Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Kamoshika: grey eminence of the woods

This splendid creature is a Kamoshika, or Japanese Serow. Any animal that can survive the winter in the woods here deserves the utmost respect. It is the floating phantom of the forest, getting by on the leaves and moss they can find on steep pitches where the snow has slid down. They are very shy, and their footprints are seen more often than they are. I have seen them at a distance, or disappearing through the trees, but the only other time I came close to one I didn't have a camera with me. On that occasion I was on a run and came across one sheltering from rain under a cliff (characteristic behaviour), on steep ground above the village. We contemplated each other for a while. I don't think it was keen to give up the only dry ground on the hill to a usurper. It only moved off when I moved again.

Then yesterday I was on the road bike on a beautiful narrow road climbing above the Tadami river, and happened to look down to find this ball of grey fur staring back at me at close quarters. At first glance the scent marking glands below it's eyes made it look as if it had two pairs of eyes.  It looked very wide - was it a pregnant female? On close inspection you can see it has a horn missing, so perhaps it was a male that lost one in a fight.

I had time to get my camera out. If I had been one of the Jomon period hunters who inhabited this area 5,000 years ago and more, I would have had plenty of time to draw a bead with my bow and arrow. Now they are protected - very protected. We have been advised not to go anywhere near a corpse we come across in case someone thinks we did it. "But officer, I am vegetarian!" might not butter any parsnips. Disgusted with my continued fluorescent yellow presence, it suddenly snorted, and thundered down the steep hillside at impressive speed, grunting and expressing loud blasts through it's nostrils. It turned at the bottom and looked back up at me, still complaining, still not at all impressed with me.

As I write this it is dark, raining and blowing a gale outside. I hope it managed to find a nice cosy overhang to curl up under tonight.


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