Horns and Hooves

Kenya – The Great Migration

The Great Migration. Sir David Attenborough calls it “The Greatest Show on Earth” – he’s not wrong.  If you think it looks amazing on TV, seeing it for real is a once in a lifetime experience.  Nothing could have prepared David or I for what we were going to see.

When we heard that an enormous herd was gathering at the Mara River, we literally inhaled our breakfast because we wanted to get to a prime spot as soon as possible.  As we headed towards the river, we could see the great line of wildebeest heading to the river.

Wildebeest line

When we arrived, there were already 4 or 5 cars there.  We all stayed a healthy distance from the riverbank – the reason for this was not just to give the herds space to get to the river, but also because if the cars get too close, the herds will not cross.

We asked James what the likelihood of seeing a crossing was as there didn’t seem to be many animals at the riverbank.  His reply was that if there were enough zebras there, the herds would cross provided they were not disturbed by predators or cars.  It was now a waiting game.

A Lone Impala

We waited and we waited.  The hot African sun beating down on our heads made the wait very uncomfortable.  We were wearing hats but this did not stop the sun from burning our arms and legs and through our hats.  Worse, even our cameras were getting too hot to hold.  We looked enviously at one lady who had had the foresight to bring an umbrella to protect herself from the sun.  The numbers of the herd swelled to epic proportions – surely they must cross soon.

Zebras and Wildebeest

Much to our frustration, there were multiple false starts – zebra would climb down to the riverbank which was out of view only to come back up on the same side.  Then the wildebeest started to do the same.  “Aaaargh! Cross already!!” was voiced frequently in our car.

Black and White Zebras

I occupied my time by taking photos of the herds but always with one eye on what was happening at the riverbank.

Zebra Headshots

There were so many zebras in the herd that all the guides were convinced that there would be a crossing that day.

After two hours, some cars gave up and left, only to be replaced by other cars.  We were given the option to leave and look for something else to photograph but we opted to stay.  The herd was still growing so we were pretty hopeful that they must cross and soon.

I don’t recall what happened but suddenly, everyone was starting up their engines – the great migration had begun!  It was like being in the F1.  The dust was so thick we could not see where we were going.  I wondered idly if James would know when to stop or whether we would end up in the river, participating IN the migration rather than photographing it.

Wildebeest Havoc

We arrived too late to get to the front.  It was utter chaos.  The air was full of dust and the deafening thunder of a million hooves.  Photographers everywhere, hanging out of windows and the tops of their cars, all vying to get a space to shoot the grand spectacle.

The Great Wildebeest Crossing

David got out of the jeep – our location allowed him to stay hidden from the rangers so he could shoot from the ground over the bonnet of our car.  I couldn’t do this as I was too short.  So I took off, with James’ help, moving through the jeeps to get to the Kicheche car that had an unobstructed view of the river near the front.  This was not an easy thing to do as I was carrying two camera bodies with enormous lenses attached to each!

Churning river of Wildebeest

People started to shout – the crocodiles were coming down the river, looking for their next meal.  Hippos were going into the river too.

Crossing to Safety

This was singularly the most stressful and yet exhilarating photo shoot I had ever done.  I tried to concentrate on the shots I wanted to get but it was impossible  because there was just so much going on and I wanted to capture it all.

Wildebeest Splash

“Oh my god! Look! The crocodile has got a wildebeest!  Don’t go into the river little zebra! There’s a croc lurking!”  So many people shouting running commentaries, thundering hooves, zebras braying, the roar of the river, I thought I was going to explode, trying to stay calm and focussed in the cacophony of noise.

Dangerous Waters

And then I saw him – the lone wildebeest sitting in the river as the rest of the herd swam or ran past him.  His head was barely above water.  To my right, I saw another wildebeest, also “stuck” in the river, unmoving.

Wildebeest and Zebra running

The crossing was relentless.  Wave upon wave of wildebeest and zebras jumping into the river, swimming for their lives to get to the other side.  It was just incredible.

Race for Life

Suddenly, my camera stopped shooting.  WTF?!?!  Unbelievably, my 32Gb card was full and my cards were back in the car!  Thank god I had my spare camera body on me.  But I knew it only had a 16Gb card in it – I hoped to god it would be enough.

