Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Leopard in India

Before I saw tigers in the wild, I thought leopards were the most beautiful animals I'd ever seen in the wild.  I knew Indian leopards were supposed to be more elusive and harder to see than African leopards....but I tend to have good luck with cat sightings.  I have never been on a trip in Africa without seeing at least one leopard - so I really hoped I could see at least one leopard in India as well.  I did see one, fleetingly, twice (same cat) in Sasan Gir National Park.  The poor cat was trying to get a drink but was very shy so every time a car pulled up he ran off - I got only glimpses, no photos, and from a distance so I didn't count it as much of a sighting.

Fortunately, I had a fantastic leopard sighting in Kanha National Park.  We were on an evening drive moving through the park from Mukki to the other gate, and not far past the ranger post we encountered this male leopard right in the road.  He laid down for awhile, then did some territory marking, and then walked down the road a ways, with us backing up to give him space.  He walked within 4 feet of me.  He had a slight limp and some scratches on his face indicating perhaps a recent scuffle with another cat.  My guide estimated he was 4 years old.

He was stunningly gorgeous, as you can see for yourself, and I was the only car there and had about 15 minutes with him.  It was one of the coolest sightings of the trip - and apparently very rare.  My guide, Rajan, told all his guide friends about it and wanted me to show them all the photos as proof.  They said "This does not happen!"  Everyone swore it was one of the luckiest leopard sightings due to how hard it is to see leopards and how fleeting the sightings usually are.  This cat was calm and unhurried and made no effort to get away from me.  Good kitty karma once again.

 
 
 



Desert Fox

I saw a pair of desert fox just after seeing the Indian Wolf on an evening game drive at Little Rann of Kutch.  I came across the desert fox when it was napping - Babu the driver saw the ears - then said there was a second one nearby.  We got a little closer, pausing here and there for photos and not wanting to scare them off.  Eventually one of the desert fox mated pair got up and trotted off in one direction and the other went the opposite way.  They marked territory and explored, and we stayed with one of them for a bit, until I got worried it might feel "followed" and I wanted to make sure not to appear to be chasing it.  These little foxes were so cute!  And surprisingly small as well.
 
 
 

Indian Wolf

I really wanted to see an Indian Wolf, though they are rare and hard to see.  At Velavadar, I got a glimpse in the distance of two of them - but not very close, and no good photos.  I also got to see a wolf den there - it was so neat to see the baby wolf tracks near it and the hooves and other bits of animals that had clearly been played with by the pups.  (Didn't get to see pups tough).  At Little Rann of Kutch however, on an evening game drive, I did get a glimpse of a female Indian Wolf.  My guide, C.B., took the best photo of the very brief sighting.  Our driver, Babu, had forgotten his camera and was distressed to have missed his chance.  Though I had a very brief sighting of this wolf, I was very happy to have had it!!  She was gorgeous.



Indian Fox

In Little Rann of Kutch, a dry desert area, my awesome driver, Babu, managed to find an Indian fox for me - actually two of them.  I had already seen a lot - desert fox, wild ass, Indian wolf, a cool hyena den, and I was on my last game drive at Little Rann.  Babu was determined to find me an Indian fox.  Driving around in the vast desert plain, with everything the same dry color, I thought odds were not great....so when he said "There it is!" I was thrilled.  I even had a chance to get a few nice photos.
 
 


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Indian Wild Ass

Although it is famous for tigers, India has a lot of other species which are also quite rare and endangered.  One of them is the Indian Wild Ass.  The wild ass once had a huge range, but now the only place it survives is in the middle of India on the far west coast, in an area of vast salt plains known as the Little Rann of Kutch.  Little Rann of Kutch is a UNESCO world heritage site.  It's hard to believe that anything can survive in this desert like area, but depending on who you ask, there are between 2,000 and 4,000 wild ass left in the world, all surviving on small patches of scrub in the vast salt plains.  The wild ass doesn't get the press that some of the other endangered species do, but it is an interesting animal and of course I love all equines!!! 



Females live in small groups and males are loners, similar to zebra. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Parakeet in Kaziranga

I couldn't resist some photos of this colorful parakeet in Kaziranga National Park.  The bird and its mate were eating seeds or fruits on a tree, holding them with a claw and snacking.  I was pleased with my Sony Cybershot point and shoot for getting these nice shots!



Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sambar Deer in Mud


I had a really nice sighting one evening game drive in Bandhavgarh of a sambar deer rolling happily in a mud puddle.  Here is an excerpt of my series of photos from that sighting - I love the expressions.

 
 
 
 
 


Jungle Cat

I really wanted to see a jungle cat in India.  Just a bit larger than a domestic cat, mostly tan but with black on the tail, these small cats are hard to find if you want to look for them.  They are no threat to deer so you don' t have deer and monkey alarm calls to track jungle cats as they move.  The brush, grass and forest are thick, so you just have to hope you run into one somewhere.  I had a fleeting glimpse of a jungle cat in Velavadar - or rather, my guide did -  but I never really saw it and I was hoping on every game drive we might run into one.

Finally my last game drive in Bandhavgarh, we caught a glimpse of a jungle cat.  Unfortunately, it went into the bush before I got a look at anything other than the back end.  We decided to sit and wait awhile in hopes it would re-emerge.  Many jeeps stopped asking if we'd found a tiger - and once they learned there was no tiger there they all moved on, as usual, since tiger is the only thing the majority of people in this park seem interested in seeing. After nearly an hour the ranger with us suggested we go look for tigers also.  I said no - I've seen tigers, including on this route this morning (the mom and cubs of last post) so I knew odds were not good of seeing them again - every jeep was still looking.

The jungle cat finally came out, sitting at first under a tree not too far away from our jeep.


 Then the jungle cat went off marking territory, and I was able to get a few photographs and - more importantly - watch the small cat in peace for awhile.


I was really thrilled to get a sighting - and a few photos - of the jungle cat.  I don't know if I will ever have the chance to see one again; small cats are such a challenge to see with wildlife travel.  When I got back to the lodge and everyone asked if I saw anything I said "Jungle Cat!" and they all thought I was crazy - apparently it is just not a valued sighting for most people, which is a shame indeed.  I don't think they have any idea what they are missing.  Although not as popular as the tiger, and of course much smaller, I thought it was quite thrilling to get a jungle cat sighting and even harder to accomplish than a tiger sighting, since at least with tigers you have alarm calls to work off of!  Once again, all credit really goes to Rajan, my excellent guide for this portion of the trip, who always had infinite patience and fantastic spotting skills.  He really tried to find me a sloth bear as well, though we never did get lucky on that score.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Tiger Family

In Bandhavgarh one morning, we found a tigress and her four cubs in the grass.  There was not a great view as the grass was tall; they had a sambar deer kill that they had mostly finished and were playing with.  The cubs were about 18 months old and quite large.  It was interesting to see so many tigers in one place at one time, even though glimpses were mostly what I was able to get.  Here are a few shots:
 
This was a sighting that was not particularly pleasant because of the number of vehicles - all the vehicles on this assigned zone seemed to be there and they were all trying to position so they could get a view.  There was a man walking on the road with a stick, yelling, described to me as a "vigilance office."  When he yelled, the tigers started to move off, which was a shame - once again people interfering with their behavior.  Then they wanted to cross the road but could not find a place as the jeeps were in hot pursuit and there were so many of them.  Another "vigilance officer" was on the scene and there was extensive yelling back and forth. I really wanted to know what all the guides, drivers, and these two "officers" were yelling about, but translation was minimal.

One of the "officers" got on our jeep for awhile - we were one of about 2-3 jeeps not trying to interfere with the tigers and trying to give them space.  The tigers did find a place to cross the road finally, and then the officers took off towards the jeeps and my guide told me we had to leave because they were going to cite all the jeeps/drivers/rangers there for not following the rules.  I have no idea if this was true - they had radios but no paper or pen to record anything - but we got out of there.  The tigers had crossed and gone up on some rocks and I would have loved to be able to sit and see them but we had to move on and I was never really clear why - but I did get ONE shot of one of the cubs on a rock - I wish I could have gotten more as there was a moment with all 5 tigers in the sun on a rock - but the jeep was moving and I couldn't get it.

I love how he hasn't grown into his paws yet!

