WILDLIFE OF GOA
Few tourists to Goa are aware that about one-third of Goa is forest
land and that it is one of the richest reservoirs of biodiversity
in the world.
I was returning from Belgaum, a neighbouring Karnataka town, via Tillary
at around 4 pm when we (the driver and I) saw with surprise and some
trepidation, a full-grown panther at least 3 ft from withers to feet
(or so I estimated), cross from the shrub land to our right on to
the asphalted road. Then slowly, almost arrogantly, it moved to the
green patch on the left and sat at the foot of a tree hardly two feet
from the road. We were quite shaken. But the beast eyed us with indifference,
yawned, then yawned again, giving us the full measure of his canines,
licked his chops, got up and walked slowly, a lot of pride in the
gait, towards the jungle. He had probably eaten for lunch a goat of
the many that the villagers let out to graze in the shrubland and
just wasnt interested in us.
Richard DSouza, Goas Conservator of Forests, who spent
15 years in the forests of the Andaman Islands before coming to Goa
would tell us when we narrated the experience that Goas wildlife
is indeed rich. He knew of real, if incredible, stories: of a majestic
tiger sighted by a motorcyclist crossing the Ghats, the carcass of
his prey not far away. And he also mentioned sightings of bison and,
very commonly, of antelopes.
The villagers of Molem, a sanctuary where I spent four lovely nights
at the 3-roomed but comfortable Forest Rest House were more afraid
of the dole, the wild dog, than any other carnivore. They had seen,
and it wasnt just once or twice, a pack of doles taking on the
gaur, the wild buffalo. On one occasion they had tried their skills
on a panther but been outwitted. Theirs are huge packs, the villagers
explained, and they break themselves into groups strategically stationed.
Their forte is: their speed in short distance running and team work.
They lunge at the prey as they run in relays and the prey, though
often much larger and stronger, as a gaur no doubt is, eventually
tires, falls to the ground and bleeds to death. Once that happens,
the doles eat as fast they can before other scavenging animals get
scent of the kill and converge on the site.
The late Dr. Salim Ali, the internationally famous ornithologist,
spent many days in Goan forests studying its birds. Hanz Lainer, also
a great bird lover, spent time in Goan forests and published his findings
in the Journal of Bombay Natural History Society and listed 166 species.
Lainer teamed up for his work with Gordon Frost, a knowledgeable
and scrupulous worker settled in Goa and their list is the result
of 13 years of intensive field study including 1300 field trips starting
from 1980. Dr. Salim Alis systematic list comprised 154 species
(Grubb & Ali, 1975) to which Ulhas Rane added 33 species after
three visits in 1981-82.
The number of birdwatchers, mostly British, have greatly increased
since the advent of charter flights. They are very keen avifaunists.
Lainer and Frost list, among others, the Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra),
a vagrant bird found in Anjuna, the earliest known specimen which
had been blown ashore. Bird lovers can feast their eyes
on the most wonderful beings of this world: from the very rare wintering
Spotbill Duck to the very common Brahminy Kite and the Common Bustard.
The list goes on...
There are, according to a study of the Marine Archaeology Department
(MAD) of the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) perhaps over
200 wrecks of sail ships embedded in Goan waters waiting to be salvaged
by those with necessary courage, funds and the will. If the exotic
finds by professional salvagers operating on the South African coast,
another notorious graveyard of Portuguese sail ships, should be any
indication there is a fortune waiting in Goan waters for the adventurous
and daring like pearls as big as a bulls eye and
diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Remember that those ships sank mainly
because they were overloaded. And in those days stores, port dues,
ransom money to pirates and wages of ship crews were all paid in cash
in coins of gold and silver. Bagsful of them probably lie in
each sunken ship. One is yet to come across a serious attempt to salvage
But the sea is being well and heartily explored for its marine wealth
by enthusiastic deep-sea fishers and anglers, scores of them being
British and Dutch. A Dutch sea buff built for himself and his Goan
wife a yacht. They now ferry tourists across Goas rivers. There
are operators who, for a fee, (Rs. 500/- per person) take tourists
on a cruise to mapped out sites of shipwrecks in Mormugao Bay, a haven
for divers and deep-sea fishers. There are cooks on board to clean
and barbecue the catch. The fee includes gourmet lunch, limitless
beverages of any kind. The group should consist of at least ten people.
The same outfits (more or less on the same terms, except that no poaching
is allowed) ferry tourists in dugout boats with an outboard for cover,
a hood of tarpaulin/woven bamboo/thatch for crocodile safaris at the
Combarjua Canal. It is one of the richest repositories of bio-diversity
and estuarine species. The crocodiles, legend goes, were introduced
by the Sultan of Bijapur (circa 1487) to guard their prosperous port
on River Mandovi (Mandvi in Persian is custom house) against intruders.
The crocodiles, it seems were so large that they could devour
a whole bull and upset a large boat.
Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) and other private operators
organise evening cruises on River Mandovi with local folk musicians
Close to Goas border with Karnataka are the Dudhsagar waterfalls
where the river drops and the water plummets hundreds of feet or more.
It is the most spectacular of Goas many beautiful sites. So
white is the froth that it reminds one of milk, hence Dudhsagar, the
ocean of milk. Dudhsagar is the lifeline of the ecosystems around
and below it. It is also the inspiration of beautiful folk tales.
There is a tradition, unconfirmed yet, that nestled at nearby Caranzol
is one of the West Coasts largest King Cobra habitats. Down
below, at the Molem National Park, there is year-round rich fauna
from dugongs to panther, civets, pangolins and hundreds of birds,
some of them rare.
is the wealth of the fauna that the Government of Goa has plans, in
an advanced stage of execution, to offer tourists interested in eco-tourism,
a generous deal: the Department of Forests will pick up and drop,
free of charge, from (and to) anywhere in Goa, provided the group
consists of at least six persons. It will also take them to any of
its sanctuaries: Bondla (24 km from Ponda, about 50 km from Panaji),
Colem and the adjacent Molem (33 km from Ponda), Cotigao (55 km from
Margao which is about 30 km from Panaji). Right now, there are private
operators at the Colem check gate offering tourists a drive (about
1 hour to Dudhsagar) in a 4-wheel drive jeep (essential for the terrain).
Charge for the round trip is Rs 200/- per person.
The department is also developing Hatipol near Colem-Molem as a rest
place. For now, it has one hut and serves tea and snacks. There are
plenty, if basic, eating places en route, all of them offering branded
beverages and decent food. The fussy might take a packed lunch from
Soon Konkan Railways and Government of Goas plans to have
a luxury train for tourists running across the 105 km Goan littoral
will be a reality. And so will be the plan to have a full-fledged
station at Dudhsagar.
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