Friday, December 30, 2011

Sentinels of the Wild

Recently the Karnataka Government has instituted a special task force to protect the tigers in the reserves. The need for specialized and highly trained task force has become imperative in order to deliver physical protection to tigers and other animals in their natural home. 

I emphasize on the words training and hence acclimatization. I have heard of an incident in Kanha whence a force constituting retired soldiers lost their wits whence accosted by a tiger. Some firing out of fear is also said to have taken place.  I do not know how far this is true but nevertheless such a situation can be visualized easily. 

Since the inception of protected areas protection has been the biggest farce. On my recent visit to Nauradehi WLS I could see intrusion at number of places, and there are fearless wood smugglers involved in felling and smuggling teak.    

The present infrastructure at our tiger reserves is weak the forest guard is a helpless entity and easily succumbs to local pressure or lucrative liaisons. In absence of higher support he merely does his duty without any intervention. I have rarely seen presence of high officials in neighboring reserve forests, same may apply to many protected areas in India. The forest guard are easily overpowered by poaching mafia and wood smugglers in protected areas hence a more supportive mechanism has to come into picture.     

The delay in relocation process is another disabling factor since intrusion and illegal activities in the forests  are done at the behest of criminals from neighboring communities. There are some gangs based in neighboring districts and states who regularly poach in nearby protected areas. These groups are more professional and armed and ruthless towards their objective.

An armed force with war front capability is the need of the day if debacle like Sariska and Panna have to be avoided. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ramganga Tigers

When you visit Corbett from the Dhangarhi Gate you get a breathtaking view of Ramganga River. Unpolluted and crystal clear the waters appear blue surrounded by glistening white stones. The pristine river flows between low lying hills of the foothills and accords panoramic glamor to the landscape. 

The river flows adjacent as you drive on towards Dhikala Complex through the dense Corbett canopy. It plays hide and seek as it appears besides you and then vanishes behind a curtain of Sal and mixed forest trees. The forests are home to magnificent tigers who hunt beside the river thanks to a good prey base. Like all animals tigers are attracted to water especially in the summers.    

The sight at High Bank and Crocodile Pool is stunning, Ramganga and its sandy beach along side forest clad mountains.  You can see crocodiles and gharials basking in the sandy beach, the river is full of Golden Mahseer and Turtles some very big. From the dizzy height you peep right into the belly of the enchanting river.

The riverside canopy is very dense and hides wild elephants that start descending from November onwards. Tigers can be seen here crossing the road and one can track them from the alarm cries of the prey. The most striking spectacle I once witnessed was a tiger crossing the river in bright sunlight - Golden Stripes.

At the riverside Champion Road and Sambar Road are the best places to look for tigers. Dhikala Chaud, Thandi Sadak and near by places yield good tiger sightings for the lucky ones. The land of Corbett is last remaining patch of wonderful forests of Terai. Here Jim Corbett killed many man eating tigers and leopards.

But sadly the big cats are loosing ground until we do not do something the species may be lost for ever in the wild.     

*Note: You can enter Dhangarhi Gate on jeep safari only if you are staying at the RH inside the park.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Problems facing tiger reserves in MP

Tiger population in most of the tiger reserves in the State of Madhya Pradesh has increased in recent times. The breeding is impressive as on my last visit in November about 14 cubs at various stages could be seen at Bandhavgarh Park. But the encouraging survival rate is beset with other problems.

The threat is from external factors like poaching, man animal conflict, diseased livestock and territorial scuffles due to shortage of habitat.     

The security is poor as the due to understaffing as per news the post of forest guards, foresters, rangers,  needs to be filled on urgent basis. The funding is crucial for the survival of conservation centers in the state. The funding is falling short and is not enough to enable relocation of villages from the core zone and perhaps the buffer. 

Relocation is an answer to the man animal conflict which all the reserves face. The timely implementation is not possible due to severe fund crunch.

The center has taken an initiative to look into the lethargic relocation process of the human settlements in the tiger reserve. Panels of wildlife experts and conservationist have been  formed to look into the matter and possibly offer answer to expedite the matter.

This is encouraging if we have to save the tiger, inviolate space should be secured and possibly increased so as to form effective corridors and prevent inbreeding by encouraging migration. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tiger Photography by Micheal Vickers

Tiger by Micheal Vickers

Micheal Vickers is passionate about tigers and travels often on quest. His images have been published in BBC Wildlife Magazine and many other acclaimed journals.
This is a greeting I have received from him. The photo below speaks for itself.  All the best Micheal. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mating Time Kanha

The male and female tigers kept calling each other in broad daylight. We sat in our jeep waiting in expectation as the ethereal sound waves collided in our ears. The effect was magical in those serene surroundings of dense jungles of Kanha National Park.   

We were listening the mating calls of the pair hidden in the deep confines of the jungles. The pair did not emerge from the bush but nevertheless we enjoyed understanding the mating behavior of tigers. The call ceased after some time and the pair moved uphill away from us in to undisturbed area to mate in complete privacy.    

In protected areas like Kanha only the dominant male is able to mate with tigress in estrous. The competition is fierce and weaklings are pushed into subjugation. The dominance ensures transfer of best genetic trait much required for survival in wild terrain that the preserve is.   

In our tiger safari we found lot of evidence of tigers mating, some lucky one's may have witnessed this solemn event. Field biologists have understood much about breeding biology of big cats and more has to be discovered. This is required for tiger conservation in India for mating ensures arrival of new generation of big cats and hence augment numbers.      

Kanha National Park is situated in the Central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh in India. It is habitat of long lit of mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. The floral diversity is bewildering and requires training in advance botany to understand.  

Understanding our wilderness is not reserved for researchers alone, each and everyone can make a valuable contribution to save the tiger and its home. The mating increases in Kanha during the winters to some extent since the predators breed throughout the year.   

We were lucky to witness a young tigress searching for male tiger near the Kanha Meadow. The chemical communication is highly developed in big cats and they find others from scent in the urine sprayed on the trees. They also use scat and sprays on bushes to communicate. Using a process called flehmen they discover tigress in estrous or scent of the male nearby.   

The tigress sucked the effervescence of fresh urine on a Salai tree and grimaced with her tongue hanging out. The flehmen enables air to be sent to the vomeronasal or Jackobsons' organ situated in the roof of the mouth. The processing lets the big cats to discover other tigers especially females in estrous. 

My group was able to photograph this event from close. There were more tigers to be seen later besides the enchanting wildlife and avian species. 

People come from far and wide to experience this magical mystical land called Kanha. Tourism benefits wildlife and local communities in a positive manner. The preserve is the best managed in India and tourism is controlled such that it remains friendly to the ecosystem and its wild denizens. Large scale employment is generated by the hotels in Kanha which follow responsible tourism guide lines. The resorts depend upon the tourists to survive which arrive here in plenty every year.    

Best time to visit is anytime whence the park is open (16th Oct.- 31st June). Depending upon weather preference you can organize your trip. It is cold till the month of February and the heat increases after words. Avoid holidays and weekends. The park is closed for evening safaris on all Wednesdays.    

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bandhavgarh: Breeding tigers

The last nights telltale event was clearly etched on the soft jungle road. The sordid saga of survival in the tortured terrain of Bandhavgarh National Park. We followed the drag marks for a long distance till they crossed over into the dense forest.  

