150303 - baby mits

Mittens – Our very best friend

Gone across the Rainbow Bridge but never forgotten.  We gave you love but you can only imagine the happiness you gave us

I first met Mittens back in 1996 when I started dating my husband.   She was his cat, I had never ever owned a pet (unless goldfish count?) and trust me when I say that it was most definitely not love at first sight as far as she was concerned.  When David went away for two weeks over the christmas holidays, she made my life a living hell as I attempted to look after her. She even reduced me to tears!  However, 12 months later, we were best friends and I was completely under her spell and her adoring slave.

Mittens was the funniest and cleverest cat I have ever known.  She knew how to open doors, would give us attitude if she didn’t get her way and no matter how bad your day at work was, the moment you got home and picked her up for a cuddle, she instantly made everything better.

Her favourite past times were sitting in her special place in the garden….

…. “hoovering” the grass…

… stalking, although thankfully, she never ever brought anything dead or alive into the house…

… getting high on catnip…

… and sleeping

On 24 December 2004, Mittens was diagnosed with diabetes. We thought it was the end of the world.  But thanks to amazing vets Robert and Raymond of Companion Care in Crayford, we got the disease under the control.  We were lucky in that Mittens only required a single shot of insulin every day plus a change of food.  All in all, with Robert and Raymond’s help, the condition was very easily managed.

Sadly, we lost Mittens on 22 November 2005 to cancer. In those last, dark days, we shed many tears, struggling to decide what would be best for our little girl. In the end, she took the decision into her own hands.  I will never ever forget that day.  We woke up at 7am on 22nd November and rushed downstairs to see how our little girl was.  She had gone blind overnight but she heard us and turned to look at us. In her face, we saw that it was time and she was ready to go.  Taking her to the vets would have been too stressful for her so David picked her up and together, the three of us went back to bed.  We tucked Mittens in the duvet with us, she gave us a little meow as if to say good-bye and then she was gone.

It’s been almost 5 years since she left us and not a single day passes where I don’t miss her.  Looking at photos and videos of her are guaranteed to make me weepy.  I don’t think I will ever get over losing her.   The pain eases but never really goes away.

A lovely lady called Carol wrote a lovely poem for us about Mittens.  I’d like to share this with you…

Dear Mum and Dad,

I’m just about to take a nap, for I’ve been running free.
I was chasing butterflies, and one small bumble bee.

I’ve rolled around in catnip, I’ve climbed high in a tree
And now I’ll rest all cuddled up with others just like me.

I’m in a truly lovely place, it’s right by Heaven’s gate.
I’m not alone, and I am told this is the place to wait.

I’ve told everyone about you, they said you won’t be late.
That though on earth long years will pass, I’ll meet you by the gate.

There’s a bridge we’ll cross together, it has a rainbow hue
And really it’s so pretty here, that all I miss is you.

So please don’t think about the things you did or didn’t do
It was my time to find the bridge, so please do not feel blue.

I’m sorry that I left so fast, with just a kiss good-bye.
But I’ve enclosed a “head butt” and a slow blink of my eye.

Take care of all my family and tell them that I’ll try
To be the one that greets them first, when they come, by and by.

Love and thanks for being such a wonderful Mom and Dad,

Your “Sweet” Mittens

Kittens looking up

Bella and Cindy – the Kitten Years

On 1st December 2005, I brought home two tiny little balls of fluff.  They were 3 month old british short hair kittens.  The black one, we named Bella and the Black Smoke, we called Cinders, Cindy for short.  These two little sisters swiftly wormed their way into our hearts and even today, we will allow them to manipulate us in a way that we would never allow another human being to do so.

This is Bella. Isn’t she just beautiful?

Bella Big Head

This is Cinders, better known as Cindy. We’ve called this picture “Little Miss Grumpy”.  Cindy isn’t really grumpy – it’s just the white markings above her eyes that make her look like she is.

Little Miss Grumpy

Two little sisters.

