Archive for December, 2015
Satpura National Park and Tiger Reserve
A mugger crocodile in the Denwa River of Satpura Tiger Reserve of Madhya Pradesh, Central India. This very mature reptile is estimated to be 4-meters long..!
After leaving Pench tiger reserve in the East, a break was in need. It was a quick two-hour taxi ride straight south to the large city of Nagpur in the State of Maharashtra. I stayed overnight at a very nice hotel with foreign and Indian cuisine. After almost two weeks of local food, I was ready for some European fare that evening. The next morning, breakfast was superb.
A leopard resting in deep cover. It was difficult to get a clean shot…!
Then it was a six-hour taxi drive to Satpura National Park and Tiger Reserve in the south-central area of Madhya Pradesh State. I arrived in the late afternoon and settled in at the Denwa Backwater Escape lodge five minutes from the boat pier on the reservoir. The tiger reserve was on the opposite side of the Denwa River that was dammed some 60 kilometers down stream.
A bull gaur close to the road in the reserve. These ungulates are prey species for the tiger…!
The next morning, my naturalist Chin was at the meeting point at 5.30am sharp and 30 minutes later after formalities, we were in a boat for the three-minute trip across the lake. Landing on the opposite shore, we jumped into a Suzuki/Maruti jeep for the first morning’s safari. As we moved into the hinterland, sambar and spotted deer were seen plus glimpses of a sloth bear. Later that morning, we bumped into a large gathering of jeeps meaning a big cat was about. It took some jockeying to see a leopard sleeping in the bush. Although the sighting was neat, good photos were tough to get but I did manage to get a few acceptable ones.
Two young gaur head-butting in an ‘eye-to-eye’ confrontation…!
For the next three days, we crossed the reservoir going on jeep safari in the morning and afternoon. On the last morning, I opted for a boat safari into the lake to look for crocodiles and large wading birds and ducks. A grey heron was my first target just as the sun was peeping from behind the morning fog. Later, some woolly-neck storks plus bar-headed geese and Indian river terns were the next targets. But my main objective was to get a crocodile out of the water on its basking spot. We saw two mugger crocs but they slithered into the water before we could get close. The water-safari closed at 10am and I was running out of time.
Mugger crocodile enjoying the mid-morning sun adjusting its temperature…!
Ten minutes before the dock, we saw a huge croc basking with its mouth wide-open. We immediately turned left and headed straight for it. I started cranking my Nikon D300s with a 200-400 VRII lens on a tripod and we actually caught the reptile in a trance as it was soaking in the warmth of the morning sun. We got fairly close. Then it sensed us and got up walking a few steps while I kept on shooting, and then slipped below. Now that’s some serious luck just a mere 10 minutes from the boat dock and the end of my safari. I had just captured one of the oldest living creatures on the planet going back to the Triassic Era when crocodiles had just began to evolve some 200 million years ago and out-living the dinosaurs. It was a fitting end to my 20-day safari to the forests of Madhya Pradesh in Central India.
Asian wild dog or ‘dhole’. These creatures in a pack are the most feared of all the predators in the Indian forest…!
Conclusion: As we move into the 21st Century, many things continue to hack away at nature. Excessive tourism has had a detrimental effect in some of the parks and its wildlife. In particular, the madness that goes on when a tiger is sighted. After traveling through some seven tiger reserves so far, the phenomena of seeing other people with a ‘long-face’ has become an ever-increasingly common occurrence when no tiger had been sighted. However, this is a problem when one is sighted: most people go berserk trying to get a photo of the big cat mostly with their smart phones. This has been dramatic as talking and screaming goes on and the drivers push each other (sometimes crashing into one another) to get a shot of the striped cat. Some may disagree, but I say the tigers are now becoming smarter and avoid the big jeep-crowds that invariably build up quickly. The big cats just melt into the forest and sometimes disappear for the day. They surely walk the roads at night as their tracks can be found everywhere when on morning safari.
Excessive anything is sure to have cause and effect. Tiger tourism has become a big money business and as more hotels and lodges spring-up around the tiger reserves like mushrooms, invariably more people will be pushed into the parks to see the almighty tiger. Limitation is the only answer that works but mandates to minimize the effect on too much tourism are overlooked by most who make money at it.
