Archive for April, 2013
A dream come true: Central India’s top protected area for tiger sightings
Tiger sisters sparring in Tadoba Andhari
Same tigers facing off in the lake.
When the tiger evolved in southern China some two million years ago, the species radiated out, north to Siberia and west to the area around the Caspian Sea. The Himalayan mountain range prevented them from moving south into Nepal and India.
Tiger male by the road early one morning.
From China, it moved through Indochina on down the Malay Peninsula via the now submerged Sunda landbridge to Sumatra, Java and Bali in Indonesia. From there the striped cat moved west through Burma to the Indian sub-continent. The Bengal tiger is the second largest after the Siberian species.
A breeding pair in the northern section.
A century ago, there were more than 100,000 tigers throughout their range and India had about 40,000 at that time. Now, it is estimated that maybe 3,200 of these magnificent predators are left in the world with some 2,000 thriving in India and Nepal.
Tiger cub stalking a spotted deer by the lake.
The Indochinese species is just hanging on with about 250 in Thailand and another 250 in Malaysia. Sumatra has about 400 tigers. The Chinese, Caspian, Balinese and Javan tigers are all now extinct, a sad fact!
Tiger cub in the afternoon.
A internet search revealed that there is one protected area that stands above all the others for tiger sightings in India. Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve for some time now has been one of India’s most famous for the ease of seeing and photographing the big cat up-close and personal at times. Tadoba was declared a tiger reserve in 1933 and a National Park in 1955.
Bull gaur on the road in the buffer zone.
A buffer zone was recently added and the total area is now 1,700 sq. kilometers. Many other animals are found here including leopard, sloth bear, wild dog, gaur, sambar, chital (spotted deer), nilgai (blue bull), four-horned antelope, muntjac, mugger crocodile plus loads of smaller mammals and birds including the spectacular Indian blue peafowl and the beautiful grey jungle fowl.
Chital stag on the run being chased by wild dogs.
Overlooked by tourist until recently, this forest is situated in central India in the Maharashtra state about 700 kilometers north of Hyderabad. It is split into two parts, north and south. Only 20 percent is now open to the public, and the other 80 percent off-limits to everyone except forest officials after a Supreme Court decision last year in September. The court wanted to close all of the tiger reserves but an outcry from the people was heard and many parks now have only limited access.
Sloth bear near the lake.
Arrangements to travel like visas, air tickets and lodge bookings were arranged and I took off on Thai Airways to Hyderabad on April 4th, arriving at 1:00pm and then undertook a nine-hour taxi ride to the sanctuary. It was scary, to say the least after we got lost in rural India for a short while. The taxi driver finally got back on track and we arrived at the sanctuary at noon.
Wild dogs resting in an evergreen stream bed.
Lunch was served at the Tiger Trails Jungle Lodge situated five-minutes from the front gate of the reserve that would be my home for the next nine days. The food, lodging and service is excellent, and well worth the expense to get there. The closest city is Nagpur only two hours by road and is serviced by daily flights.
Nilgai (Blue Bull) antelope camera trapped near the Tiger Trail Jungle Lodge.
In the afternoon at 3pm, I made my first safari in a ‘Maruti’ jeep (Suzuki) with a naturalist from the lodge, a tour guide and a driver. We got a glimpse of a tiger as the sun was going down. The next day at daybreak, we went south to a lake in the interior. It was reported that four female tiger cubs, and a mother and father were sighted almost everyday in the area.
Tiger cub on the road among the tourists.
We arrived, as did many other jeeps, and we sat in the cool morning waiting for the family to arrive. At 9:30am, the first cub came out of the deep forest across from us and walked past submerging itself in the water to cool off. Then another cub arrived from the other side and they both joined up, and began sparring and facing off. I was ready with my Nikon D3s and a 200-400mm VR lens on a monopod catching the pair in mid-air as seen in the lead photo.
Tiger cub checking out a Tadoba forest official.
The next morning after only five minutes from the gate, we bumped into a male tiger 50 meters from the road out in the open grassland sleeping. Shortly thereafter, he woke up and posed for me. Then we moved to the lake and a cub walked past our jeep about three meters away. We saw tiger everyday except for Tuesday when the park is closed. I however, got a huge gaur bull in the buffer zone next to Tadoba shown here.
Tiger cub emerging after a late afternoon nap.
In the northern section, there is a breeding pair of tigers also shown in the story. They should produce a nice litter that will be an attraction for this place sometime late this year. The four cubs at the lake should disperse very soon. There are many other mature tigers and cubs throughout the sanctuary and at last count, there are about 75 individuals in the park and buffer zone.
Tadoba’s rock pantheons along the road in the tiger reserve.
