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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mamma Mia Mammalia! Cats of the Jungle and More ...

[India Winter, 2013]

Taking a break from class Aves, we will introduce an assortment of terrestrial, arboreal and aerial species from class Mammalia.

Let's start with the king of the beasts:

Asiatic Lion seen at Gir National Park

While there are no tigers in Africa, there are Lions in India. Indeed, the Asiatic Lion once ranged from Greece to India before it was shot and hunted to extirpation in its former range excepting one forest in Northwest India now designated as Gir National Park.

Asiatic Lion

Panthera Leo Persica seen at Gir National Park

If the lion is the king, then the title of "Prince of the Jungle" surely belongs to the Leopard:

Panthera Pardus seen at Gir National Park

Leopards are secretive and rarely seen. We were fortunate to spot this one (thanks to my son) while on a safari at Gir. Unlike the lion which has orange eyes, the leopard's are pale yellow.

The spotted coat of the leopard is incredibly effective in concealing its presence even when it's in plain sight.

A closer look at the coat reveals that the "spots" or rosettes are hollow and become smaller and solid toward the extremities.

Unlike the lion, the leopard does not tolerate onlookers and quickly disappeared after its initial sighting.

 Felis Chaus or Jungle Cat seen at Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary; shot handheld at 1/60th

A much smaller cat is the widespread Jungle Cat; this is classified as "Least Concern" and can be seen in any undisturbed area.

Big cats require big prey and on the menu is the largest antelope in Asia, the massive Nilgai (an endemic species) which can weigh more than 600 lbs.

Nilgai seen in Haryana

Smaller ungulates include Spotted Deer:

Spotted or Axis Deer seen in Ranthambhore National Park

Sambar Deer seen in Ranthambhore National Park

Hanuman Langur

Changing gears from the terrestrial to the arboreal, first a medium-sized primate, the Hanuman or Grey Langur. They are excellent sentries -- sounding the alarm at the first sight (or smell) of a tiger. Talking about tigers, one was seen at Ranthambhore but it was too dark and too close to permit photography.

Malabar Giant Squirrel

Another arboreal mammal is the endemic Malabar Giant Squirrel is a 3 foot rodent that can leap 20 feet from tree to tree.

Finally, to the aerial, a mammal that flies -- the flying fox.

 Flying Fox seen at Ranthambhore National Park

There are half as many species of mammals as birds, just over 5,000. While not colorful or aerodynamic like the Aves, mammals are nonetheless fascinating in their own right. And, nothing commands respect as the apex predators in Mammalia such as the Lion and Leopard.

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