WILDLIFE BASICS – MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR JUNGLE SAFARI


There's something about being deep in the Jungles—surrounded by nothing but the green and brown canopy of trees and bushes, occasionally broken by a refreshing waterhole or a salt pit —that makes me feel so incredibly alive. Every moment inside the jungles keeps the adrenalin levels soaring and the mind is alert for those magical moments that the wild animal or bird makes an appearance.
I remember my friend Deepa Suresh’s words, a few years ago, when we were planning to take her on a Safari at Kabini. Are the Safari’s dangerous? What if a ‘Yaanai’ (elephant) attacks? While I did convince her with statistics of insignificant numbers of fatal incidents in the decades of Safari tourism, to this day, I keep pondering of what ‘Wildlife Tourism’ or a ‘Jungle Safari’ means or is perceived by different people. For me, the Jungles are a second home, a mind refreshing, blissful place—but in Deepa's world, this is probably an enigmatic, dangerous and unpredictable terrain, which can be outright terrifying.

In my personal view, the 2 to 3 hours inside the jungle could range from the ‘Rank Boring’ to ‘Scary’ to the ‘Simply Magical’ extremes, all depending on expectation, preparation, patience, self-discipline and personal conduct while inside the jungle. My personal experience is, if we are well prepared, this is possibly one of the most enjoyable and adorable moments of our life. I have tried to capture the essentials of preparation in the following lines:
EXPECTATIONS

Enjoying a trip inside the jungle is simply about managing expectations. It is better to start with an open mind, with a view to enjoy the entire experience, rather than expecting an elephant herd in every corner or a Tiger inside every cave. When it actually happens, the thrill of the experience is so much more.

A Safari is not the kind you see on the National Geographic or Animal Planet channel. Those are edited clips compressed into 60 minutes from movies shot over months (if not years) of patient stalking of the wild life. Your Safari of 2 to 3 hours is a different experience which you should prepare to enjoy and remember that sighting a wild animal in its natural surroundings is a unique event in itself and every animal has its charm. From the little Mongoose to massive Elephants, each have their unique set of characteristics which can be a great learning experience.
PRE SAFARI PREPRATIONS

The following points may help enjoy your Safari better:-

-          What you wear is an important aspect of your Safari. While clothes and fitting are a matter of personal choice and comfort, the thumb rule is to wear something not tight fitting. Similarly with colors. Dull colors like Khaki, Olive Green, Brown etc. are considered natural colors and blend in with the jungles. Bright colors like Red, Yellow, Orange, Florescent etc are not preferred for two reasons (1) Animals spot them easily and the chances of them moving away are higher (2) Insects are attracted to bright colors and to light. You do not want fly’s and bees buzzing around you while on a Safari. A wide brimmed hat is useful in summers.

-          Similarly with Deo’s and Perfumes. Animals have a keen sense of smell and will have figured your presence much before you get to see them and would have vanished behind the bushes. Ralph Lauren’s, Christian Dior’s, D&G’s have their place, but not in the jungle.

-          The Safari’s normally are operated at dawn (6:00 AM to 9:00 AM) and late evenings (3:30 PM to 6:30 PM). Do carry some water and a few biscuits especially if there are youngsters around for the high adrenalin sustenance while on Safari can drain your energy a lot more quickly.

-          Do carry a thrash dispenser bag, collect the thrash (biscuit covers, can lids etc) and dispose them off on garbage cans when you return to base from the jungles.

-          Carry some rain proof clothing especially during monsoons. An added rain proof pouch for your cameras, lenses etc would come in handy during a down pour though the vehicle is well shielded for the rains.

-          An emergency survival kit and a first aid kit, those small little pouches with small medication can come in handy though the chances of getting lost or getting hurt is extremely remote.

-          A small scrap book and pencil, plus a decent pair of Binoculars (8X40 or 10X50 magnifications are ideal) along with your camera gear (depending on if you are a novice or a pro) would be good. Try not to carry your mobile phones along and if you have to turn them to silent mode.

-          A Safari normally lasts anything between 2.5 to 3.00 hours inside the jungles on a jeep or a boat. So, it is important to plan your bowel habits in advance. A full bowel is a nightmare on Safari. Do plan to empty your bowel and bladder just before you set off on a Safari.
 
WHILE ON SAFARI

Get on the Vehicle with an open mind especially relating to expectations of what you wish to see in the wild. The thumb rule is those that are large in population and numbers are easier to spot in the wild. The lower the numbers, the thinner the chances. No wonder, Spotted Deer, Gaur, Elephant, Monkeys, Woodpeckers, Drongo, Barbets etc are the most common and the chances of spotting them are very high while the big cats, bear and the elusive birds and reptiles are the hardest.
-          Your behavior and gestures are extremely important. Do not get excited on seeing wildlife, take care to speak in hushed tones and do not make any sudden or violent gestures.

       -          When you spot something that your naturalist did not, do not shout or rush to the other side of the vehicle or let out the ‘Ooh’s or ‘Aah’s. This will distract the animal and have it on its way out of sight. Silently tap him on the shoulder and point in the direction to let him know. If you are further behind the crowd, normally a gentle fingertip (not a loud thump) double tap on the metal bar or side of the vehicle will signal the driver to stop (Ask the driver the code to stop before you set off which will help).

-          Strictly follow the local rules that may vary from place to place and listen to your guide. In the forest, he is also your minder and teacher. Respect him and respect wildlife

-          Never ever step out of your Safari vehicle, for the forest is an extremely dangerous place. You will need special skills to be inside a forest, even for a few minutes and you are most vulnerable while on foot or outside the safety of your Safari vehicle.

-          In the jungles, Danger can be upon you in seconds. Fitness levels, Running speeds, Swimming capabilities and the ability to climb trees play an important role is escaping danger while on foot and it is best to stay on your vehicle while on Safari. If you drop anything, be it a lens cap or a bag, request the help of the naturalist or the driver to retrieve them.

-          Never feed or invade the privacy of animals. They are meant to be wild and do leave them alone. It is also important to know the basics of animal behavior (especially with elephants and Gaur) in the wild. This will help you understand if they are in an agitated mood and will give help you act accordingly. For more details of the same, read my other posts in the blog about animal behavior.

-          Lastly, Leave the forest as you find it. Do not litter, it can be fatal for wildlife. Resist the temptation to pluck flowers and fruit. Do not leave anything behind and do not take anything away except memories.

-           All said and done, sighting wildlife, is more of a chance and a load of luck. It is all about patience and endurance. Remember, Nature cannot be hurried. She does not respond to deadlines. If you wish to get a better understanding then you must be prepared to be patient. The more time you spend the better your chances of seeing wildlife and the more time you spend watching wildlife the more you learn about them. In other words, no pain, no gain.

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