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Baharta

Baharta on the seaside

Baharta is a large omnivorous beast native to the plains of Skargh homeworld Skaara. Widely revered in Skargh culture and lending its name to an entire Skargh clan, the mighty baharta has been introduced on many worlds settled by the Skargh and is both feared and admired in equal measure.

Overview

Superficially resembling something between a wolf and a bear, baharta is a massive, powerful beast roughly the size of a large bovine. Humans often refer to these creatures as "hyenas from Hell", and not without reason, as bahartas occupy a similar ecological niche to Terran hyenas.

Opportunistic carnivores and scavengers, bahartas feed predominantly on carcasses left behind by other predators. Given their massive size, however, they can and often do scare away other predators to steal their kill. While bahartas will actively hunt if an opportunity presents itself, usually killing injured and weak animals, their massive and muscular body isn't suited for chasing prey for an extended time and their large size makes them somewhat ineffective at ambushing in the open grasslands that they inhabit as well, hence making scavenging their primary means of subsistence. As a dietary supplement or in the absence of more desired foodstuffs, bahartas will also readily consume plant matter, using their paws to dig up roots and tubers, or simply eating fallen fruits where they can be found. Bahartas will also readily catch fish, often standing still in shallow streams for hours, snatching passing fish out of the water with their jaws.

Despite their superficially-mammalian appearance, much like other fur-coated beasts of Skaara, bahartas aren't mammals. Their reproductive system is closer to reptilian than mammal, being ovoviviparous, and they feed their young by regurgitating semi-digested food rather than milk. Bahartas mate once every three years, giving birth to litters of 2-4 pups. Because of their famously careful parenting, pup survival rates are higher than in most animals. Bahartas are notably monogamous, pairing for life, and it is not uncommon for a baharta to die shortly after the loss of its mate, although those who don't will eventually find a new mate.

Bahartas are noted for their absence of sharp claws, instead having an even number of hoof-like toes, which make them more similar to ungulates than typical carnivores. Their feet are splayed and toes are slightly webbed, making them relatively poor runners but good swimmers. The vast grasslands of Skaara are criscrossed with rivers and shallow lakes, near which bahartas make their home.

The baharta has a relatively poor eyesight, only seeing well in short distances, and an average hearing comparable to that of humans, but an excellent sense of smell comparable to the best tracker dogs, which enables it to sniff out carrion from many miles away. In keeping with its bone-rich diet, baharta's massive jaws have massive molars and one of the most powerful known bite strengths among the many species of the known universe.

Bahartas live in small family-based packs consisting of a breeding pair and their pups. They are widely known for being exceptionally-devoted parents, being upheld as role models for family values in Skargh culture. Both parents partake in raising their pups, taking turns in supervising and protecting them while the other parent goes off to seek out food. While bahartas are not naturally aggressive and will normally prefer to avoid confrontation, they will defend themselves and especially their offspring viciously if provoked, and pursue the transgressor relentlessly. Skargh hunters will readily attest that a baharta whose offspring has been killed or stolen will stalk the offender for days afterwards and only relent when either the hunter or the animal itself is killed. There have also been recorded instances of the dessicated remains of unlucky hunters being found high up in trees, chased up there by enraged bahartas that would proceed to await them below for many days until they eventually expired of thirst. This legendary persistence and relentlesness has been the inspiration of many Skargh proverbs, and along with the beasts' devotion to family have inspired the ancestors of House Baharta to adopt the creature as their totem animal and namesake.

Asides from the Skargh, bahartas have no real natural enemies owing to their size and strength. Because of their vicious protectiveness and the habit of relentlessly pursuing foes, predators rarely attempt to take their young, and will usually attack either adolescent bahartas who have just struck out on their own and haven't yet reached adult strength and size, or old and infirm bahartas who have no mates left to protect them.

Uses

Bahartas can be tamed and are occasionally kept as pets and tracking hounds by the Skargh. They are, however, difficult to train as they do not readily associate with their masters and resist traditional methods of animal training. Baharta trainers can attest that bahartas are notoriously unresponsive to negative conditioning (such as pain stimuli), and will readily attack a trainer attempting to assert himself with the whip. Instead, the trainer must therefore gradually build trust between himself and the creature, and use positive reinforcement such as treats and displays of affection to secure a baharta's cooperation. A fully-tamed baharta will behave much like a dog around its handler, but will still distrust others. Tame bahartas shouldn't be allowed to form pair bonds with the opposite sex, since such family units will form to the exclusion of their handlers. This also applies to bahartas tamed from a young age.

Trivia

The baharta is inspired by the prehistoric Andrewsarchus, a giant hyena-like ungulate. In-universe, the striking similarity could likely be explained by convergent evolution.

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