I wondered where the herd went when it go to the other side but it was just a fleeting thought.  There was more drama unfolding before my eyes which required my immediate attention.

Running to Safety

I spied a zebra family with a foal.  They wanted to cross but directly below them lurked a crocodile and it was clear he wanted the baby.

Waiting to cross

The crocodile eventually left to help the crocodile who was still struggling to bring down the wildebeest.  The zebras took the opportunity to jump in and swim to the other side.

Zebra Crossing

Zebra Line

Zebra Crossing in numbers

But the currents were very strong and the foal panicked and turned around, followed by his mother.  He and his mum were now stranded on our side of the river with the rest of the family on the opposite bank.  Zebras are herd animals and the family tie amongst zebras is such that they will not abandon their own.  They cross together or not at all.  You could hear their distress as they called to the foal and his mother but they would not/could not make the crossing.  The zebras had no choice but to come back for them.

Zebras in water

The zebras braved the river once more and came back to help the mother and her baby.

Zebra Magic

My heart was in my mouth as the family attempted the crossing for the second time.

Zebra Swimming

This time they were accompanied by some wildebeest.

Follow the Leader

Had the crocodiles not been pre-occupied with the wildebeest already in their jaws, I am sure that this zebra family would not have escaped unscathed.  When they all made it safely to the other side, I breathed a sigh of relief as did many others who were also watching.

I now turned my attention to the drama unfolding close to the opposite side of the bank.

The wildebeest had been caught early on in the crossing but he was still fighting for his life.  Time and time again he would drag himself out of the water, with many of us shouting encouragement, taking the crocodile with him.  But whenever we thought he would succeed, his back end would go crashing back into the water as the crocodile hung on to his victim.

Fight for Life

The crocodile who had been hanging out for the zebra foal decided that he wanted easier prey, so went to assist his fellow crocodile with the wildebeest.  We honestly thought that would be the end of him but the wildebeest was strong and clearly wanted to live.

Prey versus Predators

Against all odds, he dragged the two crocodiles with him towards the riverbank. “Come on! You can do it!!” we all screamed.  We willed this wildebeest to win this monumental battle, to escape, to live.  But it was not to be.  A third crocodile came gliding down the river , grabbed the wildebeest by it’s horn and between the three of them, they dragged this mighty wildebeest down into the murky depths of the river.

A Battle Royale

It was over.  And as tragic as it was, his death meant that the other wildebeest and the little zebra foal lived.

The great migration was also over.  It had lasted 30 minutes but the herd had made it.  With the exception of a couple of hippos, the Mara River was empty again.

Hippo in Mara River

Our tour guide has been visiting Kenya for over 10 years and in that time, he has witnessed many crossings.  The crossing we had just witnessed rated in his top five crossings – I’ll take that as it was a pretty good one then.

For those of you who would like to see the Great Migration, here are a few tips.

  • Allow yourselves at least a week in the Mara.  Crossings do not occur everyday so if you go for just three days, be prepared to be disappointed.
  • On the day you go to the river, depending on where you are staying, it is most likely to be a very long day i.e. you will leave your lodge before dawn and you will not return until early evening.  Take a hat and an umbrella to give you protection from the sun.  If you are lucky, the crossing will occur very quickly but be prepared to be sat out in the sun for anything up to six hours.
  • Think about the sort of photos you would like to take – do you want to tell a story?  Are you after specific shots?  Are you looking for interesting shapes?  This is never more important than when you are photographing the Crossing.  It really will help you to keep your focus in all the chaos.
  • Last but not least, make sure you have plenty of memory cards on your person!

Mbuni tent

Kenya – Our African Safari

After the huge disappointment of our South African safari last year, I couldn’t wait to get back to Kenya.  In order to maximise our chances of seeing game, David and I timed our visit to coincide with the Great Migration.

From the moment we left Ol Kiombo airport for Bush Camp I could barely contain my excitement at being back in Africa again. It had been far too long, in fact, the last time we had visited Kenya was our honeymoon back in 2001.  The drive from the airport afforded us our first sighting – a cheetah and her 11 month old cub.  A good omen for the start of our African Safari!

