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.


Common Langur

This is a common langur, an interesting primate that I saw in every wildlife park I visited in India.  I really enjoyed watching them, though it was always hard to persuade my driver to stop for them.  They had a tough time understanding why I would want to watch monkeys when I could be looking for lions or tigers....but I like all animals and small primates are always fun to watch.  This particular langur was in Sasan Gir.

Male Asiatic Lion

 
On one of the morning game drives at Sasan Gir, the "trackers" alerted the jeeps to the fact that they had located a male lion.  He was not far off the road, but too far to see, so they were allowing the jeeps to go a little off road and drive up to the thicket where the lion was laying.  They directed the jeeps in succession - each jeep was waved in and out and give one minute to take photos.  Yes, one minute.  The trackers were on foot, very, very near the lion.  He did not seem to be paying them any mind, and he was clearly used to jeeps, though not necessarily overly fond of them driving right up to him over and over.  The photos show the lion in the thicket (one of the shots of my one minute) and then the proximity of the jeep.

This was a bizarre way to see a lion.  I suppose it was fair in the sense that every tourist jeep in the area got a chance to see the lion and take photos for one minute.  However, this is not the type of wildlife experience I personally care to have.  Lucky for me the lion decided to depart the scene after a few jeeps and I was positioned in the right place to see him exit the thicket and walk into better light.

Sadly for him, the trackers followed, and appeared to be trying to steer him towards a large rock in a clearing which would be good for viewing, but he looked back at them a few times and went into thicker cover.  When I left they were off pursuing him through the bush, yelling as usual.

I have been lucky enough to see many lions, on several trips to Africa, so I know there is a much more pleasant way to do it.  I really wanted to see Asiatic lions, and this was one of only two males I saw this trip.  Overall though, the fact that there were yelling humans and men with sticks pursuing the lion ruined it for me.  Not to mention you can't just sit and watch the wildlife - this park is so crowded that if you do find a lion you won' t be alone with it for long, and it will be chased off or you will have to compete for a view.  And in this park, many of the jeeps are filled with families with children and are very noisy.

Having been on wildlife trips all over the world, I have seen very few children on such trips until India.  In India, they have different park admission prices/camera fees/etc. for Indians and for foreigners - which I can certainly support, as the people responsible for wildlife conservation ought to be able to access the wildlife.  However, the Indians tended to travel in large groups, packing 6 to 10 people into each jeep, and often there were small kids and even babies.  I can honestly say that on a game drive where you have no access to facilities for 3 hours at a time and noise can scare off animals, kids would be my last choice....and it was truly bizarre to be looking at lions while kids screamed - literally.  It was even more amazing that the lions were so used to it they didn't care.  For whatever reason, there are no hushed voices here - the Indians literally would yell, talk in normal or very loud voices, and just behave next to the animals even worse than I typically see in zoos.  It was astonishing.

There is no other way to see Asiatic lions than to go to Sasan Gir - and with demand what it is I am sure they are not going to make an "adults only" game drive, or do away with the "trackers" who "help" make the lions viewable.  But wow.  Just not the way I had hoped to see these lions.  I ended up feeling terribly sad for them and hoping that the lions outside the tourist zone and deeper in the forest have a much better life.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Asiatic Lions

Several years ago I was watching a documentary on the Asiatic Lion.  Although similar to the African Lion, it is a different sub-species.  I had not known there were any varieties - I had thought there were only African lions.  I was very interested in the Asiatic lion and how it was the same and different from the African relative.  Asiatic lions were once widely distributed across India and parts of Asia, but they were hunted to near extinction.  Depending on what source you consult, Asiatic lions were hunted down to 12-50 individuals at the beginning of the 20th century, all in one area in southern India.  At that time, an appeal was made for their conservation and the ruler of the area where they were located decreed their protection.  Watching that documentary of the Asiatic lion, I learned that the only remaining population lived in a wildlife park named Sasan Gir:  I vowed to go there one day.  I kept this promise to myself last month.

