Posts Tagged ‘even-toed ungulate’

Land of the Flying Antelope…!

Monday, May 2, 2016 posted by Bruce 12:02 PM

Beautiful herbivores with spiraled horns endemic to the Indian subcontinent…!

Blackbuck National Park – Velavadar

Blackbuck male 1 flying Blackbuck National Park - Veladavere

A young male blackbuck in mid-air over the grasslands at the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar, Gujarat State, western India…!

A dream ever since I saw my first pictures of an Indian blackbuck antelope was to photograph these magnificent creatures one day. It has taken me 20 years since I saw them in a book titled ‘Wild India’ by English photographer Gerald Cubitt published in 1985. This was actually my first book on wildlife photography where I got an inspiration to become a wildlife photographer.

Blackbuck male 1 Blackbuck National Park - Veladavere

A mature male blackbuck seeking a female in heat early the first morning of my safari…!

I have seen many photographs of blackbuck since then in many other books on India, and on Facebook. I decided that a trip to the blackbuck sanctuary in Gujarat, western India this time around would be part of my month-long safari through March and April, 2016.

Blackbuck female 1 Blackbuck National Park - Veladavere

A female blackbuck in mid-air on the second morning while on safari in Velavadar…!

I left Delhi by plane and arrived in the city Ahmedabad for an overnight stay at a nice hotel in the city. The next morning after breakfast, my taxi from the night before picked me up and we headed out.

Blackbuck females flying Blackbuck National Park - Veladavere, India

Female blackbuck antelopes in the air after crossing the road in front of our jeep…!

The drive took about 4 hours to the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar, and I saw the herbivores crossing the road as we entered the national park. I knew then that I was in the right place.

Blackbucks on the run in Blackbuck National Park - Veladavor

Blackbuck males and females in the grasslands…this herd was several hundred strong…!

The hotel named ‘The Blackbuck Lodge’ is a great place to stay and I must congratulate Mr. Mickey Desai for his 6-star hotel in the middle of nowhere. He has made many trips to Africa and other places around the world, and brought those ideas incorporating them into his place. It was truly a comfortable stay and I rested up for the next morning’s safari into the park at 6am.

Blackbuck male 1 Blackbuck National Park, Veladavere, India

A male photographed by the ‘Blackbuck Lodge’ in the late afternoon on my last day…!

As we entered the gate the following morning, we immediately bumped into a large herd of blackbuck and I started shooting. I was looking for a particular shot but it didn’t happen the first day. I wanted these nimble herbivores in mid-air having seen many photographs on Facebook. My guide Mr. Siddharth Jhadav had been there for sometime and he told me the conditions had to be right. We also bumped into several animals like nilgai, striped hyena and Indian fox.

Nilgai Blue Bull antelope in Velavador, Gujarat, India

A Nilgai also known as ‘blue bull’ in the Blackbuck National Park…!

The next day, as we were motoring along, a large herd of a several hundred or more blackbuck on our left began to move across the road. Then the females began to jump and the rest of the herd followed. The older darker males however were lazy and only ran across. It was fun trying to catch them in mid-air and my dream to photograph this beautiful and amazing antelope has come true…!

 

 

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When it rains tapir, it pours tapir…!

Sunday, February 8, 2015 posted by Bruce 8:58 PM

A rare late afternoon capture of an Asian tapir Tapris indicus

Tapir in Western Forest Complex

A female tapir at a mineral hot spring in the Western Forest Complex of Thailand…!

Recently (Nov. 2014), I caught a female tapir that looked pregnant on my Canon 400D trail cam down in Southern Thailand at Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary located in Surat Thani province far off the beaten track.

Tapir in Western Forest Complex

First shot coming down the hill …!

The site is 60 kilometers by boat into the protected area. I got some really nice shots of the odd-toed ungulate as it moved along a wildlife trail on a ridgeline down to the reservoir. Also got a beautiful clouded leopard even though it was a bit out of frame. I counted my lucky stars…!

