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.