And the recent scandal incriminating ‘Ustad T-24, a wonderful tiger from Ranthambore National Park and Tiger reserve by the local forest authorities has done some serious damage to the reputation of India’s wildlife conservation programs. This resident male tiger was unjustly accused of killing a forest guard and then illegally moved to a zoo where he is near death after medical teams removed mud from his stomach probably picked up from throwing meat on the dirt for him to eat. He was also paraded around as a man-eating tiger, and zoo visitation jumped more than 100%. Not a nice situation for any wild animal
At the end of the day, I did get some really great photographs of tiger, leopard, crocodile and other Indian creatures on this trip but my outlook has changed ever so slightly concerning the senseless hordes of jeeps chasing after tigers and leopards in these parks. Can they sustain an ever-increasing tourist presence, as is the case of ‘tiger tourism’ today? Only time will tell but if you want to see the big striped cat, India is still the best place to see this magnificent predator as one of Mother Nature’s greatest creatures.
I have one more trip to India planned for March-April, 2016. I will be going to a wildlife sanctuary near Corbett tiger reserve to do some camera trapping. Then it will be across country by train (in fact most of the travel this time will be by train) to the Blackbuck National Park after some beautiful antelopes, and then back across to Panna tiger reserve that lost all their tigers awhile back and was restocked from Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. Then it’s on to Pench once more. Finally, it’s up to collect my camera traps and back to Delhi for the flight back to Thailand. That’s the plan and I look forward to catch a few more species for my up-coming book on wildlife from Africa and Asia. I hope everyone has enjoyed reading about my trip to India as much as I have enjoyed seeing and photographing nature up-close.
Pench National Park and Tiger Reserve
‘Collarwali’ and jackal…the little dog was faster and got away…she is old and has sired 22 cubs…but she still has class…!
In November, the weather is nice and crisp in the morning, as the winter season has just begun in Central India. When entering the forests in an open jeep, it becomes quite chilly first thing and a few layers of warm clothing are imperative. Then as the safari progresses and the sun climbs into the sky, it becomes warmer and those layers are pealed off. It’s a great time to be in the forests of Madhya Pradesh.
‘Collarwali’ on the run after the jackal…!
My time was up in Kanha, and I moved further southwest to the next great tiger reserve named Pench National Park and Tiger Reserve encompassing some 758 sq. kilometers. The taxi ride takes about three hours but is still stressful as is any two-lane highway in India. But again, I arrived in safety at the ‘Tuli Tiger Corridor’ lodge about 15 minutes from the main gate into the reserve.
‘Collarwali’ checking scent marking…!
That night before dinner, my naturalist Omveer Choudary gave me a run-down on what was going on in Pench. There was a female tiger with four cubs hanging around near the road and that our chances of seeing her was good. Also, the most famous female tiger in Pench named ‘Collarwali’ (a mother of 22 cubs) was also around. She was named because she has worn a collar for many years and the thing doesn’t even work now, but the authorities are worried about darting her with cubs and so have left it on. He said our chances were very good and this was coming from a guy who is a top-notch naturalist and driver for 12 years of experience here in Pench (he’s the boss). I was convinced.
The last time I saw ‘Collarwali’…she’s a magnificent big cat…!
The next morning after a quick cup of coffee and some crackers and cookies (standard breakfast fare while on safari in India), we jumped into the jeep at around 5am but it was not as cold as the other two tiger reserves I had just been to. We were the first in line at the gate, which was a good sign. I walked over to a ‘banyan’ tree close-by and wished for good luck. We entered but as the morning wore on, it looked like it would come-up dry.
My first tiger in Pench: She was the female with 4-cubs and it was a tight scene…!
Then, as we were more or less heading back for lunch, we bumped into a large group of jeeps parked on the road, and ‘Ome’ said, “it’s a tiger”. And there she was; the female with 4-cubs about 50 meters away from the road lying down in foliage and just her head showing. I just got glimpses of the cubs. I put a 1.7X tele-converter on my 200-400mm VRII lens to get a closer look and ripped off a bunch of shots.
Three-fanged tigress in the afternoon. She was the same tiger as in morning…!
That afternoon, we bumped into her again at another location close-by but she was still resting with her right side showing this time. Her left lower-fangs is broken. She eventually woke-up and my D3s did not stop shooting when she showed.
A sub-adult male tiger the 2nd morning…lady luck was talking…!
