Leopard. An elusive and well adapted big cat has always fascinated me ever since I started wildlife photography. Considered as an ambush predator; this feline has easily adapted to wide variety of habitats, right from dense forests and arid lands to the populated urban habitats. Leopards have been given a Vulnerable status by IUCN due to poaching activities and their conflicts with humans have increased due to excessive habitat destruction.
After the near misses at Tadoba and Bandhavgarh national parks, I first came across this feline beauty up close during my visit to Ranthambore national park in January 2018. Our group came across a male leopard drinking at the waterhole in the backyard of our resort. Shortly afterwards, we came across a female who were there along with her cubs. This encounter increased my urge to photograph leopards and eventually bought me to Jhalana in May 2018.
Situated in the heart of bustling city of Jaipur; Jhalana is only few kilometers away from the city’s airport and railway station. It’s a delight to see this vulnerable species thriving and ruling the park as an apex predator. Spread over 28 square kilometers; the park shelters more than 25 recorded leopards. The other mammal species in the park include Indian striped hyena, Indian desert fox, Spotter deer, Blue bulls, Jungle hare, Sambar deer, Grey langurs and several others. The avifauna consists of Indian paradise flycatcher, Indian peafowl, Golden oriole, Shikra, Black drongo, Grey francolin, Red-wattled lapwing, Large grey babbler, Common babbler, Greater coucal, Cinerous tit, Spotted owlet, Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker, Common hoopoe and many others. Few species of snakes and two species of monitor lizards represent the reptilian fauna of the park.
Our journey commenced at the Mumbai airport early morning with our mentor Shushil Chikane and three more members. After reaching the Jaipur, we headed for our first safari in the park. As it is a small park, only 10 gypsies are allowed in two shifts in the park for safari. The first evening safari started with abundant sightings of blue bulls and Indian peafowls. We were expecting to sight leopards at waterholes because of scorching heat, but instead we spent a good time photographing birds like grey francolin, lapwings and other commoners who were quenching their thirst at the waterhole. After around an hour, we came across the first leopard of the safari. The female called Juliet was sitting in the small pit among the trees. After sensing the presence of several safari vehicles; she moved among the deep forest and rested herself on the rocks. We decided to visit the other waterhole for a while as the closing time was approaching. But that day, we were in not for one but two surprises.
At the waterhole, a hyena was waiting for us; giving me an opportunity to see this carnivore closely for the first time. Often considered as ugly animals due to their scavenging behavior; hyenas play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance. Indian striped hyenas often stay in small packs and rarely seen during daytime as they are nocturnal. We spent good time photographing and observing this individual. We decided to visit Juliet before driving back but there was the second surprise waiting for us. A small group of blue bulls were giving an alarm calls and the reason appeared shortly. A leopardess called Cleopatra entered the frame. After stalking the blue bulls for few seconds; she finally decided to rest herself in the bushes. On our way back, we saw the hyena cooling himself in the waterhole. We returned to our hotel with broad smiles on our faces after the sightings of our first safari.
Next day, the second safari began with a peafowl in the courtship display showing all it’s colors and beauty. The sight itself was truly mesmerizing. Peafowls can be seen abundantly in Jhalana. The other avian species that I saw in large numbers is Grey francolin. Towards the end of the safari, we again came across Juliet. At the evening safari that day, we spent good long hours in search of leopards. On our way back, we received the news of Juliet’s sighting at a waterhole which was not very far from our location. As our gypsy rushed to the spot, we unexpectedly bumped into Flora. Being one of the most photographed leopards of Jhalana; she is a mother of Juliet. She hid herself behind a tree at the sudden appearance of vehicle and instead of vanishing in the woods she turned and sat on the road facing our gypsy. A road block by a leopard without a single gypsy nearby was like a heaven for us. She gave us enough time and poses to click some memorable photographs before disappearing into the woods. As we entered the Zone 1 for our last round before sunset, the rear tire of our gypsy punctured. Till the rescue vehicle came to our aid and we were back to the gates, it was already dark and the park was closed. It was quite a thrilling experience to stay in the forest after the dark; especially when there was an activity of another leopardess called Leela in the close vicinity.
Our fourth and last safari was an altogether different experience. Though we didn’t spot leopard in the whole safari, we had an encounter with Indian desert fox; a rarity sighted by our mentor. We also spent a good time with a hyena who was resting and disappeared in his den as the sunlight became strong. We saw another hyena on the top of cliff on our way. During the safari, we also sighted two monitor lizards, a spotted owlet, brown capped pygmy woodpecker and a tussle between black drongo and common hoopoe. On our way back, we managed to click some amazing portraits of baby grey langurs and observed their behavior. The tour concluded with some memorable sightings and some new addition to our knowledge about the wide variety of Indian wildlife.
At the end of this journal, there is a most important thing I wish to share. During my safaris in Jhalana, I came across various sights of habitat destruction. People involved in cutting down trees in the outskirts of park and water bottles, beer bottles and plastic thrown out carelessly inside the park area are some of them. Conservation in such cases is not just a requirement but a necessity to maintain the ecological balance of this planet. Even our single step towards conserving the forest can bring a great change and will help these magnificent species to sustain and flourish.
With this I bid adieu to all my readers and hope to be back soon with another Journal post.
Details about Jhalana:
How to reach: Jaipur international airport (approx. 6 km) is the nearest airport and Jaipur railway station (approx. 9 km) is the nearest railway station from Jhalana.
Best time to visit: The park is open throughout the year but the safari timings may vary according to the season. The bird activity is at peak during the winter while as the leopard activity peaks during the summer around the waterholes.
Species sighted during safari:
Mammals: Indian leopard, Indian striped hyena, Indian desert fox, Blue bull, Sambar deer, Spotted deer, Indian hare, Grey langur.
Birds: Spotted owlet, Brown capped pygmy woodpecker, Indian peafowl, Red-wattled lapwing, Cinerous tit, Brahminy staling, Common myna, Grey francolin, Green bee eater, Long-tailed shrike, Black Drongo, Bay-backed shrike, Rock pigeon, Laughing dove, Eurasian collared dove, White-throated kingfisher, Purple sunbird, Rufous treepie, Indian babbler, Large grey babbler, Indian paradise flycatcher, Greater coucal, Common hoopoe, Yellow footed green pigeon, Lesser golden-backed woodpecker.
Reptiles: Monitor lizard.
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LOVE. CONSERVE. SUSTAIN.