Stalk — a tale of a stalker and the stalked

The Stalker — Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

It was the evening of 17/4/2008 at around 3.45 PM when we, the Berrauds and me, boarded the boat which was to take us across the Kabini. Waiting on the other side was Shabir in the Bolero. This was one of those lucky days when there were only two people for the evening jeep safari and, as luck would have it, they were the Berrauds, a Swiss couple who enjoyed their wildlife.

It was quite a hot and sunny day and determined to do the things that we enjoy most but are unable to do with the new type of tourists that seem to be streaming into Kabini these days and especially to our resort, Shabir and I decided to head straight for a waterhole and spend time there just sitting and listening. The poor Berrauds were going to be put through the ultimate test — a safari with me in the mood to enjoy myself. Needless to add that most guests have flunked the test. It takes a lot of patience and self control to spend long hours at a waterhole with nothing much happening and that too with a guide who prefers to remain silent and makes sure , in a rather forceful manner, that you do too.

Somaniah Katte or Tiger Tank was the chosen venue. I will not bore you with the details of our wait suffice to say that it was long and fruitless. Of course I enjoyed myself listening — a forest is seldom silent. And I must add that my guests behaved extremely well.

Taking into consideration their good behavior, I decided to move towards the backwaters of the Kabini. I felt that they deserved at least an elephant sighting as a reward. We drove up the power line and Shabir was planning to continue till he reached the Balle road when I asked him to take the K.V.Road to the Mastigudi Gate. I was feeling a little guilty and wanted to reach the backwaters quickly.

As we crossed the tarmac road (Mysore — Mananthavady Road) at the gate, Shabir glanced to his left and stopped. I knew he had seen something. Sure enough there was a figure lying next to the road and from the silhouette I guessed that it was a leopard, a look through the binoculars confirmed it.

The leopard was lying down on the right of the road and flicking his tail in a manner that anyone who has kept cats will be familiar with. After a while it got up and crossing the road sat down in the middle on his haunches.

After sitting there for a while, he then over and started stalking alongside the road. Fascinated, we turned the jeep and rolled down towards him. Both sides of the road are clear of vegetation for a few feet and it was in this cleared patch that he was stalking. I have never seen a leopard stalking so clearly and watched in fascination as we inched his way forward, belly to the ground.

So engrossed was he in his stalk that we decided to stalk him! As he continued his stalk we kept rolling the jeep closer and closer, pausing every once a while to watch him. Not once did he look in our direction so intent was he on his stalk.

After what seemed to be an eternity he slowly entered the vegetation on the side of the road. As he entered we rolled even closer to him, eventually we were almost alongside him. He still had not looked in our direction. His face was hidden from our sight and all we could see was his body. I took a record shot.

I decided to take advantage of his concentration and roll the jeep further to change the angle. I wanted his face to be clearly seen in the photograph. Once I realized that I could not possibly get any closer, I took another photograph. This time I managed to get him completely in the frame. However he was still looking away from the camera. I put down my camera. I had enough of a photographic record to share with my daughter Tara and my wife Gowri. I needed no photograph to jog my memory. This would be etched in my mind forever.

He now started moving away from the road and us, he was not avoiding us, but simply moving towards a herd of chital grazing further away. Soon he was lost in the vegetation. After a while the forest erupted with alarm calls. We knew that the stalk was over — he had been detected — it was all over for him.

For the leopard it was just another day in paradise. For us it was a day to remember for the rest of our lives. We were fortunate to watch the master go about his business. One of the most shy of predators had given us a sneak peak into his life. The gods of the forest had been extremely kind — not a single vehicle disturbed the audience, extremely fortunate on a now quite busy road . One vehicle was all it would have taken to ruin the day.

The Berrauds were thrilled. They did eventually see an elephant but not by the backwaters, we did not reach the backwaters that day.

On the way out we saw him again, sitting on a rock on the right side of the road near the Segur gate. Or was it him? This animal looked lighter. Was the light playing tricks on my eyes? Two leopards in a day was too much to hope for. We drove away quickly. In the rear view mirror we could see jeeps lining up to gawk at him.

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Vikram Nanjappa

Vikram Nanjappa

Described as an interested and well-informed amateur, Vikram’s field of inquiry is ‘Man and Nature: whatever is performed by the one or produced by the other’.