Posts Tagged ‘tiger’

A photographic tour in three national parks with some pretty amazing animals

Tiger on the run in Corbett1

A tigress on the run in the grassland at Dhikala, Corbett National Park in the northern State of Uttarakhand.

In 2014, I made a decision to visit India once again in search of the most iconic species still thriving in three protected areas in the northeast, central and northern parts of the country. Kaziranga, Tadoba and Corbett national parks and tiger reserves respectively, were chosen for their wildlife biodiversity with the tiger at the top of the list. I visited the three from February 22 through March 16, 2015.

Elephant bull in Kaziranga NP

A mature bull elephant with some impressive ivory in Kaziranga National Park.

I wanted to photograph the big six: elephant, rhino, gaur, wild water buffalo, leopard and the tiger. I was extremely lucky encountering all of these amazing animals during this trip. This has definitely left a huge impression on me and is etched in memory. India’s wildlife and protected areas are some of the best places in the world to see Mother Nature’s wonderful creatures.

Rhino in Kaziranga NP1

Male One Horned Indian rhino 10 minutes from the front gate on my first day in Kaziranga National Park.

A century ago, India was teeming with wildlife. There were some 40,000 tigers found here but that number quickly dropped primarily due to habitat loss after World War II when the population really began to surge and forest areas were overcome, and turned into agriculture fields and estates. Hunting on a grand scale was also responsible for the disappearance of the tiger.

Wild water buffalo Kaziranga NP

Wild water buffalo cow in Kaziranga National Park.

In 2011, there were only about 1,706 tigers left but in 2014 after better methodology and camera trapping, that number increased to 2,226 individuals found throughout the continent. As a result of mass awareness and conservation measures, the tiger population has rebounded showing a remarkable growth of 30% in the past three years. But some scientists believe this number to be inflated and put the amount of tigers around the 2,000 mark.

Bull gaur in Tadoba National Park

A bull gaur with an extremely long tongue in Tadoba National Park.

On 22nd of February 2015, I boarded Air India for the 4-hour flight from Bangkok to New Delhi arriving at noon. After a quick hair-raising taxi ride through the city, I got to the hotel spending one night to rest-up in order to catch the next morning’s flight to Gauhati, the largest city in the State of Assam in northeast India. The hustle and bustle through the domestic airport in Delhi is very tight on security as it should be. But once through the x-ray machines, a bit of a breather and a coffee is welcome. You must get there at least three hours early because of the amount of flights leaving, and the thousands of people trying to catch their respective connections.

Leppard in Tadoba

A female leopard during late morning in Tadoba National Park.

Kaziranga National Park: State  of Assam

Young elephant bull in Kaziranga NP

A young bull elephant in Kaziranga National Park.

I wanted to visit Kaziranga National Park with the objective of finding out why this place is the number one protected area in the world, and my top priority was the Great Indian one-horned rhino, and then on my list was the wild water buffalo, elephant and tiger in that order. I got the big three but the tiger remained elusive.

Wild water buffalo Kaziranga NP6

A water buffalo photographed by my friend Polash Borah.

My newly acquired friends, Polash Borah and Mohammed Nekib Ali, my naturalist and driver respectively were a big help in locating these large mammals. I let Polash use my Nikon D7000 with a brand new Nikon 70-200mm VRII lens, and he got a really nice buffalo shot posted here. I also managed to get some good photographs myself. It was a great trip and I met some very nice people.

Rhino in Kaziranga NP3

A young one-horned rhino up-close. He was a curious fellow wanting to know who we were.

I will be going back to Kaziranga maybe in November of this year when the skies are clear blue and the air is crisp wanting to get some nice scenic shots especially of the wide Brahmaputra River that runs through the park from the Himalayas in the background, and the lush swamps and grasslands after the monsoon rains.

Wild water buffalo Kaziranga NP1

A mature wild water buffalo bull near a waterway in Kaziranga National Park.

Probably the most important fact concerning Kaziranga is that some 80 years ago, there were about 12 rhinos left here. The Government of Assam decided to do something and implemented some serious laws with a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy on all poachers and illegal squatters, plus an increase of several hundred personnel. At last count, there are 700 rangers and 161 ranger stations to look after a small 430 square kilometer core area, and a 400 square kilometer buffer zone. After a census last year, there are over 2,400 rhino, 1,500 wild water buffalo and 1,200 elephant. Over 120 tiger have been recorded here and prey species also number in the thousands. In my opinion, it is probably the best-protected area in the world…!

Tadoba National Park: State of Maharashtra

Tiger female 'Maya' in Tadoba National Park

A tiger named ‘Maya’ in Tadoba National Park; she is the most famous tigress seen almost everyday.

After four days in Assam, I flew back to New Delhi for a two-day rest and then boarded a flight on March 3 in the morning down to Nagpur further south. Then a two-hour taxi ride was needed to Tadoba National Park and tiger reserve in the State of Maharashtra. Arriving at the lodge in mid-afternoon, a needed rest and some lunch was in order. I did not go out on safari that afternoon because the park is closed on this day.

Tiger female 'Maya' in Tadoba National Park

‘Maya’ up-close as she walked the road marking her territory.

The next morning’s safari netted a beautiful female leopard highlighted by some wonderful back-light. My spirits were up a hundred percent after photographing the spotted cat.

Leppard juming in Tadoba

Female leopard jumping in front of our jeep.

Leopard female close to its kill in Tadoba National Park

Female leopard up-close as she checks her surroundings.

The next morning as we were rolling around the dusty roads, we bumped into a big crowd of jeeps but they were at the far-end of a one-way road. We waited and saw a tiger walk out of the forest near the jeeps but melted back in. The group then moved close to us but the tiger stayed in the forest. My driver Lahu from the Tiger Trails Lodge has been driving for the owner of the lodge for some 35 years, and knew exactly where the big cat would come out. And as sure as the sun comes up everyday, she popped out and walked right in front of us.