Two little sisters

Did you know that the Cheshire Cat was based on the British Short Hair Cat? If you need further evidence, take a look at this picture of Cindy.

Cinders Cheshire Cat looking up

As for Bella.  Well, all I can say is that she is truly named.  She’s only 3 months old in this picture, but already, you can see she has a pout fit for a supermodel.

Beautiful Bella looking up

Being cute is hard work!

Sleepy Cindy Kitten

As a kitten, Bella always looked exhausted when she was asleep. Maybe it’s because she was always full of joie de vivre.

Sleepy Bella Kitten

Inquisitive kitten…

Curious kitten

Look how tiny Belle is!

Little Bella Kitten

At 6 months, we had the girls spayed. A friend of mine told me that I should have let them have at least one litter as it would help them mature.  Now I have no idea whether this is true or not, however, I personally had and still have no intention of adding to the number of unwanted litters of kittens that are born every year.

Cindy with cone

The operation itself went well.  However, keeping the girls calm and chilled to aid in their recovery was a whole another matter.  Being confined to the kitchen and being forced to wear elizabethan collars until their stitches healed, did not stop them from running around like loons.  In Bella’s case, her refusal to take things easy resulted in her having a sarcoma.  Cue another visit to see Robert and Raymond who drained the sarcoma and then bound her midriff tightly with a bandage to help her with the healing process.

Bella with cone

If you would like to see more photos of our beautiful furbabies, please visit the Our Cats page of my blog which is dedicated to all our girls.

paw prints for blog

London Zoo Lates

Tonight, David and I went to London Zoo Lates.  For those of you who don’t know what this is, London Zoo has a late night opening every Friday night during the month of August with food and drink options and a silent disco so as not to scare the animals.  The whole idea is for people to experience the zoo in a whole different way.  I like the concept but having been to one, I can honestly say that I would never do it again.

My reasons are two-fold.  Having seen wildlife on safari and endangered cats in sanctuaries where they live in huge, quiet enclosures, seeing animals in the zoo was, in a word, horrific.  The enclosures at London Zoo are tiny.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the constant chatter of people and small children (the Tower of Babel had nothing on the noise emanating from the zoo), combined with camera flashes constantly going off must be hell for the poor animals.

For me, the most distressing sight of the evening was the Sumatran tigress.  The lions and tigers were clearly a big draw and the crowds surrounding their enclosures were enormous.  We got to the tiger area as the light was beginning to fade but we could see the tigers clearly.  The big male was lying on its side under the platform and the female was pacing.  Now, I don’t claim to be an expert but it was painfully obvious that the tigress was extremely stressed and why wouldn’t she be?  The enclosure was far too small for two cats of their size and whenever she walked close to the glass viewing area, children screamed at the top of their lungs whilst shoving their mobile phones in her face to take photos.  From where I was standing, even I was blinded by the multitude of xenon flash, LED lights and whatever other type of flash was available.   Why were there no signs requesting visitors to be quiet?  Why on earth were there no rules forbidding flash photography?  These poor cats literally had nowhere to go to seek respite.  When the tigress started to pant, I had to leave.  I just couldn’t bear to see her suffer anymore.

I get why London Zoo have these late nights and I understand now why they are restricted to just 4 Fridays a year, but surely there has to be a better way to raise awareness of their plight without putting the animals’ welfare at risk?  The establishment are aware that the animals need quiet – why else would they say in their blurb “a silent discos so as to not scare the animals”.  The silence or at least quiet needs to be enforced throughout the zoo as does a rule governing the use of flash photography.

I felt so strongly about this that I sent an email to London Zoo  with my thoughts shortly after my visit.  I’ve yet to receive a reply.  One thing’s for sure though – I will certainly not be going there in a hurry ever again.

Amur Leopard extreme close-up

The Cat Survival Trust

The Cat Survival Trust in Welwyn was formed in 1976 to work for the conservation of endangered species of wild cat.  This small cat sanctuary is the only British charity devoted to the care, rescue and conservation of wild cats as well as the preservation of their natural habitat.  This is a just a small selection of the cats they are currently looking after.

