We spent a long weekend in Mysore and at Bandipur National Park. Bandipur is a national park in the very south of Karnataka. It lies at the foothills of the Nilgiris Mountains (part of the Western Ghats) and is Nilgiri Biosphere. It is also one of India’s tiger reserves, with some 80 tigers roaming the park’s 900 sq km (400 sq miles) of jungle. We went on two jeep safaris, one on Sunday evening and another on Monday morning; bouncing around the jungle in the back of an open jeep looking for critters. And critters were to be found in abundance! We saw:
- Gaur, lots of gaur. Gaurs are the world’s largest Bovines, even bigger than the American bison. As is common with bison, we took to wrongly calling them buffalo.
- Four Ruddy Mongooses
- Four Peacocks. How these things actually survive in the wild is beyond me.
- Lots of Sambar, sort large deer similar to the American mule deer
- Lots of Chital, another kind of deer with white spots all over making them look like fawns. It must be mating season for them soon because the males were all sporting big racks of antlers.
- Several Kingfishers
- An eagle
- Langurs, lots of langurs. They are sort of a big, funny looking monkey. Daniela thinks they look more human than the bonnet macaques that you normally find around human habitation in South India. I disagree. Macaques look like deranged elves but langurs have heads that are just way too small.
Sammy is really into numbers at the moment, especially weights, measures and adding them up. We are constantly being asked how big things are and how much they weigh (“Daddy, how much does Bangalore weigh?”). He wanted to know how much each animal weighed. By halfway through the first safari, he was summing up the total tonnage of animals that he had seen.
The real prize came on Monday morning. We had been scheduled to go for a trek instead, but being as it is monsoon season, it rained heavily most of the night. The guides told us that the trail would be slippery and that we should go for a safari instead. I suspect that the typical guests are homebodies because poor weather never stopped us from hiking before and we came armed with gore-tex. To be honest however, we were not strongly opinionated and a safari sounded like just as much fun. It turned out to be serendipity as the real highlights came on that trip.
We saw a huge bull elephant, complete with tusks! Female Asiatic elephants don’t have tusks (unlike African ones that do) and not all males do either. Since tuskers are under poaching pressure, they are exceedingly rare. To spot a tusker in the wild was a rare and special treat.
The other treat was a fresh tiger pawprint. As it had stormed all night, finding a perfectly formed tiger pawprint (pugmark in Indian English) meant that the animal had passed by within the past couple of hours and was likely still nearby. I thought briefly of getting out of the jeep to photograph the pawprint with my hand next to it for comparison and then just as quickly thought better of it. Climbing out of the jeep with a tiger nearby is never a good idea, even if Bandipur’s tigers are not prone to attacking people. We never actually saw any tigers, or leopards for that matter. This is normal in Bandipur. Despite having a large tiger population, they are rarely seen because of the density of the forest. After having watched a herd of one ton gaurs clumsily melt into the forest within thirty for forty meters of us and then seeing a bull elephant do the same, I’m not at all surprised that a camouflaged cat would remain unseen. So how many tigers did we pass right past that we never saw?
And the most important thing to remember is that we saw 15 tons of animals!