Tiger female 'Maya' in Tadoba National Park

‘Maya’, the female tiger queen in Tadoba National Park: This was my last sighting of this beautiful cat.

I did not stop shooting as Maya, (probably the most popular tigress in Tadoba at the moment) walked along the road spraying and marking her territory. My new friend Dr Sundran Rajendra was with me, and the both of us were so elated that we just kept on shooting our cameras. Then time was up and we had to leave the beautiful cat to herself. It was Sundran’s first tiger and he managed to get some very nice shots of the big cat. She came so close I could almost touch her.

Choti Tara female tiger in Tadoba

Another tigress, named ‘Choti Tara’ fitted with a radio collar snarls at my friend Dharmendra Sharma.

My other friend and naturalist with the lodge Dharmendra Sharma, was in another jeep so I let him use my Nikon D7000 and the new Nikon 70-200mm VR II, and he got some very nice photos of another female named ‘Choti Tara’ fitted with a radio collar. He also got a few nice shots of Maya.

Gabbar male tiger in Tadoba NP

Male tiger named ‘Gabbar’ fitted with a ‘radio collar’ in pretty bad shape.

On my last afternoon safari in Tadoba, I bumped into ‘Gabbar’, a male tiger also fitted with a collar. He got swatted by another male and was in pretty bad shape. But the wheels are in motion to fix him up. I just hope that the squeaky Indian bureaucracy does not wait too long to help this tiger, as he could turn into a cattle killer or even worse, a man-eater. Needless to say, news on Facebook is that he did kill a village buffalo but is OK for the moment, and is being monitored. After four days, I was back on the plane to New Delhi for a two-day rest before heading north to India’s first national park.

Corbett National Park: State of Uttarakhand

Tiger on the run in Corbett2

A young tigress stalking a herd of spotted deer in the grassland of Corbett National Park.

It takes about four to five hours north of Delhi by taxi through some very congested and dangerous traffic in the State of Uttar Pradesh to get to Ramnagar, a city in the State of Uttarakhand where Corbett National Park, India’s first national Park. It is situated in the foothills of the great Himalayas. I spent the first night at the Forest Department’s lodge at Bijrani, and went on safari that afternoon and then again the next morning.

Asian jackal near the lodge at Bijrani, Corbett National Park

A golden jackal on the run near the Forest Department’s lodge at Bijrani.

I did not see a tiger but the big cats were around as other jeeps that I bumped into got some nice close-up photos taken with an iPhone. An occupant in one of the vehicles gave me a telephone slide show. I did see a pair of golden jackals early in the morning and then later a small family unit of elephants. One old cow did a mock charge and came within 15 meters but stopped short and turned around going back to her calf. The elephants then faded off into the forest.

Elephant mother, calf and baby in Corbett National Park

Elephants near the Forest Department lodge at Bijrani.

Around 12-noon, we left this section and went over to the Forest Lodge at Dhikala that is the best site in Corbett to see tigers. Near the lodge, there is a grassland savannah that attracts herbivores like spotted deer in great numbers, and of course many tigers come looking for prey. It is said the park has some 200 tigers, one of the highest densities in India.

Spotted deer (Chital or Axis) in Corbett National Park

A herd of more than 100 spotted deer; the prime food source for tigers in Corbett National Park.

On the second morning, we bumped into a young hunting tigress stalking a herd of over a hundred deer. Me, my naturalist Devendra Singh Neui and my driver Rasheed Ali, were the only ones at this location as all the other jeeps from the lodge (about 10 of them) were waiting for tigers by the forest road. She tried several times unsuccessfully to chase down a deer but the herbivores were on to her. I managed to get some really great images in the process.

Tiger female on the run in the grassland at Dhikala, Corbett Nat

The tigress on the run after spotted deer not far from the Forest Department’s lodge at Dhikala.

Later in the afternoon, the camp was abuzz with the news that a tiger was in the lower grassland, and after lunch, they all headed that way and waited nearby. When she appeared, the group went wild chasing after her but they all came up short. We hung back and this very smart tiger circled around to avoid them. I saw her one more time slinking in the grass as the light was fading but time was up as I snapped a few last frames. I had a great time here and have vowed to return to this remarkable place…!

Chasing after a female tiger in Corbett National Park

The unlucky tiger chasers in the grassland of Dhikala, Corbett National Park.

The trip to Corbett was scheduled on very short notice by my agents Anu Marwah in New Delhi, and Jason Fernandes in Mumbai both wildlife photographers of great standing in India. They are joint owners of Wilderness Uncut (wildernessuncut.com), a company set-up to cater to wildlife photographers, naturalists and bird watchers. Their superb management and arrangements are first class with absolutely no hiccups and they are reasonable priced. It was a great, enjoyable and memorable trip for me. I can honestly say that I need look no further for anyone to help me with any of my up-coming trips to India.

Female tiger last sighting Corbett NP

The female tiger in the grassland of Corbett: this was my last sighting of this beautiful tigress.

One point that I must make here! You never get tired of seeing the world’s biggest cat and is one of the greatest predators that ever walked the face of the Earth. My thoughts are always with these felines and their future survival. Unfortunately, the future for the tiger looks dim, as the situation concerning the Asian medicine trade using their bones seems to be getting worse with more and more stories on the net and in the papers about this draconian belief. The biggest culprits are China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand (Chinese in Thailand) that perpetuate this market. The tiger needs the whole world to stand up to these people and this illicit trade must be stamped out soon but it carries on with impunity. Until action is taken with economic sanctions and other means against the countries involved, this illegal black-market will continue to take the wild tiger into the dark depths of extinction.