The predator had killed a chital doe and dragged it to the spot where her cubs were located. The struggle was evident, the drag marks formed a narrow strip of depression on the road turning and twisting in a bizarre fashion. The tigress had put it all in to take the dead prey all the way along to her cubs. 

Ignoring the bitter cold of early morning we waited at a spot at Churbohera Road in expectation. The kill was probably consumed and she was likely to emerge near the rivulet or her favorite perch next to it. After some time we decided to check the large slab of igneous rock which was her favored retiring place.     

We could see nothing till two cubs decided to play. The mother had carefully placed herself behind a clump of bamboo and the cubs stayed alongside her as she lay asleep. We could see the three little tigers about 3/4 months old but it was not possible to photograph them. Kankati had at last brought her cubs out of hiding, The challenging race for survival in the wilds had begun for the cubs, the tigress will mentor and tutor them for two years before making them independent.  This is necessary since this predator is a solitary animal and does not live in pair or a pride.

It was heartening to see the cubs as they loitered around close to their mother. I had seen small cubs before but after a gap of ten years perhaps. The spectacle is a memorable event, the cubs threw a cautious inquisitive glance at us and quickly retracted behind the bamboo. The hide and seek game went along for some time before they vanished out of sight alongside their mother. They where probably seeing humans and their bizarre contraption for first time since birth.

We were on tiger safari at Bandhavgarh National Park - me and my French group.  We saw more than the tigers - birds and mammals - a successful nature photography tour. Bandhavgarh is a prime tiger habitat in Central India with high rate of success in breeding. I could find evidence of about sixteen cubs in the park during my visit from 20th November to 23rd November. A new generation of tigers was emerging in this nature preserve auguring hope for the survival of its race. Sound policies, effective protection and positive conservation may fetch this species from jaws of extinction in the country.   

There was a mother with four cubs at Tala Zone on a kill. We could hear the squealing and mock fights but failed to see them. A just delivered litter of four was discovered in Magdhi Range besides sighting of tigress with three cubs probably 6/7 month old. Three cubs were seen on Mahaman Road by the guards. 

There may be more breeding tigresses in this little paradise. This augurs hope for the tiger's survival in India - thanks to good conservation measures. The topography of this park provides excellent security and privacy to the tigers besides a good pray base. Most of the hillocks in the preserve are inaccessible and provide safe breeding grounds for the pregnant females. Unfortunately there is disturbance in the buffer and the periphery of the core due to number of villages and livestock.     

Inbreeding threat exists in all the tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh since they are no more interconnected with each other. A viable corridor is a must for gene transfer, this relates to all reserves in India.    

Mining Menace India

After the recent news of coal mining in the Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra it becomes clear about the governments priority as far as tiger conservation is concerned. The coals mines on the periphery of the reserve posse a threat to the habitat of tigers. To make matters worse new coal mining permission has been allotted by the Union Government in Chandrapur.    

Illegal mining in critical tiger habitats in India is posing a major threat. A strong will is desired to  get rid of this menace.  Sariska and Buxa are prime examples.

This reminds one of brick kiln menace around the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Diamond mining around the Panna National Park and so on. Large amount if forest tract come under the axe for development projects in India. 

The major threat to tigers in India has always been the loss of habitats and not poaching. The tiger needs forests with dense cover to survive. The reserved forests in India are badly managed and subject to tremendous biotic pressure and timber smuggling. Most of the forests outside the protected areas do not harbor any wildlife and the big cats have been exterminated by local poachers and the reducing habitat. About 5000 crore lingers unspent due to lack of decision making and legal tussle. This fund meant for forest regeneration schemes. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Enclosure Therapy - Kanha

After the success of Swamp Deer conservation at Kanha National Park it is the black bucks turn. The former program aimed at conserving the highly endangered hard ground barasingha or swamp deer the only of its kind on the World.   The species have adapted to inhabit hard ground with evolutionary change in its hooves. Unlike other Barasinghas in India these are not as splayed and hence work well on hard ground.     

At Kanha the animals recovered from a lowly sixty to more than 300 hundred now. Once these animals thrived in thousands in this region but due to habitat conversion and over hunting the number is pathetically low.  A small population was unable to cope with predation and hence was kept in a large enclosure devoid off all predators including tiger and pythons. This was to prevent predation and increase the survival rate of the fawns. The plan was a  success and the human intervention brought name and fame to the conservation unit.  

The enclosure worked well and may have been used often. Recently about 4 black bucks where introduced in the enclosure at Kanha Tiger Reserve.  About 32 heads of this antelope survived at the preserve during the sixties. It is obvious that the animal did not belong to the ecosystem since open scrub and extensive grasslands do not exist here. The black buck survives on grass and crops in India. After the relocation of human populace from the core the agriculture fields became redundant and turned into edaphic grasslands. Stiff competition for endemic herbivores pushed the antelope to extinction.     

The exercise to reintroduce this animal in the wilds of Kanha is ill conceived since the habitat is not suitable. A high population here would mean increased competition between the deer population in the grasslands. The foreign element could affect the population and breeding of the highly endangered swamp deer.

One reason that can come to mind regarding introduction of black buck at Kanha is to increase tourist attraction. This is a highly myopic exercise and a damaging step. The tiger reserve is a conservation unit and offers scope for tourism which support hundreds of local populace. Besides tourism delivers a positive impact on tourists who come on tiger safaris and birding. People understand the value of conservation by observing the complex web of life at work. Kanha has enough species of deer and does not need an exotic species that could have a negative impact on the fragile web of life which is natural. The animal could survive on the periphery but that would lead to already severe man animal conflict. 

The program should be brought to halt with immediate effect. Species like the Indian wolf and hyena have lost ground  here due to colonization in the buffer zone. These animal should be brought back to status that the National Park can support. The crucial resources should be spent on these beleaguered animals.       

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fantastic Wildlife of Nauradehi

The chinkara leaped over the a ditch and vanished into the forest canopy adjoining the road. Taken completely by surprise that animal gave one look at us and vanished. This was a rare sight for me as most of the chinkara antelopes or Indian Gazelle have become extinct from Jabalpur and its surroundings.  

Nauradehi is a unique wildlife having up till now lost in the annals of history neglected since the end of the hunting era. It was my friend Shri Avinash Bhai landlord and business man who stirred an interest in me to visit this wonderful tiger haven. Being an avid naturalist he had frequented this wildlife sanctuary on few occasions.    

This was our third trip together after the news of a tigress found dead due to natural causes couple of months before. We were not on a tiger safari but on a quick status survey. We met few officials of the sanctuary who have been working hard to conserve the invaluable diversity of the preserve.     

November, December and January the crocodile sightings are assured. About two hundred crocodiles are found in the Bamner River and numerous water bodies that have been meticulous preserved by the forest department SDO Mr. Narendra Singh and RO Mr.Manohar Lal and his team. Their helplessness is evident as the number of villages inside is alarming. The relocation order has come in and many villages are willing to move out. But funds allocated are being channeled elsewhere at the moment. In other preserves as the officials say. 

This is a unique biotope since the fauna seen here is much less seen in popular tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh. It is a dry deciduous mix forest with preponderance of teak most of which has been logged out and the plunder continues. Bamboo is scarce because of gregarious farming, Tendu, Saaj, Salai, Dhok, Banyan, Peepal, Lyndia, Jamun, Amaltas, Char, Bahera, Harra and many fruiting trees.  

