Meeting within Periyar Tiger Reserve

photo credit: Sudhir Shivaram; Barnawarpara Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh

Just a few days ago, I went for the first time to the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady, which is one of the most important national parks in Kerala. For sure, luck was going our way! We saw so many things: different monkeys, awesome birds, multicolored frogs … but the most amazing and unexpected meeting in this dense forest was one with an animal that I would never have imagined seeing: a leopard! Even if it was obviously fleeting in one sense, it was also a timeless moment that I will remember. None of us had time to take a picture of the animal, which is why I’m using a photo by Sudhir Shivaram taken in Barnawarpara Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh. The photo is also much closer than the scene that we experienced, where the leopard was fifty meters in front of us.

Sudhir’s quote below is a good way to show how fast it was and how lucky we are to have looked at the right time in the right place.

I keep saying – In Wildlife Photography you get 0-3 seconds to make your image, otherwise you have missed the opportunity. That’s exactly what happened to me in this case. Continue reading

A Fitting Anniversary Surprise

Leopard Paw Prints, Periyar Tiger Reserve

Leopard Paw Prints, Periyar Tiger Reserve

Five years ago last week several of us moved to Kerala, India. Sometime in the first year one of us took a photo of a huge tiger paw print while trekking through the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Two of us had the briefest of brief sightings of a tiger, back then as well, with the tiger leaping across the trail we were on, doing its best to avoid us and move on…

Now, exactly five years in, we had what anyone would describe as the ideal nature encounter.  Continue reading

India Tiger Census Shows Promise For The Future

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The Guardian‘s video shorts, covering current news that sometimes calls for moving images, shares this recent surprise finding from India:

India’s 2014 tiger census finds the country is now home to 2,226 tigers, making up 70% of the world’s population. The figure increased by 30% in three years despite threats of poaching and habitat loss. The World Wildlife Foundation say the world has lost 97% of its tiger population in just over a century Continue reading

Trekking through Periyar Tiger Reserve

Today I was fortunate enough to get to walk through one of the most biodiverse areas in the world second to the Amazon: Periyar Tiger Reserve.

I understand why people travel from all of the world to experience this place. In the United States, we are very proud of our national parks for their diversity and beauty. However, this park feels more untouched than the ones I have been to in the states. It kind of absorbs you. The paths in the forest seem less traveled. Honestly, it feels less touristy and more wild. We only trekked on the periphery of the jungle really. The center of the jungle truly is preserved and only certain people are able to go deep inside.

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Bird Sightings and Ecology in the PTR

A White- or Woolly-necked Stork carrying nest material to a large tree. Photo © author.

A White-necked Stork carrying nest material to a large tree.

A few days ago we went for a two or three hour hike in the Periyar Tiger Reserve and saw a multitude of avian species that make Kerala a great place for both the amateur and ardent birder. I was also able to see very tangible examples of two related concepts that I’d learnt in my ecology and ornithology classes at Cornell: mixed-species foraging flocks and the ecological niche.

The American ecologist Robert MacArthur, in his seminal dissertation on five insectivorous species of warbler, noticed that  Continue reading

Periyar Through The Water

When I think of Thekkady and the Periyar Tiger Reserve, what comes to mind is a lake surrounded by thick, dense forests, and the iconic dried tree snags created when the lake was formed by the Mullaperiyar Dam over 100 years ago, not to mention the elephants that often frequent the water’s edge. It was cloudy when I left for the boat excursion and by the time I reached the boat landing, it was pouring; it is monsoon season after all. Salim said there would be fewer “sightings”, as the locals put it, since the animals tend to take cover in the rain.

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Cats In The Ghats

Whether wild or domesticated, cats are unique in their ability to compel. If you are a cat person, you know that to be true. If you are not a cat person, you probably also know it to be true. Here in the Western Ghats region of south India, we take cats to be among our most important beneficiaries of whatever tangible outcomes we can generate through our entrepreneurial conservation initiatives. Mainly we are focused on initiatives with the Periyar Tiger Reserve, but on the lookout constantly for more opportunities. Earlier this year we started tracking Panthera because of these interests. Their website (click the logo to the left), and the mission as stated here, are worth revisiting from time to time:

Panthera’s mission is to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action. Continue reading

Mystic Reservoir

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of going on a half-day bamboo rafting trip at the Periyar Tiger Reserve. In all honestly, I am not a very nature-y, outdoorsy person at all; I am deathly afraid of bugs and spiders, and I usually don’t go trekking in the woods unless someone drags me. Yet, let me just say, bamboo rafting was one of the most magical experiences I have ever had!

