Staying with the Meghalaya survey and my encounters with various specimens of the human race belonging the State Forest Department, I consider it my duty to illuminate my readers on what we ecologists face on a pretty regular basis. It needs a lot more skill and experience to deal with them than with a rampaging elephant in musth. In hindsight many of these incidents may seem funny but I can assure you that when it does happen, mirth is the last thing on our minds.
I wasn’t feeling especially perky when I realised that the rickety local bus had dropped me 2 km. short of the Forest Rest House after a five hour ride across some of the worst roads I had ever seen. Saddled with three bags, I made the walk in the afternoon heat to reach Darugiri Reserve Forest in East Garo Hills. Visions of a mountain of beer bottles were rudely snapped when I realised that neither was there a ‘giri’ nor any ‘daru’. In the absence of the Range Officer I was asked to meet the hero of this post, the Beat Officer (BO from now).
I was directed towards the lone tea shop (which was also the lone shop) near the Rest House. A man was standing outside the shop with a cigarette dangling from his mouth and looking mildly harassed. I was introduced by the forest guard who quickly left the scene. The BO took one look at me and pointed to the coin booth in the shop and declared “trunk call”. For a minute I thought it was a joke about elephants, because i didn’t even know that ‘trunk calls’ existed anymore, that too from a coin operated phone. He was apparently waiting for one. I decided waiting would be the prudent thing to do.
Trunk call over, he decided he wanted to interrogate me. Midway into this conversation I realised that he had no idea what a Slow Loris was, even after I showed him a photograph. I hoped that this was just his ignorance and not an indicator of its actual absence. The situation was soon clarified when the tea-shop lady declared that it was very much present in the Darugiri and adjacent Dambu RF. With some difficulty I managed to plan out a survey walk in the Dambu RF for the evening. BO, however kept referring to ‘Dumbo’ which I soon realised was his version of the same place rather than some insult aimed at me. He asked if I had a camera. When I showed him the camera, he contemplated it and turned to me and said “You will snap!”.
I was of course pretty close to snapping for some time. This declaration had nothing to do with that of course. It was his way of saying that he believed I would be able to take some photographs.
Evening came and we were dropped at a point from where would start the night walk in search for the Loris. Five minutes into the walk, BO lit a cigarette. I had to tell him to ditch it and thankfully he did it without any complaint. Soon we saw a bright eye-shine and with the spotlight discovered a Red Giant Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista). I was thrilled and took a video with my digital camera. BO was excited to see me snap. In his excitement to make sure I got the best ‘snap’ he offered to throw a stone at the squirrel to make it fly! You can actually hear him say it in the video below.
I took out my field note book to note down the sighting. BO came over and started peeking at what I was writing. When he realised what it was he advised me “Write Dumbo RF”. As if I could forget.
After an hour of walking, we heard what seemed like the ’Hells Angels’ approaching. There were motorbikes and sounds of screaming alcohol induced frenzy. Three motorbikes laden with boys had got into the forest road and were roaring full speed towards us. We barely managed to get out of their way. I wondered what else the day had in store for me.
Meanwhile we had reached a small guard house in the forest. BO informed me that there were two staff staying here and that I should ‘snap’ them. By then, I had stopped asking too many questions. The men were summoned. From the sounds coming from inside the house it appeared the two guys were stone drunk. BO immediately changed his mind and said “Let us go. You cannot snap them today”. As we started walking away, the men evidently emerged from the house and started pleading with us to come back and ‘snap’ them. They sounded extremely drunk and edgy. I looked around at BO and the other two guys accompanying us. Nobody seemed in any mood to turn back. As we walked away in the darkness, they kept shouting and one of them started wailing and crying.
It had ceased to become funny anymore. I felt sad, really sad for these men. What conditions did they live in to bring them to this state of emotional and nervous breakdown? There was nothing to do however. We walked on and as we neared the end point, BO declared “You have now seen Dumbo”.