 

 

 

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‘Gabbar’ – A male tiger in Tadoba Andhari National Park

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 posted by Bruce 12:30 PM

In 1975, a very famous Indian ‘Bollywood’ film was produced named ‘Sholay’, a Hindi action-adventure film that follows two criminals named Veeru and Jai who were hired by a local policeman to chase after a villain named ‘Gabbar’ in the southern state of Karnataka. This classic award winning film is ranked in the ‘Top 10 Indian Films’ of all time. I have not seen the film but will have a look one day soon..!

Gabbar male tiger in Tadoba NP

“Gabbar’ – male tiger with a ‘radio collar’ and severely injured in a small pond near the main road in the park…! 

However, this story is not about a villain, but a beautiful mature male tiger named ‘Gabbar’ (also known as ‘Sherkhan’ or ‘T-7’) in Tadoba Tiger Reserve in the State of Maharashtra. In December 2014, he was tranquilized and then fitted with a radio collar to track his whereabouts and behavior by researchers from the ‘Wildlife Institute of India’.

Recently, ‘Gabber’ got into a fight with another male in the park that was witnessed by many on-lookers and severely injured. I have heard from a reliable source that he was in numerous fights with a bigger male and was swiped across the muzzle after the collar was fitted. It is without doubt that collars on male tigers or leopards hamper and prevent them from proper breeding, and they usually lose out to stronger cats without the heavy tightly fitted collar. It is quite possible that he is unable to hunt large animals now and may not survive into the near future…!

Gabbar male tiger in Tadoba NP

A close-up showing his injuries – what a sad looking sight…!

On my last safari during late afternoon in Tadoba on March 9th-2015, I bumped into ‘Gabbar’ lying in a pool sleeping not more than 100 meters from the main road. I stayed there observing him for more than an hour about 50 meters away. He eventually lifted his head very slowly and sadly looked up at me in the jeep. I was using my Nikon D3s and a 200-400mm VR II attached with a 2X tele-converter to get a close-up shot of him. I was devastated to see the extent of his wounds and it looks like he is very sick with fever probably from infection.

If any of those researchers who are responsible for this tiger read this; you must (should) get in there and re-capture him immediately, and remove the collar and treat his wounds if you have any compassion for wildlife. He looked very sick and may not survive this ordeal. Please do not hesitate, as his death would certainly be on your hands in the name of science. Data gathered by these people is not worth the demises of even one tiger; they are now too rare in the wild for this collaring practice to continue with any real outcome in the field of wildlife conservation, or protection and enforcement of the protected area.

Choti Tara female tiger in Tadoba

‘Choti Tara’ female on the road in late morning…!

Furthermore, there is another female named ‘Choti Tara’ also fitted with a collar in Tadoba in December 2014. It was observed by some people at the lodge I was staying at that a researcher with an antenna following the female gave pertinent information to some drivers where she was going. A group of some 20 jeeps then rushed off in a cloud of dust to wait for her to reappear at the other side of the forest. This is total madness and certainly will give the researchers and park a bad name, and must be stopped now…!

I feel that the ‘Spirits of the Forest’ let me photograph ‘Gabbar’ to reveal the serious situation he is in. I’m hoping that a concerted effort will be undertaken to save this magnificent cat from bereavement, and maybe I played a small roll in his continued survival. He certainly deserves more respect than what he is getting at the moment, and the trauma he is going through needlessly. To the ‘Wildlife Institute of India’ and the Forest Department of Tadoba: PLEASE ACT NOW BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE..!

Check this tale out: https://www.facebook.com/notes/joydip-kundu/radio-collar-kills-sunderbans-tigress-toi/10153121234347207?pnref=story

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An ISO Blunder

Sunday, January 11, 2015 posted by Bruce 8:43 AM

Sony A500 catches a tiger and poachers at ISO 12,800

Sometimes, mind lapse is a serious problem for a senior citizen like myself. I set my Sony A500 on a trail just inside the boundary of my favorite protected area in Thailand. This location has already produced some amazing shots of black leopard and tiger plus many prey species like elephant, banteng, barking deer, sambar and wild pig.

Tiger male with collar in Huai Kha Khaeng Tiger male with collar in Huai Kha Khaeng Tiger male with collar in Huai Kha Khaeng Tiger male with collar in Huai Kha Khaeng

Tiger passes the Sony A500…!

Tiger male with collar in Huai Kha Khaeng Tiger male with collar in Huai Kha Khaeng Tiger male with collar in Huai Kha Khaeng

Tiger with a radio collar passes the Sony…!

On the negative side of things, this cam has also caught poachers and gatherers as they illegally sneak into, and exit the sanctuary. Poor patrolling and enforcement with many loopholes allow these undesirables to penetrate and poach animals and forest products for sale or personal use. It is a serious threat to all of Thailand’s protected areas and is on-going problem for the Department of National Parks (DNP)…!

Poacher in Huai Kha Khaeng

Poacher in Huai Kha Khaeng

Poacher in Huai Kha Khaeng

Poacher in Huai Kha Khaeng

Poachers with baskets and digging tools after bamboo shoots during the rainy season…! 

Poacher in Huai Kha Khaeng    Poacher in Huai Kha Khaeng

Wildlife poachers with no basket…!

This Sony has been working very well catching a male tiger with a radio collar at night several months ago. I noticed that several people on the forum were setting their cams at ISO 200 and thought I would give it a try. When I left the cam, I thought it was at the 200 setting.

A month or so later, I went back to change out batteries, card and desiccant, and saw the same tiger with a collar had visited twice plus some poachers caught using the same path. When I downloaded the images, I was shocked to see the ISO at 12,800…what the heck happened here…?

