Decoding the Age of Wild Indian Mammals – Field Observations and Techniques

ibex

Spotting animals in the field is both an art and a science. An expert tracker can locate animals using various methods, including direct and indirect signs. It takes years of experience to learn these tracking techniques. Whether it’s a tiger in a deciduous forest or a snow leopard in a high-altitude cold desert landscape, trackers are invaluable assets for any wildlife trip. Seeing an animal in the wild by chance is rare, and it’s the effort of trackers that makes animal sightings possible by positioning guests in the right place at the right time. These trackers and nature guides not only spot animals but are also skilled at judging their age and sex. They are beneficial not only for tourists but also for researchers.

We have discussed tracking animals in our previous blogs. In this blog, we will learn how to estimate the age of a wild animal through observation.

Age plays a significant role in an animal’s appearance. Infants may look completely different from adults, and their coat color changes several times as they mature until they resemble adults. Other factors, like horns and antlers in antelope and deer, also change with age—the young have smaller horns and antlers, while adults have larger ones. Terms used in aging include ‘infant’ (fully dependent on the mother), ‘juvenile’ (not yet weaned but partially independent), ‘subadult’ (independent and beginning sexual maturity but lacking full adult characteristics), and adult.

 

Ageing by different coat colors and pattern

In many mammals the young ones can be differentiated from the adult based on the coat color and pattern.

  • Lion Cubs

    Lion cubs are born helpless like other cats, but they have a distinct feature not commonly found in other felines. Young lions have rosettes and spots on their sandy coats, but these markings generally disappear as they mature. It is believed that these spots help camouflage them better in their surroundings since they are born helpless.

 

lion cubs

 

  • Gaur Calf

    The gaur is recognized as the largest species of bovid globally, with adult males often exceeding one ton in weight. The coat of mature male gaurs is entirely black, a striking contrast to the coffee-brown coloration observed in young females. As for gaur calves, their coloration undergoes a fascinating transformation as they grow older, transitioning from a golden yellow hue to fawn, followed by light brown, and eventually settling into a coffee brown shade upon reaching maturity. This remarkable color evolution mirrors the development process seen in male gaurs, who eventually achieve their distinctive full black appearance upon reaching adulthood.

Also Read : 3 Types of Crocodiles & Where to find them

  • Wild Pig

    The Indian wild pig, a substantial forest-dwelling ungulate, boasts one of the broadest geographical distributions among all wild ungulates globally. The mature Indian wild pig exhibits a fur color that is primarily brown, accentuated by intermingling black and grey hairs. Remarkably, the piglets of these wild pigs are born with distinct stripes adorning their entire bodies. These stripes align parallel to the piglet’s length, extending from head to tail. All wild boar piglets display a dark brown hue adorned with pale longitudinal stripes. However, as these piglets reach three to four months of age, these distinctive stripes gradually vanish, eventually giving way to the solid brown coloration typical of adult Indian wild pigs. This fascinating developmental process highlights the unique and evolving characteristics of this remarkable species.

 

wild pig

 

  • Hoolock Gibbon

    Gibbons, categorized as lesser apes, exhibit sexual dimorphism where males are black, and females are blonde in color. These primates are noted for their ability to change the color of their fur several times throughout different stages of life. Newborn Hoolock Gibbons are initially milky white or yellowish in color but transition to a dark brown hue within nine months. By the age of two, both male and female gibbons develop a fully black coat. As males continue to mature, a clear scrotum becomes noticeable by four years of age and becomes more distinct by the time they reach seven years. In contrast, female gibbons may display varying light patches on their juvenile black coat during their subadult phase, ultimately transitioning to a golden blond color with distinctive white brows.

 

gibbons

 

  • Grey Langurs

    Grey langurs are among the most widespread and commonly distributed langurs found in India. When infants are born, they typically have thin, dark brown or black hair along with pale skin. However, as they grow and reach the juvenile stage, their hair and skin coloration typically transition to a more normal appearance.

 

grey langurs

 

Ageing by horns and antlers and by other features

The age of an ungulate can be judged by the length, branches as well as the ring on horns. The deer have antlers while the antelopes have horns. The horns are hollow, unbranched and permanent while antlers are solid, branched and deciduous.

  • Counting Annulations

    The presence and visibility of growth rings on horns serve as a reliable indicator of age in various species. This characteristic is particularly distinct and easily countable in Ibex. Each ridge or ring observed on the horns of Ibex may correspond to a span of approximately two years in the life of the animal.

 

ibex

 

  • Tines of Antlers

    In deer, the number of tines on an antler serves as a reliable indicator of age. Specifically, in the case of Barasingha deer found in Kanha, the presence of a certain number of tines indicates the maturity level of the animal. At full maturity, a Barasingha should ideally possess 12 tines on its antlers, with a minimum of 10 tines considered indicative of maturity. An individual with eight tines is still considered a fully grown animal but is categorized as relatively young in terms of maturity.

 

barasingha

 

  • Brooming or Chipping off of horns

    In older male goats and sheep, losing parts of their horns can often be attributed to numerous fights they have engaged in over their lifetimes. As these animals age, the accumulation of battles and territorial disputes can leave behind permanent scars and visible signs of wear and tear on their horns. These horn injuries not only reflect the challenging and competitive nature of their existence but also serve as enduring reminders of their resilience and survival throughout the years.

In addition to the aforementioned characteristics, there are other distinguishing features that indicate the age and maturity of certain animals. For instance, the saddleback marking observed on the Nilgiri Tahr or the development of a beard seen on adult male Markhor are unique traits that only manifest as these animals reach maturity. These specific physical attributes serve as clear indicators of adulthood and are often prominent in male individuals of these species. The presence or absence of such distinctive traits not only helps in determining the age and sex of these animals but also contributes to their overall appearance and visual identity within their respective habitats. These additional characteristics play a significant role in understanding the life cycle and development of these remarkable wild species.

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