Parvathi K. Prasad
In the winter of 2016, I was assisting a team carrying out biodiversity surveys in Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. The district is known for being the origin of India’s coffee story, and for its scenic, biodiverse mountains, that form part of India’s Western Ghats. Lesser known, however, are the plains of Chikmagalur, that are spread across a substantial portion of the district, and also harbour a wide range of life forms. In winter, the numerous lakes that dot these plains turn into seasonal abodes for several migratory birds.
One morning, I was out birdwatching with a small group of people. Amongst us was a student from Chikmagalur with a keen interest in natural history. The student claimed to have seen a fox in the area, during recent birdwatching trip. Unlike most carnivores that I had seen up until then, foxes are not forest-dwelling species. Grasslands and scrublands— typical habitats of the fox— enjoy little conservation attention. Often labelled ‘wastelands’, these habitats are easily diverted for infrastructure development, and are fast-disappearing in much of India’s countryside. During previous interactions with farmers in Karnataka, I had heard of occasional fox sightings in agricultural lands, but I had never seen a fox myself. Needless to say, I was thrilled with the prospect of seeing one– the pointy ears and bushy tail were certainly an additional draw!
It was mid-morning when we headed to look for the fox. The area comprised of vast stretches of agricultural lands, mostly vegetables, while many a farmer was busy tending to the crops. We walked along a narrow pathway separating the fields, looking out for any signs of the animal. To me, it was remarkable that these canids used and navigated such dynamic spaces, likely feeding on rodents and keeping their numbers in check. A dried water channel meandered through the fields, and we walked up to it to casually. There, curled up in bundle was the grey, furry form of an Indian fox! It was resting in the channel, looking smaller than I had imagined it to be, the black tip of its bushy tail clearly visible.
I remember my hands trembling with excitement as I slowly reached for my binoculars. We spent some time quietly looking at the fox and clicked a few photographs, all the while grinning from ear to ear. The fox then looked up at us with its beady eyes, not moving, but seemingly aware of our presence. Not wanting to disturb it, we walked away, extremely gratified with the encounter. To this day, it remains my only sighting of the beautiful animal.