I don’t know but it looks like I did not save the settings before buttoning up the cam and somehow pushed the 12,800-button. This was of course another disappointment. The shots are cluttered with noise and I have tweaked the images but it’s a fact: photos with ISO this high is absolute rubbish and can only be counted as record shots.

Another thing: only one flash on the right was working hence the deep shadow. I found a broken wire on the other flash so brought the whole unit in for repair. I will be setting another Sony (A55 with a 55mm lens) DSLR cam with 4 flashes (hard-wired) to see what might pass-by.

Tiger hunter in Huai Kha Khaeng

The ‘Tiger Hunter’ setting a Bushnell Trophy Cam…!

The A500 cam is now back in the forest but at a new location with settings at ƒ8 – 1/125 – ISO 200. It was working well firing off 4-shot strings during walk test and hopefully it will produce some good shots now. Leopards and tiger plus all the other denizens of the Thai forest use this trail so I can only wait till I get back to the cam in a couple weeks.……!

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Happy New Year 2015

Thursday, January 1, 2015 posted by Bruce 1:31 PM
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Tiger, tiger burning bright…!

Sunday, December 7, 2014 posted by Bruce 8:49 PM

  A visit to Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh national parks and tiger reserves in India

Tiger male - Ranthambore

Sultan the Great of Ranthambore National Park and Tiger Reserve: My favorite shot as he was looking right at me….!

Several months ago, I found someone on Facebook offering a ‘workshop tour’ to some of India’s most famous tiger reserves. At first I was hesitant but after he discounted the trip a $1000 thinking he had assembled a fair sized group, I decided to take the plunge. By that time I had looked at his website and he has some nice images of birds and other animals from around the world. I thought he was a professional. The schedule looked good and we were going to visit three parks over the course of two weeks.

He will be referred to as ‘Mr. Workshop’ from now on. I sent an email to him in Eastern Canada and it was a go. Funds were sent and everything went good for a while. Then the funny email came that he had switched tour companies in India, and some of the schedule and hotels had also been changed. We were now doing only two parks but the overall timeline had not been altered. He also needed another $500 claiming a miscalculation. It then became a worry…! Was this a scam I asked myself…?

I called him and he seemed OK so we were still on. I got a visa to India that was difficult but finally approved by the Indian Embassy in Bangkok a week before departure. I boarded Air India to New Delhi and landed at noon on November 4th just last month. Immigration and customs was pretty straightforward and my luggage arrived in one piece.

Tiger male walking 1 - Ranthambore

‘Ustad’, my first tiger in Ranthambore walking in the forest by the road….!

Mr. Workshop was suppose to meet me at the airport but was no-where to be seen. I opened my laptop looking for the hotel address and got a prepaid taxi (no A/C) for a hell-bent-for-leather horn-blasting ride through the city, and finally arrived only to find out he was at a sister hotel on the far side of town. The thought of scam raced through my brain again…!

So I jumped in another taxi and eventually arrived at the other hotel. He was with a senior lady bird-watching friend from New York and she had gone to Costa Rica with him on a bird tour. So it was only the three of us…! We had dinner, and I hit the sack and crashed after all the crazy mind-blowing travel through Delhi. We were all set to leave first thing the next morning at 6am to beat the traffic out of the city.

After a quick cup of coffee and some breakfast, we departed for the first leg of the tour. We had a nice medium sized car with A/C and a driver with some English skills. It was a six-hour taxi ride south to the hectic town of Sawai Madhopur, close to Ranthambore tiger reserve in northwest India.

Tiger male - Ranthambore

‘Ustad’ stopping for some claw scratching….!

We got to the hotel (Ranthambore Regency) at lunchtime and then the news came that only two rooms were available, and I would have to bunk with a stranger. I was not happy but refrained from making any trouble as we had just begun the safari so I reluctantly agreed. I knew it would be uncomfortable and it certainly was going to be a problem down the road but decided to ride it out. He is actually a skim-artist ordering only two rooms from the agent as I found out later…! He took it for granted that it would be OK for him to bunk with me as if we were buddies. I would of course regret that decision.

In the afternoon, we went out on our first ‘game drive’. By then I was all pumped up to see a tiger in the wild. We were in prime big cat habitat. However, the ride to the park entrance was an eye-opener. It is absolute chaos going through any market place in India with people, cars, pollution and rubbish everywhere, plus cows, pigs and camels all over the place, and horn blowing like I have never heard in my entire life.

Even my first trip to India in 2013 was not this bad. I was dumb-founded and did not think I would survive this marketplace again. Close calls and near misses on the road were frequent. We finally got to the gate and entered the reserve. A hat, facemask and sunglasses are a must when traveling through most sections of rural India…!

Tiger male tounge out- Ranthambore

Ustad close by but very calm around the jeep hordes….!

Day one was absolutely the roughest off-road ride I have had in a long time and I got bounced all over the back seat of a small Suzuki-Maruti jeep (called ‘Gypsy’ in India). We saw loads of prey species like sambar deer, spotted deer, Nilgai (blue bull) antelope plus peafowl, monkeys and many other denizens of the Indian forest but no tiger.

Up at dawn for the first of two drives a day (one in the morning and one in a afternoon). Day two was even rougher as we traveled to another zone up to the top of a mountain. After two days, still no sign of a tiger. I was beginning to wonder if we would see one at all as there were quite a lot of tourists and jeeps about.

But day three was magic as we bumped into a huge male tiger first thing in the morning walking parallel to the road. When you see a tiger in the wild some 20 meters away, you then realize how big these cats really are. We followed him for a while before he disappeared into the bush but reappeared further down the road again for some more shots. It was absolutely great seeing and photographing this iconic apex predator.

