Wildlife experts let us in on some riveting wild sightings
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I have walked the jungles of India for nearly three decades in which chases by elephants and rhinos and brushes with boar and bear have been routine. I have been dumped into the Brahmaputra by a lunging snake, chased twice onto hilltops by trumpeting tuskers and snarled at by tigers at close range and on foot a dozen times. Not surprisingly though, my closest shave in the wild was with not with an animal, but with man.
I had been negotiating undercover for over three months with a poaching gang who had killed elephants in Karnataka. They were to deliver the two tusks that I had seen with them to me. A deadly trap was set. But it was meant to be deadly for them, not for me! It was dusk when the four of us pulled up near a hut in the middle of the forest. With me was my guru Ashok Kumar pretending to be an Arab buyer of ivory, the driver who was a forest range officer and an aide who was a sub-inspector of police in mufti. I went in. There were three poachers and the two tusks. I came out, ostensibly to collect the money but in reality to give my signal. The sub-inspector clicked twice on his wireless. The trap was set. It was time for the enforcement team to move in. I gave the thumbs up to the poachers and they started bringing the tusks to the car. Ashok was counting a few notes and placing them into a briefcase stuffed with Hindustan Times cuttings. And soon, there was the sound of an oncoming jeep. All was well. Or was it?
The jeep that drove up carried an enterprising media cinematographer. Having got wind of the operation, he had overtaken the enforcement jeeps to get a frontal shot. He stepped out with his camera already rolling. One of the poachers gave a shout. The other ran back into the hut and came out armed. I had only a moment to react. I caught hold of the shirt of the chap next to me, punching him on the face. “Bastard!” I roared. “Who is this? Is this a trap?” It took them by surprise and even the chap with the gun did not know how to react. It had bought me a crucial 10 seconds. By then, the enforcement vehicles swooped down on the scene. Everyone was taken into custody, including the cameraman and the four of us. That was planned as we did not want the cover to be out. “I am sorry, Sir,” whispered the forest guard handcuffing me. “Don’t worry,” I whispered back, “but make sure you keep the cameraman in for a couple of days!”
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