I hated the human melee to see these tigers.  I will be interested to see how the Indian Supreme Court comes down on outstanding wildlife tourism issues next month.  As a result of last year's case, the number of vehicles was cut in half - so only half the jeeps could be in the park vs. last year.  If the number I saw was half, I am so glad I never went when it was twice that!  I would not, NOT want to be in a park when there are more vehicles!!  I had a hard time handling the number, and especially the attitude, of the jeeps in Bandhavgarh.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Indian One Horned Rhino

Seeing the Indian One Horned Rhino was one of my goals for my trip to India, so I had arranged to visit Kaziranga National Park in Assam, where most of the world's remaining population resides.  The world has approximately 3,000 of these animals left, and approximately 2,200 live in Kaziranga (figures vary slightly depending on the source and the date of count, but there is no dispute that at least 2/3 of the remaining rhinos are in Kaziranga).

Having seen white and black rhino in Africa, I expected seeing the Indian rhino would be the same...but it was not!  Hopefully this and the posts to come will show why.  I saw a lot of these rhinos, more than I expected, and under a variety of interesting conditions.  I am starting with one of my favorite sightings. 

I took a 6:00am morning elephant ride into the park.  The park is beautiful, with meadows and hills and great scenery.  There is a lot of tall elephant grass but also patches of shorter grass.  The elephants went out into the tall grass and came across a resting rhino.  I have never seen a rhino laying down in the wild before.  It was so awesome to be able to see a rhino in its natural habitat, peaceful, comfortable, resting, and relaxed. 
 

The rhino was not bothered by the elephants and the other people on elephant back were quiet and respectful.  After some minutes of laying there and being photographed, the rhino slowly got up and and went about its day. 


Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Best Tiger Photo

Although I still have a lot of photos to sort through, so far I think this is my favorite/best tiger photo.  This is a young female I saw in Bandhavgarh National Park one evening near the end of the drive.  She was, I think, the most beautiful cat I have seen.


I wish I could say that this was an awesome sighting, but again it was a bit marred for me because of the circumstances.  On the upside, there was only my jeep and one other.  On the downside, I was not with my usual driver and I did not like the way this driver handled the situation.  When this tiger was very near the car and wanting to cross the road, he kept driving back and forth in front of her, causing her to hiss at us and generally be annoyed.  I really wanted him to STOP this and just sit and watch the tiger.  There was actually so much movement it was quite difficult to get photos, but the far more important thing to me was that I do not believe we should harass animals, ever, in wildlife parks - not for photos or good viewings, not to get closer, not for any reason.

At one point when I had said "stop" several times and that the tiger was not happy with us, he said he was trying to drive her to the nearby watering hole.  Again, I feel this is wrong.  We should not be driving wild animals anywhere - we should take what we get from them in the way of sightings and be glad for anything at all.  Although this was not as horrific as driving lions with sticks as I saw at Sasan Gir, I was not at all happy about this interaction.  I felt we were not sufficiently respectful of the tiger.

She is a gorgeous animal, approximately 2 years old.  It was very lucky to see her, and even to get a few good shots of her.  Another interesting thing happened this drive.  I had let a professional wildlife photographer join me in the jeep.  I have always been happy with my point and shoot cameras - I do not want to think too much about camera settings, and I like to just be in the moment with the animals, and I enjoy getting some good shots to remember the trip by - but not getting a shot doesn't diminish the experience for me.  I have been with the "big lens" photographers, ranging from SLR professional photographer want to-bes to guys who just want to show off and act serious...but even when they have bragged about their photos I have found mine to be just as good or better in comparison.  There have been some hilarious examples actually.

However, this photographer (Michael Vickers) and I had the exact same view, time and access to this tigress and when I saw some of his shots I was blown away.  Far, far more awesome than mine!  He got a lot more shots and a lot better shots and he had to adjust the settings - granted he has years of practice and an ungodly expensive camera but still, I was so terribly impressed.  His website is tigersintheforest.com.  His version of this same shot is here.  However, he showed me a couple of his other shots, close ups of her face, and they blew mine away.  On this particular shot I am actually happy with my photo vs. his, my point and shoot did fine - but on some of the other seconds we had to work with he got some fantastic photos and I hope he posts them on his site so I can be jealous again.  WOW they were good.