Tapir in Western Forest Complex

I have named this old girl ‘White Spot’ seen on her right shoulder…!

Then, I went back to Bangkok for some rest and after a few days, decided to go into my favorite protected area in the ‘Western Forest Complex’ to check and set-up a couple trail cams, and to sit in a photo blind where I got a black leopard 16 years ago, and then again in 2013.

Tapir in Western Forest Complex

What a pose with her rear leg extended just like a pedigree dog…!

I recently missed a black cat here when my Nikon 400 ƒ2.8 lens went on the blink in November last year. In 2010, I camera trapped a tapir in the morning just down from the blind. It has been a marvelous place and I have caught many species of Asian wildlife through the lens and by camera trap that come to the hot spring.

Tapir in Western Forest Complex

She must have heard me rustling in the leaves…!

As I was setting up my Canon 400D trail cam below the photo-blind, I got a bit frustrated as the camera would not trip after setup and so I left it. I was only 15 meters away from the blind. Somehow, I had nudged the control button to ‘Auto’ as I was to find out the next day.

Tapir in Western Forest Complex

And she high-tailed back up the hill but stopped short and came back down…!

I got five-steps, and there stood a female tapir out in the open coming down the hill to the hot spring. As I always carry a Nikon D7000 and a 70-300mm VR lens, I immediately started shooting.

Tapir in Western Forest Complex

Making her way back down to the mineral hot spring…!

I was also out in the open but as she looked the other way, I moved a little bit closer to get to my big lens (Nikon D3s and 200-400mm VR II) sitting on a tripod ready for action.

Tapir in Western Forest Complex

Still has not seen me…!

Tapir have very poor eyesight but hearing and smell are good. She must have heard me as she bolted back up the hill. She stopped short and then came back down. I was still shooting with the D7000. I finally got into the blind and started shooting the big camera. It was very exciting to see this odd-toed ungulate as they are nocturnal for the most part and hardly ever seen in the day.

Tapir in Western Forest Complex

A female for sure and a large wound on her rump: maybe a tiger or leopard, or wild dogs…!

I know of someone who has spent many years trying to photograph this species with no luck. He once spent 10 days at this hide unsuccessfully and then at another location for eight days. He left the sanctuary in despair and has been chasing them ever since..!

The moral of this story: Have a camera over your shoulder at all times if you are in the forest working or traveling through. You never know when something might pop out…I learned this from a National Geographic staff photographer (William ‘Bill’ Albert Allard) when he was here in Thailand as we chased down domestic elephants for a story in N.G. magazine…!

He said: “if you don’t have a camera, you aren’t going to get a shot”. It was a neat job and the pay was great. But it was the knowledge and ‘tricks-of-the-trade’ I picked up from him that has really paid off over the years. I think he took a shower with a camera around his neck..! Needless to say, I always have one ready just in case. I might have missed this tapir if I had left it up in the blind…! Enjoy

 

 

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Canon 400D catches an old Asian tapir and clouded leopard

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 posted by Bruce 1:20 PM

Southern Thailand’s natural heritage – an odd-toed ungulate and a carnivore

Tapir in Khlong Saeng 5

A mature Asian tapir caught by a Canon 400D trail cam…!

Just returned from Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary in the south of Thailand and pulled my Canon 400D camera trap. These shots are of an old Asian Tapir and the best ones in this set as shown here. Being odd-toed ungulates and strictly vegetarian, these large herbivorous mammals thrive quite well in this unique ecosystem made up of moist evergreen forest. These unique creatures have been on the planet for about 40 million years. They are the largest of the world’s four species with the other three in South America…!

Tapir in Khlong Saeng 3

 

Tapir in Khlong Saeng 2

Tapir in Khlong Saeng 4

This tapir almost looks pregnant…!

Clouded leopard in Khlong Saeng

A clouded leopard in daylight…!

This cam also caught a clouded leopard but the cat came in a bit low. These cats are not normally out in broad daylight but I guess they do sometimes prowl during the day. That was the trade off for the full-frame tapir shot. This sanctuary is simply amazing and I look forward to future visits…! Enjoy…!

