Nagarahole National Park

Nagarahole National Park’s jungles and savannahs in India’s southern peninsula seem unchanged over the centuries, grasses green and golden around herds of grazing animals, high forest canopies buzzing with birds—now as then home to tigers, Indian elephants, and a rich spectrum of wildlife.

With adjoining Bandipur National Park and Wynad and Mudamalai sanctuaries, it is one of the largest and densest ecological continuums in India—some 836 square miles (2,165 km2) welcoming most of the rare and interesting wildlife in this part of the world.

Thickly armored Indian pangolins probe ant nests with sticky tongues so long they are anchored to the pangolins’ pelvic bones and supplied from huge salivary reservoirs up to 22 cubic inches (335 cu. cm) in their chests. Toothless, they grind up insect prey in their horny stomachs.

Gaur weighing more than a ton (1000 kg), world’s largest oxen, stare green-eyed from grasslands. More than 1,000 wild Indian elephants forage on bark, branches, and low greenery in jungles and bathe in streams. One of the last, best remaining habitats for these colossal beasts is here. Hundreds congregate around water in dry season, especially along the banks of the Kabini Reservoir. Sunset vistas can be breathtaking, with a mile-long stretch of river dotted with elephants, from huge matriarchs to diminutive youngsters taking their first swimming lessons.

Pretty chitals are commonest among four species of deer—shy sambars the largest, up to nine feet (2.7 m) long. Goat-sized muntjac or barking deer are forest sentinels whose calls carry long distances warning of prowling predators. Tiniest are rabbit-sized, nocturnal chevrotain or mouse deer with long canine teeth protruding from their upper jaws. Little four-horned antelopes are the world’s only four-horned animal, diurnal but rare and shy, preferring dry hilly terrain but seen in the Karapura area of Nagarahole and Moyar area of Bandipur, flattening themselves in the grass when sensing possible hazard, then dashing off with impressive bounds when discovered.

Shaggy short-sighted sloth bears tote young on their backs while hunting for termite mounds and honey, often in the Karapura area. Wild pigs root around under leaves and black-naped hares nibble on short vegetation. Dhole—wild dogs—hunt in packs and can bring down any of these. Red Malabar giant squirrels travel aerially, covering spaces between trees with 20-foot (6-m) leaps. Sharing the Karapura canopy are langur monkeys and bonnet macaques, all prey for leopards.

All this dense cover and grazing animal prey base have made both Nagarahole and Bandipur strongholds for tigers—perhaps finest habitat for them in south India. Bandipur was one of the reserves where Project Tiger was started—although the dense cover here makes sightings chancy.

Among more than 250 bird species are Malabar trogons, blue-bearded bee-eaters, Alexandrine parakeets, scarlet minivets, fairy bluebirds, paradise flycatchers and, among birds of prey, grayheaded fish-eagles, crested hawk-eagles, serpent eagles, and spectacular king vultures. Large gatherings of cormorants, ducks, teal, and herons, and other waders as well as ospreys are attracted to the Kabini backwaters. Peacocks—the gorgeous national bird—scream wildly and flare some of the world’s most flamboyant tail feathers. “Nagarahole” means “cobra river” and other formidable reptiles are here as well—crocodiles, giant monitor lizards, rock pythons, and several kinds of vipers. Best times are October–March. (April–May are hot, June–September, monsoons).

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