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Old 16th November 2016, 13:41   #1
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Default Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!

There is nothing better than camping out in the jungle and since I traveled alone that weekend to Wayanad, I decided to swap the comfort of my wooden cabin for the hammock near the riverbed adjoining the property. There are a few things I always keep in mind while camping out, the most important one is that I don’t go into protected reserves or national parks, because camping out in the jungle without permission is illegal. But as you know, our farm is surrounded by jungle on all sides and we are blessed with some water-bodies inside the farm that attracts all sorts of animals, and this gives me a chance to enjoy the wilderness without getting into areas I shouldn’t.

I was targeting one such waterhole this time, right at the northern edge of our farm, and this was one of my favourite spots to sit up on because of the excellent animal movement there. It also offered large trees where I could tie my modified hammock from where I would have an unobstructed view of the water-body and the riverbed below me, the undulating hills beyond.
I usually start by 2 in the afternoon, so that I am there by 2:30, and since I camped out in the month of August, just after the rains, I knew that it’d be a clear night with very little chance of rain. I usually camp out very light, I’d have my trusted hammock with me, a powerful torch which I never use once I am there, my trusted camera, a pull over to keep the early morning cold away, a length of camouflage net to wind around the tree, a steel flask with coffee, a few biscuits and yes my mobile phone which is always in silent mode. I do carry a phone all the time and the fact that I am in the wild and there are wild animals around is not lost on me, and the phone would be my passport to safety if I ever got into a situation that was beyond my control.
After a hearty lunch, knowing well that my next full meal would be a good 20 hours away, I started my walk towards the northern edge. Manu (our naturalist) had been telling me about animal movement in that area, I thought to myself that it’d be a bonus if I did chance on a cat..but the opportunity to enjoy the wilderness by camping out was a privilege in itself, everything else was just a bonus.

Soon, I reached the edge of the farm and after placing my small backpack on the ground at the base of the fig tree, I scoured around looking for signs, looking for the visitors frequenting this area. I did notice that there were leopard prints, perhaps the mom I have been tracking (and writing about) and I could see that there were 1 year old leopard cubs in the area as well! Perhaps it was the one I photographed a while ago! I could also see that the usual suspects were regularly visiting this area, it included the Elephants, Gaur, Chital, Sambar, the barking deer to name a few. I was glad to notice that there weren’t any fresh Bear prints, this was mainly because of the fact that I was planning to camp up on the large fig tree and I could see that the tree was with fruit! Bears are nocturnal and they love their figs. The last thing I wanted was a Sloth bear climbing up the fig tree that I was camping on, and bears being bears, there was a distinct possibility that it wouldn’t notice me till it was right upon me! No, I certainly didn’t want that to happen and though I hadn’t seen any fresh Bear prints, I was not about to take a chance. This is where the camouflage net came in handy, I took out the net which was 5 meters long and wound it around the fig tree ensuring that nothing crept up on me or elephants didn’t push it down that night.Most of the animals, if not all, would give a wide berth to a tree which is wrapped around in something artificial, such as the camouflage net I was using.
I wanted to make as little noise as possible so that I didn’t spook any of the animals that would soon make a beeline to the waterhole. Once the net was in place, it was time for me to go up the tree and set my hammock. The hammock was made out of thick polyester material, and just like my camouflage T-shirt and my Khaki pants, it blended in with the surroundings. It had a frame which meant that I could actually sit up as though I was sitting on a platform, with just my head protruding out, it also ensured that the hammock didn’t swing if I moved. There were enough branches with leaves on the tree and it ensured that the shape of the hammock was hidden behind the leaves to a great extent. There were a pair of thick horizontal branches around 20 feet up and after making sure that both ends of the hammock along with the sides were securely tied, I decided to get in and start my vigil.

It was approaching 4:00 in the evening and I was inside the hammock, in a sitting position, facing the rivulet and the hills beyond. Looking up I saw the clear skies with not a spec of cloud, and I realized that I was in for a real treat as it was a full moon night! Sitting there, cut off from civilization, listening to the jungle sounds, the rivulet below – it had the most calming effect on me, it was sheer bliss –out there in the wild, with no one around, just me.. and nature!

