Sunday, 15 March 2015


This morning at five-thirty it began, quite unexpectedly, to rain. Leaving for the park, I had no time to fetch my waterproof from my room. Instead I left my phone at reception, rather than have it soaked in a downpour. There was no downpour; in fact, after a few light showers, the clouds left and the sky was blue once more. My phone, and on it my camera, were sitting safely in reception at Svasara.

So it was only natural that we should see something extraordinary. Not a tiger. Since the weather changed while I was in Nagpur, the tigers have all but disappeared (just what you need when starting a tiger watching tour) and only one of my jeeps has seen one tiger once in four drives. The birds have changed too: the black-hooded orioles, so noisy and visible while I was here alone, have become difficult to find, and there are oriental honey buzzards everywhere. Sloth bears are also more readily seen, it seems, and yesterday afternoon my jeep saw two.

What we saw today was a leopard. We were searching the road between Jamni and Kolara for the male tiger who has been seen here three times recently. As we gave up and headed back to the centre of the park one of my clients, on the opposite side of the jeep from me, saw a leopard. And what a leopard! A male, draped along the branch of a tree, almost unobscured, just a dozen metres from us by the road. After two minutes' stillness, he gazed at us with icy eyes then, pure nonchalance, slipped down the tree. Surely now he would slink, in the manner of his kind, into the undergrowth. No, he sat at the base of the tree, in the open, and rolled on his back exposing his white belly (and all the evidence he was male) while yawning broadly. Magnificent!

As he walked away, still fully visible, along the edge of the road, another jeep approached. We signalled frantically for them to stop and the leopard froze in the shade of a stand of bamboos. Though closer, and with a clearer view, no-one in the other jeep could see him. The leopard, however, chose to break his cover and strode across the road between our jeeps, acting like a tiger but perfectly different: low-slung, lean body suspended between hips and shoulders, small head and bold, cold eyes. The leopard's beauty is incomparable.

Ours walked into the jungle beside us and soon was lost among the bamboos. For one of my clients this morning he was a first leopard. No other will come close in her memory. And in mine this mottled Marathi bibad will stride through a year, a quarter done already, spent in the company of big cats.

Cats seen in 2015
cheetah Acinonyx jubatus fearonii            3
serval Leptailurus serval serval                3
leopard Panthera pardus suahelicus        2
lion Panthera leo nubica                          78
snow leopard Panthera uncia                   3
jungle cat Felis chaus                               1
tiger Panthera tigris tigris                          5
leopard Panthera pardus fusca                2

1 comment:

  1. Oh dear what a crap week that was ..... Ahhhhhh!!!!