Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hi once again.
From Wednesday 11th afternoon till Monday 16th I spent time in the park with Satyendra and guests. The new route system is interesting. There are two routes that go out on the Eastern side of the park via Chakradhara or Banbehi to Milchaini and then on to Hardia and registration point and two that go out via Chorbehra or Badhaini through Rajbehra by the the Western section. If you go out via the Eastern half you come back via the Western half. Also if late entering the park or if you desire just to amble and bird watch or do photography you can take just one route in and come back via the same. In this case you need not go all the way to Hardia for registration but you must say you are doing this at the gate on entry. You are not allowed to deviate off routes and various roads are closed completely. These include Silveria and Amma Nallah, Ghorademon Gorge and Debrua. Also old A route is not a route though you can at Hardia choose to use it to exit though I am not sure if you can request to go via it. Sehra meadow is now in Magdhi Range as is Dubra too but Mahaman is back in Tala Range. All in all this is interesting and certainly one does not see so many vehicles. However there still remains too hot spots namely Milchaini corner and Sidh Baba! At present one is allowed to change routes back at Hardia but this is fairly random and sometimes its allowed and other times not. All in all these are interesting changes indeed!
The biggest issue as I see it is the areas that are closed and the fact that one can get the same routes day after day but in opposite directions. As a driver or guide its all hit and miss and a little monotomous. A naturalists skill is hardly applicable now but for information when seeing things or wildlife of interest. Tracking is a thing of the past because one is not allowed off route. Ones only choice now is playing the system and attempting to negotiate a route that offers more probable reward. This can be difficult. Certainly without that degree of freedom that has been allowed up till now everyones sightings but the priviledged few will go down.
However in this new system when there is a sighting there are less vehicles present and therefore the experience better in one way. This is of course until the Forest Department intervene and move people on after there alocated two to five minute viewing time! The most frustrating area of the park in the future, if this system remains will be Climber Point and Rajbehra Dam. Those on Route A are on Climber Point and not allowed on Rajbehra Dam and those on Rajbehra are on Route C and not allowed on Climber Point. So if you happen to be on one route and the tigers are on the other even though you will be yards away and aware of this you will not be allowed to go! Now in this scenario I am sure people will break rules and cross boundaries and even if the Forest Department try and police this the situation could be interesting. Will they allow people to cross routes for a few minutes or will they try and be strict? It will be interesting so watch this space as summer progresses. All in all I see the only people benefiting at this point from the new system are those who come for a long term stay who do not mind seeing less but without the crowds, the VIP's and the priviledged few who can cleverly play the system, and of course those who pay for special permission! At present there have been people here who have been on 8 or more drives and even 14 who have seen nothing and others who have had several sightings in less drives. I do however believe sightings could improve as the season progresses though the park is bound to loose the two year old plus youngsters before the summer months that are at present seen.
These are the cubs in Badhaini and the Milchaini males. Recently the tigress in Badhaini began bullying her daughters and B2 has begun pushing the boys in Milchaini. Where they will move too will be anyones guess or if once they leave Tala Range they will ever be seen again? Here we must have faith that all the money and equipment presently being donated by Tiger Guard to the Management in Bandhavgarh for vehicles and equipment for anti poaching will solve the problems of disappearing tigers and result in the Ranges of Khitauli, Panpatha, Magdhi and Kulwah being haven for all the cubs born in Tala Range. If this kind of money ie. 35 lakh for motorbikes etc recently, cannot help then I hardly see what can other than decrease the population. And as the MP State Government has refused to sign papers making Director responsible for missing tigers in order to have money released for village translocation then what hope?? Money can solve some of the problems but personally it is committment that solves more and committment to make money is not committment to use it properly.
As to the actual time I spent in the park we had two sightings. Both interestingly of tigreses and cubs. One was in Chorbehra when the tigress had just bought a small chital fawn for her two wee ones and one was in Milchaini when the three cubs here were sitting amongst bamboo. The only problem here was the presence of four Forest Department vehicles showing family and friends and frantically trying to move all paying tourists on! Having had a difficult time with sightings everywhere because of the unseasonal weather and rain it was gauling to be moved on during only the second of two sighting during four days! On the fifth and sixth days it rained and heavily at times ruining all chances and even for those who had paid for special permission at CCA/taj, very unfortunate. What was lovely however during this period was the different atmospherics of the park. Cool misty mornings with hundreds of cobwebs and warm sunlit mornings with beans of silver light streaming through green foliage as opposed to heavy clouds broken by the sun or rain. Very interesting across so short a time. Thankfully the client was happy with his visit though always people crave more tiger sightings and chances. It was wonderful to be back in the park again but I do wonder where wildlife tourism is heading and long for days gone by before the rush began and Bandhavgarh became so popular.
More hopefully soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A New Season Begins