When I arrived at the PTR office at 7:30 AM half awake, I was handed a pair of strange looking socks, which were worn over the foot and covered the area below the knees to prevent any leeches and splints getting into the skin. Then we began our one and a half hour hike to the reservoir. Along the way, we saw footprints of leopard cats, tiger’s territory marks on trees, giant spiders with intricate webs across several trees, monkeys, and plenty of elephant dung. Continue reading

Tourism Event in Thekkady

Entrance to the Tourism Event

Entrance to the Tourism Event

This past weekend Cardamom County was the venue for a Thekkady Destination Promotion Council (TDPC) event to promote the activities available in Thekkady and Kumily. At first I thought it was just going to be like other conference events I had witnessed in my 3 months here, but I soon realized I was wrong. The first evidence of my misconception came when someone asked me if I was coming early to see the elephants before the guests arrived.  I was completely surprised by the question but of course I responded, “yes!” quite aware that this event was becoming a lot more interesting than I had previously thought. Continue reading

Thekkady Nature in Focus

Adult nilgiri langur holding young leaping between trees

I’m a pediatrician by profession but a wildlife photographer by passion. They might not appear connected at first glance but the joy of being with children and the ability to be patient and understand their world has assisted me behind the camera in the field. Photographing animals has allowed me to use my expertise to get closer insights into their behavior.
The idea of having a photographic workshop in the lap of nature, in the Western Ghats with renowned wildlife photography guru Sudhir Shivaram was very exciting. I felt like a child waiting to get a new toy.

 

Thekkady-Kumily and the Periyar Tiger Reserve lie near the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Periyar lake is an important watershed and a lifeline for wildlife in the region. The lake was created by the building of the Mullaperiyar Dam in 1895. What was started as a private game reserve became a wildlife sanctuary, and later the Periyar Tiger Reserve. While the area where the reserve is located is well-known as Thekkady, the town is named Kumily. It was a 5 minutes drive from our hotel to the PRT (Periyar Tiger Reserve) and from the entrance it’s a 500 meter walk to reach the boating jetty. From the jetty point, many visitors to the reserve take an hour-long boating safari where, with luck, the action along the bank can be viewed. For birders, most of the aquatic species can be expected, so luck is far less of an issue.

The evening of our arrival we had a workshop session during which our mentor gave us a good grip on exposure, metering, ISO and lots of inputs about the technical aspects of photography in general and wildlife photography in particular.

White-cheeked Barbet by Dr. Eash Hoskote - La Paz Group

White-cheeked Barbet

Early morning on the first day after a quick tea and snacks we headed out to PRT with all our gear. We were met by forest naturalists who were very well versed with the local conditions and the birding scene at that particular time of the year. We were given thick canvas knee-length “leech” socks which are dusted with tobacco powder, making them 100% leech resistant. We boarded a small raft driven by rope pulley to cross one of the many “fingers” of the many branched reservoir. After a brief time following the banks of the water we turned into the dense forest, where the penetration of morning sunlight was minimal. With such heavy equipment we really had to dodge the trees and hanging vines and made our way through the forest. The bird species sighted that first day were Malabar Trogon, White-bellied flycatcher, small blue kingfisher, spot-billed ducks, grey heron, Indian pond heron, little cormorant, white-cheeked barbet and a Malabar frog as an added bonus. It was a good 3 hr forest walk with birds chirping, frogs croaking and crickets making their presence felt. While just walking out of the PRT, we had a good sighting of a pair of grey Malabar hornbill with good photographic opportunity for all of us at close range. Our mammalian captures included a Malabar giant squirrel munching a nut and a group of Nilgiri langurs with young ones jumping around trees providing fantastic opportunities for dynamic shots. Continue reading

“I Hope You Can Swim”

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go Bamboo Rafting, one of the unique experiences that the Periyar Tiger Reserve has to offer. From my knowledge about bamboo, I understood that it was naturally hollow so it made sense to use it to make a floating raft. Being naïve I expected the raft to be like any water worthy vessel and stay completely above water; that’s where I was wrong. My initial experience with bamboo rafts was at the beginning of the trek where all participates had to cross a narrow section of the Periyar Reservoir. When the raft was just sitting on the water it looked perfectly dry, but when people began to step aboard the middle slowly became covered with water, which happened to be exactly where I was standing. It really freaked me out when we started moving from the shore and my water-proof boots were being put to the test. I remember saying to the person next to me “I hope you can swim” because at the time I was feeling a bit of panic that I might have to. Continue reading

