Tigers are not the only species of cat, which call Sher Bagh and Ranthambhore National Park home. On my second night at Sher Bagh I was awoken by a scuttling sound outside. Not sure what it was, and still in the midst of an unfinished dream, I turned back over and fell asleep. Next morning, whilst on our way for game drive, we did some very simple investigative work in an attempt to recreate the events from the previous night.
Neatly swept oxide rich sand surrounds my tent. Four years of tracking lions, and other animals, in the African bush means that I am always reading the soil like a newspaper. Tracking is an ancient art and skill that is sadly on the decline worldwide. Yet in Africa, and in fact in India, this art is still very much alive. After a few minutes hunched over above the sandy substrate, I was able to partly decipher a fascinating tale.
In the early hours of the morning a leopard had passed within ten meters of where I had slept. I followed the track and was confused by it’s actions. It appeared that the leopard walked back and forth. I also could not quite establish how the tracks seemed to be different sizes. I toyed with the possibility that there had been two leopards, but brushed aside my own story. I mean what are the chances…
I told Yusuf at Sher Bagh, that a leopard had been in camp the previous night. He was delighted and told me that we must immediately go and check the cameras. For this very reason, Sher Bagh has a series of motion triggered infrared cameras dotted around the camp. These cameras provide a glimpse into an otherwise secret world.
Immediately a picture of a female leopard popped up on his computer screen. Grins glowed around the office. Having spent my last four years working in an area in South Africa very densely populated with leopards, it made for an exciting change to know that these elusive cats are not just living here in India, but are confident enough to come close to human settlements. They are obviously using Sher Bagh as a passageway to and from the neighbouring Ranthambhore National Park. They must feel safe here, and this makes the staff proud.
The next few pictures that flashed up on the screen were even more astounding. A picture of not just one, but two leopards! I could not believe my eyes.
I had had a family of leopards pass right by my tent. Or was it possible this was a mating pair? This would have explained the abundance of tracks in the sand and the fact that they were of different sizes. The fact that I personally had not seen them did not matter in the slightest…I was delighted to know that Panthera pardus or Baghera (as it is known to the locals) is alive and kicking in this part of the world!
Written by Adam Bannister