There is no lack of will and efforts by the team at Noradehi but the problem is very large. Indiscriminate collection of fire wood and minor forest produce is also a problem. But in limited numbers the team is doing all it can to safeguard this valuable reserve. In spite of action whenever possible the problems persist.   There about 60 plus villages in the sanctuary and human intrusion is damaging.    

We are thankful to the officials for their interpretation of the ecosystem and wildlife of Nauradehi. As per the departmental census there are about 4/5 tigers, 4/5 leopards in an area of 1100 plus Besides the fauna comprises of Indian Wolf,  Sloth Bear, Wild Dog, Nilgai, Chinkara, Spotted Deer, Sambar, Fox, wild Boar, Otters, Jackal and more.There are extensive grasslands with the preserve which support healthy population of black buck and chinkara besides deer species. This is why the WLS is been chosen for Cheetah relocation in Centra India  

The bird life is amazing with many species that are not easily seen in other parks. At Cheola Lake I could sight verditor flycatcher, common wood shrike, paradise flycatcher, white browed flycatcher, black redstart, lesser whistling teal, black ibis, common chiff, blue throat female, Blyth's reed warbler, black drongo, bay backed shrike, pied wagtail, grey wagtail, marsh sand piper, green sandpiper, egrets, king vulture, white bellied sea eagle (?), common tailor bird, jungle babbler, plain prinia, ashy prinia, lesser white throat, Hume's warbler, rose ringed parakeet, grey hornbill, plum headed parakeet, pied starling, common myna, open billed stork, white headed ibis and pied cuckoo.

The sanctuary has diverse habitat including large grasslands and many wetlands. Thus forest birds, grassland birds and wetland species can be seen in a few day visit. A day visit can also yield  good sighting but 2/3 days is recommended.

Nauradehi is about 86 km from Jabalpur and little less from Sagar District of Madhya Pradesh. The best approach is from Jabalpur which is directly connected by flight from New Delhi and Mumbai. The city is extensively connected by rail with metros and many other cities. 

A day  trip can be organized from Jabalpur. Some popular MP tourism companies also arrange safari package and bird watching in the preserve. Naurdehi has little accommodation accept forest accommodation with two rooms. This is available only with prior permission of DFO at Sagar.

One can make a to and fro trip from Jabalpur with ease. The tour operators provide packed  food for the day and arrange jeeps from taxi services in Jabalpur City and Sagar Township . Jeeps are preferred mode of transport in the park. The gate fee is less than Kanha, Pench and Bandhavgarh National Park. The safari guides are not available hence naturalist from Jabalpur or forest guard are required if you wish for an extensive wildlife safari in the preserve.      

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

India's Vanishing Wildlife

The connotation in the title means many species in India that are critically endangered.  This is evident from the status of the tiger. The Asiatic Lion in India stands isolated in a small pocket.

All efforts to settle the lion in a new habitat has failed. There seems to be no tangible solution in this imbroglio, and the Asiatic Lion is under threat. Here is an excellent example of human interest counting over other life forms. Another example of political ignorance that often works on parochial sentiments rather than a rational approach. 

Another example is demand for rights in fragile ecosystems, especially the forests which like all are severely limited in extant. What hampers creation of corridors to offer a safe passage to beleaguered migrants.  The passing of genes offer protection from inbreeding. But humans vote other do not. The planners lack a concise effort to offer alternative means to the tribal in a country making leaps and bounds  in economic race. Most of the activists are ignorant of conservation ethos and have utter disregard for wildlife in India. It is for the people, for the people. I am not quoting any instrument mind you it is plain fact.     

The protected areas conserve but the policies are myopic. Why degraded forests are not being reforested the way they should? There are many species that cannot stand human activities in their habitat. Crucial resources are lying strangled in a legal tussle and simple lack of corrective policies.  Restored ecosystems have tremendous potential to inhabit species which have been pushed to extinction.  

Reckless development schemes in order to generate employment are causing great harm and benefiting a few. Rampant industrialization has not benefited the West as is evident in the recent crunch. In constructing  Mega Dams large scale forest are inundated and the rest chopped as about to be. No ecological cost exercise is taken into consideration as no project may be deemed fit in natural places.  

Large scale agriculture lands created by overtaking left over natural places are redundant and innumerable are with shamelessly poor yield. The cost incurred in clearing forests and grassland is phenomenal in terms of damage to the environment.

Humans are capable of creating instruments of survival alternatively, other forms are not, they are dependent on nature. In trillions of years nature has created a fragile and complex web of life supports. Once this is destroyed it is impossible for humans to recreate.

Let us do something as urgency. What is being left for posterity should be an another concern for one and all.     

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Save the tiger & leopard

From over one hundred thousand tigers in 18th century the population has plummeted down to a mere 1500 plus animals. This is also an indication of large scale transition of the natural land in India to agriculture and expanding human civilization. The land area has been overtaken by rural and urban societies for habitation, agrarian and industrial activities. The biggest decline was due to habitat loss and not the Royal hunting sprees.

Large scale destruction of natural land - the vital ecosystems - has reduced greatly, space for other life forms.   The grasslands and forests have suffered a major brunt due to human expansion. A small percent of total area has been left for other life forms, and even within that area tussle has been going on to deliver it to humans. This right and that right! Alternative solutions are seemed as too tardy.

Our constitution rightly points out:

Of the People
By the People
For the people

Literarily meaning for some - everything for the people, but other forms of life are a consideration in India as well. It was under Shrimati Indira Gandhi that a strong initiative was taken to stem the rot.  And it worked, the Wildlife Protection Act, Project Tiger all were the right measures. By her personal interest and involvement a strong message was sent to the marauders, - enough is enough.  A light was dimmed in infancy; there was great hope from Sh. Rajiv Gandhi. (The author is quoting factual observations and nothing else). Lot of conservationist will agree with my assessment.

The Project Tiger slithered down as Panna and Sariska fiasco stand testimony. Unable to visualize new threats the administration was unable to track the poachers and their heinous deeds. Was contribution there from corrupt practices/lethargy for the local extinction? Ask Anna?

Enthusiasm has died down completely. Much ignored the leopard in India is dyeing a silent death like many others who have inherited the Earth besides us. Media savvy people realize this. Even now conservation measures are implemented but they should wider in perspective.    Half hearted approach does not augur well; the country has more resources at hand   than earlier.

In keeping with the spirit of the Vedic scriptures and let live policy, a large number of protected areas were created.  These have provided succor to one and all forms, and act as respirators for our clogged lungs. She step her foot down to prevent any intrusion into the silent valley and many other ecosystems. She left a strong legacy behind, unfortunately barring few it was never followed from strength to strength. A section obsessed with development can go reckless and maneuver over all constraint in order achieve the objective - eco- friendly or not.          

There still exist a voice of sanity; people dedicated to conservation, many concerned administrators/politicians and NGOs. The number is growing every day, an effort to salvage whatever can be. Research helps, but in order to survive the tiger/leopard urgently need solutions that mitigate man animal conflicts, prevent intrusion in natural lands, poaching, wood logging and more.These animals are vital to forest ecosystems and environment as whole.  

Unfortunately all solutions are visualized through human angle. Sometimes the middle path does not work and as very little is left now. Those at helm should resort to strong conservation measures and not dilly dally.  Justice and proper compensation to those relocated, penal action against those involved in wildlife crimes and keeping industry to lost denuded lands far away are the right steps. 