The jeeps at Bush Camp have been specially adapted with platforms off each window and there were plenty of beanbags in the cars for steadying our cameras. Our driver, James, was known for his uncanny ability to anticipate the movements of the animals.  A handy skill to have when ferrying around photographers looking for the best photographic positions.

As the harsh light of the first game drive of our african safari finally turned into beautiful golden light, we came across a pride of lions just waking up from their nap. At 22 strong, the Monaco pride is the dominant pride within the conservancy. I literally did not know where to point my camera because there were so many lions and cubs around us.

A son of the Monaco pride taken during our african safari holiday

Incidentally, the camera and lens combo I was using on this trip was a Canon EOS 7D teamed up with my trusty Canon 100-400mm lens. I know there are noise issues with the Canon 7D but provided the subject and main focus is sharp, I personally think that a bit of noise in the background is ok.

We stayed with the pride until there was no light left before reluctantly leaving to find somewhere to enjoy our sundowner. What an excellent way to start our safari!

Over the course of the next few days, we bore witness to some incredible sightings: African Wild Dogs (also known as painted dogs) that have not been seen in the Mara for over a decade and have the ability to run great distances. This pack more than lived up to their reputation as we followed them for over half an hour and covered miles.

African Wild Dog (lycaon pictus)

We also met Narasia the Cheetah and her two young cubs who were just 10 weeks old. The cubs kept us highly entertained with their antics but my favourite memory of them was when they interacted with their mother. The bond of love between them was just so beautiful to see and I feel privileged to have been able to capture the sequence below.

Cheetah cub jumping onto his mother

Cheetah cub playing with his mother

Cheetah mother and cub love

Perhaps our most adorable encounter was with a small herd of elephants that contained a tiny baby calf snuggling with her older sibling. We were thoroughly enchanted by this baby elephant and her sister who was still a young elephant herself.

We were mindful not to get too close to the young ones as we didn’t want to be charged by the adults in the group. However, they seemed relatively relaxed about our presence which gave us the opportunity to watch and photograph the gorgeous baby elephant as she explored the area.

Elephant calf snuggling with her older sibling

The morning we were due to enter the Masai Mara, we encountered the famous Marsh Pride, well, some of them anyway. The cubs were 10 weeks old and had not long been re-introduced to the rest of the pride. There was a third lioness but her cubs were very young so she had taken them away from the pride for now to keep them safe. In time, she would rejoin her sisters.

Marsh Pride with cubs

A rare opportunity to capture hippo with their young out of the water.

Adult hippo with a young hippo by the river's edge

I had hoped to capture an iconic animal under an acacia tree but it just never happened so I settled for a Topi on a mound with the acacia tree in the distance.

Topi on a mound on the mara plains

Our best sighting of a leopard came during the magical golden hour. We had hired one of the brand new Canon 300mm f/2.8 lenses for the trip but I had been reluctant to use it simply because it didn’t have the range of my 100-400mm. I can’t say that I loved the lens on first using it, mainly because I am used to telephoto lens and not primes but I can see that I could grow to like this lens.

Leopard in golden light

I also marvelled at the fact that we had not seen any hyenas. It turned out that not many hyenas hang out at the conservancy due to the high density of lions in the area. Ironically, the lack of hyenas meant that cheetahs thrived in Olare Orok since it meant one less scavenger trying to steal their food.

Hyena in the brush

One of the reasons I love Africa so much is because there are so many opportunities to capture images that are made so much more interesting because of their backstories.

I mentioned earlier that the dominant pride in the conservancy was the Monaco pride. For some reason, two of the lionesses have split from the pride to form their own little family. On our penultimate day in Africa, the bulk of the Monaco pride came across the two lionesses who had young cubs with them. The talk at dinner that night was of the annihilation of this small pride and our hearts ached at the thought of the cubs being killed. The following morning we travelled to the last known resting place of the small pride, looking for signs of survival. We found one of the lionesses alone.

