Karadi | கரடி (noun | Tamil)
- The sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) is a myrmecophagous bear species native to the Indian subcontinent. It feeds on fruits, ants and termites.
A horrendous incident involving a sloth bear and villagers occurred in a village less than 10 kms from our farm this month. A sloth bear had attacked a man riding on his bike and then mauled the faces of couple of men who came to his rescue.
(Trigger warning : please don’t search and watch the video on social media with children or if you are sensitive to violence)
Sloth bears are insectivores more than carnivores. They feed on termites and ants from their mounds. They also feed on several fruits. Sloth bears visit the vicinity of our farm almost every night these days because of mature palmyra fruits falling. We occasionally hear their sounds. Mothers are known to be so aggressive that they can defend against tigers and leopards. They are known to attack humans when provoked. Just last month, in a village 3 kms away Kottaivilaipatti, when a woman went to defecate near the edge of the forest, she was attacked by a mother sloth bear during a sudden unexpected encounter. The instances when they attack humans unprovoked are rare, but they do occur.
This incident that occurred in a village near Kadana nadhi dam, Sivasailam involved a sloth bear infected with rabies and a lung infection. That seems to be the reason for its exceptionally aggressive behaviour towards humans. The same bear was suspected to have caused injury to people near Kalakad, a town about 40 kms within. Like Sivasailam and Kottaivilaipatti, Kalakad is also on the edge of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.
Man animal conflicts are dangerous events because they cause irreparable damage to both species. Conservation efforts and dialogues between foresters and civilians becomes tough when such life threatening events occur. Demarcating clear boundaries of national parks / wildlife sanctuaries with human settlements with fences & trenches has become a necessary step. But given the wide and fragmented swathes of protected areas, it is expensive to carry these investments even with public funds.
Agasthyamalai Biosphere reserve is a large contiguous area encompassing 3 wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala and Kalakad Mundanthurai tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu. Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve is the second largest protected area of Tamil Nadu. The southern most western ghats of Tamil Nadu occupy a major portion of the reserve. So, the terrain is hilly and rocky – very suitable to the sloth bear, a very capable climber. As you might have seen in some of the photos of the farm, we have hillocks south of the farm and rocky outcrops west and north of the farm. They are perfect features for the sloth bear to hideout. Because we are privileged enough to carry out the investment, putting up an solar-powered electric fence was the first major one. This was the priority given our proximity to the forest reserve.
As I was writing this blog, one of the men working at the farm noticed a termite nest in the western edge of the farm being dug out from the soil a feet deep. If his assessment is correct, this is the third time a sloth bear has entered the fenced bounds of our farm.
Close encounter no. 1
The first time we were sure that it was a bear that entered the fence was during our first year’s rice crop. We had erected the solar-powered electric fence then, but hadn’t started building the house. In one of the fields, a large area of paddy crop seemed to have been disturbed by a large animal. And there was a path disturbed from a tree near the fence upto that spot. The late Sesaiyya, who was working with us then, was sure it was a karadi that did this. That night, Noushy and I spent the night barely 50 feet away in the walled and gated cow shed. We slept so soundly that we didn’t hear a sound.
Close encounter no. 2 |
When we moved into the house in 2020, we heard the dogs barking incessantly near the mango tree in the direction of the southern hillocks. Noushy and I rushed to see what the fuss was about armed with torches and sticks. When we shone the light on the other side of the solar fence, we saw a couple of sloth bears moving on a rock, 40 – 50 feet away. We ran back to our house and didn’t get out again that night. We heard their grunting sounds in the distance a little while later.
Close encounter no. 3
The second time a sloth bear entered the fenced land is the most vivid experience at the farm even though it occurred after dark. It has been etched onto my mind so strongly that I dont think I will forget it ever. It was just Noushy and me at the farm that day – my parents were away. Noushy had fallen asleep and I was reading a book in the living room. I suddenly heard loud barking by the dogs from the sit-out. When I went out and shone the light in the direction of their stance, I saw a sloth bear. Just to be sure that my eyes identified it correctly, I moved to the steps to the terrace and shone the torch again. This time, I noticed that there were three cubs along with it. The dogs wouldn’t stop barking, albeit from a distance, still at the sitout. After confirming the presence, I woke Noushy up. But there was nothing that we could do, either alone or collectively. We knew from stories that we had heard from nearby villagers that a mother sloth bear is very aggresive. We could only wait and watch till they left the bounds of the fence slowly, lazily as if the barking dogs had no effect. But I am sure they did, because the sleuth of bears turned around at 50 feet from the house. The energizer of the fence, because of whatever method the sloth bears used to enter, failed that day. And it took us a few days to get it fixed. A replacement was provided by the support engineer the next day itself thankfully.
Close encounter no. 4
Sudarmani, our neighbouring farmer’s son, took his buffaloes out for grazing when his father couldn’t. And because the herd was of a decent size ~ 20, occasionally, it used to get late in the evening to herd them back to the cattle shed near their house in the village a couple of kilometres back. One such evening, after it had gotten dark, at 8 pm, one of the buffaloes had not kept pace with the rest of the herd. Sudar had returned very close to our farm’s main gate to look for the missing buffalo. He spotted it after a little searching, only to find out that it wasn’t his missing black buffalo, but a fuzzy black sloth bear! He ran as fast as he could in the direction of his village. Thankfully, the sloth bear was alone and wasn’t interested in chasing him. Sudar only lost his pair of slippers that day. He outran his herd to home. All the buffaloes, including the missing one, returned around midnight to the cattleshed slowly. In the absence of their cowherd, they must had a leisurely walk back, filling their stomachs sumptuously.
(A person who looks after sheep is called a shepherd. A person who looks after cow is called a cowherd. Is there a name for a person who herds buffaloes? Or is he also called cowherd?)
We have spotted bears from afar several times in the wee hours of morning and at night. Our dogs have chased away bears and deers everytime they have visited the vicinity of our farm. We don’t leave the house after dark, so there are no untoward incidents when our sight isn’t our best strength. We need to be extra careful every day.
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