I rejected a number of small group wildlife tours to India because they did not include Sasan Gir.  I could not understand why anyone would want to go to India on a wildlife trip and NOT see this endangered animal.  The population as of 2010 was counted at 411 individual lions.  That's it, folks.  That is the entire world population - it suffers from lack of genetic diversity, and since all the animals are in one location, there is only so much space - there are population pressures, and one single event could wipe these animals off the earth.  One bad outbreak of disease.  One major natural disaster or pollution event and that's it, no more Asiatic lions.  To give you some perspective, that's roughly half of the current gorilla population.....the Asiatic lion doesn't get as much press, but there are far fewer.  Of course, the population has been increasing (it was less than 200 in 1974) but on the other hand the space is finite.  One attempt to establish a second population seemed to work until all the lions were killed, and a second is stalled by the government of Gujarat (tied up in the Supreme Court of India) because Gujarat does not want to lose the attraction of being the only location in the world where you can see the Asiatic lion.  Sigh.

For me including Sasan Gir on an itinerary was a MUST, and I booked an individual trip as a result of the importance to me of seeing these lions.  Sasan Gir is located in the state of Gujarat, a primarily Muslim area and a fairly expensive tourist destination due to it being remote.  I was told by several tour companies they avoided Sasan Gir due to the cost and because people "don't want to spend that much just to see lions" and "there are only lions to see there, not really much else."  Well, I don't think that way - there are lions there, that is all I need to go (there actually are very cool other species to see nearby, should you go).

So I get to Sasan Gir, and I am on my first morning game drive - and we see a female lion drinking at a lake and then walking up towards the road.  In this park, I might add, you have a driver and are required to take a park ranger with you and stay on assigned routes, and check in and check out of the park...so it is supposedly highly regulated and allegedly one of the "best managed" parks in India.  (If this is true, by the way, I am so very sad for the animals of India).  This is my initial view of the lioness as she makes her way towards the road I am on:


I was initially thrilled - an Asiatic lion!  At last!  One of the last!  Then I got a closer view:


And then a full view:


Yes, unfortunate that the road marker is in the photo....but still, I was seeing a beautiful lioness, so I was still thrilled to have that chance.  Now when I am watching wildlife, I do my best to block out the sounds of other humans - annoying as they may be - so I had done my best to ignore some yelling that was coming from some nearby human.  I watched the lion walk a bit up the road in front of me, towards some other tourist jeeps.  And then, to my great amazement, the yelling guy appeared right where the lion had come up onto the road.  He was on foot, unarmed except for a stick, and was clearly following the lion.  Turns out he was "a tracker," men who I am told are charged with following the lions in the tourist zone at Sasan Gir so that they can be located - making it easier for the tourists (all of whom were as obsessed with seeing lions as they were obsessed in the other parks with seeing tigers) to see them.

Don't believe me that there is a man on foot, unarmed, not far behind the lion?  Well here he is.


Actually, the trackers get way closer to the lions than that!  I saw them five feet away....FIVE FEET.  ON FOOT.  You would never see this in Africa.  I could not believe it.  With a stick?  WHAT?  Ah, but it got so much worse.

There is a watchtower area not far ahead in the direction this lion is walking.  The handler seemed to be trying to steer her there but she went down to the left, then there was a lot of yelling between rangers/guides/drivers and handlers.  I asked for a translation and I was told "Well they like to steer the lion by the tourist cars so people can pet it."  WHAT?????????????  "Yes, the lion does not care about jeeps so you sit in the jeep and as it passes by you just put your fingers out on its back and you pet it and it keeps walking - I have seen this many times."

WTF?  This is not my idea of respecting wildlife.  Or being smart.  Or having common sense.  Or seeing animals in the wild.  It is not a petting zoo - these animals are supposed to be free.  But here, in the last little pocket of the world in which they live, the lions in the tourist zone are not really free.  They are harassed with sticks.  When laying in the bushes, they are chased out by the men with sticks so they lie closer to the road so tourists can see them better.  I saw this over and over.  I had seven game drives in Sasan Gir, and saw lions several times.  As I post the pictures I will try and relate what atrocities I saw committed by man in the process.  Suffice it to say, in summary, I saw bribery, animal harassment, blatant disregard of the rules, disrespect, and overall it was not an enjoyable wildlife viewing experience.  I was shocked over and over again by what I saw.

So I am glad, yes, that I got the chance to see Asiatic lions.  There are so few left.  I went to such great effort and expense to see them.  But the experience was not at all what I had hoped, and I for one do not think I would go back.  It's not the heat or dust that will keep me away, not the cost (even though the camera charges for foreigners and exorbitant) - it is that I cannot stand to see "wild" animals treated like they are in captivity.  They are free to starve or die, they have to make a living like other wild animals, they are not fed - but they are not free to live life undisturbed by man.  In many, many places in the world where wildlife tourism supports conservation, the animals still have a good life, for the most part.  I am very sorry to say I do not believe this to be the case in Sasan Gir based on what I saw.