Sorry for not writing much last season, I will try better this season to keep you all informed of the happenings here in Bandhavgarh.
Firstly, the 2009-2010 season here opened only on the 16th October. This meant a Divali Holiday rush straight away. This rush is still going on with the park having been full for a solid week or more till now. Satyendra and I have not been into the park at all till now for a number of reasons but mainly because we believe the true wildlife lovers and those with sympathy for proper concerned wildlife viewing are loosing out under new rules. It will make it very much more difficult to show true enthausiasts of natural habitat and wildlife the beauty and wealth of Bandhavgarh rather than what is now happening which is to drive madly around with the hope of possiblity seeing something.
No longer can you be a bird watcher who takes time to drive to the registration point at Hardia and ignore the tiger centric vehicles rushing here and there. Now no one has a choice to ignore anything as they are sent down routes morning and afternoon and routes too and from Hardia in both instances. So all follow tracks and dust to get caught up in chaos if tigers are seen. The beauty of Bandhavgarh is and should be its wealth of interest and true wildlife watchers are those who choose to ignore safari parks and zoos. But now Bandhavgarh is little more than a safari park with vehicles backed up one after the other as the first pushes any animal off the road for those behind to miss totally. For me and others this cannot be considered interesting or forfilling. For anyone wishing to see Indian wildlife for the first time perhaps it is enough but it makes learning pointless and knowledge of wildlife virtually useless. It makes guides just extra passengers who point out animals like signposts and makes drivers nothing more than drivers. This is not education or learning it is mindless viewing simply to say I saw this and that and drove the whole park in a day.
It has taken those who have passion and understanding for this park years to gain there knowledge but it takes seconds for those in management to think up systems that turn the parks into no more than picnic leisure days out. If the country wants to save its animals it needs to understand that learning is the key. That offering choices is a must and that if it wants interest in wild places to grow it cannot turn every aspect of the forest into pure leisure and adventure. To save tigers and other wildlife the country cannot afford to ignore education and what real naturalists offer to their visitors. Personnally if I cannot make a choice to sit at a waterhole for two hours and see what ever happens happen I am little interested to drive 60km to see only dust and vehicles. The afternoons in Bandhavgarh when one could make choices to avoid crowds were the best. I would always go in the opposite direction to all other vehicles. I would enjoy the peace as would my clients. If we saw something, fantastic, but if we did not then even the pleasure of having the quiet solitude was enough.
I would also add that making route systems has never been a solution. If clients do not see animals then corruption and cheating takes over. In Ranthambore drivers do go off routes or cheat the system. Here in Bandhavgarh till now drivers and guides have cheated the system to gain routes they want or simply ignore them to gain the best viewing. For sure all come to Bandhavgarh to see the tiger because till now it has been the best place. But will it remain so I am not sure under this system. If tourism drops then the tigers will suffer. It is interesting to note that when zone changes were made last season and a quarter of Tala Range was added to Magdhi few tourists went to Magdhi Range and when they did few saw a tiger there. Two tigresses roam in this area now in Magdhi Range and were seen on a regular basis and monitored well. But now no one knows their true status, whether they have cubs or not or even whether they are still alive?? No tracking is done on these tigers and even though no "tiger shows" are happening in Tala elephants still go out in Tala to track tigers we all know are there. Why are these elephants not going out in Magdhi, Kalwah, Panpatha and Khitauli. Why is the Forest Dept not offering both monitoring and insentives. Its all nonsense to me and not in the wildlife's interest nor the tigers nor the tourists.
So what can be done??? I personnally see the chances of the tigers survival in the present climate of pressures and unthinking controls as slim. Destroying tourism, the very thing that has helped to build tiger numbers in various park is not the way. Building tourism in an appropriate useful manner is the key. Birdwatching hides, watchtowers, walking trails, elephant viewing and rides, bycycling, night drives, special interest packages, alternative viewing for true wildlifers etc. Choices.
And finally. Even though I have said Safari Parks are not places true wildlifers go I say now that the best place to go to see MP wildlife is Bhopal Zoo! You can see white tigers, true tigers, sloth bears, hyeana, black buck, gharial, snakes, lion even, plus more. And you can walk. And its not a zoo like most zoos its more like a safari park, but better than Bandhavgarh under the route system unless your really a lucky person or have the cash to pay for special permission or favours!
Bye the way I will at some point enter the park and maybe I will be lucky. I am in no doubt I will visit less and in no doubt I will get frustrated by the system. It will be interesting for sure.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Latest News 13th February

