Monkey business

We reached Kausani late. The hotel spread down a cliff facing the valley. I’d chosen it for the views we would get of the Himalayas, but on the way in to Kausani, I was dismayed by the ring of fire on the surrounding ridges. It was a wonderful hotel, but there was a smell of smoke everywhere. We decided to cut our stay short, and leave in the morning. Perhaps we could be back some other time.

As I packed in the morning I looked out to see monkeys sunning themselves. They are highly conscious of status, and one monkey was afforded a bubble of serenity. He surveyed others to make sure that they kept the proper distance. A very old song popped into my head as I watched this: “Mere monkey Ganga aur tere monkey Yamuna mein, bol Radha bol sangam hoga ki nahin.” Looking at the way they move, probably not.


Cheetal grazing on fallen leaves, Bhitarkanika National Park, Odisha

One of the most striking things about wild animals is how easily they adapt to circumstances; a fancy term for this is behavioural plasticity. When I saw a group of Cheetal, apparently grazing in the mud next to the tidal creek, I was a little surprised. These animals are grazers, mostly dependent on grass. But the individuals I saw were eating fallen mangrove leaves. You can see them feeding in the photo alongside. In the featured photo you can see its whole body aligned along the tide line where fallen leaves have gathered. The strong reliance on a leafy diet struck me as an adaptation.

Another odd fact was that there were so many Cheetal near brackish water. These deer drink a lot of water, and I could not imagine them drinking sea water. It gradually dawned on me that there must be fresh water inland. Amar, our boatman, and Bijaya, our guide for the day, told us about ponds and wells which give sweet water. Around these there are also grassy meadows where we saw some deer.

We also saw small bands of rhesus monkeys on the muddy banks of creeks. Strangely, they seemed to be grazing in the mud. Bijaya said they were eating grass. Possibly, because they were certainly not picking up fallen leaves. I never came across them inside the forest, so I don’t know what fruits they eat. Mangrove fruits are unlikely fare for monkeys, but maybe they have adapted. Animal behaviour is so plastic that every niche yields delightful surprises.

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