Involvement of people who can voice for the voiceless is the need of the hour. The big cats are not just for tiger safaris or photo shoots though this helps. People should contribute in whatever way they can? Raise awareness, act as voice for the voiceless perhaps.       

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jim Corbett the invincible hunter

I have read most of the hunting episodes of Jim Corbett the legendary hunter and conservationist. I have been much impressed by his word by word account of innumerable hunts. He gained reputation as a valiant hunter of man eating tigers in Northern India at Uttaranchal that was once part of Uttar Pradesh.  

He  was born at Naini Tal in 1875 and rose on to become a colonel in the British Army.  Being an ace marksmen he was frequently called by the then United Provinces Government to shoot man eating tigers that had created havoc in the hills of Nainital and elsewhere. 

The incidents happened mostly in the districts of Kumaon and Garhwal. His popularity rose with each success and he soon became famous among the villagers as Carpet Shahib. It was his fascination for forest life that turned him into a hunter. Late in life he shot only man eating tigers and leopards and game for food. 

He shot around thirty three man eating leopards and tigers during his life time. Jim was fascinated by jungle life and its denizens. He also loved the rustic populace whom he saved from tormenting scourge of man eaters.  The small museum at Choti Haldwani stands testimony to life and times of the hunter turned conservationist. 

Some of his accounts slaying man eating cats are published in the following books.

Panar Leopard
Leopard of Rudraprayag
Champavat Tiger
Chowgarh Tigress
Temple Tiger 
Man eaters of Kumaon 
Bachelor of Powelgarh

Corbett warned about the dwindling numbers of big cats in India and turned into a conservationist. He also took to wildlife photography and filmed the magnificent cats using his camera.    

The Corbett National Park & Tiger Reserve is named after him.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It is not only tigers

Love for nature should be all encompassing as my friend Jagat Flora has expressed through his images marvelously captured using a small camera.

Jungle Prinia

Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark

Chequered Beetle

Common Castor

Common Evening Brown

Common Sailor

Plain Tiger
Love and respect for all life forms and their conservation is a wise man's task. Insects and birds microbes...all constitute the Earth and play a vital role in making it liveable. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

It is Now or Never

Tigress & Cub Mr. Navneet Maheshwari
Chimta Camp Kanha National Park MP India

This tigress with cub was captured in camera by Mr. Navneet Maheshwari the owner of Kanha Village Eco Resort. The property is luxurious, built using guide lines of responsible tourism. The lens man is committed to nature conservation, and is an acclaimed wildlife photographer.     

The subject matter though elates is also a grim reminder of the fate of this extremely majestic animal that sits at the top of the food chain and is an indicator species. The terminology denotes a vital element, and does indicate the impact of constructive or destructive activities in an ecosystem. The tiger's absence from tropical forests in India is suggestive of a badly fragment ecosystem with no beneficial effect on our environment.  No rivers, no food, no water ...mother Earth without a womb. 

We have to come to understand the correlation between natural lands their vital elements and myriad life forms that play major roles to preserve our environment. This complex web of linked elements as whole are crucial to our environmental stability. When we understand this, the tiger's role on Earth becomes evident. 

Nature conservation is not an elite prerogative as many people believe, nor is love for mega fauna a fad. Nature conservation is a serious dedicated effort in order to leave a beautiful healthy and stable environment for our generations to come. Unfortunately short term goals and pecuniary greed negates all positive steps and  sacrifices humanity  has to make in order preserve whatever is left. Making amends for the continuous destruction the human society is causing today, seems an impossibility almost chimerical. But we can preserve the fragments of natural lands which are still alive, which means saving this apex creature.      

The image of mother and cub accords human touch and sensitivity. The tigress rears her cubs just as humans do with kindness and caring love. The growth is signified with intuitive development augured by the  dedicated instinctive learning process at the behest of the mother. By examples and trials. Yes just like we do for our children to survive in this rat race. The natural world is more disciplined with very little instance of aberration, yet survival instincts are ingrained and impregnated for the cubs to survive in a terrain full of natural enemies.  The limiting factors that justify the survival of the fittest.     

Will the posterity capture such images there is a big question? Only the voice for voiceless will help those beleaguered but with the right to own the Earth as much as we do.  Live and Let Live.   

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bandhavgarh Jeep Safari

Recently tourism zones have been divided in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. Earlier Tala Gate was the main core where tourism was organized. Due to heavy rush of vehicles the park has been divided into four zone which is a wise move. The number of vehicle entry has also been restricted which is wise as well. 

All these practices will increase cost in the preserve and decrease tourism. Well a balance is required. I have never been to Panpatha zone for excursion and perhaps visited only some areas of Khitauli Zone.  On my next tour I will get a chance to explore new habitats in the amazingly beautiful tiger haven. 

I narrate here my experience of Tala Zone. The terrain is the roughest that one comes across most of the tiger reserves in India and most striking. In most of the confines of the park  an experienced driver acclimatised to  sudden steep climb and swift turns on hillocks is a must. The climb to Sesh Shaiyya is an example how steep upwards a jeep ride could be. In times of Maharaja four by four vehicle was required to reach the Fort about 2 km from Shesh Shaiyya.    

The jeep ride over Gufa No.10, Ghodha Demon and Ramgarh is a steep upward climb continuously. At places 4 by 4 is required but the spectacular scape makes these mountainous areas a must visit. The large tracts of grasslands are situated in the plains where the ride is easy but one needs to avoid the sand traps. Lot many vehicles get stalled in the sand filled paths of the forests.   

The high rise terrain on the hillocks accords greater privacy to tigers of the reserve. These inaccessible areas are excellent breeding grounds for the big cats. The difficult undulating terrain needs safari vehicles in expert hands. Most of the jeep drivers in the preserve are acclimatized to driving in the park. The top rated luxury hotels in Bandhavgarh use their own jeeps for tiger safari. They have on hire expert jeep safari guys who make excursions successful. Some of the drivers are expert naturalists as well.       

Since private vehicles are not allowed in the reserve you need to hire jeeps available for wildlife safaris. If you suspect your driver's skill ask him not to approach the steep climbs or mountainous terrain in the nature preserve. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tiger by the River

It was 3 years back and I was leading a German bird watching group at Corbett. Birding is very time consuming and requires lot of concentration. The group wanted both birding as well as tiger sighting. The latter becomes difficult when you are in quest for birds. But nevertheless I was keeping an eye in the avian species as well as the tigers.  

It was early April but heat had picked up we were on five jeeps all scattered but on the same route. Somewhere around the Bank of Ranganga I heard one sambar alarm cry which was never repeated. Much to the chagrin of the jeep driver I asked him to stop. Within seconds the alarm cries were repeated on the other side of the river. These were spotted deer who were moving into the forest at frantic pace.    

This was enough to tell you that there is a predator in the vicinity. "Quite close by," I told my bewildered guests. This was the first experience for them of sounds of the jungle in India. We began to wait for the predator to emerge. Lot of time passes...the impatient driver and the guest now irate at losing precious birding time look at me with a bit of irritation. Lot more time had passed and nothing happened.

I had an inclination that the predator had heard the jeep sound and was hiding in the bush somewhere near. Their was a pin drop silence all the way now but the tiger as I presumed it to be was coolly lying down at peace with itself.           

Other jeeps with the rest of my guests in total fifteen had reached us by now and I told the jeep drivers to wait in total silence. I knew I was risking my job if the tiger did not emerge there would be a complaint. But I paid no heed to the drivers who were urging me to move on. 