Hi Folks
There is never any time to write. Its now Satyendra's and my busiest time here for guests and with rushing back and forth to Delhi for doctor visits and trying to keep my diaries on schedule what time is there to sit at the computer! And then again what news have I to tell as I know Satyendra has written much in the last week or so.
Anyway the truth is things are looking up. My health has significately improved to the point I am visiting the park and the headaches are virtually gone which makes a hell of a difference. Even the doctor is pleased enough to drop the medication significantly with an order to let him know of any changes for the worst in my condition. This is the annoyance of this dam desease as it can reoccur at any point in ones life and I have to be careful not to ignore things and course further problems.

So to some news. Spending even two days in the park with guests was a thrill! They had the most incredible two days amongst others who saw little. Day one morning was a sleepy tiger from elephant, a young four year old male son of Pyari in Chakradhara returned to try and take some territory in Tala Range. The boy P10 yet to be named. Then the afternoon brought two, two year old cubs of Tulsi on the road. Again asleep at first but later stalking barking deer. How could it get better? It did though with a sighting of B2 Sundar resting on the nallah bank as we drove away from the sighting of the two Tulsi cubs. This meant three different sightings for the day and four different tigers. Most unusual for this time of year and extremely lucky for the guests.

Could the following day be any better. No one believed it could. In fact it did not promise great things at the start with a miss of three tigers on route C the route we had had the previous day. However, we had a good sighting of the male P10 again from elephant as he sat lazily on a rock ledge listening to the growling of the resident male Shaki and the female Lakshmi amongst bamboo on the opposite side of the road. The Forest Department thought the two to be in mating so would not show them but it turned out that Lakshmi had no interest to be with Shaki and we were later to see the two as they crossed the road and lay in a dry gully snarling at each other. A second elephant viewing and all in all three different tigers. Everyone was well pleased including myself as this is my first sighting of Shaki and Lakshmi this season due to so few visits in the park. But this was not the end of it. As we awaited our second elephant trip we went birding on the river in Jumunia where we saw three Stork Billed Kingfishers, very unusual, and the Fish Owls. Many vehicles had indeed been bird watching in the area but all left. Amidst the bird spotting we had heard alarm calls of chital but had thought nothing of it. There could not be another tiger in the area as all three that resided in Jumunia were at the one spot in Chorbehra. However as we drove back towards the river junction we saw chital running from a clump of bamboo but giving no call. Strange we thought. Then suddenly I spotted tiger stripes amongst the bamboo and as Satyendra stopped the vehicle a tiger sat down hardly visible amongst the dense undergrowth. So which tiger was this. We waited to see if it moved and finally it did. It turned out to be the tigress P13 sister of P10 now named Heera meaning Diamond in Hindi. She was well out of her territory but now interested to mark and spray Lakshmi's space. The tigress crossed the road onto the river where she sat and drank. Then she walked along the bank opposite as we drove along watching her. She sprayed trees and even clawed another. What a great sighting of this normally secretive and difficult tigress. Thankfully with only us present and later for a short time only two other vehicles coming from the fort and going to it the tigress semed settled. We watched her for almost one hour until she crossed the road and climbed the hill away towards her own territory. An incredible morning!