 

 

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‘Battered’ Banteng Bull

Monday, August 11, 2014 posted by Bruce 12:45 PM

A short video and camera trap photos of a banteng bull in the ‘Western Forest Complex’ of Thailand. My Nikon D700 and a Bushnell Trophy Cam captured this seriously injured creature. This is ‘raw’ nature and could be disturbing to some…but this is the natural world and how it really is……!

Battered banteng bull

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Sony A500 trail cam catches gaur bull

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 posted by Bruce 6:07 PM

A young bull at a mineral deposit in the Western Forest Complex of Thailand

This is my first capture with the Sony A500 DSLR trail cam at this new location. Loads of wild cattle including gaur and banteng plus other large mammals like tiger and elephant come to this deposit for minerals. Unfortunately, the flashes did not go off and I have pulled the unit to change out the sensor (SSII) which has been tripping as if refresh is actuating the cam. I was lucky to get this shot as the rest of the frames are empty. I believe the chip is the old #5 hence the camera is tripping till the card is full and the flashes went dry…The 28mm lens however, seems OK for the large herbivores and carnivores at this setup.

Gaur bull in Huai Kha Khaeng

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Banteng: Endangered Herbivores

Thursday, November 26, 2009 posted by Bruce 8:00 AM

WILD SPECIES REPORT

Banteng: Endangered herbivores
Magnificent wild cattle of Southeast Asia
Bovids threatened with extinction

It was a hot steamy morning deep in the wilderness of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a World Heritage Site located in the central province of Uthai Thani. Not much was stirring other than a few birds and insects as the sun rose high in the sky. A hot breeze whiffed through, and heat shimmered from the center of a natural mineral deposit several hours walk from the nearest road. As the day got hotter, thirst kicked in among the many species of herbivore that live in the forest nearby.

Banteng bull in Huai Kha Khaeng

Muntjac (barking deer), sambar, banteng and gaur use this important source of minerals. Many smaller mammals, birds, and reptiles also come to the lick as part of their everyday life. Tiger, leopard, and wild dog frequent the area in search of prey. Occasionally, wild elephant stop for a drink. A male barking deer stepped cautiously down to the water hole. Moving slowly and constantly watching out for predators, the young buck took a long-awaited sip of the life giving minerals. Shortly after, it disappeared back into the forest it had come from. Silence again took precedence as the morning wore on.

Banteng bull and cow in Huai Kha Khaeng

About an hour later at the top-end of the clearing, a herd of twelve banteng magically appeared and went straight down to the waterhole, as their kind have done for aeons. The herd included one old bull, a couple of young bulls and cows, plus three calves, and, like the deer, were extremely alert for carnivores. All of a sudden, a cow snorted an alarm, and the herd bolted for the safety of the bush. Curious by nature, the herd bull stopped short near the forest edge for one last look. The herd surrounded the bull and the young calves trailed behind before disappearing into the trees. For a moment, they were vulnerable to attack by predator. Banteng are very sensitive to any disturbance and flee immediately on the first hint of danger.

Banteng on the run in Huai Kha Khaeng

Another hour went by and suddenly, a solitary banteng bull appeared from the forest and moved down to the waterhole but stayed only momentarily. These loners usually pursue the herd during the mating season and have an irresistible urge to mate with the females. However, the herd bull will keep the young bulls in check.

The spirits of the forest had just provided a vision; some beautiful moments in the lives of banteng, Southeast Asia’s wild cattle. My friend Robert Semon and I were sitting in a photographic blind set up just inside the forest edge, but with an open view to the water hole. Banteng had been the main photographic objective on this trip, and it was magnificent seeing and photographing these wild bovids. My camera was very busy during that short period. As it was the first time I had photographed them, the encounter will be forever etched in memory.

