Tuesday, November 23, 2010


This is long overdue. Writer's block has been afflicting me often and I'm still not upto it. Of course, I realized if I kept it in abeyance I'd lose the vivid memories I have of this event.

17th April 2010, Bandipur National Park  

Summer did not seem to have affected BNP as badly this year as it did the year before. The jungle actually was green, thanks to the intermittent summer showers. I was in the back of the safari vehicle bumping along the track near Yere Katte. The leopard of the 15th evening was still fresh in memory. One large predator was a boon but I did not know the next bonus was right around the corner.

Just after the Yere Katte on there is a track that runs left from Kolkmalli Katte towards Siddarayana Katte. This track is not used by the safari vehicles regularly as the jungle is denser and sightings are difficult. I have particularly fond memories of that road because my first encounter with the dholes of Bandipur happened at that corner way back in 2005. Whenever I pass that junction I always look  to see if the pack, the one I saw going off down that track, was coming back! It's a different matter that five years have passed, but the habit remains.

Perhaps instinct or perhaps a stroke of good fortune, Kiran, our driver decided to turn down that track that day. Some 500 meters down I saw a flash of brown. It was two dholes running across this track from our right. Something was happening; the dhole were in a hurry. A kill perhaps, that was what flashed in our mind, especially with the langur giving warning calls from the safety of the canopy.

As we reached the spot where the dogs had crossed we slowed down to peer into the dense undergrowth for signs of a struggle indicating a successful chase for the dhole.

We could hear the yapping of the dhole inside the lantana shrubs and eventually spied the two. They were looking up and hopping onto the trunk of a tree and barking at something above.

What we saw, took all of us by surprise. It was a young leopard, standing precariously on a Y-shaped division on the trunk of the tree.

The dogs were having fun, having chased a larger predator up a tree and trying to dislodge it from its slippery perch!

I have seen predators in their natural settings and they always had an air of superiority over them. Secure in the knowledge that they were on top of the food chain they had nothing to fear except perhaps their own kind. The leopard, after all, was the second largest predator after the tiger, in  Bandipur.

This leopard, however, had absolutely no evidence of superiority about it. As a matter of fact it was looking positively embarrassed. Why wouldn't it? It was the bigger creature and there were only two puny dogs to handle. It probably couldn't figure out itself, how it got itself in this rummy situation.
It kept shifting it's position trying to hide its face behind the trunk and at the same time struggling to keep it's balance. There was just enough space in the "V" to keep two paws correctly but the leopard had four, and it would be embarrassing if it fell off the tree into the lantana shrubs below. Imagine getting yourself entangled in a thorny scrub with two excited dogs that were at that point looking very merciless.
Anyway, it wasn't the leopard's day. The dog's weren't all that keen to stop and kept at it for a good ten minutes.
The poor leopard was resolutely hanging on to it's slippery perch. It kept snarling at the dogs below occasionally but that wasn't having any effect on them. They knew that things were in their control.
Eventually they dogs got bored of the game; their playmate wasn't budging so they started wandering off.
They started walking towards the track we were on and turned in the direction of Yere Katte.
Then one of them suddenly appeared to change it's mind and turned back, flopped on the grass and started rolling contentedly.
The other dog too decided it was in no point in abandoning a nice game in a hurry and joined it's mate not ten meters from our vehicle.
The poor leopard on the tree was undecided. It was looking down searching for the dogs but the under-bush was too dense. It could see us but not the pair lying right next to the vehicle.
After some hesitation it probably assumed that the dogs had moved off and decided to take a chance. It gingerly turned on the tree, obviously not wanting to crash down into two annoying dogs lying hidden somewhere below.
Then abruptly it leapt off the tree and disappeared from view. The dog's seemed to have been waiting for this to happen. Even before I could train my camera on them they were off in a flash and the dense lantana swallowed the three protagonists of this drama. We could hear the dogs giving chase again and a little later a violent shaking of a tree some 50 meters further inside drew our attention.
The leopard had managed to escape it's pursuers again and had got into another tree; this time on a narrower but horizontal branch, with it's posterior supported by a smaller one. Certainly less secure but a more comfortable perch than the one before

We knew waiting would be futile and the leopard would not leave the safety of the tree till it was absolutely safe. Besides, the sky was darkening and a downpour was looking a certainty.

When the skies opened up it was a deluge. The three of us in the open back of the safari vehicle got drenched to the skin but for once a bumpy ride in pouring rain was a pleasure. Since there was no point in continuing the safari we returned to the resort an hour earlier but our day was made.

It was a safari like no other before it. Bandipur always rocks. My favourite corner in this world.

PS: This last photo is to show you how high the leopard had climbed up on the tree. Almost 25 feet up, maybe more.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Let's face it. All of us who take the jungle roads have always had this prayer in a small recess in their mind, "God! Show us a Tiger. Please!" I'd be lying if I said I never muttered this prayer ever so often, especially when the signs were strong.
A fresh pug mark,
 a remanant of a kill,

a deer's or langur's alarm call; anything could set the heart racing in the anticipation of coming face to face with a predator in it's home turf. In Bandipur, where the tiger was king, I've come across it only once.

The leopard is the second large predator in this part of the world and more elusive. Partly because it hunts in the night and partly because it prefers to lie up on a shady branch during the day. It's therefore less likely to cross paths with a camera totting woodcrawler, or so I thought.