So what could the afternoon possibly bring. We were little interested to try for the tigers in Chorbehra as we knew Shaki to be vehicle shy and that it would be P10 we saw if any tiger. So we thought to enjoy Rajbehra and possibly see if the Tulsi cubs were in the same area as they were in the previous day. As we quietly drove towrds Rajbehra we came across several vehicles on the Bathan Road listening to alarm calls of langur monkey, chital and sambar. The tigress Durga and cubs were in the area and it was thought one had already crossed the road while a second was sitting amongst bamboo just visible against the glare of the sun. What luck. Yet another different tiger. Then the clients got eveh luckier as the bolder of the female cubs came and sat in the road. Its sister also later crossed and stood next to a tree giving Satyendra a wonderful picture. We watched these cubs for over an hour before leaving the spot. The clients had seen nine different tigers in just four drives and had been incredibly lucky indeed.

I was thrilled and happy and have gathered plenty of material for my diary. Our guests were extremely happy too and had indeed had a great time. Now it is so expensive to enter the park without guests and with the worry of no future business next season due to the ressession I tend to ask guests if there is space for me to go with them. I am indeed very thankful to those people who allow me to go with them inside the park and to those who accept my English driving when I do on occassions drive our guests also.

Before I go I must add the news that it is thought the tigress in Bamera Dam in Panpatha Range has two cubs. This tigress is the second sister of P10 and it is either him or his brother P11 who is the father of ther cubs. This makes a grand total of 33 tigers we know of in the park with most using Tala Range, the prime tourist area as a safe haven. Many youngsters have disappeared to an unknown fate.

More soon!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fort Visit Bandhavgarh

Dear All
Today I went to the park for the first time in over two months. Satyendra had to get the vehicle passed for the Fort drive so we decided to go there rather than join the crowd. It was a peaceful drive and I was glad to be out and about again. Though no tiger was found for the elephant showing we saw fresh pugs of the male on Sidh Baba but which one was difficult to say. Also on the fort road we saw pugs of the female Pyari and her cubs coming off the plateau but heard no alarm calls. So there was some action to be had if one had been lucky earlier.

Satyendra spent his time photographing flowers and trees. We both noticed the absense of vultures and particularly on the nest sights. It seems the population has fallen this season. Our best sighting was of the peregrine on Bathan cliffs. This bird can be seen on regular occassions if one goes to the fort during the morning hours. Apart from this a beautiful young sambar and fawn made and appearance plus the usual langurs and malabar pied hornbill were spotted.

Most noticeable on the drive was the dryness of the forest and the low water table. This summer could be alot drier than last for the animals. I fear if we do not get an over adequate monsoon that Bandhavgarh is slowly dying. We will all have to take note of our water consuption for fear we might end up with nothing soon. For this purpose we are constructing a pond in our land and a new open well to try and increase our water table and conserve the ground water table.

Having proved Greenys road worthy qualities and there being no tiger found we were back home by 9am. More tomorrow. And to all who have meet One Eyed Kitten, she is doing great on her special food diet!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tiger Diaries

I have just joined this today soon you will see some of my work here.