The cat with three names – puma, cougar and mountain lion.

Puma in profile as photographed by Pui Hang Miles

This is Ess.  She is an African Serval who was illegally imported into this country and kept in a bathroom!  This beautiful cat had also been cruelly declawed.  Contrary to popular belief, a cat’s claw is not like a human toenail, it is closely adhered to the bone.  The process of declawing is akin to amputation since it involves the removal of the last joint in a cat’s toe.  So for those who think it is a “humane” process, it isn’t.  It is cruel and an unnecessary mutilation from which recovery is both long and painful.

serval cat photographed at the cat survival trust by Pui Hang Miles

In June 2010, three gorgeous snow leopard cubs were born at the sanctuary.  Sadly, by the time we got there, one little  cub had not survived.  Snow leopard cubs are normally born premature.  In their normal habitat, this isn’t an issue, however, here, in the height of summer, the cubs had a fight on their hands simply to stay alive in conditions that was simply too damp and humid for their not completely formed lungs to cope with.  During a power cut, one of the dehumidifiers failed which culminated in the death of one cub and another coming down with pneumonia.  Happily, this little one is pulling through well.

Snow Leopard Cub from the Cat Survival Trust

The African Caracal has to be one of the prettiest cats in the world with their delicate structure, beautiful blue eyes and fantastic bat-like ears. The Cat Survival Trust is home to a family of three of these gorgeous felines.

Caracal cat photography at the Cat Survival Trust by Pui Hang Miles

I hadn’t expected to see a Pallas Cat here so it was a very pleasant surprise to have one that posed so obligingly for us.

Pallas Cat from the Cat Survival Trust

This photo of the Amur Leopard was taken with my iPhone 4 as the cats kept coming too close thereby making it impossible to take a photo with my camera.  What do you think of the results?

Hunting Tigress

Chorbehra Tigress & her cubs

I wasn’t feeling very well after lunch so I opted out of the afternoon game drive.  I really wish I hadn’t as David took some wonderful pictures of Chorbehra tigress with her two cubs.  They appeared as he was exiting the park.

Chorbehra was walking through the forest with her male cub.

Chorbehra Tigress and cub

Her daughter was unsure whether she wanted to follow her mother and brother or to stay put. Ultimately, she decided to follow them as she didn’t want to get left behind.

Chorbehra Female Tiger Cub

Chorbehra tigress spotted a potential prey and started to chase it.

Stalking tigress

Her cubs start to follow her but the little female gets distracted by a butterfly. When she realises that she is getting left behind, she hurries after her brother.

Female tiger cub on the plains

But by the time she gets to the stream, she can no longer see her family so she starts crying to let them know that she is lost. The male cub hears his sister and stops.  He looks around to try and find her but he can’t see her so he turns around to go back for her.

Chorbehra Male Tiger Cub

When the male can’t find his sister, he too starts calling.  Their respective cries sparks a flurry of alarm calls which destroys Chorbehra tigress’ element of surprise thereby giving her no choice but to abandon the chase and to retrieve her cubs.

Pug mark

Bandhavgarh Tiger Safari

Our tiger safari was full of amazing tiger sightings and their stories touched my heart. I thought it was fitting that our first tiger sighting was of B2, Lord of Bandhavgarh. He looked old (which he was) but you could feel the power and majesty emanating from this magnificent big cat.

B2 photographed during our tiger safari

Meeting Mirchani Tigress and her three cubs was also memorable but for different reasons. Little did we know that in just a few short years, her two male cubs would be captured and imprisoned in Bhopal Zoo, accused of being man-eaters.

Tiger cub crossing the road

Chorbehra, also known as “Langdi (limping) Tigress”, was a firm favourite. She ruled the meadow and could be frequently found sitting in the river, watching her cubs while they played. The brother and sister cubs have a tough time sustaining themselves as their mother’s limp means she was unable to make frequent enough kills.