All in all, great tiger, glad to have seen her, but feel guilty about the driver's behavior and if I were this tigress I would leave with a less favorable impression of jeeps than I arrived with, which I think on the whole is not a good thing.  However, living where she does, there is no doubt far more to come in the way of aggressive jeeps in her future.  I am still sad to have been in one of them though.  This trip was for sure a struggle with wildlife viewing as I believe it should be vs. the way it was - there was rarely a match up.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Lioness, and Another Sasan Gir Surprise

One of my 9:30am game drives in Sasan Gir (when it is quite hot), I was lucky enough to find two lions, and not have a ton of other jeeps with me, or any handlers.  Believe it or not there are still villages in the park, tribal people who have buffalo that they take to graze (and yes, the lions do eat their buffalo).  We passed a herd of buffalo and their shepherds (not sure what the correct word for buffalo tender is) but one of the villagers told my guide and driver that there were lions up ahead in a gully.  Sure enough - we found them not too far ahead, two female lions laying a ways back from the road in the dry brush.  This is essentially the scene, if you look carefully you can see the two lions:
As required, I had a driver, and a park ranger with me, as well as an English speaking guide provided by the wildlife company I booked with.  The ranger's job is to enforce the park rules - one of which is not to get out of the vehicle.  My driver did not speak more than a few works of English and most of the rangers (you get a different one each drive) didn't either - some tried, some didn't.  This particular guide did not speak more than a word or two.  I was busy zooming in to try and get a good photo of the lions, and I was really grateful not to have any trackers or other tourists yelling - I thought I'd finally have a nice lion sighting on my own, with a natural setting.

I was looking through my camera - and I was vaugely aware that the ranger had gotten out of the jeep and disappeared.  I assumed this was either to relieve himself or to inform the villager who'd told us about the lions exactly where they were - that was about all I thought of it.  And then, to my utter amazement, he entered the frame of my camera, to the right.  He was carrying a stick in his hand and he began to chase the lions towards me.  I could not have been more shocked - it was certainly NOT what I wanted, but the damage was done.  The lions came closer to me and to the road.
They both laid down, close to one another but in the slight shade offered by some dry bushes.  The ranger, having moved them towards me as he desired, was walking in a large circle behind them back to the jeep.  I was focusing again on taking some photos, so I was looking through my lens at the lion closest to me and the jeep.  Now, if you have cats, or you've spent much time with any, you'll recognize the behavior that she displayed here:
 First, she raises her head and notices something - I thought maybe a deer....
Then she lowers her ears and enters stalking mode...and her body crouched, her muscles tensed, and I began to wonder if I would see her hunt and what she might be hunting.
Her eyes tracked something behind me, and I turned to see what it was.  Guess what!  The ranger, walking down the road, about 6 feet from her, with nothing but a stick in his hand a great big smile, expecting a big tip for chasing those lions out of the bush for me.  For a moment I really was concerned for his safety, but she just watched him get back into the jeep.  But I know that she was viewing him as prey in those seconds that she went into stalking posture, without a doubt.  And he was oblivious to this.  My guide, using a small camera, actually was taking a video - about halfway through you can see her go into stalk mode, and it is more impressive to see it on video than stills, watch for her to notice the ranger at about :42:

Asiatic lioness video

I asked my guide to be SURE to explain to future rangers NOT to do this, ever again, on any of my drives.  No chasing lions with sticks when it can be avoided, period!  I took several photos of the lions before we had to move on in order to be able to check out of the park on time.  This was the only "peaceful" visit I had with Asiatic lions, not that it was unmarred by the above obviously, but it was a solo sighting and once the lions were near me, they relaxed and we had a few moments of peace together.




When it was time to go, we stopped near the second lioness for a bit - she was much thinner.  She was just laying there, and apparently my driver was concerned that I might not get a good enough photo, so without warning he - less than 4 feet away from this adult lioness, opened the jeep door - right in front of her - and stepped out with his backpack in his hand.  I immediately said "NAY, NAY!!!!" and so did my guide - though the ranger didn't.  I have no idea what he intended to do and I did not want to find out, but just when I thought I'd seen all the shocking behavior I could in Sasan Gir from humans, I was again proven wrong.  Again.  My guide explained the driver was just trying to get me a good photo - I don't know if he doesn't appreciate how quickly a lion could maul him and how much he was putting himself in the path of danger, or WHAT his thought process was, but I would hate to think that ANY tourists endorse, encourage or reward that kind of behavior, on the part of ranger or guide.