Monday, March 30, 2015

In search of Big Cats..

                    " At home you see cats, at jungle you see big cats "


                  The spotted and striped big cats are always  my fascination, and it is always my temptation  to leave home for jungle, and of course meeting  these noble animals in jungle will always be  a matter of luck .My first meet with a leopard was two year back,that was from Parambikkulam in the 2012 summer, It was jut a glance, We just made an eye contact with each other and he/she ran away without giving me even a chance for a camera click.My first photographic meet was one year back, in 2013 summer from kabani, that was a late evening sighting, I was jut managed to take some decent record shots,even though the light was very low. she was in the laziness of her pregnancy .That was a special day to our team just because we sighted both two big cats, the striped one and the spotted one, on the same day.  Every jungle trip started with a silent prayer to the almighty to  bless me to meet big cats.
My first shot of a leopard, from kabani...

The Migration starts...                                                    

      During the mid days of February, the summer  reaching its peek in the Nilgiri biosphere area and the hot is everywhere, the water becoming a rare in bandipur, mudumalai national parks, and this time the migration of animals started. The herbivorous, such as elephants gaurs,deers etc started their travel in search of oasis, heading towards the Kabani reservoir area, where the abundance of  water and greenery still remaining.Starting from Masinagudi-Mudumalai, a well connected  western ghat complex passes  through theBandipur,Wayanad,Nagerhole and reached at Kabani.
         The predators also joins this migration, to ensure the food and water.This is a chance for the   supreme predators, the big cats, to get the prey animals, all in a relatively smaller area.The nature just want to keep the ecological balance and the carnivorous will be in action in this area.The nature continue its magic in jungles. That will be a great chance for jungle lovers, who want to witness and photograph, the amazing world of wilderness.

               Considering these conditions , we have been,usually, setting up our trips to Kabani area during these times.Moreover these facts, the other attraction of this route was the jungle and wildlife, we are travelling an area which is a haven for wildlife,swivelling around the thamarassery churam, passing mananthavady and kaattikkulam you are entering to tholpetty area, where the head quarters of the wayanad wildlife sanctuary is situated, then we had our stay at thirunelly in a beautiful farm house of one of our friend Anil.That is really a wonderful place, where, if you are enough lucky, there is a chance for sighting animals, may be the big cats too...
                                                It was 10 in the morning when we reach at tholpetty and the time for safari was over, we decided to take break at thirunelly, at anil's farm house, the travel to thirunelly from tholpetty will be very interesting, because we can expect animals from any time this area, this is an area, where an active elephant corridor is operating, so elephants are a common sighting in this area, but we desperately want to see the big cats..

                                           Our already booked safari at kabani only on next day, that too in the evening, so we had full day ahead, a full afternoon today, and a fore noon tomorrow, that we want to explore more....our plan was to move to Nagerhole National Park and have an evening safari there..the way to the nagerhole was another temptation,the possibility of cat sighting is high in that area. The 2 hour long evening safari ended without any special sightings, only the usual scenes of deers and sambars, but the signs of active cat movements are there, one tiger kill, and of course droppings and pug marks.On or return, a family in a vehicle came opposite and stopped to told us that , a tiger has just been crossed the road with a close range in front of their vehicle. The cats always travelled just ahead of us.