Tadoba has a rich history that goes back to the 17th century. Once upon a time, dynasties of Gond Kings ruled this part of the Deccan plateau. When the kings traveled through the area, the message of his arrival would be transmitted by an engineering feat. There were rock pantheons erected every hundred yards, which had perfectly aligned tops. Over these were drawn inter-connected ropes which rung a bell at the end. The soldier just tugged on the rope and the bell would ring 50 kilometers away, signaling the approach of his majesty. Many of these rock pillars are still standing seen in the story.
Chital female posing near the road.
Like most things, my safari finally came to a close. I left the lodge at mid-day and dreaded the long taxi ride back to Hyderabad but we eventually arrived at the airport at 9pm. The driver pulled through and got me there in one piece. Then it was a bit of a hassle getting through customs and immigration as security is tight but once through, I had a chance to relax and get something to eat. I boarded the plane for the short three and half hour flight and before I knew it, was home back in Bangkok.
Chital on the run being chased by wild dogs.
India has many problems with poachers and encroachment. Two national parks, Sariska and Panna, had all their tigers poached in a short period of time. As long as there is a market for wildlife parts, the trade in these will continue to carry-on with impunity. However, the government has already reintroduced tigers to these parks but it could take a long time for them to recover fully.
Young sambar stag with tiger claw marks.
Tiger skin, bones, organs and even whiskers are sold in a million-dollar black market to Chinese, Vietnamese and Tibetan buyers. It is heartbreaking that barbaric wildlife traffickers have the audacity to trade the tiger and other animals in bits and pieces, by the gram and kilo.
A mature sambar stag with some serious battle scars.
If you want to see a tiger in the wild, head to India which offers the best opportunities to view the striped predator. There are many tiger reserves and depending on luck, one may bump into one. But Tadoba is at the top of the list for sightings. I definitely will be heading back to this amazing place and hopefully in the near future, more areas will be opened up.
A wild pib in Tadoba.
Unfortunately, Thailand could never offer this wildlife spectacle as the tiger and other Asian creatures have been persecuted for so long making these animals extremely wary which has made sightings rare. But it is still possible in places like Thap Lan and Pang Sida in the northeast, Kaeng Krachan and Kui Buri in the southwest and over in the western protected areas like Sai Yok and Erawan national parks to bump into one.
A gaur in bamboo not far from the road.
I have been working in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary for more than 15 years, Thailand greatest tiger sanctuary, and have only seen and photographed one male tiger. However, there are many tigers in this forest (about 75) as witnessed by loads of camera trap photos that have come forth from researchers and wildlife photographers. Needless to say, we need to look after this and other places that have tigers so that these magnificent creatures may continue to thrive into the foreseeable future!
Additional photos from the safari
Langur monkeys are common by the road
A langur posing close to the jeep.
Indian blue peafowl in the bamboo.
Wild boar on the run.
Indian grey mongoose drinking at a waterhole.
Indian grey jungle fowl by the road.
Grey jungle fowl in early morning.
India: Land of the tiger
Two tiger cubs sparring in the lake at Tadoba.
After 10 amazing days in the sub-continent of India, I returned to Thailand with a load of tiger photographs. A few shots are some of my best work as a wildlife photographer shown here. The opportunity to see and catch this illusive carnivore presented itself. However, some parts of the trip were extremely dangerous and stressful including a nine-hour taxi ride to and from Tadoba Tiger Reserve in the State of Maharashtra some 700 kilometers north from Hyderabad. It was hectic to say the least.
Only 20% of the sanctuary is now open with 80% off-limits but it is truly India’s top protected area for tiger sightings. I saw nine tigers in seven days. It was very exciting seeing and photographing the big cat. This is just part of the selection of shots I got. It shows a truly magnificent ecosystem where predators thrive because prey species are found in abundance. I will be doing an extensive post a little bit later.
The same pair facing-off.
Tiger cub in the lake.
Tiger male walking by the lake.
Tiger female by the lake.
Tiger cub about three meters away.
Old ‘One Eye’, father of the cubs near the road.
Tiger cub posing by side of the road
Tiger cub about to yawn
Tiger cub showing its fangs
Needless to say, it was an experience now etched in memory. All shots were taken with a Nikon D3s and 200-400mm VRII lens and mono-pod except for the tiger close-up, and that was with a Nikon D90 and a 70-300mm VR lens. I was always ready from close to distant. Enjoy….!
A neelgai (blue bull), a even-toed ungulate found in most Indian protected areas. Prime tiger prey species.