Lioness at dawn sat in long grass

She got up and left as we approached and we noticed that she was wounded – her hindquarter had a particularly nasty gash on it. James surmised that she must have stayed to fight off the Monaco pride, allowing her sister to take the cubs to safety. We found her sister eventually but with just two of the cubs and they were terrified. We left them alone as we didn’t want to draw attention to the traumatised group but our concern for the missing cub grew. We eventually found the first lioness again and to our relief, the last cub was with her.

Lioness with her cub

I think the whole group was glad that the little pride was safe as it would have cast a pall over the end of our african safari had the pride been lost.

There was also good news on the cheetah front in that the coalition of brothers had managed to make a kill and it had been a good one of a wildebeest. We didn’t see the actual kill but we witnessed them feeding and then clean each other. I was also impressed with how they expertly extracted the stomach and laid it to one side of the carcass, completely intact! It seems they don’t like to eat the stomach so leave it for others to feed on.

Cheetahs cleaning each other

Our african safari ended on a high with what felt like the entire Monaco pride coming out to bid us farewell. It had been a fantastic trip and I think it will be a while yet before I get through all the photos I took. Farewell Africa, we will be back!

Golden Jackal

Most famous tree in the world

Yellowstone in Winter

Yellowstone in winter is a truly special place. The snow transforms the park into a mysterious, unearthly winter wonderland and whilst I was looking forward to visiting the national park, I was also dreading it. Our tour was to be conducted entirely by snowmobile and I was convinced that this was going to be hardcore. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Our snowmobiles were two seater affairs complete with heated seats and handgrips.  The back seats were for us to lash our camera gear to – just as well really because driving a snowmobile is so much fun that I could see rows ensuing every morning as to who would drive.

Bison walking along the river edge

Our first day out was also my birthday and what a magical day it was!  Not only did it snow, but we saw bison and even a wild bobcat. The bobcat was particularly special because sightings of them are so very rare.

Bobcat on the prowl

I watched, enchanted as the bobcat hunted along the river’s edge and successfully caught a vole. I didn’t want to leave the bobcat but the light was fading fast and we had to leave the park.

We were also lucky enough to spot trumpeter swans.  These swans were once thought to be extinct as no one realised that they wintered in the park.

Trumpeter Swans taking flight

I had hoped to photograph a Great Grey Owl in the snow.  Sadly, we arrived too late and all the owls had already migrated elsewhere. However, coyote sightings more than made up for the disappointment.

Coyote in yellowstone in winter

Yellowstone in winter is such a beautiful and unearthly place. I’m not normally into landscapes but Yellowstone is so much more than just the wildlife that call the park home.

Exploding geyser in yellowstone

On our last day, we visited Two Tops, a favourite site for snowmobilers and home to some of the most fantastic snow sculptures created by snow, wind and cold.  The landscape is utterly alien.  It really was like we were on a different planet.

Alien snow landscape

If you want to do a photographic tour of Yellowstone in winter, snowmobile is the way to do it because you can get to places that the snowcoaches can’t take you.  Also, your cameras will fare better in the constant cold temperature than the see saw of cold outside and warm inside the snowcoach.

Surveying her domain

Snow Photography

My first attempt at snow photography would be in the US and would be like no other trip we had ever done. Snow and sub zero temperatures would be the norm but we would be fulfilling another dream – to photograph wildlife in ice and snow.

Mountain Lion in snow

I was so excited because our target species would be big cats, my favourite mammal.

Staring through the snow

I mean, where else would I get the opportunity to photograph an amur tiger running towards me in snow?

Tiger running in the snow

The snow gave us clean backgrounds which made our subjects simply pop.

Bobcat in wintry snow

Although, maybe not so much when the subject happened to be a siberian lynx in its winter coat.

Looking over my shoulder

The canadian lynx was easier as her pelt was grey/brown in colour.

Canadian Lynx stare

The black panther was less than pleased to be out in the snow. She proved to be a challenge due to her colouring but we simply exposed for her and this seemed to work well.

Run

For the gorgeous black fox, I decided to turn the image black and white to keep the image clean. Yes, I know the fox is not a cat but given the opportunity to do a spot of snow photography with other mammals, we jumped at the chance.

Black Fox in snow

There was also the opportunity to photograph other species such as bears and wolves.