As luck would have it a troop of macaque came across to my left. The macaques have a peculiar habit of going right near the predator and irritating it with raucous alarm cries. Hari Lamba the local birding guide on other jeep  also knew this. I asked my guests to watch the movement of the leader and eagerly they did. The leader went right up to the spot where the big cat was hiding. He began to cry frantically from the tree nearby, and within few moments a huge male emerged. I had asked my guests to keep the camera ready but none could photograph in that exciting moment. We could see the tiger moving besides us about 30 yards and vanish into the deep confines on the bushes on the bank. 

That was it I had tracked the tiger! The cheers that followed were heartening. But not for some guides and jeep drivers, the lot here have a peculiar habit of expressing their "no ledge" and very rudely at times. I have not experienced anything like this elsewhere. The staff respects the age and experience of old timers, not here.    

At the forests near the Dhikala accommodation we had heard alarm cries the evening before but could not locate the tiger hidden well inside. The jungles of India are full of surprises.  While returning to the rest house through the same road, we were still in trance with what had happened. Then what happens, the yesterdays tiger emerges from that very spot, crosses the road approaches us and vanishes into the vegetation across. This time my guests managed to photograph a tiger without head (behind a tree trunk at that moment) and other pic of its bum about 5/6 feet away from us. What a way to store eternal memories!           

Hey! I had no role play here except taking a weak chance, nevertheless it all boiled down to me. I could not understand German but the smiles told me a lot. 

Corbett - Incredible - Unforgettable

It is not on tiger safaris that I got to know this wildlife heaven better. I visited Corbet Tiger Reserve many years back and the destination surprised me no end. But I got to know the tiger heaven better on my birding trips in last few years.   

The keystone species are tiger, leopard, wild elephant and among the reptiles it is the endangered Gharial and Mugger. The latter two are easily sighted at crocodile pond but the foremost two are bit difficult to sight. I have sighted tigers on many occasions but the leopard none. Only leopard sighting I had was on way up to Sat Tal in Naini Tal District. 

Though tourism still has a free hand in this park with private vehicles creating the greatest nuisance. Nevertheless wildlife has increased in this National Park with a large number of tigers inhabiting the wonderful reserve. Of late the big cats are seen more and more than earlier. Another great attraction is the wild elephant whose numbers increase with the onset of summers.  Hundred of pachyderms gather around the the Kalagarh Dam and Dhikala Chaur the most coveted for accommodations, wildlife watching and birding.   
Other mammals seen here are leopard, spotted deer, barking deer, Goral, sambar deer, sloth bear,  rhesus macaque, Hanuman Langur, hog deer, yellow throated martins, otters, Himalayan Black Bear, jungle cat, leopard cat and fishing cat.

Birders know that for them this is a paradise with more than five hundred bird species inhabiting the reserve.  In Northern India this is the most coveted destination for bird watching besides Bharatpur and Sattal. The attractions are many: Great Hornbill, Great Slatyheaded Woodpecker, Siberian ruby throat, wall creeper, Ibisbill, red breasted parakeet, plum headed parakeet, Alexandrine Parakeet, Himalyan Bubul, White cheeked bulbul, Streak throated woodpecker, grey faced woodpecker, greater and lesser racket tailed drongo, white bellied drongo, white rumped shama. commom magpie  and Himalayan Flameback
At Corbett I have seen both Scarlet and Long Tailed Minivets besides Rosy Minivets and small minivet. Paradise flycatchers can be seen  with onset of summer. The list can go on and on. 
The park is one of the most picturesque thanks to the enchanting river Ramganga that flows through the finest forests within the reserve. The white sandstone on the banks and crystal clear blue waters are a mesmerizing spectacle to experience. The forest are most enchanting with exciting safaris to thrill you down to the bones. There are long trails of forests around the buffer zones but not intact. Places like Choti Haldwani and near by places where Jim Corbett used to hunt man eaters are bustling townships with very little natural land left. Only at Corbett National Park do you experience true wilderness.        

Best way to reach Corbett is via Ramnager which is about 11 km from the Dhangari Gate. In order to visit the Dhikala Zone one should be staying at accommodations or Rest House within the zone. Sarapduli and Dhikala are the preferred accommodations in terms of what they have to offer. Other entrances are the Aam Danda Gate, Durga Devi Gate and Kalagarh Gate (Jhirna).  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bisons of Kanha

Bos Gaurus
The coarse grazer belonging to Family Bovidae is one of the most impressive mammals of Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh. The animal is found widespread in intact forest habitats where interference of man is minimal. Like the tiger bison or gaur as it is called in Hindi cannot tolerate human interference and usually becomes locally extinct due to disease carried by livestock of the settlers. Competition for food is another factor in the species loosing ground.   

This did not happen in Kanha, thanks to large area and mountainous region that gave these animals enough space. The Barasingha suffered the most with extensive loss of habitat. The bison is a local migratory animal and sticks to its forests in vicinity. 

The bisons are less seen during the winters in the plains and meadows of Kanha. The coarse grazers get enough to forage on the  table top mountains and are content to stay there in the dense confines. But as water levels decreases with passing off of winter, and leaf shedding begins these animals start migrating to lower areas. Herds can be seen in forest confines and the grassy meadows during the early morning hours and late evenings as the heat increases.   

They are sighted from February in larger numbers. The animal is a gregarious species which live in small heards to larger herds of 40 to 50 heads. The matriarchal system prevails with dominant males keeping to the fringes or away from the herd in non breeding period.  The herd consists of  young females, males and fawns. 

In winters mating occurs on hillside and the fawn are born during May onwards. The dominant males often engage in a tussle and various display of aggression before courtship to take control of the herd with female in estrous. 

The population increased substantially after trans location of villages in the core zone. The species suffered extensive loss after my visit in 1976. This was due to foot and mouth disease or rinderpest and many animals died during the prevalence. In recent times gaur can be seen in Kisli Range as well as in the buffer zone around Indri Camp. Herds now cross over at the road to Mukki near the villages in the periphery. These animals are always susceptible to disease prevalence among the live stock there.     

The conservation efforts as whole has paid of  for this species. The increasing number would need new grounds for  the gaur and these would be the buffer. The forest canopy is not dense here and the region  is open to man animal conflict.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wildlife in your backyard - Conservation & Photography

If you live in a small town or outskirts of major town than nature is all around you. You need not search for a mega fauna but small wildlife that spins its own ecosystem in your back yard. Birds, insects, small amphibians and even reptiles are part of your backyard.   

These life forms can form an interesting part of your study of nature. Photography especially macro photography is quite possible if you have the right equipment. You can capture bird nesting and breeding butterflies and other insects.  

Photography enthusiasts dream of filming mega fauna which can be a costly and time consuming exercise. If you do not have the necessary resources than backyard photography can also lead you to great photographs and articles. You must understand that wildlife photography is a serious profession and the glamor and glitter can be misleading.   

Photographing nesting birds in your garden is a wonderful opportunity to capture rare events. At the same time you come to understand the breeding biology of your subject. This can churn out and interesting piece of scientific literature that can find publisher in a nature magazine. 


Always preserve natural places in your compound and the neighborhood. Many life forms cannot find habitat in a manicured gardens and trees which are not endemic.  Hence even if you are not a wildlife enthusiast or nature photographer please preserve all small niches that are natural. This way you are saving many lives. 