The first hour was uneventful, but it was comforting to see that the herd of spotted deer hadn’t notice my presence as they came right under the fig tree to feast on the ripe fruits that had fallen to the ground. There were a pair of Gray Jungle Fowls wandering around completely un-alarmed and it was a clear indication that I was indeed hidden as long as I didn’t move much or make any noise. The other big advantage we have here is that there are no mosquitoes even after the rains, the presence of the mosquitoes would have made it hard for me to sit idle without slapping around when bitten.

Soon, the light started fading and I remember switching off the camera and keeping it in one of the pouches inside the hammock. Soon, it’d be dark and I made a final check to ensure that I was going to be comfortable for the night, the torch was within reach and the flask of coffee nearby. The day light ebbed away from the Western sky, and a pall of darkness fell over the land, I could hear the nightjars flying around, as the birds of the morning gave way to the ones at night.

Uneventful – that is the word I can think of, as I looked at my watch, the glowing hands told me that it was past 9 pm already. I did hear something coming down for a drink, but the snorts told me clearly that it was a herd of Gaur, they lingered around for about half an hour before walking towards the meadows inside our farm for grazing. This must be the herd that we see bedding down daily in full view from where we stay! The moonlight was casting a brilliant hue all around, I could see the water below me glisten under the light, but the night was still, just the occasional call of the birds and the constant sound of water trickling over the rocks below me.

I don’t remember when I fell asleep, but I do remember waking up with a jolt. When you wake up in the jungle, you are switched on from the word go, unlike how it is when in the comfort of your house. I lay there in the hammock without moving, my ears picking up the noise of something close by, so close that something was actually on the tree eating the ripe figs! I relaxed when I heard the flapping of the wings, it was the fruit eating bats enjoying a late night nibble! I lay there relaxed, listening to the jungle sounds and soon fell asleep, had an undisturbed sleep till the call of the jungle fowl woke me up and it was almost 4:45 early in the morning. I took a minute, soaking in the crisp, fresh jungle air and after listening for a minute to see if there was any movement around me, I slowly sat up in my hammock and looked around. The moon had gone behind the hills and I poured myself a cup of coffee, still warm thanks to the flask. I remember sitting there, leaning back on the hammock, a warm coffee in my hand, listening to the jungle that was slowly coming alive. I leaned forward to see if there was any movement on the forest floor, in the dim light I could see that it was deserted. I looked up at the tree and I could see the bats were already long gone. It was then that I thought I saw something move on the other side of the rivulet maybe a 100 feet or so on the hill in front of me. There was absolutely no noise whatsoever, but I was certain that I did see something move in the dark on the other side and I began to scan the hill in front of me.

And then I saw her silhouette against the violet backdrop of the early morning sky, she was sitting on her haunches looking away from me peering into the grasslands and the trees beyond. I watched her, as she sat there looking intently and at times bending down to lick her paws and legs. She looked very comfortable and relaxed and I sat motionless in my hammock 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard.
Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!-leopard.jpg

Though she was at a fair distance away from where I was, it was clear that it was a female because of the size of the head compared to the body. I spent a good 10 minutes looking at her and I knew that if I moved or made noise, even though I was not close to her, she’d see me and slink away. Perhaps it was her pugmark that I saw near the waterhole, if it was indeed hers, there was a chance that the cubs would be in that area too! I was not expecting the cubs to come out, looking at the prints, they were small and in all possibility, the cubs would be in a safe den somewhere close by. I could see that she kept licking her paws intently, that got me thinking, perhaps she had made a kill during the night!

I wanted to take back the memories with me and I remember gently reaching to my left where my camera was in one of the compartments. I took a good minute to move my hand a foot to the left and soon the camera slid into my lap, the cat still sitting there oblivious of my presence. Raising the camera to my face, inch by inch, I put the mode on “manual” because the light was so poor that autofocus just wouldn’t work, got her on focus and clicked on the shutter button.What happened next amazed me. She was a good 100 feet away from me and the moment I took the picture, she turned her head and looked straight in my direction, she knew I was there!

Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!-leopard-morning.jpg

She kept looking at me for a good minute and I was expecting her to slink away into the darkness, as only a Leopard could, but to my relief, she soon lost interest in me and went back to looking straight at the meadows, completely ignoring me! I didn’t want to press my luck, so I kept the camera on my lap and sat there enjoying the amazing company I had!

Soon the morning rays of the sun started to drift in casting a golden hue over the hill. The leopard kept disappearing, only to appear at the other end of the hill. Then she’d disappear again and pop up where I found her the first time. I noted that for whatever reason, she didn’t leave that area, did it mean that the kill was nearby, or better still, did she have her den in the many crevices on that hill? By 6:30 am it was very well lit and I started mapping every boulder and crevice that could be used as a den. There were 2 that caught my eye and I remember looking at each of these intently hoping for some movement. By this time the Leopard had disappeared, but I kept scouring the hill in front of me, and then I saw him! He already knew I was there, he was looking straight back at me intently with his big unflinching eyes! He was about a year old, he looked more curious than alarmed.

Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!-cub.jpg

The cub didn’t leave the cave, as he continued to look at me, meeting my gaze. I did not make any sudden movements, and he didn’t seem to bother when I reached for my camera and took a few pictures of him. After an hour of sizing each other down, I saw a movement behind the cub, it was the mom and she came and sat right next to the cub, now there were 2 leopards staring at me from the cave!

Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!-capture5.jpg

She started grooming her cub perhaps telling him that everything was OK! To my absolute delight, this seemed to give the cub the courage to come out of the cave, he did so, but not without casting glances towards my direction frequently, and I sat there without moving, meeting his gaze.

Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!-leopard-mom-cub.jpg

Just as she had appeared from nowhere, the mom disappeared into the cave, and soon, I saw her waking on the ridge towards the farm. The sun was out and I could clearly see her shiny coat and rosettes in the brilliant morning rays!

Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!-leopard-walking.jpg

She lay down in the dry grass and it was clear that she was eyeing the meadows from the vantage point atop the hill. She didn’t look in any hurry, as she lay there lazily, occasionally glancing towards me before going back to scouring the meadows in front of her.

Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!-leopard-resting.jpg

She was perhaps 200 feet away from the cave where her cub was, she had decided that it was safe for the cub to be out there by himself, though there was a human around. Mind you, the cub was almost a year old and Leopards do grow fast, and a 1 year old cub is not entirely defenseless.

We, the cub and I spent the morning looking at each other; he lay down on the rock right outside the cave till around 8:00 am. Soon the sun was up in the sky, bright and harsh, and the cub sat up on his haunches, looked around for a while and decided that it was too hot for him to be out there. He took a few steps towards the cave, paused for a second, turned back and looked at me before entering the cave and disappearing from my sight!

Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!-cub-outside.jpg

I live for moments like these, I was 100 meters away from a full grown female leopard and her cub and she had enough trust in me to leave the cub there in the presence of a human and wander off. Perhaps she realized that I wouldn’t do anything to break her trust and maybe that is why she continues to accept my presence even to this date!
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Old 16th November 2016, 13:48   #2
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Default Re: My Man Cave + A Close Encounter in Wayanad!

I am so envious of your right now. I have always liked wild life and prefer to see them in the wild too, not in say circuses or zoos. Having such a place where wildlife is abundant, especially ones like the leopard, is really amazing. Wish I had a place like this, or atleast a friend who owned a place like this
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Old 16th November 2016, 14:05   #3
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Default Re: My Man Cave + A Close Encounter in Wayanad!

If it is ok.. I am gonna cry and lay down on the floor and cry some more. I am totally jealous of you. Amazing writing too. Can you please share pic of your hammock setup. The closest I did was to set up a hammock in balcony and gaze at sky and read a book.

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I live for moments like these, I was 100 meters away from a full grown female leopard and her cub and she had enough trust in me to leave the cub there in the presence of a human and wander off. Perhaps she realized that I wouldn’t do anything to break her trust and maybe that is why she continues to accept my presence even to this date!
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Old 16th November 2016, 14:05   #4
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I live for moments like these, I was 100 meters away from a full grown female leopard and her cub and she had enough trust in me to leave the cub there in the presence of a human and wander off. Perhaps she realized that I wouldn’t do anything to break her trust and maybe that is why she continues to accept my presence even to this date!
Amazing, would love to experience something like this.
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Old 16th November 2016, 14:08   #5
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Default Re: My Man Cave + A Close Encounter in Wayanad!