Changeable Hawk-Eagle

This is a really interesting looking raptor that I saw in several locations in India.  This particular photo was taken while this hawk-eagle was at an artifical water trough in Sasan Gir National Park.  I sat watching this bird for awhile - getting a sunburn while doing so.  I really loved the vibrant eye, and the interesting crest.  Again, though I am not a birder, sometimes they do warrant attention, I admit.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Biggest Bee I've Ever Seen

I am very proud of this shot.  I had a hard time getting it!!  I was in near Velavadar National Park in Gujarat, India, and it was near 100 degrees.  I was sitting on the patio of my lovely room at the Black Buck Lodge, and I heard a very, very, VERY loud buzzing sound.  I looked over at a flower bush just off the patio to see several GINORMOUS bees.  I have been to Africa, where I saw some humungous bees.  This bee was like three of those giant African bees!  Seriously, I am not kidding you, this bee is the size of a ping pong ball!!!

I tried forever to get a photo - the bees are so fast flitting and it was a real challenge to focus on just the right spot and wait for a bee.  I tried and tried, even focusing on getting a bee shot instead of the mammals nearby (black buck and nilgai).  I finally got this shot - and I love it - but I noticed that it almost looks like a plastic bee!!!!  I assure you, it was very real!!!

I have no way to identify the species, but if some one knows, please let me know!

Male Tiger in Kanha II




These are a few more photos of the male tiger that I previously posted about, the one Rajan miraculously found by one single alarm call in the distance.  There are several reasons that this sighting was my second favorite of the trip.  First was how impressive Rajan's ability to find it was - and that we were the only car.  When you are the only car, you can truly observe the animals without interference from humans - no stupid calls to get the animal to look your way, no talking and disturbing the animal, no cars harassing it while it tries to cross the road or do whatever else it is trying to do....you can just watch the wild animal living its life.  Quietly.  Peacefully. 

On this particular day, when we found the tiger he was walking down the road.  Apparently tigers like the roads as they make for easy territory patrols.  This tiger stopped to smell, mark and spray several times.  I was getting photos of his butt, and once in awhile I could see his face, but no head on shots as he was walking away from us.  There was a point when he climbed up in a rock off the road to my left.  He was smelling and marking, and Rajan saw an opportunity to pass without disturbing him.  He told me to "Hold on" and then drove past the tiger.

At the moment we passed him, the tiger was standing on a rock approximately 5 feet up from the road.  I was in a jeep, and when we passed, the tiger and I were at eye level and looked into each other's eyes.  I knew that he could so easily drop down into the jeep - he was so close, just on the edge of the road.  He was so intensely beautiful, it was heart stopping.

Once we passed, we gave him plenty of space and he just calmly walked towards us.  We'd advance when he got close, to give him more space.  Just being with him in this way was really fantastic and if I were a wildlife photographer instead of a total amateur I would have gotten brilliant photos I am sure.  As it is I am not unhappy with what I got in the way of photos, but I will say that with tigers I had a harder time than with other animals.  You work SO hard to find them and they are SO awesome that the excitement of just seeing them is great and I didn't want to mess that much with taking photos, I wanted to look at him with the naked eye, meet his gaze with mine, and be present in the moment.  So although I did take photos, of course, in our 30 minutes alone together I also just enjoyed the moment - no interruptions, no distractions. 

These kinds of sightings are worth a lot of inconvenience, patience, and other things that go with wildlife travel.  Sure, it would be more exciting to watch him hunt than walk around marking territory - but I am never sorry to take what I get.  All animal behavior is interesting.  I'd never seen a tiger territory marking before other than on a documentary, and it was cool.

Fabulous leopard photo

This image by Asela Karunaratne of Sri Lanka, taken at the Yala National Park, was sent as an entry to the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2012.  I found it on the Sanctuary Asia Facebook page.  What a stunning shot!!!

Best Picture of Giraffes!!

Until now I have used this blog to showcase only my own photos, but I decided recently to try and start sharing some of the more amazing wildlife photos I come across - there are so many available these days and some are simply stunning!!!  I can fully appreciate what goes into getting these shots!

