It was the 7th of Aug 2009. Another day in the wild. Along with my colleague Guruprasad, I visited the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. As usual we took the morning safari ride and left for the forest at 6:15 am. Our driver was Kiran. The forest seemed dull. We drove most of the forest area and spotted nothing, except for few spotted deer. It is quite obvious that one can get frustrated and just pack off. Most of the time I don't lose hope until I am back at the resort. My camera stays ready till I get into my room. Action can happen anytime, anywhere.
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It was past 8:30 am with no sighting of any animal. We were heading towards the exit gate totally disappointed. Suddenly a small pack of 4 wild dogs made their appearance. I asked Kiran to follow the pack. I said to myself that I wish we could see "A Kill". The pack were heading towards "Tavare Katte" the largest water body at Bandipur forest. We noticed that the dogs were quenching their thirst. Kiran immediately said, "Sir, the dogs are drinking water. That means they have already made the kill and have come to drink water." I was not convinced. You may have the experience and could have spent all your life in forests, but sometimes you can still go wrong in understanding animal behaviour. To me the pack seemed quite small. I have seen packs as large as 22. As per recent records at Bandipur, there was no such record of a small pack. Intuitively, I felt we should follow the pack. So I asked Kiran to do so, and he obliged, though it was getting late.
We followed the pack for few yards on the periphery of the water body. These dogs were on our side moving here and there, typical sniffing type of behaviour. We stopped the jeep. There was complete silence and we could only hear few birds chirping. It was a wonderful feeling to hear the melodious chirps of the birds. Every day I hear cars honking, day in and day out.
On the other side of the water body I was watching a group of spot billed ducks with chicks. Since they were far I didn't want to photograph them. Suddenly in this silent zone, we heard loud alarm calls of a spotted deer at a distance. We were immediately excited at the hope of seeing some action. I was ready with my camera, patiently looking towards the other side of the water body from where we heard the alarm calls.
To our surprise we saw a spotted deer sprinting as if she was being attacked or chased by a predator. Indeed she was. I couldn't believe that a Wild Dog (Dhole) - probably the Alpha Male, was chasing the deer.
It was all so quick that I managed to photograph the deer in action taking huge leaps but could not get the dog in the same frame. The distance also was quite far over 200 meters or more; hence you will notice that the quality of images are low.
The deer seemed confused and panicked. She made a big mistake and took a long leap into the water, not knowing that it would be her death trap. The raised tail of the deer indicated that she was alert. The wild dog chased her and also jumped into the water. Can you imagine a chase in the water, how can one escape, is there a way to escape? My hands were shivering; I had never seen such action before. I prayed for the strength to see this and kept my eye focused on the camera and my finger on the click button. Shoot Praveen shoot, I kept saying to myself. This is a very rare and natural history moment that I witnessed. As the wild dog got in closer to the deer, I could see the fear in her eyes, and her calls for help.
The spot billed ducks too panicked and swam towards the shore. Obviously the deer sensed danger to her life and continued to call for help. We were helpless and so were a group of sambar deer that had come to drink water on the other side.
The wails of the deer were quite touching; I couldn't control my emotions and had tears in my eyes. I can still sense her cry even now; it keeps echoing and will be in my memory forever.
Later the dog moved in close to the deer. Her eyes told us what she was going through at that time.
I think the dog was on her back and tried to drown her by pushing her into the deep water. This was really disturbing, but I continued to shoot.
Suddenly the dog was temporarily distracted and lost focus, probably due to the group of sambar deer that were getting restless and kicking the water with their feet, and possibly also due to our presence.
At first the dog looks towards me. The face of the dog showed his confidence and certainty of victory. By then the deer that was about to drown, surfaced and began to swim. The next moment the dog looks at the sambar deer.
During this distraction the deer ceased the opportunity to escape and swim as fast as she could. She reached the shore and was almost out of the water.
As the deer swam to the shore of the water body she noticed another wild dog charging at her from the right. The pack had made an excellent ambush by surrounding the water body so the deer had no option but to jump back into the water.
By now it had been some 20 minutes into this drama. The alpha male decided to launch the attack, and the assault began.
The alpha male made the first attempt to bite the deer. She cringed in pain, and made a last ditch attempt to escape, but by now the dogs were in full control.
He pulled the deer towards the shore where the rest of the pack was already waiting.
Death came to the deer by shock, exhaustion and loss of blood.
Photo Credit: Praveen Siddanavar
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.