Leopard spotting in Nagarahole
The geographical diversity of Karnataka is evident in its coastal belt, the chain of mountains of the Western Ghats and the plains of the Deccan plateau.
Between the eastern foothills of the ghats and the plains is an expansive forest cover that accounts for about 22.5 per cent of the total geographic area of the State.
Drained by many perennial streams and rivers, these jungles which mainly comprise moist deciduous forests and bushes are a heaven for a heterogeneous mix of wildlife including the tiger, the flagship species. Areas among these have been designated tiger reserves. Nagarahole, located on the southwestern border with Kerala, is a prominent tiger reserve with a healthy population of the tiger and various other species of the food chain. Important tributaries of Cauvery like the Kabini which flow through the area have ensured a rich diversity of flora as well.
The rich forest, teeming with wild life was the chosen destination for the erstwhile kings of Mysore who visited here often on hunting expeditions. These forests were also used for the Khedda operations to tame the elephants.
Much later, the efforts to conserve forests and wildlife ensured that a part of the forest was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1955.
Building a dam across the Kabini in 1974 created the vast waterbody of Kabini backwaters which only enhanced the richness of the habitat. More areas were added and the 643-sq-km forest region became a national park in 1984. Subsequently, it was classified as a tiger reserve in 1995 under the Project Tiger.
Ever since, Nagarahole tiger reserve has been a favourite destination of nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers alike.
The Supreme Court order in July last which banned tourism activities in tiger reserves until the core areas were properly identified came as a bolt from the blue though the purpose was noteworthy. The loss of revenue from ecotourism was also a factor to be considered . When the ruling was relaxed a few months ago, the forests have once again become the hub of naturalists and tourists.
Though Nagarahole forest region is known for its tiger and elephant numbers, it also boasts a decent population of other predator species like the leopard. When I visited the park recently, I was intent on sighting a leopard. I began my forays into the jungle right away with the afternoon jeep safari. Even as we were driving through the periphery, a huge tiger crossed the road and escaped into the bushes in seconds.
Thrilled by the sight, I was greedy for more. The banks of the river draw most animals for water and it is here that the drama unfolds. Different species of wildlife come here to graze and drink as if by turns and I could see herds of elephants followed by gaurs, deer and wild boars.
The second day was not particularly eventful as sightings were mostly of smaller species like the stripe necked mongoose and a black naped hare. Flame backed and white bellied woodpeckers and Brahminy starlings were the uncommon birds that we could spot.
The leopard remained elusive. As the evening drew to a close, the leafless branches of the forest canopy made an artistic pattern against the setting sun.
Our guide Ravi was determined to find a leopard for me the following morning. His dogged efforts were answered when a beautiful, full-sized leopard darted across from nowhere, right in front of our gypsy. His acumen suggested that we wait and follow its movements.
The leopard crossed twice again, rolled on the mud, sprayed and marked on the tree, giving us an uninhibited view for half an hour while the shutters clicked relentlessly.
Deeply satisfied by the experience and with loads of pictures to remember, I bid adieu to the forest and its denizens.