6.15 PM, 15th April, 2010; Bandipur National Park
Skanda's holidays had started and the pull of the jungle had been extreme. Vishu in Kerala is a very important festival; being the New Year in the Malayalam calendar. After the traditional Vishu Kani in the morning we had reached Bandipur. We'd been hearing about "raining tigers & leopards" there and the notice board in front of the restaurant in the resort vouched for that.
The evening safari seemed to be fizzling out into a non-event. We had some 15 minutes to get out of the park gates and the driver thought he'd do one more round to a water hole before calling it a day. The light was fading and summer showers had already started. As we drove forward someone hissed. "Leopard!"

Off to the right, at a dried up salt lick there was a big male sitting. There was no water except some murky slush and he appeared to be contemplating whether to poison himself with it or look for another source to slake his thirst.

He seemed to decide that the rains would bring fresh water, lifted himself off and much to our surprise turned around to walk back towards the road.

Light was fading and the camera was not keeping up. Starting the vehicle would mean scaring the beast and making it turn back in the opposite direction. We decided to stay put and let the leopard do it's bit.

It ambled across unhurriedly, with no concern about a vehicle load of excited humans close by.

When it reached the road, it paused; sprayed on the track to scent mark it's territory and perhaps emphasize to us who the jungle belonged to, before walking past us without even a contemptuous glance.

A tiger is magnificent, but the leopard is mysterious. If not for the light we could have had better pictures but even bad pictures can't take away the majesty of the creature that walked past us. It's attitude seemed to tell us, "The tiger maybe the King but I'm no less!"

Keep watching this space. The next tale involves two of Bandipur's predators in the same scene!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dholes - Portraits of a Master Predator

Dholes, the indian wild dogs (cuon alpinus) are one of the three main predators found in Indian jungles. Reportedly rare, due to having been almost driven to extinction they have made a very strong recovery in parts of India. Bandipur & Nagarhole are two national parks where they have made an excellent come back. If they were rare, those days are certainly gone because I've never returned from Bandipur without seeing a pack every time.

They are social animals and always found in packs. Each pack has a lead couple the alpha male  & alpha female, with a group of non breeding adults, sub-adults and pups. If God created "team animals", surely the dholes should be numero uno on the list. Not many of their prey come in small sizes and even if they do the dhole may down a small animal only if a sequence of hunts end in failure. Packs may have anything from 6-30 members and feeding everybody will require a subsatntial "hunt"; perhaps a sambar, a large chital or even a gaur.

The largest pack I encountered was a group of some 14 dogs, in February 2009. They were generally lazing around. 

They looked like they had fed well. One of them was regurgitating some bone and chewing it again.

Others were content with just dozing, or  stretching or just lying around. Unmoved by the vehicle parked a few meters away.

Suddenly ears stood up, hackles were raised and the attention of the pack was drawn by something  coming up from further up the track. 

Reluctantly they picked themselves up, still staring at the source of their disturbance. And, when finally it arrived we were too shocked to speak!
An woman, alone and on foot, deep inside the national park. The dogs too appeared confused, whether to stand ground or flee.

Then, deciding that the creature marching nonchalantly in their direction was too confusing to gauge, they turned as a group and loped off unhurriedly, up the track. The woman, unmindful of a pack of dangerous predators running ahead continued in their wake.
 There was not much we could do but watch her retreating back. Praying that she would not end up as a predator's meal we informed the range office before moving on. Mercifully no report of a human death came out of Bandipur for more than a year. She must have survived her trek in the jungle. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Birds of BRT

Jungle was pulling and I did not get a slot in Bandipur. What else to do but settle for the next best? BRT is not really on top of my list but if you want solitude there is nothing like this place. Tucked away in the Biligiri Rangan hills is a little resort abutting the jungle below. JLR's, K Gudi Wilderness camp. It wasn't my first visit and will not be the last because this is a place to go when you want to get totally cut off from civilization.

No phones. No TV. No electricity (except for a couple of hours of generator power at dawn and around dinner time). If you are someone used to taking electricity for granted this is not the place for you. No way to charge your phone, laptop or camera batteries. However, if you enjoy sitting in the darkness listening to the sound of the jungle in front of you this is the place to be in. If you are not alarmed by frisky wild boar or an occasional leopard or tiger walking past your tent you will enjoy the night but if it's otherwise you'll never sleep!

This time I went for just that. Some time out in the wilderness, undisturbed. Maybe the animals too understood my need. Nothing appeared except wild boars and an occasional gaur. Even the solitary giant squirrel seemed apologetic as it looked down at me from it's lofty perch.

 The only thing to remind me that the tiger was around was a pile of steaming scat!

But just to set the tone the place was full of birds. I'm no bird person but for a change my eyes were seeing so many. Orioles, barbets, drongos, hoopoes, flycatchers and leafbird. Even a crested serpent eagle and a brown fish owl.

For the first time I noticed the bright colours of a scarlet minivet......

.....a bird that looked like a blue headed rock thrush....

....and saw a pair of birds I'd never seen before, spur fowl
And on the last safari, the icing on the cake. The jungle owlet, a bird I've always wanted to see but it never consented to appear in front of me anywhere. The feeling was like I'd seen a tiger or a leopard!!

BRT was different this time. Maybe the sign of a new dawn breaking.