Thursday, October 15, 2009

Graceful movement in the tall trees !

Orangutans are the largest living arboreal animals and weigh between 45 kg to 110 kg! But their movement in the tall trees of the rain-forest is so unique and graceful! Because of their weight and size, they do not leap like Langurs or swing like Gibbons. Instead they move slowly by grasping the next branch with their long forearms and sometimes bending the branch to reach out. But at times they can move surprisingly fast ! In these series of pictures i could capture the movement of a wild mother.. and how she helps her young one to move..specially when the gap between trees is too much for the latter.

In this picture, the mother is lending a helping hand to it's 5 year old young one.

You can see how she is actually forming a bridge between the that her young one can use her back to cross over!

The young Orangutan is on her mother's back!

The baby has crossed to the other side!

What an amazing behaiviour! You can imagine, the fate of these graceful creatures as their habitat is constantly being destroyed by logging...even a gap in the canopy is so detrimental to them.

Notice how the young one is hanging by it's long forearms and using it's hind legs to grip the branch tightly!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The incredible Orangutans of Borneo !!

Imagine this...i was walking on the very narrow path in the rainforest of Tanjing Puting National Park in Borneo..just getting a feel of the jungle..on my first day..and i suddenly come across this incredible creature in front of me!! A beautiful Orangutan..standing up-right and gazing at me curiously !! This is my first sighting of an Orangutan ( 'Pongo pygmaeus') in it's own habitat!!

He then started to walk directly towards me !! Notice how he is walking using his fists! I started to take pictures non-stop..and my guide tapped me on the shoulder and gently asked to get off the path !!

As i went into a side path..he simply came and sat down in front of me..only about 25-30 feet away!! My guide just told me to keep crouching down. He whispered in my ears, 'Uranus'!

Uranus is one of the big males of the area..and he was a dominant male not long ago..

He was so relaxed and gave me so many poses...notice his cheek-pads...i was too thrilled and excited to even breathe!!

He groomed himself non-nonchalantly...just observe his amazingly long feet which are so human-like!!
They are actually like our hands with long fingers...which enable Orangutans to grasp branches of trees as they move along gracefully among them.

I was mesmerised by his expressions and his mere up-close and intimate!

After a good ten minutes he decided to walk away..and he seems to wave me good-bye!!
He has such beautiful and luxuriant hair..and the ochre colour is so striking!

Uranus gave me one final he sat on the same path i had walked just a few minutes back! Just look at his rain-forest habitat!!
I was so moved by such a sudden and close encounter with one of the great apes of our world that i just sat there breathless!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Great Serengeti Wilderness !!

We spent an amazing ten days in the vast wilderness of the great Serengeti, staying in 3 beautiful andbeyond camps. Some of the wildlife highlights:
A stunning African sunset!

A Lioness with 2 lovely Cubs..she just spotted a possible prey..

She began to stalk !!

She went like a bullet..and had this Zebra in her jaws in a flash! The young male of her pride joined her to bring it down..the Zebra was killed only after 5-7 minutes, after i took this picture!

A Leopard on a tree with her young cub! A rare sighting in Serengeti!!

Cheetah cubs!!

Following their mother to safety!

The rarely sighted Verraux's Eagle Owl !! Largest of the African Owls!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mountain Gorillas of the Virungas !!

I just got back from Rwanda and Tanzania!! The encounter with the Mountain Gorillas of the Virungas, in Rwanda, will rank as one of my most exhilarating and memorable wildlife experiences of my Life !!
This is just a short peep into my experience..with a few i have such little time for embarking on my next adventure..this time to another dream Nature destination: Sumatra and Borneo!! Yeah..i am blessed this far as travel is concerned!!
The Park HQ of the Valcanoes National Park, near Ruhengeri,Rwanda.
Our trek to track down the Gorillas started from here..on 1st August..7am.

Francoise..the Silverback of all Guides in the Valcanoes Park!! He made all the difference to our trip..a fantastic Guide and an amazingly charismatic personality!! He has worked with Dian Fossey in the past and has 28 years of experience!! I am a firm believer that it is ultimatley the people (read Guides) who make the difference to your wildlife experience..wherever in the world..and i have been always lucky with getting great Guides!! Inshallah!!

A close-up of one of the young males or a Blackback!! We were tracking the Sabinyo group of nine Gorillas..which has among them the largest Silverback in the Virungas!!

One of the young the bamboo thicket..the light was a big challenge for photography!!

Sacola..the nine-month old baby!! It was amazing to see her and also learn about the the many young ones born every year in the Virungas!! Gives us some hope of the future of these amazing animals!