                         We want to utilise the day maximum, and dont want to waste even a second in the day light hour. So,next day, we got up at an early morning and started at an early time of 5.30 am , we just want the early bird advantage, anil told us usually  Tiger has been  making its appearance in
thirunelli tholpetty route at an early morning time, and if we were lucky enough we would meet him, always the passion for  big cats lead us.Nothing happens till we reach us tholpetty,only the chitals and langurs make their appearance, but still it was nice to see the cute chitals in the early morning fog, no scenes in jungle will be monotonous , jungle is  always fascinating.Our plan was to have a morning safari at tholpetty, the wayanad wildlife sanctuary.
                         We got the first safari, the expectations were high, just because we were the first group in that day and it is only 7 am,the light is perfect, and the climate is good.Just about 300 meters passed, we were welcomed by a fresh pug mark of a giant Tiger, the pug mark  was as fresh as a daisy, and very clear in the dust, the tiger passed just a minute before us, the air is filled with mixed responses of disappointment and expectations throughout the whole 2 hour safari.To sighting  a fresh pug mark has very much importance when you are in search of  the big cats, we can get so many vital information from the pug marks of the predators, just like the time after the pug mark left, the size, the gender,age and of course some experts will predict even the health condition of the animal. I remembered the words of Billy Arjun Singh, the tiger man of India, how  his pug mark trails lead him to wonderful moments.
                                   The safari ended with nothing except the usual gaurs and chitals, the disappointment is on every face, " Get trained in the art of disappointment " the words of a famous wildlife photographer, in his advice to the novice, remembered to get rid of the situation.The time is only 9.30 and had enough time, We only need to reach kabani on 3 pm and need only one hour drive from here.After having our breakfast , we decided to just have a drive in to nagerhole.It was 10.30 am, when we reach at entrance of Nagerhole National park, after a consultation with forester in charge, we permitted to go forward. They just want to check whether we are genuine or not.

                  We were on a keen watch, in spite of all disappointments, we were still confident, we are all know Passion, Patience,and Perseverance, the 3 P s in wildlife photography has of very much importance. A cute malabar giant squirrel gave us a good pose, he is not at all disturbed by our presence and we were in hurry to capture his mood.A jeep came in and stopped, and a gentle face an officer emerged, with a mild but in a firm tone, He told us to leave the scene. You are not all allowed to park your vehicle anywhere in the national park area.Of course we know, it is for the safety of animals and humans to avoid all possibilities of human animal conflict. You can watch them, when they gave you a chance, but in a safer way. It is the intolerable activities of some fraudulent people, that compelled the officers to maintain the law strictly, that is another side of the matter.
                                       We kept moving, curiously looking and praying for a miracle to happen, nothing happens for an hour watchful move and we decided to give up and return back. On our return the jeep with that same gentle officer again appeared and signalled us to stop our vehicle.We stopped with a little worry, asking ourself the question in mind "what went wrong with us ?, the officer, in a hurry, asked us  "whether you saw a  leopard ?". The  " No Sir " reply was in  a sudden and in a chorus,then  he told us to follow his vehicle and that done in a hurry. We followed the officer's jeep about a kilo meter and stopped when we signalled us to do so, the officer lead us to the forest towards a big tree and pointed out to a branch of a big tree, there laid our dream, a big gentle spotted big cat, the beautiful leopard in his deep slumber, before getting rid of the bewilderment, the officer pointed out to another branch of another  huge tree, and there is another gentle man in his slumber. The confusion,ecstasy,joy and we were confused, we are between two leopards , the officer told us to shoot them just because they want their photographs and 5 cameras bursted out, the only sound was shutter sounds. That was half an hour shoot,they are not at all aware about our presence, after a while the one got up relaxed his jaw(sadly, I missed that shot ) and just had a stare at my camera, got up just to change his position and resumed his sleep, the other one, not at all even ready move a bit, with his paw under his head, gave me a dream pose.

      The heart and memory card become almost filled but still we don’t want to resist the curiosity, we are happy because they are not at all disturbed, no sign or behaviour of dislike or discomfort from their side, the forest guard, whom the officer instructed to guide us, reminded us about the time and they want to go, our time is over and just want to return. Thanking to all the officer, the guard, Anilettan, our mentor and host, who wished us good luck for a special sighting we returned form the sight to our new destination, the magical Kabani, with a filled heart and camera with that gentle spotted cat...

Some Leopard facts.

                         Leopards are actually a tree animal.He got a very flexible body to make it easy to climb up and down on huge trees.The leopard is very comfortable in trees, he can hauls his kills, even if it is larger than his weight,to the branches if the tree,where he can complete it without any disturbances. Tigers too capable of  climbing up a tree, but it is uncommon. The major difference is that leopard can get down from even a huge tree with either his head or tail forward, but tiger can only do it with his tail forward. Leopards are usually a solitary animal, the male and female joins together during the mating period.Leopard is a clever hunter, with his sleek body and powerful legs, he can have sprint with a speed up to 57 km/hour.A leopard's tail is as long as its entire body, this makes him to take unexpected turn while hunting.



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