Valmik Thapar is one of India’s foremost authorities on wildlife and environment matters and amongst the most respected experts on tigers in the world. A prolific author, Valmik has written, edited and compiled more than 30 books over a career spanning four decades, as an advocate for conservation and a voice for environmental causes throughout India. He has also been a member of critical government committees on environmental issues over this long period.
In today’s blog, Valmik shares thoughts he penned down on his last visit to JAWAI, earlier this year.
I first visited SUJÁN’s JAWAI Camp when it had first begun operations, three and a half years ago. Revisiting JAWAI earlier this year was as exhilarating as my first encounter. This in my opinion is a camp that comes closest to the very best camps you can find anywhere in Africa and my first day’s experience this time was probably even better than any in Africa.
JAWAI is a gem in the middle of nowhere. You turn off a country road and through dirt tracks enter a mosaic of villages, agricultural fields, some wilderness and huge rocky outcrops that were formed hundreds of millions of years ago. Super luxury tents welcome you to what is a perfectly managed camp and totally off the beaten track. Within hours of my arrival, I set off to find a leopard and some 30 minutes later faced a young fourteen-month-old cub as it peered out of a rocky crack. The rocks with their crevices and cracks and a network of internal tunnels, have created a safe haven for the leopards to live in. They bask on the rocks in the morning and evenings and cool off, deep in the cracks during the day. They hunt at night on stray dogs, sheep and goats and pick up the occasional langur monkey, peafowl, and other smaller mammals. Some young of the Neelgai or Great Indian antelope fall prey to these leopards too. Almost thirty leopards are recorded to be residing or transient in some 80 square kilometres of this rocky wilderness, making the area host to perhaps one of the highest leopard concentrations on the planet.
March 2017 at JAWAI is a trip I will always remember. One evening I watched a female leopard with two cubs on the lip of an enormous rock as she surveyed the scene below. A stray dog roamed the base of the rock and for nearly an hour the mother patiently watched. Finally as dusk approached, she moved down and I saw her alert male cub branch off in the direction of the dog. They were going for the kill. In minutes we were rapidly changing position when the squeal of a dog brought us crashing to a halt. Within a few feet of our jeep a leopardess was on her back bringing down a dog. She soon swivelled around and amidst a cacophony of squeaks she throttled her prey to death. Soon after, she was on her way with dog hanging in mouth. Her male cub suddenly jumped about her, begging a bite. The mother held on as the cub tried his best to snatch the kill. For nearly ten minutes, mother and cub were frozen in time before she relinquished her hold and permitted the cub to start feasting. I could see the female cub racing down the rocky outcrops to claim her share. But she and her mother would have to wait till the male cub had eaten his full.
For me it was more than a red-letter day. It was the very first time in 42 years of wildlife watching that I had seen a leopard’s kill. That is how unique this encounter was.
Jawai, is not just paradise for the serious leopard watcher but also all those who want their glimpse of what real rural India is like. It is also about peace and freedom. You can walk or jog for hours and encounter no one, should you choose to. The team of guides, drivers and trackers is amongst the best you can find on this planet. The camp management is top class, the food a delight.
This is an experience of India you cannot miss. Yes, it literally takes your breath away, and if you are there on a full moon night, (like I was), then it has to be one of the very best wilderness experiences on this planet.