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.