Endangered species : Nilgiri Langur

Two centuries ago, under the British rule, much of the Western Ghats forests were cut down to be replaced by tea plantations. In 1895, the damming of the Periyar river plunged 26 square km of pristine forests into what is now called the Periyar Lake. The 925 km2 of dense hilly forest that form the Periyar Wildlife sanctuary may seem huge, but it is actually a limited territory for the endemic species. Continue reading

Diurnal bats

The forest canopy of the Periyar Tiger Reserve is rich in fruit all year round and bats feel very much at home.  Out of the 119 species of bats found in India, 28 occur in Kerala. As many as six species of bat have been recorded in the Periyar :  the  flying fox, the shortnosed fruit bat,  the Great-Eastern horse-shoe bat, the Tickell’s bat, the Common yellow bat, and the Painted bat.

Bats usually roost in camps in the bamboo across the road from Cardamom County, hanging upside down all day and feeding on the abundant fruit in the area after sunset. However when I sighted this wide cloud of bats around midday on the rooftop of the restaurant, it got me wondering : what disturbed them during the day ? Continue reading

How about traditional boats in the Periyar Tiger Reserve ?

The most popular activity in the Periyar Tiger reserve is boating on the  Periyar river. It’s a lazy, indulgent, moment of enjoyment of sightseeing. The ancient sunken tree trunks, the depth of the woods, the indigenous population fishing along the river…it also offers good chances to sight animals drinking, hunting by the river and excellent opportunities for birdwatching.

During the cruise I kept thinking it could all be quieter though, the engines of the motor boats seemed to break with the pristine tranquillity of this place… Continue reading

Siberian Tigers Return, Humans Shrug In Ambivalence

Decades of poaching and logging in China and elsewhere have ravaged the Siberian tiger population, with only about 500 left in the wild worldwide. Photograph: Tim Davis/Corbis

Decades of poaching and logging in China and elsewhere have ravaged the Siberian tiger population, with only about 500 left in the wild worldwide. Photograph: Tim Davis/Corbis

In our day to day work, how humans and wild animals interact is often a matter of personal fulfillment, though at times we tend to the challenging aspects as well.  The Guardian‘s coverage of the fate of charismatic mega-felines falls into this latter category with a mixed message of one wild animal’s population rebound and what can only be described as practical human reaction:

…Decades of poaching and logging have ravaged the population of the big cat, also known as Amur tigers– only about 500 still live in the wild worldwide. In 2010, Chinese authorities launched an initiative to boost numbers in the Hunchun National Siberian Tiger Nature Reserve near the country’s border with Russia and North Korea. Continue reading

Biophilia in Action

Master Wildlife Photography class in Periyar Tiger Reserve

Master Wildlife Photography class in Periyar Tiger Reserve

We’ve referred to the concept of Biophilia on these pages beforedefined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “A love of or empathy with the natural world, esp. when seen as a human instinct”—in other words, it’s an innate human desire to seek out nature.

This concept was played out last weekend when a group of photographers gathered at Cardamom County at the edge of the Periyar Tiger Reserve to attend a Master Class with Sudhir Shivaram, a renowned wildlife photographer in India. The fact that the majority of the participants have “day jobs” in the worlds of IT, engineering and medicine make the word Biophilia all the more relevant. Continue reading

Renowned Chef Joan Nathan Cooks In The Shadow Of The Periyar Tiger Reserve

 

When we last saw New York Times contributor Joan Nathan she had written a lovely article about the fading tradition of a cuisine in India–exactly the type of story we love to share on this blog, but somehow we failed to.  This time, failure is not an option. We missed her at Cardamom County, but found her now in the New York Times.  She was in our neighborhood, walking our walk and talking our talk:

Kumily, India — One of the best parts of traveling, at least for me, is bringing back a food story, a new ingredient or a recipe. My family journeyed last year from the verdant tea plantations of Munnar down to the Cardamom Hills of Kerala, in southwestern India. Our driver, Janaki Raman, who had proved himself by dodging many a cow on the winding mountain roads, asked whether we might like to go to a local cooking class. Continue reading