The next morning, we saw a sub-adult male lying down more than 50 meters away. Pench was becoming a favorite after two tigers in two days. Day three was good for other species like sambar, wild dog and jackal. And on day four at 6am in the morning we took a left turn at a junction several kilometers from the gate and all the other jeeps went straight. Around the corner and there she was: Collarwali standing in the road looking at us. Then she started walking towards us. She had her eyes on a jackal and actually chased after one but it was too quick for her. ‘Ome’ backed-up and she did not stop passing us out near the main road junction.
We followed her but the crowds began to show-up so we bugged-out. I had already got a bunch of nice shots of the most famous tigress there. I have no idea, but I really liked Pench and vowed to return again in 2016; and that is the plan for now. Jeep numbers are controlled and it is not too bad in the park like some of the other tiger reserves where it becomes a madhouse around a tiger.
Many thanks to all the staff at Tuli Tiger Corridor lodge and I would especially like to thank Omveer Choudary, my naturalist for a great time and passing on his wonderful knowledge, and to the Pench Forest Department.
Next and last stop on my journey: Satpura National Park and Tiger Reserve – where a monster croc lives…!
Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve
A young female leopard in early morning in Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve.
The next stop on my 20-day tiger safari through November 2015 to India was Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve situated several hundred kilometers southwest of Bandhavgarh. I left the King’s Lodge in a nice air-conditioned taxi around noon and arrived at the Kanha Earth Lodge outside the park in the late afternoon. This was to be my home for the next four-nights and it was very pleasant with the bungalows built mainly from natural materials.
Kanha is quite famous for its tigers and other creatures like leopard and sloth bear. Prey species such as gaur and spotted deer (chital) also thrive in great numbers and play an important role as a food source for the big cats. The lush Sal and bamboo forests, grassy meadows and ravines of Kanha provided inspiration to Rudyard Kipling’s famous novel ‘Jungle Book’ and it lives up to its name as one of India’s best tiger reserves. However, it is a bit over-visited at the moment with hundreds of tourists visiting almost daily which has had an effect on the balance of nature.
A mature female tiger named ‘Bandri Chapar’ seen above a waterhole in Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve.
That night before dinner, I met my naturalist ‘Mr Happy’ as he likes to be called. I mentioned the fact that being happy was the secret to my success as a wildlife photographer and that I wanted to visit the nearest banyan tree on the way into the park. He said he knew where one was just inside the gate and that we could stop the next morning.
That night after a few whiskey sun downers, I slept like a log after the hectic trip along narrow roads and near misses that day. It was early to bed and early to rise at 4am. After a quick coffee, we headed to the front gate and when we got there, were greeted by hundreds of people and scores of jeeps and cantors (buses) wanting to get in. It was a madhouse but I tried to just ignore it and hoped that once we got in, things would thin out which they did. We picked up a forest guide that is required by the forest department and he jumped in the back seat.
Here she is marking her territory spraying urine on a tree next to the waterhole.
About 100-meters from the gate, Mr. Happy stopped at the banyan tree but park regulations do not allow one to get out of the jeep. I just made a silent prayer for good luck and then we motored in. A short time later (about 15 minutes), it was still a bit dark as we traveled deeper and then the guide called out that a leopard had just jumped across the road. Mr. Happy reversed slightly and there stood a young female looking at us from about 10 meters away. I quickly snapped off a few shots and was able to get one good image of the young cat. Her pupils were dilated, as morning light was just filtering in.
Now this was some seriously good luck for Kanha where leopards are extremely difficult to see and photograph. My spirits jumped a thousand percent. Later that morning, we saw a sloth bear but it was out of range and it slipped into the thick forest. Then it went quiet for the next couple of days with hardly any tiger sightings around the whole park. Then on day-three as we were motoring along some man-made ponds, my guide spotted a female tiger named ‘Bandri Chapar’ walking parallel to the road and calling out for a mate with that unmistakable call of a female in heat. “raaaawr, raaaawr, raaaawr”…! We were the only jeep around and we just reversed following her, and I did not stop shooting my camera.
After crossing the road in front of us, ‘Bandri Chapar’ looked at me one more time.
After several hundred meters, she came up close to our jeep and crossed the road in front of us. She then stopped on my left side looking straight at me, and then slipped into the bush as other jeeps began to show up. Again, the spirits from the banyan tree had granted my wish with some seriously good luck as many people had not seen a tiger and it was becoming sad to see so many long faces as hardly anyone had seen the striped predator. I of course was beaming that I had photographed her. It doesn’t get any better than that..!
