Recently, we were in the forests of Athirappilly – Vazhachal as part of a programme to distribute CFLs freely to the economically backward tribal communities living inside the forest areas. It was part of Earth Hour 2014 – Use Your Power. This initiative is supported by the Kerala State Electricity Board and the Energy Management Centre. The team consisted of Sivakumar, Jaichand and myself from the Kerala State Office and Tijo and Mullai from the Western Ghats Landscape. For two days, we visited the various tribal settlements, talked to them briefly about the initiative and distributed the CFLs – two each to every family.
On our way through the forests, we had a good sighting of birds. On the second day, near the shops along the roadside in Vazhachal, we were really surprised to see a rather big troop of Lion tailed macaques, commonly referred to among the conservationists as LTMs, running, jumping, feeding and playing among the jackfruit trees along the periphery of the forests. LTM, an endangered species under the Red Data List of IUCN, are very few in number. But we were really surprised to see a rather big troop happily feasting on the plentiful jackfruits available in the trees around.
As we took a U-turn to the left to go towards the dam, we came to a slightly elevated area from where we could see the LTMs more clearly perched on top of the jackfruit trees. Seeing the LTMs feasting on the jackfruit, interacting with members of their group and making mischief was a visual treat. We concentrated on one of the bigger individuals feeding on the biggest jackfruit on the tree closest to us. We stood there observing the animals for sometime. Our position and inquisitiveness attracted others too. We pointed our cameras at the LTM and started clicking photos. It was then that we suddenly realized that, what seemed like a thick branch of the tree going behind the jackfruit was actually not a branch, but a Malabar giant squirrel, hanging upside down, its claws grabbing the tree trunk very tight, feeding on the jackfruit.
It was almost as if a jackfruit eating competition was underway between the LTMs and the Malabar giant squirrel. After a while, as the LTM got closer to where the squirrel was feeding, we thought the squirrel would leave. But to our surprise, the squirrel kept feeding on without being bothered about anything around. It seemed to be enjoying feasting on the jackfruit that it was oblivious to anything around it.
We stood there for around 10-15 minutes and in that period, the squirrel raised its head and looked around just once or twice that and that too only for a second. The squirrel was so rapt in eating, that nothing, not even people with cameras standing next to their parked vehicles, nor road noise from other vehicles that passed it, seemed to affect its eating. The squirrel went on devouring the jackfruit as if there was no tomorrow.