Tiger cub - Ranthambore

Noor’s tiger cub hidden in the bush…!

We then moved to another area where we found loads of jeeps huddled around another tiger named Noor plus two cubs but we could not get close enough for any real good shots as it was packed solid. I did manage to get a couple quick images of a cub and Noor a little later on when she went out hunting leaving the young ones hidden in the grass. We had seen and photographed three tigers in the wild during the morning drive. The afternoon was quiet again. That evening, I had a few beers in celebration.

Day four was the same drill: up at dawn but was less hectic getting into the park as we took another route. Up into the forest we went and ended up in a canyon bumping into Sultan sleeping on a ‘weir’ (concrete check dam). The driver was an expert and got us into a great position directly across from the big cat at eye-level. Mr. Workshop refused to photograph this tiger lying on the concrete saying it was unnatural.

There are stone and concrete structures all over Ranthambore and some date back centuries that have become part of the habitat for so long that tigers use them all the time to rest up and hang out. I began to question his mentality and logic. Come this far after a tiger and complain about the backdrop.

Tiger male - Ranthambore

Noor looking after two cubs out hunting in mid-morning….!

I used two cameras on this trip: a Nikon D300s with a Tamron 70-200mm ƒ2.8 lens for my offhand camera, and a Nikon D3s and a Nikon 200-400mm ƒ4 VRII telephoto lens plus a 1.7 converter (for 340-680mm) as my main rig, and used it in conjunction with a Gitzo lightweight ‘Traveler’ graphite tripod and Wemberley gimbal head. I was able to lock onto the sleeping feline without any strain, and be instantly ready for any behavior and movement.

After an hour, Sultan finally woke up and I did not stop shooting. By that time, some 40-50 vehicles had showed up with at least three hundred people behind us and it was complete madness with almost everyone talking at once and jeeps crashing into each other jockeying for position. Everyone wanted to see him. He is probably the most famous tiger in the park now.

On day five, we were lucky to get the same zone again and headed straight back up the canyon. ‘Sultan’ was sleeping close to a water hole and the road, and we got within six meters of him. I went after the close-up head shots and got some really amazing images of this three and half year old mature tiger. He then got up and we moved in further, and he came and flopped down in front of us. It certainly made me very happy. Lady luck was on my side.

Tiger male - Sultan - Ranthambore

Sultan resting on a weir (check dam)….!

In late afternoon that same day as we were traveling by the lake going back to the lodge, we bumped into a large group of trucks and jeeps that had gathered by some tall elephant grass with everyone pointing at something moving in the bush. We moved closer and by sheer luck, Krisha, female tiger stepped out to the left of us. She then moved behind and crossed the road. The driver went into reverse and got us in front of her. I managed to get some very nice head-on shots with a beautiful back-lit scene. Another tiger was in the bag making it five separate sightings. My spirits were high as we returned to the hotel.

However, Mr. Workshop started to get annoying wanting only two things: to photograph tigers and kingfishers. I thought this odd as this trip was meant to be a workshop (as he called it) and I thought we would photograph everything wild but this was not to be the case. His promise that the clients had first priority in the beginning of this tour quickly went out the window. I did not say much and just clammed up deciding to be quiet but the ill feeling continued. I concentrated on getting as many images as possible.

Tiger male - Sultan - Ranthambore

Up from his slumber….!

Day-six and seven was quiet with no more tiger sightings other then some pug marks here and there, plus the usual deer, antelope and birds. It was like we were winding down after all the tiger excitement. We left the hotel that evening and arrived at the train station for the great ‘Indian’ 12-hour train-ride further south that went throughout the night. We were assigned to three sleeper-bunks but I felt extremely uneasy after hearing many stories from friends about train rides in India. But we arrived safe and sound the next morning at Jaibalpur and were met by a designated taxi driver at the train station.

Tiger male - Sultan - Ranthambore

Checking his surroundings….!

The ride to Bandhavgarh National Park and Tiger Reserve took about three and half hours to the hotel (King’s Lodge). During the ride, I decided that I would not be bunking with Mr. Workshop anymore and that he could bunk with his birder friend but that brought out a shriek of terror from her. So I told him to find his own room. It looked like he had been slam-dunked, or an ice bucket put over his head.

Tiger male - Sultan - Ranthambore

Sultan yawning showing his canines…!

We stayed there for four more days and I kept my distance during breakfast and dinner, and we hardly talked at all while in the jeep. He was ticked off that he now had to fork-out cash (mine) for a room. I was totally disgusted with his behavior and I figured no more dialog was the best remedy. He was also extremely rude and showed his arrogant attitude towards anything he did not like or care about.

Unfortunately, we did not see any tigers in Bandhavgarh but there were many pug marks in the dust on the roads telling me the big cats were mainly nocturnal here and would disappear into the bush at first light and come back out at dusk. Poaching pressure was probably the main problem.

Tiger male - Sultan 4- Ranthambore

Sultan just six-meters away the next morning….!

A natural occurrence also happened last year when a male tiger killed three females to bring them into estrus (breeding) plus all their cubs had been killed. It was a blow to the park but just part of natural selection. After talking to some English wildlife photographers that had been coming since 2008, they said this year was way down on sightings and photographs from previous years.

The only neat thing for me at Bandhavgarh was the fact that I got some great camera trap videos of two ‘jungle cats’ coming to some chicken bait behind my lodge where I set a Bushnell Trophy Cam. These cats have become rare throughout their range and it was neat seeing them. I will be sharing these videos with the naturalists at the hotel so they are aware that these rare cats live there.

Tiger male - Sultan 5- Ranthambore

Sultan looking ‘straight down the barrel’…My last sighting of this magnificent cat….!

