Predators of Mashobra! Leopards, civets, jackals, martens & more.
While driving from Dhali to Mashobra, one sees a drastic change in the setting. The road thins down from a highway to a winding road lined with old forest deodars and pines. The street lights disappear(thankfully) and one look above your head gives you a sight of more stars than you could have dreamt of. And while you are on this road, you can't help but wonder what creatures lie in this forest that you are traversing through.
For the sake of the length of this article, I will just focus on the mammals and leave birds, insects and other furry friends for another time.
Image Above: Most of my spottings have been from 10pm - 5am, driving on roads like the one above.
The Big Cat
Growing up in Shimla, I often read on the local papers 'Leopard kills lady in Shimla' and a few months later 'Leopard killed by lady in Shimla'. As kids, we often made a joke out of the man-animal conflict but now, as an adult, the elusive leopard is the focus predator in the hills of Mashobra, which continue in and around Shimla.
While leopards in Shimla are a rare sighting, Mashobra is a hotspot for these big cats! A good tracker is able to find leopard scat and pugmarks easily in the trails around, while locals will share stories of their last sighting over tea and kadi chawal.
Scary as it sounds, a human is far bigger than the prey base of the leopard. The only instance of a leopard attack on humans is when it is cornered and threatened, or if the cat is too old to hunt and is relying on humans as a desperate measure. On the other hand, dogs, our best friends, are on the main course for the leopards of Mashobra. During my years here, 4 of my dogs have disappeared mysteriously. By the 3rd one, Sharma Ji of the local kiryana shop confirmed he saw the leopard take 2 of the young pups. Now, I am used to it (the number of dogs that have disappeared run into double digits), but the first one sure hurt. You can read about it in the beautiful story of Senorita, here. They say if you live in the Himalayas, a leopard has definitely seen you more than once, without you ever realising.
A recent video that went viral on our local whatsapp groups was of someone spotting a leopard on the road around Mashobra. PS - Watch it on mute. Although the sighting is incredible, the chase that was done with the car was wrong. The leopard was terrified and probably got injured if it didn't jump properly at the end.
While I have relied on first people accounts, scat, and pugmarks for leopards, I have had the pleasure of spotting 2 incredible other predators - the Yellow Throated Marten and the Large Indian Civet.
The Large Indian Civet was a blink and miss road crossing, within the town of Mashobra 2. I was convinced it was a fox or a jackal, but the distinctive rings on its long furry tail made me conclude that this was indeed a sighting of a lifetime. I knew civets existed through scat spotting, but this was the first and only spotting in the wild.
Sighting of a lifetime
The luckiest of my carnivore spotting has to be the Yellow Throated Marten. It was the middle of sunny day in January, with patches of ice still on the road. I was driving down from the plant nursery and right on the small road, were a pair hopping, jumping, playing and just having the time of my life. I had only read about this animal in my field guides but to see it for real, with a clear, bright, beautiful yellow throat, left me awestruck.
Scavengers as neighbours
Jackals on the other hand, are common. I feel like with enough evening drives around this area, I could name some of them. They end up scavenging near the dumps and come out on the roads and streets (which don't have many dogs) from dusk to dawn and are gorgeous to look at. In the winters, they fatten up and resemble dogs with large bushy tails (the giveaway). My favourite spotting? A jackal pair, in prime winter coats, standing at the intersection of Dhali Bypass at 3am. They couldn't have found a denser habitation but I guess the timing was perfect.
Vagrant? Maybe not.
A record sighting of Red Fox in these parts of the Himalayas happened in December 2017, when my parents (who are horrible at identifying flora and fauna, but are as excited as I am to spot them) claimed of another jackal sighting. And they had a prolonged time with the animal in which they captured some videos and pictures. Jackals are common, but when I saw the images I could not believe it. A red fox, everything in my guidebook tells me that the altitude is too low for them, but there it was. Photographic evidence! Another day in the magical forests of my mashobra :)
Please note, we constantly hear about wildlife hunting in the forests of Himachal, specially for wild pheasant and barking deer. If you ever come across an incident, please do inform the Himachal Pradesh forest department at +91-177-2624186, 2623147