You are not alone in the forest

Often we walk in the forest in the hope of spotting some wild animals. We read stories and see movies where the people encounter tigers, elephants, bears and deer. It is not that simple though. In general, wild animals like to stay away from human beings and tend to stay out of sight. So when we take a walk in the forest, you end up seeing “nothing”.

Walking in the forest is a sensory experience where you are not only intently looking for movements and sounds, but also smells and signs that might otherwise go amiss. One of the most obvious signs to look for in the forest are animal tracks or as we call for some animals- pugmarks, paw prints/marks etc. Areas close to water bodies are great places to search for animal tracks.

Image: Pugmarks near a water body at BR Hills,
November 2008

The excessively moist soil which is soft and mushy manages to capture the foot tracks in an almost preserved way.

Image: The naturalist who accompanied us told us that these were fresh pugmarks of a tiger and we probably missed it by 10 mins.

Another obvious sign to look out for in the forest are scats. (I think its now been over a decade where my friends and family have accepted my uncanny obsession over clicking photos of scats (poops!) where ever I travel). For me, spotting scats is equally exciting.

Image: Sloth bear scat from Topslip, Tamil Nadu
(December 2016)

In fact, animal scats/ poops/ dungs are a telling evidence not only of its presence in the forest but also of what may be its diet.

Image: Otter spraint near a forest waterfall in Goa. The spraint indicates that the otter feeds on some fresh water crustaceans.

Animal tracks and scats also serve as a good warning signal for us, when we are probably too close for comfort!

Image: Elephant foot prints at Dehing Patkai National Park, Assam, 2021
Image: And not so far ahead, we saw some fresh elephant dung. This was our sign to turn back for we were not keen to stumble upon a herd of elephants.

Apart from these, we can look for animal trails (paths that animals may have used), scratch marks on the tree barks or even sometimes pay attention to peculiar smells around us, or listen to alarm calls of some animals like langurs or deer.

Sometimes, you also come across a scatter of evidence which feels like an unsolved murder mystery. What happened here?

Image: Lots of Porcupine quills on the road. Valparai, December 2016.
Image: Clearly something happened. Why would we find so many quills in one place?

If the porcupine was killed by a speeding car, where is the body or the blood trail? Did another animal scavenge it? Perhaps a leopard attacked a porcupine here and then dragged it away. The amount of quills on the road indicates that some struggle ensued. We did not spot any wild animal on this trail either… but hey ..we know there are porcupines here for sure now!

Anyways, long story short: we will probably go for many many forest walks and spot no wild animals. But such signs (as mentioned above) surely let us know that we are not alone in the forest. We might not see the animals, but they are there. And what is more exciting is that those animals probably got a good look at you whether you saw them or not!

Nature Observations

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

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