Experience Travel Group‘s Head of Client Experience, Kate, recently returned from a wildlife research trip to Madhya Pradesh, India. Discover what happened on her most memorable encounter in Kanha National Park, where, while pursuing a tiger, she came across a different feline family…
We’re sitting, paused, waiting at a crossroads just inside the edge of Kanha National Park. Our two naturalists are standing, alert, their well-trained ears listening to the language of the forest as we sit patiently waiting for who knows what.
“Couch, cough!” This time, the alarm cry of the langurs, one of the two monkey species in Kanha, calls out. A decision is made and we head off with purpose down one fork, forgoing our original pursuit of the tigress.
Not knowing what we are expecting but trusting our guides, we scan the forest around us and listen out as the jeep tracks slowly along the forest path. The coughing increases but comes sporadically from all around us as we pass through the trees.
We come to the end of that road and spot a Barking Deer, the smallest species of deer in this forest and the solitary animal responsible for the original barking alarm call. Seeing this, we pause again at a new crossroads and listen out once more. The barking comes again, back from the direction we’ve just come, this time we immediately hear the coughing reply of the langurs. After making a quick turnaround, back we go, the sound of the alarm increasing in volume and frequency as we do.
A rustle of the trees above us and we stop. We’ve found the monkeys making the alarms, their calls now coming in a continuous stream. Unbeknownst to us it’s the babies, our guides let us know, which means it’s not a tiger they warn of… Their continuous stream of coughs indicate the predator is in sight, their little black faces are focused on a spot on the forest floor, giving us a starting point for our search. Frantically our eyes flick in and out of the trees, our hearts are beating fast now, a shiver of excitement runs through the jeep.
The growing crescendo and activity in the trees means business. We stand on our seats in the jeep, our inexpert eyes are scanning the dense undergrowth for movement. Rustles in the trees above create false alarms for us, the alert monkeys are moving from branch to branch tracking the movement. We continue to search desperately in front of us, silent and focussed. Even at this point, if we don’t see anything, the excitement of this tracking has been an experience in itself.
“Ha!” Suddenly the park guide signals. He’s spotted it, and it’s a leopard! With improvised sign language he gestures to a mother and two grown cubs slinking almost unseen through the undergrowth. I bring my face as close as possible to his, trying desperately to make something from the shadows. Our driver naturalist is all action: engine still off, he takes off the brakes and we move soundlessly down the slope in front of us, following the path of the leopard under the guide’s instructions, never taking our eyes off the bushes. He’s certain he knows the direction she’s moving and maintains his lock on her position.
Suddenly, a shadow amongst the trees moves, a flash of yellow and black, there she is! At first, we can’t catch a full sighting as she moves effortlessly, silently through the forest, but the glimpses of mother and cubs between green leaves leaves us breathless. Eyes wide and excited we silently continue to attempt to communicate our thrill without saying a word, continuing to follow their progress. We get the signal, get lower, crouching on our seats, hands shaking and hearts pumping, our eyes go to a small clearing just past a large tree in their path. And out she slinks, pausing to look our way, gracefully, and beautifully, our first full sighting, nose to tail, and in no time at all she’s back in the dense undergrowth again, mostly unseen.
A silent whisper from the guides, “she’s going to cross the road in front of us.” Moments later she emerges, clear as day, out of the camouflage of the forest she is beautiful. She has no interest in us at all, turning away from where we sit she looks to the other end of the road, our cameras are frantically clicking, desperate to capture just one small moment of this amazing encounter. Her cub hesitantly follows, looking much less confident, mincing across the gravel with less style and certainty, and just like that they are across and into the undergrowth on the other side.
We stand still, our faces plastered with grins, revelling in the moment and waiting for the second cub to come past. After a little while it’s clear, nature has won in this last instance and leopard number three has managed to nip past us unnoticed. It’s clearly visible on our guides faces, even they are running on a high, what we’ve just experienced is not your everyday animal encounter. Finally, we sit, thrilled, listening as the coughs of the monkeys move off into the distance, tracking away with the leopards, glowing in the success of the last 30 minutes.