Mature banteng bull in Huai Kha Khaeng

Coming back to Huai Kha Khaeng a couple of years later, my team erected a photo-blind while I went looking for tracks. A large granite rock sits in the middle of this oasis in the forest, so I paid my respects to the spirits of the forest thanking them for my previous good fortune here. It was about an hour’s walk back to the truck, and another hour to camp, but I was feeling lucky. After dinner, and a few drinks with the team, I retired to my hammock for an early wake-up.

The next morning I was in the blind at 6am and, after a three-hour wait, a lone banteng bull lumbered down to the waterhole for a drink. My wish had come true. After getting very close to the blind, he sensed danger and bolted. I shot several rolls of film. Alone, the bull was open to attack by tiger or wild dogs. It was very exciting photographing this beautiful creature.

A couple of years later, on one of my many forays into Huai Kha Khaeng, I decided to stay overnight in a permanent photographic blind set-up along the banks of Huai Mae Dee, a tributary of the Huai Kha Khaeng. That night as I lay in my hammock, I wished once again to see banteng. The next morning, the mist was thick as soup, coating the forest with dew. My focus was on a mineral lick across the river. Many rare species of large mammal visit this natural deposit for a drink, and a nibble on the lush grass growing on the rocky slope. A female muntjac nervously appeared, took a drink but quickly departed.

Banteng cow on the Huai Mae Dee

At about 8am, as the sun was just peaking over the treetops, a large herd of banteng stepped out into the mineral lick. There were five bulls and numerous cows and calves in this herd totaling 18 banteng, and it was an exciting ten-minute session. It was during the mating season, the reason so many bulls had come together. I was shooting a digital camera by now and did not stop photographing them until the last one had gone. As always, I gave thanks to the spirits of the forest for my good fortune.

The accompanying photographs show the beauty and gracefulness of these magnificent ungulates. Over the years, I have seen these wild cattle many times, not only in Huai Kha Khaeng (present herd estimated at over 250 individuals), but also over in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary, eastern Thailand (about 80 banteng). These two santuaries are the last bations of a sizable banteng herd left in the Kingdom.

Banteng cows at a waterhole

Huai Kha Khaeng still retains the best prey/predator relationship with many tigers and a sizable herd of banteng plus many other ungulates like gaur, sambar and wild pig. Khao Ang Rue Nai has very few carnivores but Asian wild dogs do take banteng from time to time. Humans unfortunately, are the most devestating predator and are directly responsible for the disappearence of these wonderful creatures. Trophy hunting and bush meat are the two main reasons for this demise.

The other remaining sites that have recorded banteng but are probably now close to extirpation of the species with very few remaining are: Om Koi Wildlife Sanctuary in the North; Nam Nao and Tap Praya national parks in the Northeast; Salak Phra Wildlife Sanctuary and, Sai Yok, Sri Nakharin and Kaeng Krachan national parks in the west; Khlong Saeng and Khlong Yan wildlife sanctuaries in the south; and Sri Satchanarai National Park in the foot-hills of Central Thailand. Their present numbers are estimated to be no more than a very low 300-500 nationwide.

Fossils of an antelope-like ox named Leptobos was discovered in Early Pleistocene deposits 1.8 million years old in Eurasia. Another ancient cattle found in Europe called Bos primigenius or better known as aurochs were domesticated some 6,000 years ago but died out about 500 years ago. Banteng are common ansestors to Bos bibos, a cattle that inhibitated the vast plains of Asia during prehistoric times. Fossil finds of banteng from the Pleistocene epoch in Bali and Java are common.

Banteng herd on a sandbar in Huai Kha Khaeng

Wild banteng Bos javanicus have a scattered distribution throughout Southeast Asia, and three subspecies are recognized. The Java banteng Bos javanicus javanicus of Java and Bali, the Borneo banteng Bos javanicus lowi, and the Burma banteng Bos javanicus birmanicus, also of Thailand and Indochina. Only a few thousand wild banteng are reported to survive throughout their entire range, since human encroachment and poaching in all the above countries have exacted a heavy toll on them. Their future hangs in the balance. Thailand is no exception and the banteng population has declined drastically since World War II.

