In the not sodistant past, big game was one of the features of kodai life. When carrying visitors up the Coolie Ghat in chairs and doolies, porters sang and yodeled to keep panther and elephants away. It is said that the Raja of Podukottai would sit over tiger kills at the Golf Courses; another nimrod shot a bison near Coaker’s Walks from his window, in the 1950s. An underground occupant of the old cemetery was killed by one. And up until fifteen years ago, the baleful chorus of a pack of jackals was often heard as darkness descended.
Like the tale, a few years ago, of the panther at the bottom of the ghat road. The watchman at the “Rock Garden” compound was sitting at the fence, watching life go by – cars, bicycles, and cattle. But then he sat up with a start: there was a panther, sedately plodding along the road towards the village. He’d hardly recovered when back it came with a puppy in its mouth!
Bison or Gaur
Surfacing at the crack of fawn or before then is difficult; your warm bed sems to have some kind of magnetic power. But it is worth the misery. If you drive out into the high hills towards Berijam there is a fair chance of seeing bison, a single bull or a herd. There is one enormous muscle-bound fellow who often grazes in Marin shoal at this time, his blue-black form starkly silhouetted among the grass and bracken. Further north towards Mannavanur herds of twenty or thirty are often seen. On the Berijam drive you may also hear the eerie, ascending call of the Nilgiri langur, a black monkey endemic to the Western Ghats. Heavily hunted for their supposedly medicinal meat, these primates have become thoroughly man-shy and will not all a close approach. Their calls often elicit an immediate response from the giant Malabar squirrel -a loud, rolling chuckle.
We have twice seen barking deer on this route, bouncing away at our approach. Sambar are also still around but their size makes them easy poacher’s targets and they like to stay hidden in the denser forest. Mouse deer inhabit the lower elevations, towards Shenbaganur. But the most startling herbivores for this altitude are the elephants, which used to occasionally visit the Kodai area from their homes lower down Several herds seem to stay up here year round now, probably victims of dire habitat alteration.
In the early 1990s there were panther down by the lake near Sunnyside , one of the first houses built by the American Madura Mission. “ They were rather bold, because they took the cows right out of the sheds.” There are occasional reports of tigers in the Palnis, but people often confuse them with panther and hyenas. In fact the Tamil name for hyena is donkey-tiger. Other rare remanats of these hills are the sloth bear and the brilliantly spotted leopard cat. Scattered groups of Nilgiri tahr still roam the high slopes and steep escarpments; but the increasing conversion of grassland to plantations may well drive them away from the Palnis altogether.