By SHALINI THAPA
Each time I try to remember a notable time from the past, I am instantly reminded of witnessing the elusive Red Panda. Ahead of Red Panda Day, I decided to pen down my experience.
As we woke up to a pleasant day in Yalli Reserve Forest, located 25 km from Gangtok, the bustling capital of Sikkim. We heard birds chirping as if singing the jungle tales. The minute we stepped out of our tents, a fresh breeze rejuvenated our weary eyes as we soaked in the wondrous spectacle ahead of us. Life in the wilderness is simple; no phones and signals imply no link to the outside world.
With no worldly distractions, we felt closer to our surroundings and had a sense of oneness with nature.
Being in the presence of the entire jungle where you can attend 'Nature's Call' freely whilst enjoying Mother Nature's beauty. You can select your spot and keep yourself steady by holding onto a small tree for support and one within my reach.
On the fifth day away from the city, on a stretch of a Reserve Forest buffering Kyongnos La Alpine Sanctuary in East Sikkim, we headed out for our trail full of zeal and determination on the course of the elusive Red Panda. Having come across pellets of the animal a few times, we were hopeful of encountering one. Still, after hiking for hours with no sign of the animal's activity, we were exhausted and decided to take a snack break.
As I gulped down the last bites, I heard my field assistant cry excitedly, "Baini, tyo rukh ma tah Pandu raicha!" (Look, a panda on the tree). No sooner were the words out of his mouth. I dashed towards where he was pointing to get a closer look.
Witnessing the stunning Red Panda
To my disbelief, the elusive creature was closer than I thought, perched on a branch of the Sorbus cuspidate (Tenga). That moment was enchanting; flaming red fur resembled a Buddhist monks robe, specks of white on its innocent face! I fell in love with the animal! The Panda stared at us curiously as we approached it slowly. I climbed onto a tree close by and clicked as many photos as possible. The red mystical creature effortlessly flaunted all its talent by skilfully springing from one branch to another. Maintaining its balance with its bushy tail, the Panda descended to the lower branches headfirst.
Red Pandas are challenging to spot, and getting to sight one is nothing short of a blessing from the holiest of monks. When sightings are impossible, we fall back on the pellets or poop they leave behind that provides valuable information. WWF India has been analysing red panda scats to understand what they eat. While we generally know that bamboo consists of a large portion of their diet, red pandas feed on other plant species. This information will result in better habitat management in the future. The pellets help us enhance our understanding of the overall habitat usage of the species and its distribution.
As the night was setting in and we had to head back to our camp, we witnessed the red panda for as long as we could. Six months of tireless searching proved fruitful, and the memory of my encounter with the jungle monk will remain with me forever.