Indochinese tiger in Huai Kha Khaeng
Last year in March 2012, I did a post on a DSLR Canon 400D with three wireless Canon 270 flashes (http://camtrapper.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=5369). After months of failure, wrong settings and bad luck, I was at wit’s end. I set the cam in the forest but it would only work for a day or two and go dead. After consultations with TRLcam, I finally got the settings right. Then an elephant bashed in the snorkel and rainwater destroyed the cam, board and flash trigger. It was a mess and that Canon is now in my camera graveyard…!
Elephants on the trail
Fortunately, I had another Canon, a 350D that was working well with a Yeticam board with an EOS chip I got from Mark at Yeticam.com. As both cameras are about the same size, the slightly smaller one fits perfectly in the aluminum box with a Canon 18-55mm lens. All new components were replaced and I finally set the cam on my ‘new trail’ on Feb.3 and got back to it on March 31st.
Imagine my surprise when I viewed the files and saw a tiger had passed and two flashes worked. I also got elephant, gaur and black bear but not before an elephant bashed the snorkel again. Fortunately, it did not rain this time and the cam and components are fine. Amazingly, the cam took some 500 images but most are black because of no flash power that had run out about two weeks into the stint.
It’s back to the drawing board on the snorkel and increased battery packs (2 ‘C’ or ‘D’ cells) for the flashes. Due to the extremely dry season and forest fire, I have just pulled all my cams until the first rains arrive.
Busted camera damaged by elephants
I agree with TRLcam and a few others that a new forum should be set-up for DSLR camera traps as they are truly in a class of their own. Enjoy.
DSLR Canon 350D set-up
My most expensive, ambitious and largest trail cam yet: An old D700 is retired to stationary duty….!
Nikon D700 homebrew trail cam
This cam has been on the drawing board for a couple of years now and is finally finished and ready for the forest.
About 15 years ago, I set-up a Nikon N90s film camera with a Nikon ML-3 remote control in Huai Kha Khaeng on a sambar kill. That night, I got a whole roll of an Asian leopard and these were my first camera trap photos as seen here.
Asian leopard caught with a Nikon N90s film camera and a ML-3 remote sensor.
After some six years of continuous use in my wildlife photography (through the lens) work, it was about time to retire my old Nikon D700 DSLR with a battery pack and two Nikon lithium EN-EL3e Li-ion batteries.
It is a great camera that takes exceptional photographs because of its full-frame sensor. With a very ancient Nikon 35mm manual lens, the combo would make an excellent trail camera.
D700 and ML-3 close-up
A Nikon ML-3 ‘Modulite Remote Control Set’ (active infrared) unit consisting of a receiver plugged into the D700 housed in a Pelican 1150 case. I built this rig for tigers and other animals jumping over a fallen tree that lies across a heavily used wildlife trail. An aluminum housing protects the cam from marauding elephants and is bolted to a dead tree using five arms forward and aft.
The remote transmitter has two ‘D’ cell externals and is fitted into an aluminum box with tabs for mounting on a tree. A laser pointer is slipped into a tube above the transmitter and used to line-up it up with the receiver before locking it to a tree.
Nikon D700 camera trap ready for the forest.
I will have to test whether to set the remote control to single shot or continuous (6 successive shots in one second). Probably go with continuous for the first run and see how she goes.
The trick is I’m using two transmitters on either side of the tree in a ‘v-formation’ to catch animals a bit early from both directions. This is just a theory at the moment and will certainly need testing.
D700 and aluminum ‘Elephant proof’ box.
Three Nikon SB-28 speed lights using YONGNUO RF-603N wireless flash triggers with two ‘D’ cell externals housed in an aluminum box with tabs for mounting to a tree. There are no externals for the flashes yet, but opted to just use 4 lithium AAs for battery power to see if they will last one month. If that is not enough power, I will add four ‘C’ or ‘D’ cells in an external pack later. I may add more flashes if need be.
A 32gig card will provide loads of space for more than 1600 ‘Raw’ files. The set-up is extremely fast and trips easily when the beam is broken.
A Nikon ML-3 ‘Modulite Remote Control Set’ (active infrared) unit,
and a green laser pointer is used to line-up both transmitter and receiver.
Camouflage will be fake moss glued on with goop to the box, transmitter and flash units to resemble real moss that is growing all around. Leaves and bushes will be added after the units are bolted to the tree.
The biggest problem I see is excessive tripping from insects, birds and bats. I understand alcohol rubbed all over will keep the bugs and moths at bay. Salt and perspiration attracts these creatures and being active infrared, the unit will trip photos of an empty forest. Been there, done that.
Nikon SB-28 Speedlights with YONGNUO RF-603N wireless flash triggers
As soon as I get some shots, I’ll do a post. Look forward to some really neat stuff coming down my new trail captured by this full-frame D700. Hope this will influence others but the expense might be a bit over the top. I just happened to have one, that’s all…! Enjoy.