Bears at play snow photography

The wolf pack proved to be a lot of fun and provided us with many opportunities to capture their natural behaviour.

Wolf Pack

But for me, the highlight was hearing the whole pack howl in response to the alpha female’s call. So hauntingly beautiful and such an honour to hear and witness.

Call of the wild

If you would like to see more images from this trip, please check out my gallery below.

Tiger Yawn

Farewell B2

Much has changed since our last visit to Bandhavgarh last year.  Many of the tigers that we met and loved last year are gone.

One of Jhurjhura’s cubs died during the monsoon shortly after we left.  However, the remaining two are still alive and remain inaccessible to the public.

Chorbehra the Limping Tigress lost her life in a territorial battle against Kancutti Tigress.

Chorbehra Tigress emerging form the jungle

Her cubs have been driven out of the park and now reside in its outskirts.  Keen to protect them, the forest officials have set up a checkpoint in the area and the cubs can occasionally be seen sat on the side of the Highway Road.

Kallu, who we all thought was heir apparent to B2’s throne disappeared in October and to this day, no one knows what happened to him.

Kallu, son of B2

A new male has recently appeared in Zone 2 of Bandhavgarh and rumours are rife that it is Kallu but until facial recognition has been carried out, this cannot be confirmed.

Mirchani Tigress’s two sub adult male cubs have been taken from the park and imprisoned in Bhopal Zoo for the rest of their lives, having been accused of being man-eaters.

Mirchani tiger cubs crossing the road

But perhaps the biggest and saddest news is the death of B2, the King of Bandhavgarh, on 22nd November.

B2 Lord of Bandhavgarh deep in thought

B2 was gravely injured in a territorial fight against his son.  Severely weakened and unable to hunt, B2 killed cattle to survive but was shot during one of his raids.  When he was eventually found, there were maggots growing in his wounds and he was extremely weak.  The forest officials tried to save him by tranquillising him to take him to be treated, but sadly, B2 died en route.

The new Lord of Bandhavgarh is B2’s 6 year old son, Bhamera.  Just as B2 waited until his grandfather, Charger was too weak to defend himself before he struck, cunning Bhamera did the same.  Whilst he did not kill his father outright, the wounds that he dealt B2 were most certainly a contributory factor in his death.

When I left Bandhavgarh last year, I knew that there was a possibility that I would never see B2 again but it saddens me nonetheless.  Farewell B2, my friend.

B2, Lord of Bandhavgarh

Male Tiger of Bandhavgarh

Tigers of Bandhavgarh

After a rocky start to our trip thanks to the ineptitude of British Airways, we eventually arrived in Bandhavgarh, 24 hours later than scheduled.  Rather than take the overnight sleeper train from Delhi, this year, we opted to fly from Delhi to Jabalpur.  The travelling was still hardcore, but by opting to take an internal flight, we saved ourselves a second day of travel.

Macaque hugging tree

We arrived at our destination an hour before the afternoon game drives commenced.  After a quick freshen up, we went to meet our naturalist.  Much to our delight, we recognised Sanju from our previous trip.  Upon arriving at Tala Gate, we were also very happy to see that our friend Blind Dog, Rosie was still going strong.  It felt like we had never left.

Indian Deer

Our assigned route was B and D – one that we were very familiar with.  As we drove along the route, I was overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia tinged with much sadness.  There was the Meadow where we had witnessed Chorbera teaching her cubs how to hunt and the stream where she used to lay in whilst watching her cubs at play.  The crossroad where we had sat for over half an hour waiting for the Mirchani cubs to cross the road.  The plateau where we first met B2.

Monitor Lizard

We wondered what would be in store for us as we didn’t know the new tigers but were hopeful that we would catch a glimpse of the new lord of bandhavgarh. Sightings were more sporadic because the temperatures were much cooler in November which meant the tigers did not have to come to water.

One of the new tigers was Jhurjhura male, the son of Jhurjhura tigress who had tragically died of injuries sustained when hit by a car the day before we arrived in the park last year. Ironically, Jhurjhura male hated cars and had been known to charge them when he spotted to them so I was more than a little nervous when we came upon him by chance.

