TODAY -

Spotted Deer - Living with Natural Habitat

Kamal Baruah *



The city is a home to Fort St. George, built in 1644. My first impression about Madras was another big Metro. I bought the ticket dirt-cheap of Rs 10 and boarded into the fast passenger. Commuting by local train is something I enjoy most but I miss now. Commuters from all spheres of life are indulged in their own thoughts and activities.

I was sitting back in the coach of 45 minutes journey at Chennai Park and looked around the world hurrying them. Soon I registered my name at main guard room, a cautionary message left for us “safety precaution against deer menace”. I was shocked to hear such unusual things at the southern city. After brief formalities, a bicycle on rent issued since accommodations were at the other side of the runway. We were called for training on Aviation Fire Safety.

The runway is well protected by wall fencing. Even a stray dog can’t pass through. We waited a couple of minutes to get the signal at barrier, remotely controlled by ATC. We didn’t realise what made it to go with such harsh regulations. Air Force Station Tambaram is a base for fighter aircraft.

Unlike other bases, it looked like a huge forest. A safety instruction says, “Stop getting hit and avoid moving after dusk”. We weren’t really amused. Our mess was surrounded by dense forest. The orderly officer visited us with dos’ and don’ts. It may not be necessary anymore to go to a National Park to spot deer.

They can be seen wandering in groups. These spotted animals have caught the attention of air warrior. Those instructions failed to impress us. We were happy to meet our entire entry mate after a couple of years. After late night gossip and teen patti, we fall asleep at once.

Deer have superior night vision but they get blinded by headlights and attracted to roads. Their activity peaks when the sun is below the horizon at dawn and dusk. Deer can see more in these low light situations. And we’re informed to switch off lights to avoid collision.

I was half asleep and suddenly woken up by hearing a scream/squeak outside. I walked-through the verandah but didn’t notice anything. But to my surprise, I saw a herd of deer loitering around. Each deer had a branch of antler. I felt really scared all of a sudden.

They were searching for food and moved towards our hall. I quietly kept the door closed and peeped through windows. It was amazing; I didn’t see such a huge herd of deer in my life. I equally excited to see the deer up so close. The antlers are cuter that how they look in pictures of deer in my textbooks. Also deer hunting has been a popular activity since Middle Ages. What could be made fascinating than capturing the glimpse of those beautiful deer that too in their natural habitat?

The deer generally mind their own business and stroll along the stretches where they can find some greenery. A trough of water is usually placed inside the base for these animals. The deer sightings are common for local residents as herds of wandering deer may come either from the nearby Guindy National Park or from the CLRI campus.

Forest officials know deer that stays within the base are safe. There were over thousand deer wandering Tambaram. Residents cannot just catch them. They have to be handled sensitively. Doing so is a non-bailable offence. What makes it unique is that spotted deer and defence personnel live in perfect harmony. Spotted deer nibble at the grass inside the base. Soon we also got accustoms with those unfazed by attention. The deer seemed little concern about our presence as they nibbled grass near us.

They were also unfazed by the flashbulbs, as we waited patiently to take snaps of them as deer could see at a 300 degree angle around without moving their eyes. During autumn mating season, male deer attack anyone who threatens their dominance. It was always fun as it sounds in the night.

The Blue Cross team take care of injured deer in deer-crossing zone. No untoward incident took place while peddling down every evening towards city for mouth watering South Indian discs. Incidentally my friend Hasib narrowly escaped once but with a punctured tube.

My learning at WTI Tambaram was OK but spotting dear at night that boosted me to write today after two decades. The saying goes “sometimes, it's better to bunk out and enjoy, because now, when I look back, marks never make me laugh, but memories do”. We had completed two months training smoothly with several bunk out to Bangalore in the weekend and stayed safe around wildlife.

The base was facing acute threat to operate the aircrafts with free ranging deer moving on the runway at crucial take off and landing. “Operation deer drive” was carried out by creating a chain link corridor to Arignar Anna Zoological Park. The "Operation Deer Drive" continued to be a success story in wildlife management.

Mass translocation of spotted deer was done to Vandalur Zoo using BOMAS technique successfully. Those spotted dear are dear to us but meeting them would be difficult now. That inspired us everyone as well as our training.

In early 2K, sighting a spotted deer in the neighbourhoods of Chennai residential areas (Guindy, Ekkathuthanganl, Adyar, Tambaram, Velachery and Kotturpuram) were common. Today it witness extinction as the city lost its greenery due to urbanisation.

Now it becomes history, Chennai failed to protect these free roaming animals from accidents, dog bites and summer sun stroke. City wildlife somehow captured a few hundreds and released into the reserve forests of Vandalur. The translocations of deer have finally wiped out free roaming animal. Ironically it failed to provide the due habitat that wildlife deserves. The people will not be able to gaze the leap of a spotted deer that we saw witnessing the graceful feeding. Oh deer! Air Force Tambaram misses them.


* Kamal Baruah wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a former Air Warrior and currently working for SBI Dispur. He can be reached at kamal(DOT)baruah(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 22, 2019.



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