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.