublingly, though, there is talk of a new dam downstream, that will spell doom to this wilderness, not just a significant corridor of forest connecting the Eastern and Western Ghats.

I stayed at the well managed, aesthetically pleasingly located (within the sanctuary right on the banks of the river,) somewhat hidden, Galibore Nature Camp. There was much wildlife within the camp, including a pair of roosting Indian Scops Owl on an Arjuna tree (a species that dominates the riverine forest here), a roosting Brown Hawk Owl, among a variety of birdlife, and species like Grizzled Giant Squirrel, Tufted Grey Langur and Bonnet Macaque (also duly attracted to the open air dining area, in hope snatch treats from an unwary guest, I expect). Two significant sightings also happened within the vicinity of the camp – one of a Sloth Bear and two of her cubs, piggybacking, on the opposite side of the river from the camp, and, of an Indian Rock Python, within about 100m of the tents, in a woodland patch bordering the camp. I understood from the staff that Slender Loris are also sometimes seen in the woodland within the campus, but did not have the opportunity to verify on this visit.

The camp offers a 90 minute, pre-breakfast guided nature walk into the sanctuary, and a coracle ride in the evening (4.30 PM onwards). The guides, while not evidently trained naturalists, are fairly well versed with the significant wildlife and flora of the sanctuary, and, Mahadeva, the guide assigned to me, was especially enthusiastic and friendly (the staff were generally very pleasant and helpful). The weather, at this time, was conducive enough for several mini-walks in the surrounding woodland, between breakfast and the coracle ride, and was productive for several of the sightings mentioned in this report.

The clean, comfortably functional accommodation is in large, Swiss style tents, that can accommodate upto 3 persons and has all the basics covered. Food was a tasty, all Indian, home style cooked affair, with a satisfactory variety.

Though managed by the well known Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd, this decades old camp is a touch under the radar (poor mobile network connectivity helps, especially given its proximity to Bangalore!), making the stay here a closer to nature experience than some of their more popular resorts. I understood, though, that the weekends can get quite busy with visitors from Bangalore.

Video highlights from the visit

List of Mammals Seen*

  • Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus)
  • Grizzled Giant Squirrel (Ratufa macroura)
  • Three-striped Palm Squirrel (Funambulus palmarum)
  • Wild Pig (Sus scrofa)
  • Chital (Axis axis)
  • Bonnet Macaque (Macaca radiata)
  • Tufted Grey Langur (Semnopithecus priam)

*There were also feral buffalo, an unidentified mouse and possibly Short-nosed Fruit Bat among mammals sighted, as well as spoor of Golden Jackal and an alarm call of Sambar. Leopard, Dhole and Elephant are also known to occur in the sanctuary.

Highlight Birds Seen

  • White-naped Woodpecker
  • Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
  • Indian Scops Owl
  • Brown Fish Owl
  • Brown Hawk Owl
  • Lesser Fish Eagle
  • Bonneli’s Eagle
  • Crested Hawk Eagle
  • Jerdon’s Leafbird
  • Indian Grey Hornbill
  • Stork-billed Kingfisher
  • Streak-throated Swallow
  • Blue-faced Malkoha

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