How we tracked a leopard in the pench tiger reserve

Indian leopard

My experience of safari in pench tiger reserve in search of leopard

The night in pench tiger home was absolutely comfortable and as anticipated we could hear tiger roaring but thankfully only in our dreams. After a sleep of 5 hrs, we got ready for our morning safari in the wee hours. Due to the thick deciduous forest, inspite of being summer the feel was of a winter morning. So our mind carried us to the cafeteria area of our hotel and we had some tea/ coffee. The hotel attendant loaded a box in our jeep and said it contained our breakfast packed. We just said fine and thank u. Then in five minutes we reached the first entry point of the tiger reserve. We were very happy as ours was the first jeep to enter the turia gate entrance. We all knew that pench tiger reserve is a host to no. of predator species like wild dog, jungle cat, wild boar, jackal, hyenas and wolfs as well as a home to tigers and leopards in good number. Pench is also a part of Project Tiger since 1992. The census taken every years has shown increase in the numbers as well. Moreover the reserve is a home to 285 resident and migratory birds and known to protect the 4 species of now endangered vultures. Deer, rhesus macaque, langur, gaur, Sambar, bison are found in plenty all over the forest. So we were pretty much sure to spot some of the species of the varied fauna.

After all the security checks, our safari begun with our designated guide. The morning cool breeze, the rustling of leaves and the pitch darkness added 3D effects to the forest atmosphere as we searched every tree passing by for animal or bird sighting. The only noise in the jungle was of cicadas and they always gave us a surprise shower as we passed underneath a tree infested by crickets. Cicadas have figured out a unique way of sweating. They feed on plant sap, so they are constantly sucking in liquids, and as the temperature gets hotter and hotter, and they start to overheat, they remove the water from their blood and pass it through ducts in their body. As it exits their body through pores on their thorax, they get that continuous evaporative cooling. This gave us the shower feeling.

First we saw a jackal hastily running into the jungle, mostly after his prey. We could get some shots of the jackal. As we proceeded our talented guide stopped the jeep abruptly, in order to show a pair of owlets sitting on a tree, so well camouflaged with the background. Only an expert could spot them in the forest and that too sitting in a moving vehicle. As we clicked their pics, they felt conscious and returned back to the hollows. My kid was super excited and felt like cuddling those birds. We moved on, our guide constantly looking for signs and calls given by the other animals to notify the presence of the wild beast. According to him, tigers are rarely to be seen in the morning safari as they sleep and take rest after the night’s kill and come to drink water only in the afternoon, as the temperatures rise.

Suddenly as we were taking a steep turn, the guide told the jeep driver to take the jeep in reverse gear as he spotted a leopard. We felt as if our hearts were pumping at an accelerated rate and adrenaline was gushing at an unknown pace……we sensed fear and excitement both at the same time. And we got to see the beast, the elusive leopard,walking through the jungle. As we tried to get some shots he crossed the lane, and went into the extensive patch of grass and trees, difficult to capture pics of his elegant carefree walk. We could see him pass and felt like calling him and request him to just wait for some time. But nature is uncontrollable and that is what makes it so thrilling. The guide said need not worry as he will surely cross that patch and come out on the other side. We raced our jeep to the other side and tried to take the most suitable spot for clicking pics as to get the best pics of the leopard. The other jeeps too followed us and in no time there was a long trail of jeeps waiting for the leopard. We were the only lucky ones to spot the leopard and we were proudly sharing our experience with the fellow visitors.

Just 50metres from our jeep, we noticed a pair of peafowls. The male peafowl or commonly known as the peacock was taking it’s stance and all of a sudden, to everyone’s surprise, he raised his tail, which lies under his train, thus elevating the train of beautiful metallic green feathers and bringing it forward. At the climax of this display, the peacock started vibrating his tail feathers, giving the feathers of the train a shimmering appearance while making a rustling sound ,giving us the best and beautiful shots of a peacock dance.This was actually to please the peahen nearby. So the myth that we see the peacock dance only when the rains come was shattered. There was a herd of deer in the vicinity, with young deers sprinting all over, full of energy in the morning hours. We couldn’t ask for more as we waited for the leopard.

After half an hour’s wait, we decided to leave the leopard and continue with our safari as we were contented to at least see him by our eyes and didn’t feel the urge to spend more time waiting. As the sun was rising in the sky, it was getting hotter and our jeep speedily came to a halt at the designated spot in the forest for having our breakfast and for the much needed loo break too.

The fresh sandwiches ( dominating black pepper flavoured sandwiches) and yummy aloo parathas packed by the hotel staff were filling as of now. It was a very unique feeling to have our breakfast right in the middle of the forest. After a small break we again continued with the safari. After driving for sometime we spotted a group of vultures feeding on carcass, mostly a spotted deer . They belonged to the endangered species of vultures, so it was like a feather in our cap. Various birds like grey hornbill, crested serpent eagle, black drongo and the woodpecker making a distinct sound by continuously pecking into the tree bark were spotted by us.

Truly satisfied to the core we completed our morning safari in the core areas of pench tiger reserve from the turia gate. Our body and soul refreshed with the morning atmosphere and our mind filled with memories of all the exhilarating experiences of the jungle. We were back to our hotel for our lunch by 11a.m in the morning. Looking forward to more such trips.

Published by sujata pawnikar

Avid reader n blogger and a traveller by soul

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