Ask your neighbors, friends and relatives to preserve the small pockets of natural vegetation around them. Please forward this message.    

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Searching for tiger in Pench

Pench is a unique destination that has been popularized by Capt.Sleeman and the legendary writer Kipling. Capt Seelman wrote in his book "Rambles and Recollection" about Mowgli the Wolf Child first discovered by Lt. Moor of British Army in Central India. He found the child in the village of Sant Vavadi.

Kipling's account of Seoni Hills in "Jungle Book" is fiction that is based on reality.  The imagination has mesmerized readers all over the World. Actually it was not the book that did it but the film by Walt Disney Production that proselytized millions across the World. The film created love and respect for other life forms by presenting them in a highly loveable manner including Sher Khan. Yes Sher Khan too, the object of our reckless pursuit on tiger safari. The film is in my  view one of the greatest conservation work in history of mankind. Hyperbole not to be misunderstood.

The denizens of the wild still survive but in less numbers, the forest wealth has been diminished by loggers and the down slide continues.  Within the confines of Pench National Park the tigers have learned to thrive well while their brothers outside the protected area are totally at the mercy of humans. 

Tigers are shy animals and very difficult to see in dense thickets. They are by nature nocturnal animals hence active hunting takes place in the night. The tigers love to move in the cold of the night and prefer to lie in the shade whence the sun is high up. They are seen whence forced to move in the day time on paths frequented by humans. Or on the jungle roads inside the park. Thirst and hunger are two major factors which forces the big cat to cross path with humans. Through years of experience their instinctive avoidance of humans has come into picture and when the stress factor is not there it is very very difficult to see these animals. 

For the big cats the alarm cries are the biggest give away and so is there spoor. Some have come to realize that the tourists on jeep is harmless and dare to venture in full daylight in their presence. This has given the benign tourist extreme moments of delight, but at the same time made them realize the importance of nature conservation and respect for all life forms. Not till one sees the tiger does he or she realize the importance of ecosystems and the wonder creation of Mother Earth.  

Tourism does play an important role in creating awareness about nature and our environment. It persuades tourist to value and conserve whatever is left of  natural Earth.  Tiger safaris are vital if we have to keep educating the uninitiated. The tourism infrastructure, the hotels in Pench National Park in MP are foundation of conservation and responsible tourism. The sustenance of locals means greater help in conserving our inheritance.

The conservationists, tourists, wildlife photographers and nature lovers are the sentinel of wilderness. They are the voice that speaks for the tigers and other persecuted life forms.  It is the people who care to visit natural heavens that realize our inhertiance not those who never bother.  For you do not hear a golfer say" Help Save the Tiger".        

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tiger Safari on a budget

No Cheap Options from 20 Dec to 7th January, Diwali Festival and Holi festival ...avoid Saturdays and Sundays other holidays.   

The recent price hike in tiger tourism in Indian tiger reserves in  MP has a negative impact on economy that sustains many homes. A world reeling under an economic stress finds it difficult to spend so much on wildlife safaris. Nevertheless lot many people on Earth wish to see this wonder creature though they can only travel on a budget. This does not apply only to middle class Indians but to foreigners as well.   

The price hike may be a management issue aimed at regulating tourism in the Central Indian Parks. Hence those wishing to travel for tiger safaris and birding need to economize everywhere they can. The tour begins at Delhi for most.

Depending upon your flight you can avoid a stay at the Capital. There are direct flights for Jabalpur if time allows get on board straight. Booking flights in advance cuts the cost, last minute flights are costly. Another option is overnight train which are about 4 or 5. You should have booked your rail ticket in advance the cheaper options are 3 tier sleeper or 3 AC bit higher priced.  These are overnight options but will certainly save a stay in the hotel in New Delhi.    

Whence you reach Jabalpur you have an option to get bus for Kanha National Park via Mandla but this is in the early morning times. Taxi ride is costly hence if you have to stay overnight than there are many economy hotels in Jabalpur at Russel Chowk. Be cautious that you do not land in unsafe hotel. Some of the better hotels are Arihant Palace, Vardhman Hotel, Hotel Shikhar Palace which charge reasonably and you can bargain. 

There is a direct bus for Kanha from the bus station known as motor stand very close to Russel Chowk. You can walk down there about 10 minutes. You should reach around 5.45 am.I think there are two buses going to Kanha hence get the first worm. The ride is about 156 km to Mocha Village if you are putting up there or bit further to Khatia Gate.You have to travel to Khatia Gate..Kanha Kisli Side and not to the Mukki Gate (towards Raipur) which does not have budget options. Keep this in mind. Always ask for Khatia Gate at Kanha near Mochha Village.     

Stay: Bargain at hotels in Kanha ....motel chandan at Khatia Gate, and other lodges on main road to Khatia Gate they are safer.  Food is also cheap in these places else there are many road side dhabas for food. Avoid Non Veg which is costlier than vegetarian food. Always go for deep fried hot food in road side joints else eat boiled eggs bread and butter if you are extra sensitive to Indian Pathogens. See things cook right in your presence the hotter the better. The oil and spices your stomach will adjust to. Once you get hooked to Indian curry & roti there is none other food. Anyway carry antibiotics for your stomach as many do. Carry mineral water...branded one use that throughout your journey.

Remember India is a vast country so you cannot expect any homogeneity in services and offerings. There are World class restaurants and accommodations in the country but on budget tour forget it. Most of the budget restaurants are clean and neat. Avoid roadside joints if you come across some good eateries.      

There is a dormitory at Kisli in Kanha National Park operated by MP Tourism you should book in advance along with food it is a real cheap option. You could share the jeep safari if other inbound tourists are staying there. Since the dormitory is in the core area your movements will be restricted by Gate timings. Khatia Gate has a small rustic bazaar but not quaint at all...he!he!. This is where people begin there safari on Kanha side, the jeeps are available here. But if you connect in advance with your accommodation you might get a share ride and save money.     

Try to share jeep safaris with other foreigners this brings the cost down a lot. There is seperate pricing for Indian and inbound travelers which include NRI foriegn passport holders.  Visit any zone that is available since Kanha Zone is a premium zone and costs more. You can see as good wildlife any where. the same bus will fetch you back it leaves around one am from Khatia or Mocha Village. Gate Entry has to be booked in advance since the vehicle entries are limited.  

Do not buy beverages at your resort in the tiger reserves they are very costly. The local bazzar is the best bet, but liquor will cost more is not all these purchasing at Jabalpur or other major town.    

From Jabalpur you can buy a luxury bus ticket to Khwasa township ahead of Seoni town, the entry point to Pench National Park. Within a distance of ten km there are many resorts you can stay at Mowglis Den Resort which has a dormitory that could cost less. Except in the rush season you can bargain with the resorts for accommodations.

Pench is closer from Nagpur connected by luxury bus. In non holiday period the bus will not cost you the nose. There is a Jabalpur Nagpur railway connection as well.  

For Bandhavgarh there is a direct train Utkal Express from New Delhi leaving 3 pm apporx, it reaches Umaria Station early in the morning from here you have to walk down to the bus stand and catch a bus for Tala which is about 32 km. Most of the accommodations are in and near Tala and some are budget class. 

From Jabalpur you can travel by rail/bus to Katni and catch a bus for Umaria and so on. The best option is the Utkal Express which departs for The Capital around 9 pm approx. Please confirm all rail timings.