The thing that struck a wrong cord with me about Mr. Workshop was his claim to be a professional photographer. He brought his lens to the jeep in a roll-on bag made for an airline overhead bin to fit a long lens, and he would get dust all over the camera while in the jeep and then just put it back into his bag at the end of every safari. He also would sometimes leave the zip undone and dust poured in during travel around the dirt roads in the park. He complained about the focusing ring being stiff. He also used his shirt to clean his lens.

I brought my cameras to the vehicle on my shoulder and when I got back to the room, would quickly take a wet cloth and wipe the camera and lens down with a moist towel and clean all the nooks and crannies with a toothbrush. I paid special attention to the lens using a blower and special lens brush. My roll-on bag stayed in the room where it was dust-free. I took my cameras back to Thailand without hardly any Indian dust; it is deadly stuff and will damage fine equipment fast…!

Last tiger in Ranthambhore

Krishna was my fifth sighting in Ranthambore. It was absolutely amazing but a bit stressful due to the overload of tourists…!

Ranthambore National Park and Tiger Reserve: The protected area is situated in Rajasthan State in northwest India and is best known for its historical medieval fort, and is believed to have been built in 944 AD by the Rajputs. The massive battlements dominate the cliffs overlooking the lake where many other structures and temples dot the landscape. But the park is most famous for its tigers. The great tigress named ‘Machli’ who fought off the advances of many males is still going after 19 years and can be seen from time to time but is near the end of her days. And the first male to dominate her in a fight is ‘Sultan’ and he can be found in several zones in the park that is divided into 10 separate areas where tourists and photographers can enter. There are many males and females with cubs and depending on your luck, you may bump into one of these magnificent cats. I saw five tigers over three days during my stay in Ranthambore.

Bandhavgarh National Park and Tiger Reserve: This land of valiant medieval kings was the bastion of the 12th century Kalchuri dynasty – and is situated in a vast verdant forest of Madhya Pradesh in Central India. This scenic region has a rich historical past and civilization that can be traced back some 2,000 years. The protected area is spread over 448 sq. km and was the private hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Rewa. The first ‘white tiger’ was spotted here. Sadly, they no longer can be found in the wild but only in zoos. The famous tigress named Sita made Bandhavgarh famous, as did a male tiger named ‘Charger’ (he made mock chargers on jeeps hence the name). Documentaries produced by National Geographic about tigers and other creatures found here. However, I did not see any tigers in Bandhavgarh but there were loads of pug marks on the roads telling me the big cats were mainly nocturnal and would disappear into the bush at first light and come back out at dusk. Poaching pressure is probably still a problem. Sightings are now quite rare as the tigers have become wary of humans. After talking to some English wildlife photographers that have been coming here since 2008, they said this year was way down on sightings and very photographs of tigers have been taken.

Conclusion: The moral of this story is never trust anyone on Facebook if you don’t know them personally as it could end-up far worse than what I experienced. I was lucky and got my tiger shots plus many other beautiful Indian creatures, but the stress and aggravation of being with someone who was not truthful, arrogant and non-professional was very difficult to cope with. I have learned my lesson and will never ever go on any so-called ‘workshop tours’ found on Facebook. I also know of another individual in Bangkok who scammed some Thai photographers on a ‘tiger tour’ to India off of Facebook…!

If you have a passion to see a tiger in the wild, go on Google and surf the net, or find someone through a national publication like Wildlife Photographer or some other outdoor magazine, or contact the hotels and lodges directly found on the Internet offering tiger tours in India. Many of them are good but it can be hit-and-miss sometimes so try to choose wisely. Check references and follow-up on everything that is not ‘crystal clear’.

 

 

 

 

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Indochinese tiger male caught on video and DSLR

Sunday, October 12, 2014 posted by Bruce 7:56 PM

A video and still photos of an Indochinese tiger in the Western Forest Complex of Thailand. This male cat was camera trapped in the afternoon and then in mid-morning…a beautiful carnivore.

The message is the same: these magnificent cats need 100% increase in protection and enforcement as they have become extremely rare in the wild. Unfortunately, some bad people chase after them for bones to be sold on the black market…! The main worry is that help will come too little and too late to really save the tiger and other creatures of the Thai forest…! Enjoy the beauty of raw nature but never forget this message: We need to work hard to change things so these magnificent cats will continue to roam the forest…!

http://youtu.be/4mb5qxukovw

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Canon 600D catches a big male tiger

Thursday, October 9, 2014 posted by Bruce 7:23 PM

A lucky catch in late afternoon…!

indochinese tiger male - Canon 600D

I was finally able to set my Canon 600D with two Nikon SB-28 flashes on a trail where I previously set my BFOutdoors P41 and captured tiger, yellow and black phase leopards plus many other creatures found in this forest. It has been a great location and the set has been very productive.

However, the sensor was not working properly (old #5 with refresh) and run the batteries down. I recently got the #5 program without refresh (many thanks to Johnnydeerhunter on Camtrapper.com) and installed the new chip. It worked like a charm and the Canon will fire off 6 shots a second and wake-up the flashes. The cam and flashes were working great when I left it. I also set up a DXG 567 ‘blackflash’ homebrew video cam close to the Canon to record any animals that passed by (I’ll be posting a video of this cat passing the cam twice).

It has been extremely wet and for some odd reason, the flashes stopped working but the camera continued to crank along. I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the location a couple days ago. On the card was a male tiger that walked past the cam at 4:40PM on October 4th but the flashes did not trigger which created some undesirable noise in this image. This shot is the best of the lot with some highlights on his family jewels and legs, plus a superb back-lit forest. Needless to say, I was still happy with the results and will put this Canon back ASAP…the location certainly has potential and my hope for that black leopard continues…one of these days….Enjoy…!