Tiger cub in the bushes as photographed on our tiger safari

Kallu is a son of B2 and the heir apparent to all his father’s lands.  Though not as big or as strong as his father, this young male is cunning.  Our guide told us that in every challenge fight to date, Kallu had lost to his father, but somehow, he was still managing to take over parts of B2’s kingdom.

Kallu tiger stare

During one of our game drives our driver suggested a visit to the 35 foot long statue of Vishnu which is located halfway up to Bandhavgarh Fort. Carved out of a single piece of sandstone, this statue was a sight to behold.

The path leading to and the area where the statue is located looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie – there is water falling into a pool just below the statue and monkeys chasing each other across the statue.

statue of vishnu

Vishnu is the God of Preservation. The statue dates back to the 10th Century and shows Vishnu reclining on a bed of the coils of  the seven hooded serpent, called Sheshnag.

Whilst the tiger was our primary target species, the park is full of other fantastic wildlife such as the elusive sloth bear.

Sloth Bears in Bandhavgarh National Park, where you can also photograph Bengal Tigers

This sighting was an extremely lucky one as we almost drove past the black mound, which turned out to be a mother sloth bear standing on her back legs with her cub sitting on her shoulders. As soon as she realised that we had seen her she dropped to all fours and ran away with her cub clinging to her for dear life.

Sambar deer were in plentiful supply and proved to be our friend many a time by making alarm calls whenever a tiger was nearby.

sambar deer in water

The langurs and their babies provided us with hours of entertainment with their antics. The extremely young babies were instantly identifiable by the fact that their fur was dark rather than the trademark white.

Baby langur monkey

Just look at how wonderfully expressive their faces  are.

Langur Monkey

The park is also home to many different species of birds. However, since I am not a huge bird fan, I didn’t make much of an effort to photograph them, with the exception of this stork who simply looked evil!


After our last game drive was over, we headed back to the lodge for breakfast before heading out to Katni Junction to get our train. Upon arriving in Delhi, we transferred to our last hotel, the Bijaj Indian Home Stay. As our flight home wasn’t until the following morning, the day was ours to do whatever we liked. We planned to do a spot of shopping, but our trip was cut short because it was simply too hot to be wandering around the shops.

The flight home felt anti-climatic after the excitement of 6 days in Bandhavgarh and the trip turned out to be more expensive than I had anticipated. I came home wanting my own digital SLR and powerful zoom lens. The photographic beast had been unleashed!

Jeep in Bandhavgarh Park

Jhurjhura Tigress of Bandhavgarh

Jhurjhura tigress was a daughter of B2, Lord of Bandhavgarh.  Until her untimely death, she was one of the most bold and successful mothers in the park, having raised two healthy litters and nursing her third which consisted of 3 cubs around 6 months old.  Her mate and father of all her litters is a shy male called Bokha, her father’s competitor.

The trip that David and I were booked on was supposed to be a combination of jeep and elephant safaris.  However, upon arrival at the National Heritage Resort, we had been told that all elephant safaris were cancelled.  At the time, it wasn’t made clear to us why they had been cancelled, only that it had something to do with a tigress dying and all the elephants were being used in an intensive search for her cubs.

The tale surrounding the circumstances of her death and the desperate search for her cubs unfolded in the days we were in the park.

Initially, there were rumours that the tigress had been attacking tourist jeeps and then been hit by one.  Obviously suffering from internal injuries, Jhurjhura tigress had dragged herself back to a watering hole before dying.  As this rumour spread, there was much talk of Bandhavgarh being closed to the public to protect the remaining tigers.  However, it was later found that these rumours were false and had been deliberately started to hide the truth.

Jhurjhura tigress died on 19th May 2010, after having been hit by a vehicle the night before when some so-far-unidentified “important” visitors entered the park for an allegedly unauthorised and illegal night-drive. It died in the Jhurjhura area of the Reserve and, hence, has since come to be known as the “Jhurjhura tigress”.