There is a long option for Khajuraho from here about 6/7 hours drive, from the temple town Panna National Park is about 45 km and so is Ken Gharial Sanctuary.  

The three tiger reserves are recommended for tiger safari on budget. If you can gather some more people from your country the sharing will certianly bring the individual cost down.

The views above are my own, please use your own discretion during the safari tours. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Best Options for tiger safari in Central India

The best options for tiger safari in the state of Madhya Pradesh are three. Obviously Kanha, Pench and Bandhavgarh. But what can you add more to your journey?

The best way to reach these tiger reserves is landing at Jabalpur Airport or Rail Head which is an overnight journey from New Delhi. The flight takes approximately 1.25 hrs to Jabalpur from New Delhi and nearly the same from Mumbai. Jabalpur is well connected from Mumbai by rail. It is well connected with Kolkutta and many other towns. But one fact remains... you have to book in advance or you do  not get reservations.   

Most inbound tourists drive straightway to the reserves from the airport of rail head. If you are going to spend the night at Jabalpur and have sufficient time then visit Marble Rocks for boating and sightseeing. It is about 21 km from the city and transportation is easily available. Another option is Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary which is about eighty km and a day trip can be made for birding and wildlife safari. Jabalpur has much to offer in sightseeing but that needs a few days off stay.

Kanha or KTR Khatia Gate is about 156 km from Jabalpur if you are staying at Mukki Gate then travel 30 to 40 km more.  From this reserve it is back to Jabalpur for flight/train unless you plan to stay here for an extension to Nauradehi WLS or Marble Rocks.

Those going straight to Bandhavgarh can visit Khajurhao Temples from there on. The temple town is connected by flights well. Panna Tiger Reserve is close by about 45 km and so is Ken Gharial Sanctuary these places are worth a visit.

Bandhavgarh is connected by overnight train with New Delhi from Umaria Station which is about 32 km from the Tala Gate. BTR is connected with KTR by 5 hrs drive and from here Pench is about 5hr drive.

Pench is connected with Nagpur (80KM) which is an Airport. Nagpur is connected to Jabalpur by rail and road. Pench, Kanha tour is an option for those wishing to visit two preserves. Nagpur is an effective gateway to Southern India.   

Pachmarhi Hill Resort and Satpura National Park are close to Jabalpur. By rail and then by road Pachmarhi is about 4 hours journey. Satpura is about two hours from Pachmarhi and one hour from Pipariya Station. The gate is situated at Madai Village. This is destination where in tourism infrastructure has come recently and is yet unexplored. It is part of extended conservation unit called Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve. Bori WLS and Pachmarhi WLS along with the tiger reserve encompass more than 4000 sq km to form this biosphere reserve which is a gold mine of diversity of all natural elements. 

Pachmarhi hill resort is an ideal summer holiday destination, utmost picturesque and cool. Natural formations, Hills and Valleys along with wonder spots form a spectacular pot pourri of scapes that enchant the visitor.  These are destinations where bird life is least explored.  

In order to visit these places tour operators of MP provide affordable tourism packages. For independent travelers making travel arrangements is a big hassle. Okay if done in advance. The hotels can help you with arrangements but  a package is anytime better.  

Useful Info: Winters are very cold hence adequate amount of warm clothing: mufflers, caps, gloves, jackets  should there in your baggage. In the interior areas many consumer products, medicines, wines, banking facilities may not be available so do your shopping in advance at Jabalpur or New Delhi.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Indian Cheetah

What was Indian Cheetah Like?

Captain Forsyth has described the Cheetah in India. According to him the animal lived in outskirts of  was capable of chase but preferred to ambush from behind the rocks. There is a hypothesis that speaks of Cheetah being brought to India by the Mughals.  

Last of these was shot in Korea District of Chhattishgarh State in India. The closest species is the Iranian Cheetah with marked similarity. I have been searching for records or write up on this carnivore in India without success.

One reason I can make out for its extinction is the loss of habitat due to colonization and expanding agriculture. Perhaps it was a greater menace on live stock and hence shot down. Cheetah and Leopard both seem to have confused locals as being the same animals, these misunderstandings exists till date although the former is absent. This confusion prevails even between Leopard and Panther, Tendua & Gulbaag, which are names of the same animal.    

Unlike leopard, the cheetah appears to be very fragile with greater dependency on niche habitat and specific prey base.Growing human presence could also be the reason. The carnivore could as well have been brought from outside by the Mughals to hunt black buck. 

During the tectonic plate movement  animals like leopard and lions where on board. But this animal appears to be endemic since in absence of large savannah grasslands the African Cheetah would have found difficult to survive. Anyway most of the grassland ecosystems in India are small and had been taken over by man centuries back.

Could it be possible that some of these animals still survive in our forest peripheries? People even if they see this animal may be mistaking it for the leopard. There still remain unexplored regions which may one day spring surprise like the tiger did in Nauradehi. With the entry of the tiger, Cheetah could have gone nocturnal and elusive like its cousin.

Keep a lookout when you drive through natural places!         

Big Cat Surprise

Death is saddening but does it augur hope? On this instance it does? A local daily has recently reported of a tigress found dead in Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary. Naurdehi WLS is about 80 km from my home town Jabalpur in MP, India.The recently in news regarding relocation of Cheetah. 

The sanctuary is large with the forest cover of about 3000 sq km. The area of the reserve is around 1000 plus sq km. Rich in prey base the place was seen as devoid of tigers and leopard. On my visits I have not heard or seen any evidence of tigers or leopards. The WLS is well known for frequent wolf sighting at Cheola Lake in Mohali Range where the carcass of the tigress was discovered. 

The forest has good prey base within the protected area but the big cats where presumed to be locally extinct due extensive hunting in days whence it was legal.   I have seen large herds of Sambar, Nil Gai, Spotted Deer, Langur and Wild Boars. The park has substantial population of Black Buck which prefer more grassy and open area.  

The big cat's presence is heartening, the forensic analysis is suggestive of natural death probably due to old age. The tigress was about fourteen years at time of death. These predators live to about 14, 15 years in the wild. Although a forest personal had reported seeing a tigress with two cubs few years back no further evidence to collaborate the findings was found later. Now it is confirmed, and presence of more tigers in the area would not come as a surprise. The large sanctuary has many inaccessible hill ranges where these creatures could still be surviving. A counting is being planned but I am not sure about it.

The natural death is suggestive of very little poaching taking place in the sanctuary. On my visits I could make out the sanctuary is well protected in spite of large number of villages inside. But the forest cover is under stress due to biotic pressure. The tiger cubs that where reportedly seen would be around 3/4 years now and capable of mating. 

The discovery also justifies that the place is capable of harboring big carnivores is. Within the sanctum sanctorum more big cats should be discovered..night patrolling is one way of discovering these nocturnal creatures. Cheetah relocation will further boost conservation of habitat. Due to diverse habitat preference there will be little conflict with the tigers present in these forests.

The WLS has interesting wildlife with species that are not seen easily in other tiger reserves. The forest type differs from Kanha and Bandhavgarh and more dry mixed forest type. The open grassy areas support black buck and are preferred by Nil Gai as well. They are ideal for Cheetah which is an open country savannah dwelling predator unlike the tiger which prefers dense cover.   

I have visited the sanctuary few times with Avinash Pathak who knows the ways of the wild. More trips are being planned for bird surveys.