Banteng bull at a mineral lick in Huai Kha Khaeng

The Kingdom’s protected areas include national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, and are all controlled and managed by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP). It is extremely difficult defending these forests from human intervention, and the DNP has a heavy burden to bear. Let us hope that they will succeed in this very important but really tough task!

One alternative to disappearing banteng is a reintroduction program to save the species. There are a few breeding centers around the country with banteng. Unfortunately, most of the stock is Indonesian banteng. Years ago, Kukrit Pramote, Thailand’s Prime Minister using government to government relations, imported Indonesian banteng that were released at Lum Phow Non-hunting Area in Kalasin province. There are about 60 surviving on a 900 rai plot. Only one breeding center at Khao Nam Phu, Kanchanaburi province is reported to have Thai banteng. Several young banteng were taken from Salak Phra Wildlife Sanctuary next door and produced off-spring. Presently, there are about 10 individuals at Khao Nam Phu.

Banteng bull at a breeding station in Salak Phra Wildlife Sanctuary

Another pilot program started in 1991 was initiated at Khao Kheow Open Zoo and 13 banteng (unknown origin) were released to adjacent Khao Kheow-Khao Chumpu Wildlife Sanctuary (144 sq.kilometers) in Chonburi province. There are now an estimated 49 banteng surviving in this herd with a few mature bulls living in a very splintered habitat. Poachers however, are a serious threat here using pipe guns and rope snares left in the forest, and inflict casualties on these reintroduced denzins. DNP needs to make sure they are protected to the fullest.

Rare white-spotted banteng cow – endemic to Huai Kha Khaeng

Banteng have been called the most beautiful of all the wild relatives of cattle. The colouring of young bulls and cows is generally a vibrant reddish brown, though some are fawn. The old bulls in Thailand are mostly blackish-brown, but Indonesian banteng bulls are very dark brown to black in some. Regardless of sex, all Thai banteng have a white band around the muzzle, small white patches over the eyes, white stockings on all four legs, and a large white patch on the rump. Another distinct feature is a black stripe along the spine. The dorsal ridge is pronounced in the large adult bulls. Some Thai banteng have white spots along the flank, but this is not found among the other subspecies.

The skull and horns of banteng are less massive then their cousins the gaur Bos gaurus, but are nevertheless formidable weapons. They use their horns for protection, but the males also use them to decide who will get the females during the breeding season in May and June. Gestation is nine and a half to ten months, and one or two calves may be born. The calves are suckled until they are fourteen to sixteen months old.

Banteng bull and cows at a waterhole in Huai Kha Khaeng – note very dark colored bull

Banteng look very much like some domestic cattle and are probably ancestral to them. In Indonesia and Borneo, banteng have been successfully domesticated and are widely used there. For some reason, this practice has not caught on in mainland Southeast Asia. However, many villagers living close to banteng habitats have had wild bulls mingling with their domesticated cattle, and hybrids have been born. Hybrids have also been reported from some forests in the west where banteng and gaur overlap.

The habitat where banteng are normally found is open deciduous forests and hence banteng are more seriously endangered than gaur. They are grazers and prefer open grasslands. However, they have become more nocturnal due to hunting pressure and are rarely seen during the day, preferring to come out in the open at night. Herds of two up to twenty-five or more have been recorded and usually there is only one mature bull.

Banteng bull and cows at a waterhole in Khao Ang Rue Nai

Solitary bulls, or loners, are quite common, as the herd bull has kicked them out. They will typically shadow the herd, especially during the breeding season when they are hoping for the chance to mate with the cows that come into heat. The herd bull will remain supreme only for as long as he remains fit and has not broken a horn.

The future chances of these magestic creatures is slim. Pressure from humans and increased population growth over the long run can only have an adverse effect on the flora and fauna of the nation. The question is, how long will these magnificent bovid survive and in what places? Can we say that in 50 years banteng will continue to live in their protected areas, safe from human poachers and encroachment. Nature’s clock is ticking relentlessly, and only time will tell.

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