It was a cold morning; I could feel the dense fog on my face while waiting in an open jeep, for our driver to arrive. The seats of the safari were drenched as these often are in early morning safaris & the driver hadn’t bothered to wipe those dry, as these drivers often don’t. With great manoeuvre, I found myself a dry spot & placed all my gear – phone, binoculars, my backpack & the arrangement to shoot a video in my lap. In a few minutes, I settled down & began doing what I do the best – look around. A few humble signages were put up – welcoming all the visitors – to the beautiful grasslands of the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar, Gujarat.
“Wolf, wolf”, cried our neighbour in the middle of the safari!
This was the third time. The previous two had turned out to be false alarm calls. Even though my mind debunked the ‘claim of sighting’ immediately, my heart wanted to sight the rare Indian wolf.
As it turned out, my heart was right that day. There was indeed an animal hiding at a great distance from us in the sprawling grasslands. All the jeeps next to ours went silent. The Indian wolf can apparently detect sound waves from great distances. Luckily, everyone was a wildlife enthusiast around us. There was pin-drop silence. The only sound audible was the sound of my heart that was pounding rapidly. I used my binoculars and started scanning the grasslands. And after a few seconds, I missed a heartbeat. It was indeed the Indian Wolf in front of me – rare, dangerous & a famous character of legends & folk tales.
The unfortunate Indian Wolf that can’t get rid of its bad name
Most movies, TV series & books have popularised the legend of a mystical creature waking up on every full moon, losing control & mauling everyone & everything that comes in its way. This creature is no other than the wolf. The folk tales that we have grown up hearing portrayed the Indian Wolf in a bad light, unlike Jackals and foxes. In fact, Hyenas are not feared as much as wolves. This is probably why, wolves are hated and feared.
Indian Wolves are highly endangered today. Their numbers are probably less than 3000. In British India, wolves were considered vermin & were hunted massively. In our parents’ generation, a popular scare tactic was the story of a wolf who was lurking by, trying to steal neighbourhood kids. Even my mom talked about a JHOLI WALA BABA (A man-like creature that comes with a big bag) which I doubt to be a twisted tale of a bad wolf. For centuries now, Indian wolves have been persecuted. This is why, there are only a handful of places where you can sight an Indian wolf & one of those places is Velavadar National Park.
The Indian Wolf – rare, endangered & probably the most ancient surviving lineage of wolves
Like most things, the human species have probably been wrong about Indian Wolves too. A recent study done by the University of California, suggests that Indian wolves are probably the most ancient surviving lineage of wolves. Unfortunately, the animal is endangered today.
When I booked my safaris in the Blackbuck (Velavadar) National Park, I was almost sure that I won’t be able to spot the wolf, but the grasslands were kind and the universe probably conspired to show me a glimpse of a wolf because I really really wanted to spot one. By the way, it just didn’t happen so easily. My first safari that happened in the evening was full of false alarm calls. One time, we came too close to an actual sighting but it turned out to be a Jungle Cat. No cause for disappointment here. Jungle Cat sightings are celebrated equally.
We spent the whole 3.5 hours chasing Blackbucks, Montagu Harriers, Pelicans in the wild hope of spotting a wolf. But it’s extremely difficult to spot one in the evenings. So, hard luck! It was only the next morning that we were able to get lucky after a couple of false calls. But then, all’s well that ends well.
The journey of a thousand miles – from Persecution to Conservation
No matter the number & variety of folk tales available on wolves, my favourite remains The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. I would like to believe that most wolves if adequately provided for (with their natural habitats & availability of food) behave like the protective & loving couple Raksha & Akela who took in a man-cub & brought him up as Mowgli, even if that meant an enemy as ferocious as Sher Khan.
I wish more of us see this situation through a lens of empathy & spread the word about conserving the Indian Wolf.
I think it’s our moral responsibility to do our bit towards preserving Indian wolves’ status & numbers. It’s time to weave new stories where the wolf can probably remain cunning, but more like a fox. It’s time to provide for the surviving species of Grey wolf by building more of their natural habitats.