Following her death, there then began the desperate race to find her cubs.  Without their mother’s protection, they were now prey to other tigers and predators, villagers who did not want them roaming near their villages and worst of all, poachers.  Daily, we asked for news of the cubs but there was nothing.  Every morning and evening, we saw the elephants in the park, searching.  Routes A and C, believed to be the area where the cubs were hiding were closed to the public.

Finally, after about 5 days, the orphans were found.  At six months old, the cubs were already eating meat so it was decided that an enclosure would be built around their area and food would be provided for them until they were older and able to fend for themselves.  It is hoped that one day, they can be rehabilitated.  For me, this is probably the best outcome for the orphaned cubs.  The thought of them being captured and shipped off to a zoo does not bear contemplating.

The killing caused a furore in India and abroad. According to the member-secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, enough evidence was available to indicate that two vehicles were involved in the accident. The vehicles entered the park after the closing time at 2130hrs and, unofficial reports indicate, carried sons of two state ministers who are one-time princelings. Wielding their power and influence they squelched proper investigations. Vociferous demands, including even from the central Ministry of Forests & Environment, for a Central Bureau of Investigations were ignored. The State’s Forest Department simply handed over the investigations to the provincial Criminal Investigation Department. By doing this, they effectively put a lid on the case and demonstrated their utter indifference towards the protection of tigers.

In these days of declining tiger numbers, every piece of news about them makes it to the media. Sighting of new-born cubs or deaths, mating or refusal to do so by relocated tigers, all make it to the media in fair amounts of detail. There are any number of non-governmental organisations that are running campaigns with a view to raising awareness about the need to save tigers. Clearly, there is visible desperation about the plummeting tiger numbers in the country and internationally. Yet in the midst of all this universal concern the brazen apathy of the country that calls itself “The Tiger State” is incomprehensible. Sadly, the tiger is very much under threat in the “Tiger State”.

Welcome to Bandhavgarh signage

Bandhavgarh – we have arrived

We eventually pulled into Katni Junction at 0515hrs where we were met by 3 cars.  After a further 2 hours in the cars, we finally arrived at Nature Heritage Resort. After 2 days of hard travelling and very little sleep, I could not wait to go to my room to freshen up and to get some shut eye.  The resort was absolutely gorgeous and the rooms have to be seen to be believed.  Truly luxurious.

Before retiring to our rooms, there was a quick briefing on the rest of the day’s itinerary – rest, freshen up, lunch at 1pm, afternoon game drive at 3pm so we were to be at the jeeps for 2.45pm.

For the next six days, our itinerary was as follows:-

4.00am: get up
4.30am: be at the jeep to be driven to Tala Gate
5.00am – 9.00am: game drive around Bandhavgarh National Park
9.00am: return to lodge for breakfast, freshen up, review of photos and maybe some sleep
1.00pm: lunch
2.45pm: meet at jeeps for game drive
3.00pm – 6.00pm: game drive
6.00pm: return to lodge to freshen up
8.00pm: dinner and review of photos

Getting up earlier than I would normally to go to work was hard work but after a couple of days, I got the hang of it.  The itinerary may look like a punishing schedule, but in reality, it wasn’t when you take into account how much free time we had in between eating and going out in Bandhavgarh National Park. Having finally arrived, I couldn’t wait for my first game drive.

2.45pm: David and I left the lodge and met up with the rest of our group in front of the jeeps.  We were to ride two people to a car so that we would have plenty of room for our photography equipment.  After we were assigned our jeep and driver, we rode in convoy to Tala Gate.  Upon arrival, we joined the queue of cars, waiting to be allocated a route and guide before gaining access to the park.

Queue at Tala Gate, Bandhavgarh

After what seemed like a very long time, our driver came back, accompanied by a guide and we were off! Our tiger safari had finally begun..

