The jungles have always been my second home and we were at Masinagudi that summer of 2006. On a late afternoon early March, my friend and fellow photographer Ravi, our local guide Mari and I set off towards the Moyar River at Masinagudi.
A family of Malabar hornbills greeted us as we parked near the Electricity Board guest house and began our short trek overlooking the magnificent mountains. A mongrel from the guest house accompanied us for a few Kms. He was friendly, walking ahead of us as though taking on himself to lead us. Nearing a clearing, he stopped abruptly, started sniffing the air and began growling. Baring his teeth, he looked closely towards the bushes and suddenly turned tail and bolted the way we had come.
“I hope it is not an elephant”, I remember telling Ravi as I raised my Camera mounted with a Tele Zoom to my eyes carefully scanning the bushes. Finding nothing I was about to move forward, when a movement to my right on the far side caught my eye. There, about 150 yards away, in a small clearing by the bushes, was this sloth bear. The animal had clearly seen us and was assessing the situation.
We were in no danger, for this was quite a small built bear, we were three and moreover, the distance between us was quite a large one and even in the event of a charge we were armed with pepper sprays, fire pencils and strong walking poles which when swung around could cause serious damage.
However, the nervous bear was looking back into the bushes and staring at us – a clear sign that she was protecting something (maybe cubs or her kill). Suddenly, she made a dash towards us stopped short and got back to the clearing. She did this thrice, and it was clear that she was nervous and the situation could reach a flaring point if we continued to stay around.
So, we slowly started back tracking till she retreated into the bushes. We were sure that we had seen her off and decided to go forward, circumventing and side stepping her direction.
We were wrong, the bear was waiting in the bushes and as we stepped forward, made yet another charge at us without a warning and was coming straight at us. The quick thinking Mari started banging a tin can which he was carrying causing a huge cacophony in the otherwise silent jungle atmosphere. This metallic noise caught her off guard and she hastily turned tail and got back to the bushes.
It was foolish to even consider going forward and we turned back constantly checking if any more surprise attack was in store – hands on the pepper sprays – just in case . . . .
It puzzles me even today on why she chose to attack, when there was so much distance between us, she could see she was outnumbered one to three and we were not even heading towards her direction.