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Sony A500 catches a male tiger with a ‘radio collar’

Saturday, October 4, 2014 posted by Bruce 8:24 PM

A male Indochinese tiger in the Western Forest Complex of Thailand..!

A500 tiger male with collar

What are the odds that my DSLRs would capture two different tigers sporting radio collars within one week of each other..? These are real fluke camera trap shots taken some twenty kilometers away from my Nikon D700 that caught a female also with a collar at the ‘tiger log’. I just posted this on this website a couple of days ago. http://brucekekule.com/camera_trapping/nikon-d700-catches-an-indochinese-female-tiger-sporting-a-radio-collar/

A500 tiger male with collar

The Sony A500 was triggered by a male tiger on Sept. 17, 2014 at 10:26 PM while the D700 got a female on Sept. 24 at 5:45 AM. I only captured two tigers this trip and it seems weird that they both have collars. Maybe the ‘spirits of the forest’ wanted me to really show and tell the world what is actually going on in this forest concerning tigers. Who knows..?

A500 tiger male with collar

Needless to say, I’ve already vented my feelings about tigers and radio collars in my recent D700 post so there’s no sense in going there again. However, the A500 got a nice string of shots of this male with a huge collar. I think the battery is on the bottom and transmitter on top. This monstrosity surely looks heavy..!

A500 tiger male with collar

Unfortunately, only one flash on the right triggered which was a bit of a let-down. The other flash was up high on the tree pointing down at the tiger and would have cancelled that shadow. It was one of those things and there’s always next time. The A500 fired four quick shots and as the big cat jumped forward, triggered another five as he leaped to the right. All in all, I was still pleased with the results and look forward to a ‘black cat’ that I once videoed in broad daylight at this very location.

A500 tiger male with collar

Noise is also a problem with these images, as I had to do some heavy tweaking in Camera Raw and Photoshop to get them to acceptable levels. If I had been shooting in JPG. format, there would be no chance to bring these back. RAW capture is the only way to revive images when things get dark with not enough light.

A500 tiger male with collar

I’m not sure if this is inherent to Sony but I think most makes and brands with low light means serious noise although the newer pro-cameras handle noise quite well. The settings are: ƒ8 – 1/80th – 400 ISO…flash set to ¼ power, and lens was a Minolta 28mm (old lens I have had for years). It’s a wonder I got these shots at all..!

A500 tiger male with collar

Oh well, back to the drawing board on flash standby power. I’m putting together a couple Nikon SB-28 and SB-600 flashes that will work with hard-wire or radio triggers with four Eneloop AAs in the flash and four rechargeable ‘Ultracell ‘D’ cells with 11,000 mAh capacity as externals to add more power for longer soaks. This will all fit in a lockable ‘Tupperware’ type box as shown.

A500 tiger male with collar

I will try these on the A500 first to see if there is a difference with staying power. I also believe that three or more flashes are the ticket for well-lit shots…I know Steve Winter with N.G. sometimes uses from 4-5 flashes depending on terrain.

A500 tiger male with collar

It’s a never-ending battle with the DSLRs but I guess that’s what I like about using them: the challenge to get tigers and leopards on digital camera plus all the other cryptic animals in Thailand’s forests…it all becomes worthwhile when I do get a shot or shots…! Enjoy.

 

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Tiger research in the Western Forest Complex (WFC) of Thailand

indochinese tiger female sporting a 'radio collar'

Indochinese tiger female sporting a ‘radio collar’ at the tiger log…!

First off, I want everyone to know that I’m not against research that is extremely important for knowledge of the natural world. The practice of studying animals and behavior is needed to understand how Mother Nature’s beings and biospheres live in a complex world. Some people might take offence to the relevant facts stated below but things need to change quickly in order to really save the tiger, and other creatures and ecosystems of Thailand’s natural heritage.

indochinese tiger female sporting a 'radio collar'

Close-up: A serial numbered tiger and the number can be seen written on the collar.

Frankly, there are some projects that are on-going and not up to standard that have caused many tiger deaths, directly and indirectly. Such is the ‘tiger research’ carried out that is mediocre to very poor to say the least. The researchers working on tigers here have a track record that simply is not acceptable…!

Many problems have come to the forefront about the system of capturing the big cats with snares and then shooting them with darts to sedate them. Some tigers have escaped the snare and ended up with a limp because of pulled joints, tendons and ligaments. This is a serious problem as the cat now cannot chase down its normal prey like deer and pigs, and quickly dies of malnutrition. Botched tiger captures using wrongly administered drugs to sedate tigers has also been noted. The tigers could not be revived and the animals were simply buried and the news suppressed.

indochinese tiger female sporting a 'radio collar'

Serial numbered tiger – #164 900 – 2014

Another problem of making broad statements about the amount of tigers in certain areas and broadcasting this plus other pertinent ‘radio collaring’ information on national TV channel is like sounding the death knoll to come and get these magnificent creatures. There are still many bad elements in our society and these cold-blooded killers think nothing about dispatching a tiger for its bones used in the making of Chinese medicine and wine. It’s all about money and human greed…!

This has also happened in India where researchers published their work in the local newspapers, and on the radio and TV how many tigers were in Panna Tiger Reserve and within one year, the cats completely disappeared as poachers moved in and systematically killed them all in one quick swoop. Tigers like all big cats, come to carrion and if a carcass is tainted with poison, it’s just a matter of time before the whole local wild feline population is wiped out. They disappeared under the forestry staff and researcher’s noses. Because it is in open forest, other animals like bears, civets, all the cats, wild pigs. vultures also perish. How could this happen..?

Other stories on the Internet can be found about tigers with collars not breeding very well was also documented in India. Finally, researcher’s laptops have been hacked into and important GPS data on tiger whereabouts was stolen. These high tech poachers can kill a population in a jiffy.