I also saw barasingha deer (hard ground swamp deer) and got some good shots. The species almost went extinct here but the forest department started a breeding program saving the species just in time. There are over 600 now living in the park. The magnificent bovine species guar, also thrive here and I got some good shots of two large bulls just a mere twenty meters away.
Barasingha stags and doe plus spotted deer at the back in the grasslands.
It was a great five days and I would like to thank all my friends at the Kanha Earth Lodge, Pugdundee Safaris and the Forest Department in Kanha.
Next stop: Pench National Park and Tiger Reserve
A Safari to Four National Parks and Tiger Reserves
‘Ghost of the Darkness’…a leopard crossing the main road in Bandhavgarh on Dewali Day, Nov. 11th, 2015.
The short flight of only three and half hours from Bangkok to New Delhi is just about right for me in this day and age of long distance traveling. I had organized another safari to India from November 8-28th in order to fill my galleries of wildlife photos from there. This was my forth trip to the sub-continent and was on my way to the State of Madhya Pradesh in the central region. Four different protected areas or tiger reserves as they are called there were chosen for this jaunt.
The first afternoon was spent in Delhi to stock up on some snacks like raisins, nuts and dark chocolate, and to work on getting my kit together for the up-coming trips into the forest. I took my Nikon D3s and a Nikon 200-400 VRII prime lens plus a D300s with a 70-200 VRII as my second along with several other short lenses and equipment which included a Nikon D3000 camera trap and external flashes and sensor. It was early to bed for the next morning’s 2-hour flight to Jabalpur further south. Then it was a 3-hour taxi ride east to my first location on a 20-day trip. The King’s Lodge in Bandhavgarh would be my home for the next four days.
Sub-adult male from a tiger named Shukhi Patiya coming out of hiding.
Bandhavgarh National Park and Tiger Reserve is quite famous have been covered by National Geographic years ago when Michael “Nick” Nichols photographed tigers in the park. He also used camera traps and got some amazing images of the big cats over a year that were published in the magazine. BBC has also done several documentaries on tigers here. It is well visited by foreign and local tourists wanting to see these amazing carnivores up-close. However, they are not that easy to spot anymore in the dense forest found here and lot’s of luck is needed too.
There are three zones (1-2-3) that are allocated when the on-line bookings are made. My first three days in Zone One with morning and afternoon safaris turned up empty handed. The festival of Dewali (Festival of Light) was going on and the park was closed on the 11th Nov so I opted for a safari in the ‘buffer zone’ but again flipped out. On our way back to the lodge however, a leopard jumped in front of the jeep and I managed one abstract shot of the fast cat crossing the road. Luck was about to change for the better.
A tigress named ‘Dottie’ on the road in the afternoon and she was my second tiger that day.
The next morning, I was slated to go into Zone Two. This was my last day and I began to have my doubts that I would get a tiger, as sightings were very low. That morning while touring in the jeep, we met an Indian family and I stated that things had not been too good. The lady in the other jeep said my luck was about to change as I was under a Banyan Tree (Strangler Fig). We carried on for about 100 meters or so and turned a corner and, came face to face with another set of jeeps waiting on something about 50 meters away. It was a sub-adult male tiger hiding in the bush along side the road. He then stepped out of the forest and slowly crossed the road. My camera did not stop until he re-entered on the opposite side. Now, that is some serious luck in such a short time.
I could not believe what I had just seen and then remembered the ‘banyan tree’ and what the lady had said: buy a coconut, joss sticks and pray at a little shrine by the side of the road named ‘Ti Mama’. After lunch, we went into the market and got both items but as the gate was about to open, rushed back to Zone Two. About a half-hour in, we bumped into a mature female tiger named ‘Dottie’ standing in the road.
A chitlal or spotted deer buck: They are the main prey species for tiger in the park.
We were the only ones there and I did not stop shooting until she stepped into the forest on the other side. We went around the corner and we could just make her out as she laid down for a rest. Then the jeep hordes showed up and it turned into madness, as everyone wanted to see the tiger. The female finally got up and left, and that was that. Two tigers in one day! I would say my luck had changed and I felt really great at connecting with Mother Nature. We stopped by the little shrine on the way back to the lodge, and I thanked the spirits for some really great luck.
I would like to thank all my friends at the King’s Lodge, Pugdundee Safaris and the Forest Department in Bandhavgarh.
To be continued: Next is Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve..!