A black shape looms in the distance. It was unlike the others; too black to be a deer, but too small to be an elephant. As we get closer, the shape turns; black morphs into a long snout, shaggy beard, and two deep-set eyes. I am staring at a wild sloth bear.
I was driving along NH 766, the highway that passes through Bandipur Tiger Reserve and Wayanad National Park. I have driven on this road for years, and have never seen a sloth bear.
Sloth bears are elusive creatures, keeping to the dense forests. They search for termite mounds which they force open with 7-inch claws. Using their long tongue, they slurp up as many termites to satisfy their cravings.
I watch in amazement as it walks across the road, towards the neighbouring forest. In no time, it is swallowed by the thick undergrowth.
Once or twice a year, I drive on this road to visit my family in Kerala. And each and every time, I wait for the forest section, praying to see wildlife.
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Rolling down the windshield, I inhale the tang of the wilderness. I have witnessed the forest in all its colours; a warm orangish brown in the summer, verdant green during the rains, and everything in between. My eyes scour the thickets ardently, in search of the elusive animals.
I have seen peafowl, elephants, monkeys, and plenty of deer during my travels. They browse near the main road, raising their heads when you stop and point a lens at them. The tiger and leopard, however, are yet to reveal themselves.
But trouble has been brewing in this Edenesque patch. Night traffic through the reserve disrupts the nocturnal wildlife, often running over animals.
Activists have lobbied for a ban on night traffic through the forest. The governments of Kerala and Karnataka have regular tussles on the matter.
Roadkills decimate wildlife all across the world. This ban is what stands between conservation and widespread slaughter. Implementing these measures around the nation would positively impact our fast-depleting wildlife population.
Meanwhile, I continue to drive on this road, eyes peeled to see the fauna of the Nilgiri forests.
Read more about the Bandipur night traffic ban here.
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