Monday, March 7, 2011

Amazing sightings of leopards in Gir!

The sight of any of the big cats is breathtaking and for me, certainly, each time its different and each time is the same. Its like partaking of some heady brew that makes your senses swim. It gives me a rush. When I miss a sighting on my safaris I really bum out. I mean I have usually seen whole bunch of deer, birds, other animals but no big cat …. And I am just on a bummer. The anticipatory high lets me down with a bump and I am low as low can be.

The quest for leopard began for me when I was in class 6, donkeys years ago. My grandfather went on safari in Bandipur close to Mysore where he lived, and knowing I loved animals, he sent me 6 typed pages of a trip report. His first para contained references to “Mr. Spots walking over the rocks”. The imagery was bold and had a profound impression on me. He has passed on to his reward now, that trip report has become compost somewhere, and I am almost 40 years older, but I remember the thrill that reading the report from him in my hostel dorm gave me.
Recently in Feb I was walking along in Ranthambore and missed a leopard sighting while I was putting away my camera. (Related in “Birdwalking in Ranthambore”). In Gir I was plugged in to lions but upon hearing that there were 320 leopards in the park, I was hopeful. The hopes went up in smoke when all the guides said “ahhhh leopard…… hmmmmm mushkil hai (difficult)”. I was happy with lion and the first day had a sighting but leopard was stuck in my head. Seems to stand to reason that 320 leopards should pop out of the woodwork somewhere, I thought over a contemplative chai at my roadside dhaba. A guide came up and accosted me and said “Oh Sahab we saw three leopards drinking water today” It was an omen. Tomorrow was my day. Suddenly I knew it. It had to be. Why would the guy come to me and give me this tantalizing bit of information???? It had to be.

Next morning I joined a couple who were photographers and we all saw our first leopard in the early dawn just walking through the trees parallel to the road. Well, we saw bits of the leopard at any rate. It seems people don’t often see a whole leopard. I met another chap there at Gir who said he had seen 30% of a leopard. That is a very apt description I thought. A shy animal, the leopard rarely comes out in the open, unlike lions and tigers who are often quite comfortable in human presence. That afternoon we saw another leopard cross the road. He stopped in the middle of the road and looked at us before bounding away. We rushed to the spot but he was racing for the trees and was gone before we could get a shot. But hey, nevertheless two leopards in one day. Pretty good going.

Before I left Gujarat I was able to come back once more and the morning safari drew a blank. No cats. No lions no leopards just a mongoose. Humph! The evening started off well and we saw a lioness at close quarters and then the guide took us to the high point in the trail to wait for twilight and more lions or leopards. We were just sitting there whn a jeep pulled up and a couple of Europeans said the leopard was laying up in the dry river bed in plain sight but had just moved off after they came there 400 yards back. We went down there… no sign of him. We revved up the hill and sneaked back down with engine off and stopped on the bridge. Still could not spot him and then the guide said the magic words. “There he is”. He obviously thought we had gone and had come back to sit there in the deep shadow. Getting a shot was really tough and though I did my best it was a long long way away. He soon got up and moved off unfortunately and we were dismayed until the guide said "He will be up on the hill lets go back." We went back and sure enough he came. He sat down cool as dammit in the undergrowth, beautifully lit up in the setting sun. I could not have asked for more. At least I don’t think so. I could hardly believe my luck. Got the long lens fixed and the bean bag in place as quickly and quietly as I could with my heart beating so loud I thought surely he could hear me.

Then got my fill of his magnificent looks. He looked straight in the camera for about 10 min, before getting up and going about his business. I say got my fill, but big cats are like a heady brew as I said. You have never had enough. Never.

Thanks be to God and He made leopards.

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous leopard pics. They seem to be looking right at the camera. What is the estimated population of leopards in India? Could it be between 12-20 thousand? They share their habitat a lot with tigers in India, so yes, why are they under documented at Corbett?