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Nehru BelPustakalaya. The Toda and. The Tahr. E.R.C. Davidar. Illustrator. Neeta Gangopadhyay. National Book Trust, India.
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As the women prepared a feast, the men danced. The chorus boomed and swelled into a roar like the Pykara river in flood and mingled with the night. This is because they hunt in packs and are difficult to shake off. They are bold and fearless and even the mighty tiger gives way to them. They look like ordinary village dogs but have rounded, erect ears, and are brick red in colour. What particularly distinguishes a dhole from a village dog is its bushy black tail. Wild dogs mainly live and breed in the low country.

Periodical- ly they move up to the Nilgiri plateau and sweep across it, hunting as they go.

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They prey on Toda buffalo calves if they get the chance. Tom Ear was the leader of a dhole pack, which spent a few months on the plateau each year. Tom Ear was a good leader and the pack, which consisted of nine dogs including two young ones, prospered under him Tom Ear was in the lead as the pack topped a hill not far from the cliff edge.

As he stood motionless, watching the country below he looked like an image carved in gold. But there was nothing golden about his intentions.

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He had brought the pack from far and they were hungry Tom Ear was trying to spot a prey. Dholes have a keen sense of smell But this was open country and Tom Ear used his eyes as much as his nose. Leaving their leader to keep watch, the rest of the pack distributed themselves over the hillside, relaxed and waiting for a lead. In the distance, beyond two gently rising hills, Tom Ear made out a herd of tahr. There were eleven of them and they were busy grazing on the tender young grass that had sprouted in a burnt-out patch.

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  6. Tom Ear was the dominant male in the pack. This was not his only qualification to lead. Female dholes are also pack leaders. He was a clever hunter and his hunting strategy suited the type of country they hunted in and the prey they were after. Tom Ear could make out that the patch of young grass extended like a finger far into the country, away from the cliffs. Gradually the tahr herd was moving further inland. Tom Ear decided to wait His patience was rewarded. The tahr moved away from the cliffs. Tom Ear got up and signalled the start of the hunt. Leading the rest of the pack, he set out in pursuit.

    The dogs appeared to be moving at a leisurely pace.

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    But their lope was deceptive. They were in fact covering ground very fast. Chipped Horn, an old female with a broken horn tip, was the leader of the tahr herd. She heard the dogs before seeing them. Two sub-adult hunters had whimpered in their excitement. She had been hunted by dhole before, and did not panic.

    Warning the herd by stamping her forefeet, she turned and ran towards the cliffs, followed by the rest of the herd. The wild dogs gave chase. It was a long race and the dogs steadily gained ground. The tahr ran with confidence; they hoped to reach the security of the cliffs before the dogs caught up with them. Although the cliffs have trails which only tahr can negotiate, they are but few.

    Nilgiris district

    The paths leading to them are well marked. Chipped Horn made for one of them The path seemed dear but 38 just then from behind a boulder, a dog jumped up. Chipped Horn wheeled to the left and ran parallel to the cliffs towards the next trail. The trail was down a ravine and was hidden from view. The herd increased its pace but the dhole made no special effort.

    The tahr herd reached the ravine only to find a dhole waiting to meet them there. There was confusion when Chipped Horn found this second route to the cliffs cut off. The next trail was quite far away. But the hesitation was momentary. Chipped Horn decided to seek the security of Mukerti peak where she had taken refuge before. There was a young male tahr in the he'd. He thought that Chipped Hom had made a mistake in rying to reach Mukerti.

    He therefore decided to break away from the herd and headed straight for the cliffs. This was the sort of opportunity Tom Ear was waiting for. The breakaway tahr was overtaken and the dogs fell upon him from every side, tearing large chunks of flesh out of their victim, until it died of shock and loss of blood. Wild dogs are fast and greedy feeders.

    In a short time there was nothing left of the tahr except for the horns, hooves and a few bones. But the dogs' hunger remained unsatisfied, especially that of the late comers. So, Tom Ear again led the pack on the track of the fleeing herd. Chipped Horn had a good start. But tahr are not made for running on soft ground, nor long distances. Besides, there were young ones in the herd. The tahr also had not expected the hunt to be resumed. So they were moving unhurriedly towards Mukerti Betta As soon as the tahr realize d t. Moz watched the hunt. The wild dogs were running like a relay team in laps.

    As the front runners got tired, their places were taken by their companions This put great pressure on the quarry As Moz watched, the dogs steadily gained ground But by then the tahr herd had reached the base of the mountain Only the mountain itself remained to be climbed. The youngest of the kids, however, was utterly exhausted now and began faltenng. The lead dogs took bites off it as it ran until it fell.

    It disappeared under the dogs with a heart-rendering scream. This brief pause in the chase helped the others gain valuable ground. Thoroughly shaken, Moz was the first to flee into the cliff, followed by Chipped Horn and the rest of the herd. The herd soon recovered from the effects of the chase and began to settle down and lead a normal life. There were two young males about the same age as Moz in the herd and naturally there were frequent sparring matches among the three. In the beginning Moz, who had had no occasion to engage in fights, got the worst of the exchanges but as the days went by.

    Moz had to learn these but the better care and feeding which he had had. Chipped Horn or there was no danger, she took the lead and headed towards the main cliff line. The call to adventure won. Sometimes two or three herds would join to make a large group. Occasionally, when good grazing was confined to particular areas, many herds would merge. As Moz grew older his colour began to change. From grey his coat became brown and then deepened to chocolate.

    He grew sturdy. This stage in development from adolescence to maturity is marked by aggression between young male tahr. Mature male tahr are not permanently attached to any herd. They usually join herds during the breeding season and leave afterwards. Unlike some species of animals which have a fixed breeding season, Nilgiri tahr breed most of the year but the breeding season reaches its peak during the south-west monsoon.

    Chipped Horn's herd swelled to twenty with females, kids and sub-adults. A fine male tahr joined the herd.

    This male had two distinguishing features, a big scar across its face caused by a bullet, and a patch of lighter coloured hair which sat like a saddle mark on its deep brown back. They make up about ten per cent of the tahr population.

    Nilgiris district - New World Encyclopedia

    Scar Face was older and stronger than Moz. He recognized Moz as a rival and gave the younger tahr no peace. Moz left the herd and took to wandering. In the course of his wanderings he met other male tahr driven away from herds by stronger rivals.