The vibrant sadaas of Chorla

Areas around Mhadei Research Centre (MRC) have some interesting habitats that the scientific community terms as “rocky plateaus”. Largely composed of laterite rocks, these mid-altitude plateaus may often seem visually life-less, but in fact they bustle with floral and faunal diversity! The MRC team has regularly been mapping these (locally known as) sadaas with emphasis on documenting the wildlife supported by these habitats.

On one such surveying occasion, in March of 2013, a team member and I made our way to Chorla village and asked the locals for route to the ‘sapat maidan‘ (meaning flat ground in Marathi) which was apparently located behind the village school. At first, they pointed us to the school playground (a flat ground!), but soon, we realized that we need to rephrase our words to sadaa. After coming across several more kind-hearted villagers who directed us to the hill behind their village, we reached the last house at the foothills, from where we crossed a barbed wire fence. Seeing our moment of hesitation, an old woman observing us from far, screamed loudly:

Zaa zaa…gabru nakos..electric nai aay!

… which was Marathi for Go.. go on. Don’t feel scared, the fencing is not electric!

After crossing over, we made our ascent to the plateau. We switched on the GPS and started marking the route, locations, altitude and other parameters. After climbing around 250 feet, we reached the top and saw a plateau- a huge tract of somewhat flat rocky land with a few small-sized trees in the middle. The landscape however was dominated by dry herbs and huge rocks with crevices. The time was 10am and the heat was already intense. We began our walk at one edge of the plateau; our objective was to mark the borders of the plateau on the GPS and then map it on the existing satellite map of chorla ghats.

We had barely walked 15 feet, when I saw a Black-naped Hare jump out of now where and then suddenly disappeared into shrubs below. Looked like we caught the creature by surprise! One does not usually see a hare so up close as they tend to scuttle away by the sight of humans. If we had put in a little more cautiousness from our side, we would have probably seen it feeding and doing its daily things.

Our walk continued for about 2 hours. And though we were walking in the sweltering heat, every fifty feet we came across something interesting. Scats (fancy word for poop/ shit) of Sloth Bear, Porcupine, Black-naped Hare, Indian Gaur and some rodents were seen, particularly around the edge of the plateau.

Clockwise from top- Scat of Porcupine, Gaur, Hare and Sloth bear.

We also saw a long stretch of intact snake skin lying on the rocks. The sharp rocks nearby would have probably been used by the snake to scrap off its old skin which it was shedding. We also sighted some Malabar Crested Larks at a distance, their colour (pale brown yellow) completely merging with that of the dry grass. We saw several forest calotes running around the bushes, an occasional feather (that of the Indian Peafowl, Raptor) lying near the smaller trees, a dried shell of a fresh water mollusk. Every little thing that we observed there reminded us of the fauna that thrives in this so-called barren land.

Clockwise from top- Snake skin on the plateau, feather of a raptor (possibly), a forest calotes, Malabar Crested Lark- all seen on the plateau.

Given the time of the day, it was but obvious that our only company now was the scorching sun and the infrequent breeze. There was barely any movement except for the occasional lizards moving around on the ground.

It was only March. The weather was dry and the plateau seemed drab and dead.

With the onset of monsoon, the brown scape begins to show these green patches which then transforms to a full bloom grassland later!

Yet, we found so many evidences of wildlife using this habitat as its home. I day dreamed how this place seemingly dull place might transform into a lively disco at night: one would find Gaurs grazing around, sloth bears foraging for berries, perhaps a leopard stalking a hare… That would be a sight to see, all under the discotheque of the star-lit sky.

And what would happen to these plateaus during the monsoons? Well, that unbelievable transformation is a story for an other time!

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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