During a day safari at Nauradehi one can see chinkara, wolf, fox and animals mentioned above. I have seen the fox here near the Cheola Lake in day time along with chinkara antelope which is fast loosing habitat in MP and many have been poached. Bird surveys will certainly yield some surprises.       

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wildlife Photography in India

Extensive travel is a must if you wish to cover a large number of  species during your photographic expedition. Indian wildlife is spread across its various states especially in distant areas with intact ecosystems. The topography is diverse hence a large number of mammalian, avian, reptilian and insect species make India there home. 

Comprehensive photography of nature in this country is a Herculean task. Specific bird or animal photography is bit less expensive and less time consuming. Filming wildlife professionally requires lot of investment and time. Extensive film production in the country's protected areas requires permission from Ministry of Environment and the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state. The is would enable a nature film company much flexibility within the law. As per permission granted filming on ground level, camera trapping and night filming may become possible.     

What facilities and flexibility are granted depends upon the MOEF and CCF hence on first instance the company should contact these offices.  Charges applied have to be paid including hefty gate fee in tiger reserves. One needs to hire local staff with skills sets suitable for the expedition. Professional naturalist guides are a necessity. Persons having experience in obtaining and executing permission or facilitating in accommodations, travel food etc can make the project a big success.    

For amateur shooting with personal video or camera a nominal charge has to be paid every time you enter the park.  Tourists need remember the usage of flash is not allowed in the park and night drives are not permitted. The season with longest day hours is the summer. From after predawn to late evening light is present with good intensity. Many professional camera men prefer this period the heat not withstanding. Rains or monsoon are difficult times for the lens men due to hampered movement, bad light condition and slush. Only those interested in monsoon assignments should time their expedition for June to 1st week of September. Rains are intense during these months.       

One need to know the sighting records of animals in India. Where would you find the target species? One needs to do lots of home work. Popular charismatic animals like tiger, lion, rhino, elephant and others can be filmed in protected areas which are meant to conserve them. Little bit of fact finding will yield lots of information.    

For bird photography the popular birding spots are the best though for rare endemic species distant travel will be required. Most of the nesting takes places in rainy season or monsoon hence greater stress. Due to flooding and slush formation travel to many places becomes very difficult.

Study of Indian wildlife will help you reach the right destination for a particular species. The country has lots of protected areas notified as National Park, Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuaries where major species are conserved. There many WLS in remote places which are a micro habitat designated for just one or two species. Hence it is good to have as much information on wildlife as possible including travel and accommodation requirements.      

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dudhwa - Terai Habitat - The Seize

I have been many times to Lakhimpur Kheri District in Uttar Pradesh perhaps India's largest. It is a terai belt called Himalayan Foothills. My trips took me to Bhira, Gola Gokernath, Mohammadi, Singhai, Tikunia, Palia and Chandan Chowki besides other townships. There are major sugar mills and khandsari located in this UP district. Singhai was once famous for swamp deers and hunters nothing remains now except man and his farms.

As keen wildlife man I had read accounts of man eating incidence at this tiger heaven.      

Unfortunately I have been able to come near the reserve or go across many times - but no safari. As these where all business trips. I have also moved along the Kishangunj WLS a good habitat. Farming is the biggest scourge in the swamps fed by Sharda River. Every year the river floods and inundates many human settlements. But due to excellent alluvial soil all the region neighboring the badly shrunken National Park is under sugar cane farming reducing the tiger habitat. The proximity of such large concentration of humans to forests is striking. 

This is the reason why distant places like Gola and Mohammadi have suffered from man eating incidence. The animals strike human blood in sugar cane fields near the tiger reserve. They can easily move using the night cover through scattered pieces of khair forests and swamp land to reach the townships. 

Anyway I missed a safari here in spite of being so close. I still remember the Samosas of Gola and its bustling township. The Hindu temple of Gola Gokarnath is famous all over the country. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The sights and smells of this region are bewildering, from the smell of shit and muck to that of roadside mouth watering gastronomic delights. The tiger reserve survives amidst the sea of humanity. On one side of it is the porous Nepal border which makes the park susceptible to poaching and smuggling. 

I hope the administration is pro active in protecting this heritage wealth for posterity. The successful translocation of One Horned Rhino is heart warming. The preserve is also an excellent birding destination.

Lakhimpur Kheri can be accessed by road and rail from Lucknow the former is better. The train (Mailani Express) - if my memory serves me right - that connects the two is a horrible travel experience.  Please drive in day time, the accommodations are at Palia about 40/50 km from Lakhimpur Town. Interim night stay can be made in hotels of Lakhimpur.  Evening/Night travel is not advised at all.          

Wilds of Seoni Hills

Part of Central Indian Highlands so vividly and elegantly described by Capt.James Forsyth during the Raj...these hills are part of the Satpura Range. The Central Indian Forests where once contiguous and  were teeming with wild life and floral biodiversity. If you have not read the book do read it.

The Seoni Hills are where the story of Mowgli the Wolf Child is based. This is also known as Kipling Country since he wrote a fine account of these forests and Wainganga River in his book "Jungle Book". Rudyard Kipling has knit the wild denizens into a complex web of imagination that allures many to visit these highlands from all over the World. All the characters of this classic book live in the jungle even now, though the wolf has become rare.

With increasing urbanization lot of habitat types that support rare animals are being lost. Outside the reserve plains, grasslands and scrub have been completely overtaken by civilization. Increasing population, agriculture and industrialization further threaten these pristine jungles of India.     

The Seoni Township is a small city now with bustling commercial activity. Fifty km from it towards Nagpur lies the Pench National Park which encompasses Seoni Hills. The forests where once connected with Kanha Tiger Reserve, but I do not think they are anymore. The town itself is bare, but the jungle is met with at some distance. Most of the drive to Pench is pleasant as scenic splendor of dense canopy, undulating terrain  and green hills unfolds.   

Due to the ravages of time the forest have been greatly denuded but timely intervention saved the remaining. Most of the rock formations are pristine with black cotton soil and clay here and there.  Adjoining to Pench is Rukhad Wildlife Sanctuary now part of the tiger reserve. The WLS offers good sightings of animals including tigers and leopards. You can still come across Bison and deer crossing like it was everywhere in olden days. The area is well inundated by rivers and nullahs which are the life line of the ecosystems here. Water Holes or pools are referred as Dohs, perennial springs also support life in this region.    

Wildlife seen is tiger, leopard, bison, sambar, spotted deer, wild dog, sloth bear, barking deer, langur and Nilgai, The Indian wolf at Pench frequents outer areas around villages but are not often seen.     

Extensive jungle is connected with Seoni, Balagahat and Dist. of Nagpur.  The forests stretch from the State of Madhya Pradesh and ingress into Maharashtra. Most of the tourism takes place from Turiya Gate in MP. The MP border at Khawasa is the access point to Turyia Gate. In order to enjoy wildlife safaris one can stay in numerous Pench resorts that offer accommodation. The jeep safaris in the preserve need to be booked in advance during the rush season. The safari offer chance of sighting the spectacular animals of the Hills. 

The Central Indian Highlands also encompass Pachmarhi Hill Retreat and parts of Kanha.The distance from Jabalpur to Pench is about 200 plus km. From Nagpur it is 80 km. Both are connected by air with Mumbai & New Delhi. From Kanha the reserve is about 200 km.