Steps to Jama Masjid

Bandhavgarh – How it all began

Last summer, I accompanied David on his wildlife photography course.  At the time, I wasn’t really into photography but I was keen to see the cats at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Smarden.  During lunch, the course instructor showed off some of the photos he had taken whilst in India.  His photographs of tigers in water instantly caught our attention and we wanted to know whether we could travel with him in the event that he went out there again.  As luck would have it, he was already planning his 2010 India trips, so as soon as the details were released, we booked ourselves on the course.  Roll on 18th May 2010!

In preparation for this trip, David hired a Canon 50D camera body for me and a Canon 100mm-400mm L series lens for the two of us to use. I wasn’t convinced that I needed a DSLR so hiring a camera body and using his existing collection of lens made more sense.

The week leading up to our departure was fraught with problems.  On 14th April, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano had erupted bringing European airspace to a standstill and now, its volcanic ash was threatening to ground flights again.  Even if the volcano didn’t erupt for a second time, British Airways cabin crew were threatening to strike and our travel dates were right smack bang in the list of those affected.  It looked like our trip was not meant to be.  But Lady Luck was on our side. On 18th May, the skies were clear and our flight went ahead, in spite of the industrial action.

Upon arriving at Delhi at approximately 7am local time, the first thing to hit us as we got off the plane was the heat.  It was HOT, 35 plus degrees hot.  Now, I’m not a hot weather type of girl.  I am far happier in cold weather than I am in hot weather and the only reason I had agreed to a holiday in India at the height of its summer, was because the intense heat was the only way to guarantee a tiger sighting i.e. we would see them at various watering holes.

We had a few hours to kill before our overnight train journey to Bandhavgarh, so our host gave us two options for killing time.  (1) we could go straight to the hotel and wait there or (2) we could take a wander around the market and take in some sights before going to the hotel for lunch.  David and I had visited India before about 5 or 6 years ago but we were keen to re-acquaint ourselves with this beautiful country, so we went with option 2.

Indian Market Day at the start of our tour of bandhavgarh

The plan had been to walk through the market and then visit a mosque, however, after an hour or so, the heat proved to be too much for some of us, so rickshaws were organised.

Jama Masjid is probably the largest and best known mosque in India.  It faces west with three entrances.  Each side is covered with open arched colonnades, each having a lofty tower-like gateway in the centre, leading to a courtyard that is so large, that it can hold up to twenty-five thousand worshippers.

Jama Masjid interior

Our visit however, was short-lived.  Some of the worshippers noticed that some of the women in our group had bare arms and/or were wearing skirts so we were asked to leave.  The time now was approximately 11am and the heat was fast reaching the point of being unbearable. We unanimously voted to head to the hotel, where hopefully, the air conditioning would cool us down.

After a few long cold drinks and some lunch, we headed to New Delhi train station where we would board our overnight sleeper train to Bandhavgarh.

We arrived at the train station early, so I took the opportunity to buy a length of chain on the train platform to secure our luggage to our bed to ensure that it was not taken in the night.  To be honest, I doubt that the chain would have been of any use to someone carrying a bolt cutter but the purpose of the chain was to serve as a deterrent to anyone who might have had designs on our bags.

Given the heat, my preference would have been to stand in the shade until it was almost time for the train to arrive, and then to move to a more suitable spot for boarding.  However, our host was most insistent that we stand where the doors were likely to be, i.e. under the blazing sun where there was no protection or relief from the heat or the glare.

Delhi Train Station Platform

This did not suit me at all, and as my jeans began to burn my skin, my sense of humour started to fail.  Just when I thought I would snap, there was an announcement – our train was delayed by up to 35 minutes, possibly longer.   The thought of cooking in the sun for a further period did not appeal to me, so I picked up my luggage and marched into the shade, followed by the rest of the group.

We amused ourselves by getting to know the rest of the group better, aided by bottles of cold water to keep us cool.  The train eventually arrived and we boarded, grateful that the air conditioning was ice cold.  David and I were lucky to end up at the end of the carriage where we had a private area to ourselves with plenty of space for our luggage.  Cases secured, David took the lower bunk whilst I climbed up into the top bunk for the long journey to Bandhavgarh.

First Class Cabin