Sacola's mother! Fortunately the whole group moved to an open area to feed! But by then we ran out of our alloted one hour time!

Guhonda himself!! He weighs about 230 kgs and is over 38 years old..the biggest Silverback in the world!! It was a truly humbling experience to watch him..he was an epitome of Dignity mixed with subtle and quiet arrogance!! We had a very close and an intimate encounter with these gentle one time they passed within five feet of us!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bye Kanha--Rwanda,here i come!!

Bye, Kanha male!!
Kanha is now closed for the monsoon..and after spending three weeks in the Refresher Training, i am now on my way to Rwanda to see the Mountain Gorillas..a life-long dream!! After Rwanda, i have a trip to Tanzania..Serengeti etc!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Tigers of Bandhavgarh !

The Chakradhara Female

I spent a few amazing days in Bandhavgarh in the last week of May. There were Tigers visible everywhere and the Park was really beautiful..awaiting the monsoon rains. I was very lucky to see many of my favourite Tigers..the Chakradhara female, which is the 'first lady' of the Park, was lying in the Chakradhara meadow, one hot afternoon. She took a passing interest in a Wild Boar nearby and looked up at us for a moment, before going back to her nap. I was so happy to catch a glimpse of this amazing Tigress whose progeny has made Bandhavgarh what it is today..famous world-over for it's Tigers. She had five litters so far and is about 13 years old. She has 3 nine month old Cubs now.

The Chorbehera Tigress

This is a daughter of the Chakradhara Tigress from her third litter and her territory is the first one you will encounter when you get into the Park. It is a small but a beautiful space stacked with prey and the perennial Charanganga flowing through it. The low hills with their rocky outcrops on both sides in the Jamunia area is one of the most dramatic entrances to any Park in India and my favourite! Each time i drive through this patch of dense forest, i get goose-bumps!

The Jhurjhura Tigress with her family.

This Tigress is the sister of Chorbehera and has three beautiful male and two females, which are extremely play full and are frequently seen in summer, playing and cooling off in the Rajbehera pond. The two females are quite relaxed in front of vehicles packed with excited tourists, but the their brother is a bit nervous and likes to stay away from people..

The nervous Jhurjhura male !
He is a very shy Tiger and tends to keep away from the crowds..and usually growls like this to make his dis-pleasure clear..before bounding away in relief!

The female juvenile trying to stalk Chital...

The Panpatha Cubs !
I was also very lucky to view the three 4-5 month old Cubs in the Panpatha area of Bandhavgarh, which is a new area open for tourism..away from the main tourism zone of Tala. The mother of these Cubs is one of the females from Chakradhara's earlier litter. We also caught a glimpse of her resting in a nallah. This area is one of the dispersal options for the Tigers in Bandhavgarh but is fraught with it is adjoining many villages and the Tigers frequently run into confrontation with fact, this Tigress is accused of killing a cowherd, who strayed too close to her Cubs recently...

The Dominant Male-B2 !
Every time i go to Bandhavgarh, i yearn to see him! The charismatic B2 ! I really feel i have some strange bond with him...since the very first time i came to this Park, almost four years back, he has been bestowing me with some very special 'darshan' of himself..the true King of these jungles! He is over 12 years old now..and he has been the Dominant Tiger of Bandhavgarh for more than nine years now! Yes, he is slowly losing ground to a new male from the South, nick-named Bokha, as one of his canines is missing..but he still has the swagger of a King in his step!
One beautiful morning, i came across B2 lying in the grass near Chakradhara meadow..after 5 odd minutes, almost as if he sensed my presence, he looked up..straight into my eyes!!

B2 eating some grass !
He then eat some grass..actually quite a bit..before going back to his slumber!

The Dominant male in South-Bokha!
I even caught a glimpse of this beautiful male Tiger, who is trying to take over B2's territory. He was seen in the company of the Jhurjhura Tigress and her juvenile Cubs..probably trying to court her again..these are his Cubs from a previous litter.

The New male in Bamera (Panpatha) !
This is a big male Tiger, who is the father of the Panpatha Cubs (in a previous picture), who is the Dominant Tiger in waiting..i feel that he and Bokha will fight over B2's territory, once B2 loses his dominance..who will be the new King of Bandhavgarh?!

Rhesus Macaques in a play full mood!
One of the reasons why Bandhavgrah is so productive in terms of it's meadows and the high Prey densities it supports is the many perennial springs which flow as streams in the Park..these Macaques were at play in Charanganga, the main stream and the life-line of Bandhavgarh. They were actually jumping into the stream from a low tree and playing like a bunch of urchins!