Thanks for this thread, Anil. The way you tell the tale is awesome!!
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Old 16th November 2016, 14:34   #6
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Default Re: My Man Cave + A Close Encounter in Wayanad!

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Originally Posted by Jungle Retreat View Post
I live for moments like these, I was 100 meters away from a full grown female leopard and her cub and she had enough trust in me to leave the cub there in the presence of a human and wander off. Perhaps she realized that I wouldn’t do anything to break her trust and maybe that is why she continues to accept my presence even to this date!
Anil, that write is fantastic and the experience even better. I still remember the day when we were tracking the male tiger cub around the farm. It was near but it would not come out in the open.

I believe you are back from the overseas trip. Will give you a buzz soon
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Old 16th November 2016, 15:02   #7
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Default Re: My Man Cave + A Close Encounter in Wayanad!

Fantastic write up. Your patience is paying off. I wish anyone who boards safari vehicles have at least half of yours. You are very lucky to have gained the confidence of mother.
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Old 16th November 2016, 15:21   #8
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Default Re: My Man Cave + A Close Encounter in Wayanad!

Beautiful narration and equally stunning pictures!

What camera do you use? Feels like a lot of quality images lost in the size conversion to make uploads easier on the forum?
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Old 16th November 2016, 15:23   #9
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Default Re: My Man Cave + A Close Encounter in Wayanad!

excellent write up. Rather than the pictures, its how you narrate which is more exciting & sure it is a suspense thriller reading your post. You should write a book on enacting to situations with your vast wild life knowledge. Keep living your dream man...I enjoyed reading it thoroughly.
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Old 16th November 2016, 18:39   #10
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Default Re: My Man Cave + A Close Encounter in Wayanad!

One amazing thread!

I am a sucker for such life, just that we never get to see wild-life at our farm. Too deep into cultivated arable land. It is one of my dreams to have such property and enjoy the life with no care of the world, and here you are living the dream, enjoying it to the fullest.

Keep it up my friend and keep making us jealous! Looking forward to more posts here.
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Old 17th November 2016, 18:00   #11
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Default Re: Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!

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She looked very comfortable and relaxed and I sat motionless in my hammock 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard.
Thanks for sharing! Moved your post out to its own thread & shortly adding it to the homepage .
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Old 17th November 2016, 18:32   #12
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Default Re: Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!

Wonderful as usual. Truly envious of you!!

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The hammock was made out of thick polyester material, and just like my camouflage T-shirt and my Khaki pants, it blended in with the surroundings. It had a frame which meant that I could actually sit up as though I was sitting on a platform, with just my head protruding out, it also ensured that the hammock didn’t swing if I moved.
This must be unique hammock - you have a snap?
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Old 17th November 2016, 23:02   #13
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Default Re: Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!

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I live for moments like these, I was 100 meters away from a full grown female leopard and her cub and she had enough trust in me to leave the cub there in the presence of a human and wander off. Perhaps she realized that I wouldn’t do anything to break her trust and maybe that is why she continues to accept my presence even to this date!
Beautifully written. I am sure you do all that is possible to keep the farm from conflicting with the jungle around, that's why these guys (the jungle folk) are there. Please keep it up !

Best Regards & Drive/Ride Safe

Ram
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Old 18th November 2016, 08:17   #14
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Default Re: Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!

I have heard of camping in the wild but what you did is something else. I doubt if i can muster the courage to sit on a tree all night but you know what, after reading your story, I wanna do it.

This was an amazing read. Thank you.

What part of Wayanad is this?
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Old 18th November 2016, 09:52   #15
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Default Re: Wayanad: 100 meters away from the most elusive cat in the world – the Leopard!

What an opportunity one can have in his life ? enjoying nature as it is. I hope one day, i will get a chance to spend time like this. Wonderful narration and excellent pictures. It was giving a feeling as if i was there in that place. Great.

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