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Monday, December 9, 2013

The menacing leopard of Kanha

Kanha Tiger Reserve - MP - India 

Our earlier trip to Mukki Range in Kanha National Park was devoid of big cat sightings. The range is unique since it holds extensive grasslands and two important water bodies. There is an old rest house built during the British times and worth a stay. The Mukki Gate is about 35 km from Khatia Gate and can be approached from inside as well as outside. The forests are much visited from people of Raipur in Chhattisgarh State of India and those who stay in hotels on Mukki near the park.  

Our recent trip to this range boiled with excitement. My guests were from Europe from a country called Slovenia. Both were professional photographers and one of them was also a tour operator. At Mukki we saw two tiger cubs near a water body. Probably the tigress was out hunting as we could not get any signs of her presence.    

Earlier we had seen two tiger cubs of Umarpani Female at Kanha meadow but the images where not satisfactory. The tiger family kept a distance and most often hidden in the bush. But the cubs near Babathenga Tank at Mukki were quite in the open and we could get some fine images. 

Satisfied and much happy we had a fulfilling breakfast of cheese and vegetable sandwiches, aloo paratha and fruits. Post breakfast we moved on to return to the Khatia Gate via a long stretch of jungle road. 

The unexpected happens, we were still in the confines of Babathenga Tank on the Zila Fireline in the Mukki Range. Driving casually and quite relaxed after having an onerous task accomplished we were ambling across that road at 20/km per hour. This is the prescribed speed of the park and allows your sensory apparatus to work more efficiently.     

Somewhere across the Zila Fireline, I spotted a leopard crossing the road few feet away. There was just enough time to react and I asked the driver to stop right at the spot from where the crossing took place. I was expecting that the big cat would have melted away in the bush. This did not happen!!!!!!

The surprised leopard was starring at me. The guide, driver and two lens men were taken by absolute surprise. Stunned into silence by fear is what I will describe the scenario as. Having heard me shout, "Leopard" the big cat sat there in "about to spring" position starring menacingly at me. I was on the seat. The eyes shone bloody as cryptic patterns created by strands of sunlight  formed on the animal. The chiseled canines,  deadly claws and the musculature,...few would like to view from so close. Given a choice, I would maintain a safe distance.

This is what was least expected although big cats do behave aggressively at times. I slid down behind the driver unnerved. But the lens men though out of wits were at their job with such a wonderful opportunity knocking at their cameras. But the guide was apprehensive as he could sense my trepidation. And soon the leopard was encircling our open jeep.   

This was a dangerous moment for the spots could strike. At a distance of six feet we were a sitting duck. The guide sensed trouble and shouted full throat, "HAAT." The leopard slid into the thick bushes and vanished for good. The driver was already moving forward during the episode in order to maintain a safe distance of 20 meters but then things happened too fast.
Leopard Photo by Teerath Singh
For some time there was stunned silence as we got out of the big cats range. The leopard could have gone unseen but for my alertness (Ahem!).  I turn toward my guests, my face beaming with pride, "so" I manage to speak. Still in a state of surprise they poke fun at me...yeah...ok...good. They had got super delicious shots of the leopard which we could see at the Courtyard House.

The rest of journey was full of exciting moments as we came across many animals of Kanha National Park.   
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