The Vanvai Tigress with Cubs...
Bandhavgarh's success story as a stupendous Tiger habitat rests mainly on these breeding Tigresses, who have managed to raise their Cubs against all this one in a picture taken by me in January 2009. She is the Vanvai Tigress, who has successfully raised three Cubs. Alas, she is no more now...she was found dead under mysterious circumstances on May 5th 2009. Her territory is on the Eastern boundary of the Park and has the most chances of running into trouble with human populations in the area, who are not known to be very friendly to wildlife. Her Cubs are about 18 months old now and the good news is that they have somehow learnt to hunt and are managing to survive on their own so morning we saw their fresh pug marks..and somebody else actually saw two of them...looking healthy... most Parks in our crowded landscape teeming with people, is merely an island habitat for Tigers. Unless, we do something drastic both in the short-term and in the long-term, we will lose such productive Tiger populations (also known as 'source populations') forever..
In the short-term, we need to deal with the human populations living on the periphery of the them over by addressing their existential, every day needs like alternative economic opportunities and grazing areas. One such economic opportunity is tourism..the farms along the Park boundary can have home-stays with machans, which visitors can use at night! The locals should be proud of their Tigers..and should realise that they have a stake in protecting them for the long term..simply put, a live Tiger earning tourism money should be seen as more worthy than a dead one. Something like in Rumbak valley, where i went to see the Snow Leopard..the locals now look at the Snow Leopards as assets..and protect them, as they are bringing them badly needed revenues through Tourism.
What we also desperately need, for these things to happen are highly committed Park managers backed up with visionary leaders. The mangers, among other things, need fixed terms for about five years.. and not get shifted out within a it happened in some Parks of M.P recently. How can they even think of winning over local communities and do so many other things to protect the Tigers, if they are not sure of their jobs? And one of the depressing things is that the officer who comes in, has his own ideas and dis-continues the initiatives taken by his predecessor, even if they are good!
The long-term measures which will secure the future of Tigers in Bandhavgarh include restoring it's connectivity with Parks like Sanjay and adjoining forests to it's North-west and maybe even with the Kanha-Pench landscape in the South, which is much more challenging, as one has to link up degraded, patchy forests.
Do we, as a Nation, have the desire, vision, commitment and the guts to save our Tigers?? Or are we mere by-standers..watching these amazing animals slowly disappear into the oblivion...while as a species, we keep chomping up their habitat and of all other wildlife. We humans are such an arrogant and a selfish species...i really feel depressed that i am one of them..

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Handsome Chital Stags in display!

The Chital Stags in Kanha are in their best breeding condition and you can hear their bizarre rutting calls resonating throughout the forest. The herds are now large congregations of up to 300 Chitals! The Stags look really handsome in their dark coats, peak body condition and hard antlers. They are busy challenging each other before chasing the receptive Females to get a chance to mate with them. This Stag in the first picture decided to intimidate his rival by raking up the Sal leaf litter with his antlers! In the second picture he is giving a 'strutting display' by making his body stiff and walking by his rival in slow motion ! It's amazing to watch interesting behaviour of these beautiful Deer, which are often neglected as there are so common!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Shikra and the Serpent Eagle!

I just got back from Bandhavgarh after a few beautiful days in this amazing Park. One evening, my Naturalist team decided to show me a new area of Panpatha Wildlife Sanctauary. As soon as we arrived there was action! This Shikra had impaled a White Throated Kingfisher in a nullah and the Kingfisher was calling in distress. The calls attracted a Crested Serpent Eagle, which came to perch about 2o feet away on a low tree. Maybe the Shikra got nervous and it let go it's possible prey, which flew away and perched on a fallen log about 20 metres away to recover. But the Eagle immediately pursued it and struck it with such impact that it was killed instantly!!

In the picture below, you can see the Kingfisher impaled on the talons of this amazing Eagle, as it flew away to a secluded spot to feed. I could not manage these grainy the action happened too quickly!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kanha Tigress with her Cub!

This shy Tigress in Kanha, known as the Saath number female (named after road no.7, which are basically forest sections), is rarely seen with her young Cub. The Cub is about 4 months old and you can see how tentative and shy it is in this picture..rubbing against it's mother and constantly seeking her security. This Tigress originally had two Cubs but lost one due to some unknown cause.
I have great admiration for Tigresses, who have to bring up their Cubs single-handedly, against all odds including marauding males...which is the biggest threat to their young Cubs.