Jhurjhura Male Tiger in Bandhavgarh

I need not have worried as our guide was well aware of Jhurjhura’s temperament and gave this most beautiful tiger the space he needed to go about his business. Jhurjhura is rarely seen so the fact that we were lucky enough to have encountered him on our first day, I took as a good omen for our trip.

Our second day gave us the sighting we had hoped for. Bhamera, son of B2 and the new lord of Bandhavgarh. His beautiful face was ruined during his deadly combat with his father but forever made him instantly recognisable.

Bhamera son of B2

As ever, Sanju knew exactly the path that Bhamera would take so when he drove us away from the tiger, we trusted that he knew what he was doing. Sure enough, within minutes we could see the new dominant male heading in our direction.

It wasn’t until we left Bhamera as the sun went down and I looked at the back of my camera that I realised where we had left him. The image staring back at me left a lump in my throat – it was the very spot where we had first seen his father, B2. It seemed fitting that we should leave him there, resting where his father used to pose so graciously for his adoring audience.

Bhamera resting in Bandhavgarh park

I had hoped to meet fierce Kancutti, the new queen of the Meadow. I hadn’t realised that she had lost an eye to Chorbehra when they fought and I was intrigued by this sister of Jhurjhura male. Sadly, we never got the chance as she was nursing very small cubs and sightings of her were therefore rare. We did however, meet Bhamera’s new queen, Benbai.

Benbai tigress of Bandhavgarh

Benbai is a magnificent mother and a fierce protector of her cubs. Indeed, when one of the mahouts went into the brush where we knew she and Bhamera were resting with their cubs, it was Benbai who roared and charged the elephant whilst Bhamera led the cubs higher up the mountains.

Chorbehra’s cubs are thriving on the outskirts of the park. The rangers are keen to protect them so have created a special area where they can roam and hone their skills. There have been many sightings of them, mainly at dusk. We had hoped to see them but we were not lucky. Ironically, the cubs survival is largely due to their father, Bhamera, now taking a hand in their upbringing. It seems that B2’s bloodline runs strong.

We left the new tigers of bandhavgarh feeling that changes were coming to the park but probably for the better. Bhamera is busy securing his borders and spreading his seed everywhere. This will ultimately prove to be his undoing but such is the circle of life in Bandhavgarh. I look forward to coming back to India to see how the tale unfolds.

Lioness stretching on our south african safari

South African Safari

South Africa. Home of Kruger National Park and the famous White Lions of Timbavati.  Our destination for our South African safari was a tented lodge within the Timbavati region.

The last time David and I had been on a Big 5 Safari was nearly 10 years ago, on our honeymoon.  Back then, we were armed with a simple APS point and shoot.  Today, we would be bringing Canon DSLRs, L lenses and flash guns. Yes, this was going to be one serious photography trip.

Yellow Billed Hornbill

We had gone out with a certain “professional” photographer. The itinerary sounded different and very interesting – aside from the usual game drives, this tour offered night time safari drives and even an afternoon walk. The safari was very different, but sadly not in a good way.

Magpie Shrike

Despite the fact that we were there for four days, we saw lots of birds but very few mammals, not even buffalo.

Burchell's Starling as photographed on our south african safari

In fact, game viewing was so scarce that our organiser actually asked our guide if we could get out of the car and take a wander into the bushes.  Not the most intelligent suggestion made since if we were caught beyond our borders, this would result in a crippling fine for the owners of the lodge that we were staying at.

Hippo in water at sunset

We left the camp on our last day feeling very disappointed at the lack of animal sightings.  Had it not been for the sighting of six lionesses from the Caroline super pride on day three, our south african safari would have been a complete and utter washout.  What made things worse was that when we got home, we read that most other camps had had lots of animal sightings on a daily basis.

Lionesses photographed during our south african safari

However, there is a silver lining even to this bad photographic safari.  Since we got back from India last May, David had been pestering me to agree to go back to Kenya to photograph the Great Migration and I had been resisting.  This trip to South Africa and the lack of game viewing had whetted my appetite and I was now ready to go back to Kenya.  We’re now busy planning our trip for 2012!

Impala looking back

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!

Stork

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”.