Stories from the wild

Wildlife guide Ratna Singh provided her audience with fascinating insights into animal behaviour at a recent storytelling session

September 16, 2014 07:37 pm | Updated 07:37 pm IST - Chennai



Driver, astronomer, sommelier, butler, cultural ambassador, safety expert, babysitter, host, and mechanic — Ratna Singh performs all these roles and more as a wildlife guide for Taj Safaris. But, as many of these functions are associated with men, it is no surprise that she is often greeted with a, “Hi, sir,” over the telephone.

Yet there is a steely edge to this petite and soft-spoken young lady, more than obvious at the recent storytelling session, organised at the Vivanta by Taj-Connemara where she addressed wildlife enthusiasts who had gathered. Making light of her elephantine 3000-sq km ‘office space’ — the wildlife reserves of Madhya Pradesh, Ratna peppered her narrative with a wealth of wildlife trivia that had her audience enthralled.

Explaining how rangers often walked in the jungle without a torch to increase the chances of animal sightings after dark, she recalled a lone walk one New Year’s Eve at the Panna Reserve when a leopard pranced onto the path. “Whatever you do, don’t run,” was the ranger’s mantra she recited over and over again, as she fought the urge for flight. That was when she heard drum beats which prevented her from tracking the predator’s movements. “I realised after three seconds that it was my heartbeat,” she said. Alarm gave way to instant relief after she heard the crackle of dry leaves, which slowly receded into the distance.

Another of her favourite anecdotes again stemmed from her walks in the jungle — a place where there was absolutely no technology to rely on but her senses. “If you smell rotten meat, there is a kill, and we track it to see if there is anything feeding on it.

When a tiger or leopard is on the move, you’ll hear monkeys giving out distress calls,” she said, recollecting a situation at Baghvan Pench when her driver and she tracked alarm calls from animals for two hours, but in vain, because they eventually died out. “My guide turned to me and said, ‘Sir, lots of missed calls today!’”

With accounts like these, the audience were left with fascinating insights — an injured or scratched male leopard is probably one that has just mated (females tend to beat up the males right after mating); pythons suffer a bad stomach if they feed on a dead animal because their deadly (and also digestion-aiding) venom requires blood circulation to take full effect; wild dogs don’t bark — they whistle…

“I will forever be associated with the jungle,” the Taj Safaris’ naturalist said, signing off, “At least, I will not leave the jungle before I’ve seen an anteater for myself.”

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