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    Browsing Posts tagged India

    Monkey Business

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    A very young grey langur (a type of Old World Monkey) pauses momentarily on a rock wall in Bandhavgarh National Park in India.

    Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 200 mm, 1/1250 sec at f/4, ISO 800

    When we had no luck with tigers, there were usually monkeys or other animals around to keep us engaged. This little guy was quite playful, bounding back and forth along the top of a rock wall near the roadside. At times he would stop and stare directly into my lens, allowing me to capture images of his expressive countenance. This youngster demonstrated an obvious sense of curiosity as well as a high degree of comfort around people in their vehicles, but he never strayed too far from the safety of his mother’s protection — just in case!

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    Sloth Bear!

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    A rarely-sighted sloth bear ((Melursus ursinus) rears up on its hind legs as a vehicle loaded with tourists looks on. Bandhavgarh National Park, India.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM at 217 mm, 1/160 sec at f/4, ISO 1600

    On our first Indian game drive (they call each game drive a “safari” in India), Alison and I were really anxious to see a tiger – any tiger. Two hours into the drive we had detected no sign of a tiger — no footprints seen, and no monkey or deer alarm calls heard. Even though it was very, very early in the trip, I was beginning to contemplate just how unlikely seeing a tiger might be. After all, we were mostly in dense jungle, confined to the jeep road, and tigers tend to be most active at night. Could we have traveled halfway around the globe on an exercise in futility?

    All of a sudden, Vijay, our naturalist and driver, announced, “Sloth bear!” I must confess: up to that point, I had only a vague notion of what a sloth bear looked like. In a strange coincidence, Vijay, who has seen countless tigers in his lengthy career, had told us story the previous evening about one of his favorite sightings. It involved a sloth bear, not a tiger. He described a sloth bear encounter in which the bear was very cooperative, even getting on its hind legs to rub its back on a tree situated right on the edge of the road. It made such a lasting impression on him that he had memorized the tree in question and has been referring to it as “the bear tree” ever since. His story was captivating, but the way he recounted it made me think that our chances of having a similar sighting were about as good as encountering a unicorn.

    In Bandhavgarh National Park, India, a sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) moves through a bamboo forest.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM at 400 mm, 1/320 sec at f/4, ISO 1600

    Yet, here we were: the lone vehicle in close proximity to this shaggy, black, dust-mop of an animal as it shuffled through the dry forest. Its path roughly paralleled the road, where we were able to follow it, allowing our encounter to stretch beyond thirty minutes. At some point, a couple of other vehicles joined us, but our viewing opportunities were not diminished. Twice the bear reared up on his hind legs and rubbed himself on a tree in full view of our vehicle. Was it scratching an itch? Scent-marking? Striking a pose of intimidation? It is impossible to know for sure, but at certain moments each of those explanations seemed the most apt.

    Amazingly, with this sloth bear encounter, we had seen our unicorn, or lightning had struck twice, or [insert favorite rarity cliche here] had occurred. How greedy will you think me when I admit the following: While I felt extremely fortunate to have had this wildlife encounter, there was still a voice in my head intoning, “Where are the tigers?”

    A sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) sniffs a tree trunk in Bandhavgarh National Park, India.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM at 200 mm, 1/160 sec at f/4, ISO 1600

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    Link 7

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    A young male tiger calmly stares at the camera in Kanha National Park, India.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF600mm f/4L IS II USM +2.0x at 1200 mm, 1/100 sec at f/10, ISO 400



    We found this tiger on the far side of a large water hole on our second day in Kanha National Park. Our naturalist and jeep driver, Vinod Ayam, immediately recognized the cat as Link 7, a young male who had recently been spending time in the vicinity while trying to avoid several mature (and dominant) male tigers. Link 7 was named after a road in the park that was at the epicenter of his mother’s territory when he was born.

    After a few minutes Link 7 walked slowly to the water’s edge, waded into the water, plopped down to cool himself, and began drinking while continuing his soak. After he’d drunk his fill, he got up and briefly patrolled the earthen bank between the water hole and road before lying down on the bank right in front of us. Everything he did was in slow motion. No wonder — even though it was still morning, the temperature was climbing rapidly towards the day’s high of 110°F (43°C), making it one of Kanha’s hottest days of the year.

    He was completely at ease in our presence, despite the fact that half-a-dozen jeeps were being repositioned just yards away from him in order to give their occupants a better viewing angle. Our jeep was positioned perfectly, and I relished the opportunity to capture a frame-filling portrait of this tiger’s striking face. We spent nearly an hour with Link 7 before his siesta was rudely interrupted by the approach of one of the aforementioned dominant males. When Link 7 became aware that Rajaram, was nearing the water hole, he ran off in the opposite direction in a hurry, leaving all notions of slow-motion movement (literally) in the dust!

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    A tigress on her way to water stops and stares in central India's Bandhavgarh National Park.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF600mm f/4L IS II USM at 600 mm, 1/500 sec at f/4, ISO 800



    Alison and I returned home last week from a trip to two of India’s best National Parks for tiger sightings. Before leaving, we weren’t even sure that we’d be lucky enough to see a single tiger, given the fact that tigers spend a large fraction of their time in dense jungle and tend to be more active at night than during the day. But the prospect of seeing this magnificent animal in its natural habitat had us willing to roll the dice. As it turns out, we were quite fortunate. We saw fifteen different tigers including a mother with four older cubs still under her care.

    We increased our chances for tiger sightings by planning our trip for late May and early June. These are historically the hottest days of the year in central India, but also the timeframe when tiger sightings are most common. We endured some searingly hot days in an open jeep, were constantly covered in a layer of fine dust, and were even soaked by several pre-monsoonal thunderstorms. However, any of those discomforts were quickly forgotten when a tiger came into view.

    We both thought this might be our one and only trip to India, but it was so rewarding that future trips to see more tigers, not to mention the other Indian wildlife, have become a real possibility.

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