Some safaris are so ‘dry’ that you are frantically hoping to see some form of life even if that form of life isn’t a big cat or a natural history moment. Then there are safaris where it rains big cat sightings to the point that you leave one big cat encounter and go looking for the next. Of course, at least for me, the former is much more common than the latter. On this blog, I narrate one of my most cherished jungle drives on which I saw predators like never before.
I and my mom were in Kabini in the peak of winter, and on this morning were the last ones to enter the park. All the other guests chose to go into the park from an entrance where a Leopard was seen the previous evening, hoping that the big cat made one of the trees in that area its temporary home. We didn’t want to end up following every other vehicle in the park, so I asked our naturalist to head to the same broad area but from a different entry into the forest. Although this approach meant we would head to the area where the Leopard was seen much later than the others, I found the idea to be acceptable as the dense mist was impacting visibility anyway.
Not more than a hundred meters into the park, our naturalist whispered the golden words everyone hopes to hear in Kabini, “Sir, Leopard!”. Sure enough, there he was right on the forest dirt track, a huge male Leopard walking ahead of us. Upon seeing us, he decided to alter his course slightly and walked off the track nonetheless still confidently gaiting towards his point of interest. We quickly caught up with his position allowing me to get a few pictures, and then we heard a series of cacophonous calls from Langur and Spotted Deer from the other side of the road. Our naturalist thought at first that the forest dwellers were reacting to the presence of this Leopard in the area, but soon enough the calls grew more and more panicky indicating that the root cause of these calls was a different one.
We left the Leopard to his routine and proceeded to an opening in the forest from where we would have a view of a small pond which was frequented by a resident Tiger. As the pond came into view, I noticed there was indeed a majestic striped cat that had come down to the water for a drink causing the jungle to come alive. We spent a few minutes composing images of the Tiger in the thick foliage on the edge of the water when to our utter surprise we heard more alarm calls ahead of us, and with this incredible luck of already having seen two big cats in less than 500 meters of being into the forest, we decided to go ahead and check the source of the new calls. Sure enough, we found another predator, this time a pack of Dholes (more common as the Indian Wild Dog) on an early morning hunt.
The pack managed to bring down a Sambar Deer quite effortlessly, which they polished off in less than 10 minutes. With the Dholes wandering off into the bush, we decided to go back to the pond where we saw the Tiger and wait it out to see if either the Leopard or the Tiger would make another appearance. We spent most of our remaining morning here, and as the sun rose higher and it was time to head back to the lodge, our naturalist spotted a Tiger making its way to the water, AGAIN.
We assumed it to be the same individual we saw earlier, but it turned out to be a different one, trying to stalk Sambar Deer that were inside the water feeding on algae. The Tiger seemed to have a natural advantage here, with it being at a higher ground and wind blowing from us to the Tiger meaning there was no way the Deer would catch scent of the Tiger and bolt for their life. The Tiger was very patient and held its position waiting for the right opportunity to charge when the Deer were least alert but once again a troop of Langur spotted the Cat and went up in alarm, warning the Deer of the danger that was lurking behind them. With the Deer gone, the Tiger too headed back into the thickets thus bringing our action-packed safari to an end.
This drive was a learning experience for me, that no matter how long you have been visiting a particular forest, you can expect the unexpected and the forest is always a newer experience than it was the last time. Coming to think of it, this is as true for Kabini as it for any other park in the world.