Monday, 23 November 2015

Friends far and friends feline

It is winter. Hail on the ground and a cold gloom to the sky. A grey wagtail's sharp note cuts the dull day and the cold cuts my fingers.

On the other side of the world, I imagine, winter's grey wagtails twist between the rocks of Indian streams; streams in which tigers live their lives.

I have heard this week from several tiger friends in India, with news of tigers I know, of other cats, of new adventures. I'm off to Spain tomorrow, in search of my last new cat of this Big Cat Quest of mine, so today it is good to reflect on the cats I have seen all year and the sun-hearted people with whom I have shared them.

I hear from handsome, ever-smiling Omi (Omveer Choudhary), who works at Tuli Tiger Corridor where I always stay in Pench. Our friend Collar Wali, the thirteen-year-old mother of more cubs than any other recorded tigress, is well. She has lost two cubs from the litter of four to which she gave birth just days after I saw her in March, but the other two are well. Omi sends these photos of Collar Wali, taken during a superb encounter with her last week.

Collar Wali by Omi Choudhary

So too I hear from my great friend Chirag Roy at Svasara in Tadoba, and with the best of news. P2 or Maya, whom I saw several times there in March, who was indeed the first of the thirteen tigers I saw this year, has cubs. Chirag writes that a couple of days ago he saw her three cubs for the first time, at four-and-a-half months old, as she brought them to a sambar she had killed. No-one knows who the father is as, wisely, while I was in Tadoba in March, Maya was frequenting several males, allowing each of them to believe he would be father.

Maya and cubs by Chirag Roy

My kindly, brilliant friend Amith Bangre, with whom I watched sloth bears and the leopard-that-broke-my-toe in Satpura in late March, has moved to Dudhwa, home of nominate barasingha and greater one-horned rhinos, in the Himalayan foothills close to the border with Nepal. Here he has been seeing tigers and (how to make me jealous, Amith) has seen a fishing cat.

Tiger in Dudhwa by Amith Bangre

As if that weren't enough Amith sends these gorgeous images of a rusty-spotted cat (also absent from my Big Cat Quest) from his days in Satpura, and of Nilu the astonishing blue-eyed leopard, frequently seen last season in Satpura with his yellow-eyed brother Pilu (sons, as it happens, of leopard-that-broke-my-toe).

Leopard hunting by Amith Bangre

Peacock's back by Amith Bangre

Rusty-spotted cat by Amith Bangre

Nilu by Amith Bangre

Staying with blue-eyed cats, I confess an indulgence. A few months ago my old friend in Bolivia Leoni Manrique held an exhibition in the Amazonian state of Pando. The cover image of his exhibition was an extraordinary close-up of a jaguar's face, quite unlike any of his previous work I'd seen. I knew I had to own it and, though I had not yet seen jaguars, it seemed a fitting memento of my Big Cat Quest. I sheepishly wrote to Leoni asking whether it was for sale, whether he would sell it to me, whether we could find a way of getting it to the UK. He replied to say that the painting meant much to him, that it represented a new phase in his work, that he would love me to have it for all that we had experienced together in Bolivian Amazonia. So we looked into sending it to the UK and hit a stumbling block: buying it, sending it and mounting it again would cost more than I could possibly afford. Stalemate. Then it dawned on me that soon I would be in Brazil. So Leoni sent it to me in the Pantanal at a fraction of the cost, I brought it home and I took it to be mounted locally. Today I collected it. And I love it, deeply, as I have loved every cat this year, their offspring in the far forests, and the friends with whom I have watched them.

Leoni's painting as I saw it online and fell in love with it

A Bolivian painting, sent to Brazil,
being framed in North Norfolk

At home, where it belongs. Thank you Leoni.

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