Putting collars on young tigers is a serious no-no but this has been done here in the name of research with the researchers finding the collar had stopped moving and the cub found dead having quickly out-grown the leather strap suffocating it. Another serious occurrence of taking tiger cubs out of their den for research data gathering purposes, and then coming back a second time to photograph the researchers holding the cubs. The mother tiger abandon the den and the cubs ended up dead. This is a serious breach of protocol and the National Parks law…!

Needless to say, these people continue to carry on like nothing has happened but these are facts backed-up by reliable sources and boots on the ground. And what is really worrisome is the fact that several international NGOs and a U.S. university are backing this program.

Other tribulations like bringing domestic cattle to act as ‘tiger bait’ was ongoing until recently, and who knows if any disease like ‘foot and mouth’ or ‘anthrax’ was introduced into the sanctuary during this time. The cattle were purchased locally (sometimes, diseased cows are illegally imported from nearby Burma). This baiting technique was used for several years and the researchers brought these domesticated cattle in by the truckload. A cow was then tied to a stake and a bamboo enclosure built around it with only one opening and they built scores of them in the forest. Of course hay and water were provided to the cow. A tiger would step in and maybe get snared. This practice fortunately has been suspended. This is just another breach of the law where domesticated animals are not allowed in wildlife sanctuaries that have been set aside for biodiversity and research.

The researchers already have loads of data including identifying individuals and home-range information through camera trapping, plus the data from the 8-10 collared tigers. My feeling is that the collaring process should cease as there are far to few tigers left in the wild. No amount of research can justify even one tiger getting killed in the name of science. There are only about 3,200 left in the world, and maybe less than 250 in Thailand. It is time to seriously concentrate on protection and enforcement only and less emphasis put on research. We already know there are tigers in WFC, one of the greatest tiger reserves in the world.

Most unfortunate are the old laws that apply to wildlife and protected areas that seem to perpetuate lawless people from being put away in jail. Most poachers and forest product gatherers get light fines and a slap on the wrist when apprehended in national park land, even with solid evidence. The park officials must bring all poachers to the local police station, which then starts another wheel of corruption at a higher level. If the case gets into the courts, pay-offs are used to get light sentences and sometime off ‘Scott-free’. There are very few convictions and long-term jail sentences although once in awhile, some do end-up in jail as a consequence but the ratio of convicted poachers to released offenders is small.

The biggest problem is simply there are not enough ranger personnel to look after these remaining tiger reserves and, budgets are slim and sometime non-existent. My biggest concern is that everything will come too late to save the tiger from extinction. Lawmakers and budget people need to get their head out of the sand but that will take an act of god (AOG) to get going in a culture that thrives on corruption.

One of the most important things to get established in Thailand is a dedicated ‘ranger school’ so that the ranks can be filled with well trained and equipped personnel. The present ranger numbers need to be increased by over 100%. Several revolving 5-man teams need to patrol with men always in the forest from their respective ranger stations. This is the only way to keep the poachers at bay. Again, this will basically need an AOG to get done.

Once again, I’m not against research, but a line must be drawn in the sand. Too much money and effort goes towards this activity and very little into protecting the wildlife and biospheres here that the researchers are researching. This is just not right and I for one, want to try and change things here so that wildlife at least gets a fair shake.

At the end of the day, the only thing that will help Thailand’s tigers in the long run is also a serious look into­ the middlemen and end-users of tiger bones and other forest products. These people must be apprehended and the masses educated to see the fallacy in using wild animal parts to cure ailments. The Asian medicine trade is still in full swing and will be next to impossible to stop.

But this practice has been going on for hundreds to thousands of years in China where the tiger first evolved two million years ago. The Chinese tiger is extinct in the wild but they now have loads of ‘tiger farms’. Unfortunately, wild tigers are the most sought after for the black market trade. It is a bad situation out there that seems to be getting worse and on the increase due to the ever-increasing population explosion. Sadly and in the long-run, the tiger will simply disappear if things do not change..!

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Indochinese tiger ‘eye lash’ speed…!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 posted by Bruce 3:31 PM

A Canon 400D trail cam catches a male tiger

Tiger male - Canon 400D

Old green eyes’…out on a ‘night prowl’…1st shot…!

A couple of days ago, I was checking my cams and got to my Canon 400D on a forest road somewhere in the Western Forest Complex of Thailand. When I got to the cam, it was still working but only one flash three feet above the cam was firing hence the ‘eye-shine’ . The other two flashes were dead…! Life on two Canon Lithium batteries in 30 second power save mode is excellent so I left them just to see how long they would really last….!

Tiger male - Canon 400D

Tiger squinting…..2nd shot.

The flash that fired was a SB-26 which I normally set for slave but somehow the settings was on full-power…needless to say, I was delighted and did back-flips when I saw a tiger again, in about the same position as the female back in June in two shots. In both instances, the tigers had their eyes open on the first shot and squinted by the second in almost the same positions. This reaction time is measured in milliseconds…!

Tiger in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary

Last month’s female tiger…..1st shot.

Then they both jumped out of the frame before the camera could shoot again. This is 100% luck….also shifted the 400D over a tad to the left for better composition. I have included last month’s female tiger shots so a comparison can be made without having to flip back to the old post.

Tiger female - Canon 400D

Female squinting…..2nd shot.

All I can say, it boggles the mind but shows how fast tigers can react……Enjoy…!

 

Canon 400D set to continuous

Nikon 50mm ƒ1.4 manual lens

Nikon SB-26 set to full power.

1/125 – ƒ8 ISO 400.

SSII sensor #6 chip – Pelican 1150

1st shot – cropped and the rest normal size.

 

 

 

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