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Wildlife in Goa, goa wildlife, wild animals in goa, wildlife sanctuary, forests in goa

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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 wasn’t interested in us.

Richard D’Souza, Goa’s 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 Goa’s 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 wasn’t 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 Ali’s 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 bull’s 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 them.

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 Goa’s 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 and dancers.

Close to Goa’s 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 Goa’s 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 Coast’s 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.

Such 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 1200/00 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 their hotel.

Soon Konkan Railway’s and Government of Goa’s 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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