I will of course give credit to the photographer if sharing a photo that is not mine.  This one, which is the best photo of giraffe I think I have ever seen, was taken by Michael Poliza. His Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/Michael.Poliza.Photography?fref=ts

It's an experiment but I will see if I can start showcasing some of the more stunning photos I come across!  FB makes it far easier to share than Blogger but I will see if I can find a decent way to do it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Male Tiger in Kanha


Probably my second favorite tiger sighting of the trip was this male tiger in Kanha that my fabulous guide, Rajan, found on the evening game drive the same morning I also saw a male tiger - the one previously featured in the YouTube video I posted.  (Some people told me this was the same tiger I saw twice in one day; some people said it was a different male.  I don't know what is true but either way, I was SUPER lucky to have two tiger sightings in one day!). 

In Africa, game drives involve some luck, and some spotting skills on the part of your guide.  In India, if you are looking for tigers, the assignment is tougher.  You are often in a forest with a lot of brush cover, and possibly a couple meadows with tall grass - tall enough that a tiger can lay in them and not be seen.  You have to stay on roads, and often assigned routes, and you have a limited window of time as you have to check in and out of the park - and being late gets your driver, park ranger, and jeep suspended - which is unacceptable.  So basically you have to work harder - at least in February - to see them.  In June the parks close for monsoon season for a few months - and that is when most poaching occurs, when there are fewer people in the parks.  In October when they reopen, I am told tigers are shy for a few months, and it can be a challenge to see them.  In Dec-Feb they can be quite hard to see due to conditions - there is enough water the tigers can be anywhere, so you have to wait for them to be where you are.  Starting in March, tigers are easier to see as it gets really hot and the tigers must come to the few limited water spots, so you just park by a watering hole and wait.  I'm told April and May are the best times to see tigers but are generally "too hot for foreigners."

To find tigers, the guide, driver and ranger look for tracks on the road.  They can tell from the tracks the approximate timing (recent, yesterday, older, etc) and the sex of the tiger, and if they know the territories of the tigers, sometimes exactly which tiger it is.  That can sometimes give a time and a direction.  They also look for recent scat and/or tree marking as signs of tigers.  They know the basic areas the tigers frequent and the time of day, and then the most valuable tool is the alarm calls of deer and monkeys.  Those alarm calls give an indication of where and when the tiger is walking.  It is a truly amazing skill to behold to watch wildlife guides find a tiger.  This particular find by Rajan was my personal favorite because it seemed to wholly implausible.

We were on our evening game drive, waiting in places silently for alarm calls, waiting for the right time of day for tigers, driving to different potential areas, waiting.  Someone heard an alarm call by a meadow and we went and waited there awhile.  Several other cars did the same.  Some people at the same lodge I was at were in a jeep that came by and they told me this was the place they saw a tiger the night before.  About 5 jeeps came, waited a little bit, and moved off.  We were waiting, waiting, and waiting.  Soon we were the only ones.  More waiting, followed by some waiting.  Then, all of a sudden, an alarm call of a sambar deer.  Rajan heard it and said "I got it," and off we went.  We passed the jeep with the guests from my lodge and Rajan told their driver he'd heard the alarm call and the road it was on.  They elected not to follow, despite him trying to help them out.  It did seem insane that he could hear a call and know what road the tiger was on - especially since it was a road pretty far from the meadow we'd been at - but he was positive the tiger was there.

As we drove he looked for tracks.  It was a ways - he was sure though.  And then we saw fresh tracks.  "The tiger is very, very close" he said.  And then, we turned a bend in the road, and there was this tiger.  The tiger was walking his territory, scent marking, patroling, once in awhile doing a small call.  Our jeep was the only one there:  the ideal perfect way for a tiger sighting.  I will post a few more shots of this tiger on that sighting - as I had 30 minutes alone with him and 10 with another vehicle, I have about 200 shots to choose from!

Striped Hyena


I had a GREAT sighting in Velavadar National Park of striped hyena.  I watched two young hyenas as they dug at a den in the ground, played with what appeared to be a carcass (being carried in the mouth of the hyena in the lower pic) and squabbled with each other.  Truly cool to see.  I think hyenas are undervalued, in India and Africa.  I've always enjoyed watching them, with their dog-like yet not-dog antics.

Nilgai


What the heck is a Nilgai?  This creature, Asia's largest antelope.  These photos are from Velavadar National Park but I saw these several places in India.  They reminded me of the Eland in Africa, and they are sort of cobbled-together looking.  It is a strange animal - also known as a blue bull.  Very chesty and with a downhill slope to the  body like topi, hartebeest, and giraffe.  I had never seen this animal in a zoo that I am aware of, of heard of it, before I saw it - so it was one of the "new to me" species of the trip.