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September 5, 2014

The Naturalist's Magical World - People at Kabini

He is a naturalist, who is our window to the natural world. One of the first naturalists of the company, Sundar, says that his job in the initial days of operation was the best that a person could hope for. Travelling, learning about interesting birds and trees and interpreting for guests was a fun filled affair.

For many, a naturalist is a person who seeks out the mysteries of the world and walks with inquisitive eyes for the wonders of nature to open their bounty to him or her. Perhaps, the biggest challenge before a naturalist is to extract this hidden love of the wild and encourage us to respect nature. For there is no greater joy that a naturalist may experience than showing an unsuspecting guest, the spectacle of elephants bathing in the wild, and the guest recounting it for the rest of his life.

In 2004, while on a safari, the jeep had crossed Sunkadkatte forest camp and was driving towards a nearby water tank. It was then that the driver noticed a gaur standing on the road, about 200 metres from the jeep. A gaur is a huge animal and always a treat to watch in the wilds of Nagarhole. All guests were entrapped in its sight when they noticed that the gaur shifting its legs and looking agitated.

The naturalist sensed something wrong and backed the vehicle slowly. It was then that a tiger came upon the road directly in front of the gaur. The tiger charged and the gaur backtracked. This confrontation went on for some time, when all of a sudden the gaur snorted and charged at the tiger, forcing him to backtrack by several metres. This happened for another ten seconds by which time, the gaur and the tiger were very close to the jeep. Finally, in an amazing display of strength and bravado - the gaur hit the tiger hard at its chest. The tiger cried out in pain and ran away. It was a rare sight and for all sitting in the jeep that day, it was a memorable experience that they would take back from Kabini and keep it treasured for the rest of their lives.

Memorable Encounters

Being a naturalist is not all fun as nothing works as planned in the wild. Unseasonal rainfall can turn a perfectly sedate safari into a drenched affair, breakdowns may happen and assistance may be needed. Naturalists in JLR are meant to face adverse scenarios. This makes them handy managers and guest relation officers as well.

Naturalists and drivers have several comic tales to tell as well. One famous incident is of guests disinterested in wildlife. A few years back, some guests came for a couple of nights and went on their first safari. Having seen wild dogs and elephants aplenty, they were still unimpressed. It was then that they saw a gaur standing in the middle of the road. After their insistence that they are tired of watching the animal, the driver was about to retreat, when all of a sudden - a tiger charged. After a mammoth struggle, all occurring a few metres away, the exhausted tiger carried its kill and went into the bush.
The naturalist bursting with joy had already conjured up plans of celebrations at such a bounty of nature, but the guests still looked unimpressed. He found out soon when they returned to the camp, one of the team members was heard speaking on the phone, ‘saw nothing at all in the jungle, just some cat eating a cow and making us wait for half the time, nothing much at all’.

There have been instances where the mighty predators have shown their strength. Afsar has one tale to tell when he saw two leopards near the elephant camp at Balle in Nagarhole national Park. Patiently observing the two cats from a distance, they were taken aback when the female charged, freezing the blood of all present in the jeep. She charged four times and then all of a sudden dived into the bushes, with her partner following.

Once Umesh and Jeevan had over a few days seen the mighty tiger in action twice. The first sighting was at the Udboor Junction in Nagarhole National Park. The guests were taking photographs of some spotted deer when a tiger ambushed the group and carried away a deer in a matter of seconds. Another occasion was when all were seeing a tiger crouching behind a rock. Thereafter, in an awesome display of its strength, the tiger pounced on an unsuspecting wild boar and killed it with one swipe of its paws.

While observing mega fauna is always enjoyable, there is more to a safari than just the elephant. Birds, insects and the flora are all integral to the jungle and our naturalists specialise in showing these wonders to all. Joshua whose interest in the jungle starts after the safari is over and guests are safely ensconced in their tents writes about a few
denizens of the forest.