A night-time trek through the forest at IISc (short for the Indian Institute of Science) in quest of the Slender Loris offered its share of the sights, sounds and smells of a jungle. The walk, a collaboration between Neralu (The Bengaluru Tree Festival) and IISc’s Urban Slender Loris Project, drew a crowd of around 50 nature lovers which included Slender Loris experts, scientists, techies, environmentalists, naturalists, students and artists. The trek led by Dr Kaberi Kar Gupta, head of the Urban Slender Loris Project, started at the fall of dusk around 6.30pm which is when the oh-so-cute but very shy Slender Lorises are most active. The nocturnal cuties (called Kadu-papa in Kannada) are as Dr Kaberi put it 20cm long and weigh only 20g.
I first read about Slender Lorises when in school and like many others found them incredibly cute. Till a fortnight back, I never knew that these lovely primates could be found in Bangalore. So I couldn’t resist registering for the event in spite of the late hours and that I stay at the other end of the city. I so badly wanted to see a Slender Loris.
The 50-odd enthusiasts were split into three batches each having Slender Loris experts. Armed with torches, binoculars and headlights, the three groups set out in quest of the Slender Loris much after sundown. By then birds had long since returned home and their chirps signaling happy homecoming had slowly died down. In the pitch darkness all you could hear were distant sounds of the crickets and occasionally the shrill cries of bats. In less than 10 minutes, a Slender Loris sighting was reported by an expert leading to much excitement. Spotting a Slender Loris needs practice. The animal moves quickly among the branches and as such sighting can be confirmed only if you notice its eyes glowing in the darkness, its long faint cry or the sound caused by its movement through the branches. And before you figure out how it looks it would have moved away. Well, sadly that is what happened to me. I fidgeted with my binoculars for too long and then when I finally decided to look out for it sans my binoculars it had already moved. All I got to see were a pair of glowing eyes a little deeper inside the branches. Many in the group had a good look going by the excitement at that moment. “Awww… so cute”, said a young walker. “He is not so small after all; he is this big”, said another demonstrating with his hands to an appreciative audience. As we walked on I thought we would have more sightings and said to myself “Better luck next time”.
A few minutes later there was another sighting. But this fella seemed more bashful and alert than the earlier one. He darted through the branches like lightning and only a couple of walkers could figure out his coordinates.
As we trudged along deep into the jungle the only sounds besides the whispers of the walkers were the sound of twigs getting trampled and pebbles getting kicked about. Someone in the crowd spotted a group of fruit bats and another spotted a crow who I guess was napping on a branch. At a distance, faint cries unmistakably those of a Loris were heard.
Dr Kaberi pointed out to a bamboo grove where a lot of Loris sightings had been reported earlier. As we moved our eyes up the grove our eyes caught sight of a big fat Rat Snake dozing high up on the bamboos. He surprisingly seemed quite unperturbed by the noise created by us humans down below. Cool guy! Wonder how he managed to carry his fat self high up the bamboos and rest on something which hardly looked comfortable enough to be his bed. With my binoculars I had a good look at Mr Cool. He had a slimy cream body ornate with patches of lemon yellow. Maybe it was his presence in the grove that kept the Lorises away. After bidding goodbye to the napping reptile we marched on.
As the night wore on, a walk volunteer spotted a pair of Oriental Magpie Robins fast asleep on the lower branches of tree. Critters in this forest seem to be used to human presence around their homes. The two birds did not allow us to disturb their well-deserved sleep. It was such an enchanting sight. I found it hard to take my eyes off them.
The walk through the jungle was such an uplifting experience. Soon I forgot the disappointment of missing having a good look at a Loris. I left with memories of the glowing eyes, the fat snake, the little birds, and of course the smell of the jungle. The cries of the Lorises and the bats, and the sounds of twigs getting trampled will always linger.