This is the second story in a series of articles to showcase the unseen and often overlooked biodiversity of our forests, as documented by two forest guards in the Pakke Tiger Reserve in western Arunachal Pradesh.
Monsoons in the Pakke Tiger Reserve are unlike any other. When it rains, it pours non-stop, and the Kameng and Seijosa river levels rise to the point where even wild animals are swept away. It is a tough and testing time of the year for me and my frontline colleagues who are responsible for protecting Pakke. With the river almost un-manoeuvrable by boat, emergencies would mean that we cannot reach our families on time. We even end up borrowing provisions from nearby camps as it can take up to two weeks for the river levels to recede.
Apart from patrolling, filming is also a hassle during the rains. Often, when the grey skies clear, I grab my equipment and head out to the forest, only for it to start pouring once I get there. I usually have to run back to protect the one and only camera I have. And, when the batteries run out, I have to cross the river to the range forest office to recharge them, as the solar panels in our anti-poaching camp are almost entirely used for wireless communication.
Despite these challenges, I did manage to get quite a bit of filming done. Here's a look at what Pakke’s macro life looks like during the monsoons.
As per the Indian Foundation of Butterflies, the common jester has two sub-species, with the sub-species Symbrenthia lilaea khasiana likely to be the one found in Pakke. Hence, the species in Pakke is called the Khasi Common Jester. I first saw the common jester butterfly in Ulta Pung with Shankar Nayang, another STPF (Special Tiger Protection Force of Pakke) member and a friend of mine. I noticed this butterfly, near a pool of stagnant water, just as we left camp. My mind was so focussed on photographing the butterfly, by now, Shankar, who had gone a long way ahead, panicked and rushed back to find me – I ended apologising. His first reaction was “this butterfly never looks as beautiful as it does in your photos”. I explained to him how photographs have a way of intensifying the colours and features of an animal. He was very surprised and had a good laugh.
Water striders are rapid, efficient predators that skate across surfaces of water bodies. I took this photograph at a water tank near the anti-poaching camp in Pakke. I went into the tank slowly and waited for the turgidity to settle, and that is when I noticed this water strider beginning to hunt an insect that had emerged from hiding.
When the sun shines after a long spell of rain, Tiger Beetles can be found in plenty, moving rapidly across the forest floor. A researcher told me that these beetles move so quickly, sometimes they have to stop and re-orient themselves. They belong to a big subfamily called Cicindelinae, and 2,300 tiger beetle species have been described so far. I also heard about a research project where a PhD student is studying the interaction between bats and Tiger Beetles. Interestingly, Tiger Beetles can hear bat echolocation and behaviourally respond by turning or changing their movements, even produce warning sounds for the bats.
A String of Eggs
I badly wanted to find out the toad species that would emerge from this string of eggs. Till date, three toad species have been recorded in Pakke – Himalayan Toad, Big-eared Toad and Asian Common Toad. I was aware that the tadpoles would emerge in 1-2 weeks, and I would go check the pool every alternate day. This was the last photograph I shot before a sudden incessant downpour washed the entire pool away. I searched for the string for an entire day, in the hope that maybe it got stuck somewhere and I could continue to observe them, but I had no such luck.
Caterpillar of a Moth
I don’t know the species of moth caterpillar, but I know it is most likely to be a moth and not a butterfly caterpillar. All moth caterpillars are hairy, which is not necessarily the case for caterpillars of butterflies. I found this caterpillar by the side of a stream, feasting on Parthenium leaves. Called Jarmuni in Assamese, a paste made from the leaves of this non-native plant is used to disinfect small cuts and bruises we get while patrolling.
Emerald Moths belong to the family Geometridae. Usually active at night, they are easy to identify with their green-coloured wings, hence their namesake. The colour comes from a single pigment called geoverdin, which is a derivative of chlorophyll. Researchers tell me that their caterpillars are difficult to find, as they often resemble twigs.
Caterpillar of a Lappet Moth
I came across this Lappet Moth caterpillar by chance, while trailing a Monitor Lizard along the stream bed. Water droplets glistened on its long hair, and later I found out that there are about 100 different species of caterpillars that have stinging hair, which can even cause you skin irritation.
A short film on Pakke's macro life during monsoons:
I am grateful to my colleagues in the department and Sanjay Sondhi, Ram Alluri, Rejoice Gassah and Nandini Velho who encouraged and helped me with this article that is themed around Pakke’s water.