Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ranthambore Tiger Census 2013

I visited Ranthambore Tiger Reserve on May 11th and that was when I first found out of the waterhole census that was to be carried out on 25th & 26th May 2013. Later, I found a post on Facebook providing details on how to apply to volunteer for this census. As I have always wanted to experience being in the jungle at night, I immediately sent a mail to the email address provided expressing my willingness to volunteer for this. A couple of days later, I got a response wherein I had to send an application form and updated resume to apply for this. After two days of e-mailing the required documents, I called up the Deputy Conservator of Forests office to find out the status of my application. I was told that my name was put in 2nd list as I didn't have any relevant experience. Upon hearing this, I told them of the number of safaris that I have done in Indian National Parks and also South African ones. On hearing that, I was soon sent a mail confirming my acceptance to volunteer for this.

A huge chameleon in our hotel lawn
I reached Ranthambore on Friday, 24th May for an orientation/training session for the waterhole census wherein we were informed slightly about all the ranges for this census and the differences between some animals with similar physical appearance. This waterhole census was basically over 330 waterholes in Ranthambore National Park and Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary. As the census form was in Hindi, so we were also told names of some animals in Hindi/local language. After this, we were told a few Do's and Dont's in during the census and were told to collect at the division office by 0630 hours next morning. During this session, I was pleased to see the number of naturalists/enthusiasts who had travelled from all over the country to be part of this.

See those parallel logs of wood? Thats Jamoda II machan
I reached the division office on time and tried to find the machan that was allotted to me. After jumping over a few shoulders trying to peek onto the list that was pasted on a board, I finally found my name written next to Kushalipura waterhole. Upon speaking to a few locals there, I found that this waterhole is right on a road  meaning that there would be almost no movement of animals during day-time but leopard and bear come there after dark. However, as my personal motive was to experience being inside the jungle, I asked the Range Officer to change my waterhole to one that is inside the jungle at least. He then changed me to Jamoda II waterhole and told me the vehicle that was to drop me to the waterhole. This vehicle stopped on a Dhaba on the route to pick up food packets for us. A 5-7 kilometer drive and four of us, two volunteers for Jamoda I waterhole and two volunteers for Jamoda II waterhole were dropped at Kushalipura check-post from where a smaller vehicle was to take us to our individual machans over the waterhole. Everything seemed perfect till now. 

Even though I was hanging onto a branch for dear life, but a Paradise Flycatcher is not to be missed
Having waited for almost 2 hours for the smaller vehicle at the check post, it was already 1200 hours when the forest guard offered to walk us to our machan. Considering it was almost noon and the temperature was almost close 45 degrees, I didn't wish to walk. But, my colleagues were very enthusiastic to reach their machans early and I had to oblige. Walking under the sun for just under an hour was enough to make them understand that their decision had backfired and we called up the Range Officer to tell him about the situation. After about 30 more minutes, a vehicle came to us and dropped us to our waterhole where I was to sit with Bhushan from Gujarat. Upon asking for drinking water, the forest guard took our water bottles and filled them with greenish water from the waterhole where we expected all the animals to come for a drink. As if this and the scorching sun wasn't enough to frighten us, the machan looked unstable with the branch vibrating as we climbed on it. However, trusting the forest department, we climbed and seated ourselves on it. The vehicle had hardly left us and we heard a cracking sound. Next thing we understood was that we were on the ground and all our bones seemed mobile without any clear pain. Thanking God for keeping us safe, we immediately ran to the Jamoda I waterhole where we hoped to find the vehicle still dropping the other two volunteers. However, upon reaching there we found those volunteers sitting on their machan and no sign of the vehicle around. 

A highly active bird. Never sat on one branch for more than a few seconds
Realising that the way back was very long tough under the scorching sun, we decided to climb the tree on which these people were seated and sit on some its branches. We did this trusting the forest department vehicle to come to us on regular intervals as was promised to us. So here I was seated on a branch deep into the forest under scorching sun waiting to hear the humming of the vehicle engine. In the meantime, I was still hoping to see some animals no matter what my situation was. However, except for a few Paradise Flycatchers, Kingfisher, Great Tit and some other birds, their came neither any animal nor the forest vehicle. Finally around 1800 hours, a few Sambar deers came near the waterhole but they were too nervous seeing us and only a few drank water and the rest ran to the other waterhole nearby. It had started getting a bit dark by now and I had started to fret a little thinking of how to spend the whole night hanging onto a branch like monkeys. However, I had started to prepare myself to being a primate for the night.

One of those nervous Sambar Deer that came to the waterhole
Finally, around 2030 hours, I saw a car's headlights in the woods and trust me I have never been more pleased to see headlights ever in my life. When it finally reached us, I told them that our machan came down as soon as they left. To this, the forester, Omprakash Sharma retorted that "If you didn't have the guts to sit, then you shouldn't have volunteered". I was taken aback by his response but decided that arguing with him was not going to help. I simply told him that I am neither afraid nor do I wish to back out and he should provide me another machan and I am willing to spend the night on it. Even then he continued to talk crap for a while before telling me to join the forest guard who was seated at Aam Chowki waterhole. I agreed and I was dropped on this machan now. However, this wasn't exactly a machan but the top of one of those old ruins in Ranthambore. Hence, I was seated on it with the forest guard by 2100 hours.

Full Moon
Sitting there, I started a conversation with the forest guard, Shiv Singh with the usual sounds of Nightjar keeping us company. While waiting for any wildlife to show up, we continued to chat for some time when around 2300 hours, we heard the dry leaves behind us cracking. Upon looking around, we saw a Sloth Bear appear out of the bushes. The bear walked close to where we sat without noticing us and went to the waterhole where he had a fill. After that, he moved further ahead without even giving us a look. For all the trouble that I had went through during last 10 hours, I was mightily pleased now for this was my first sloth bear sighting in the wild. Half an hour after this, Shiv Singh dozed off and was snoring heavily in another 15-20 minutes. Looking at that, I also decided to sleep around 0000 hours.

One of the Jackals that came early in the morning
I didn't find it easy to sleep as every sound would wake me up in the hope of a leopard/tiger coming around. Just when I was finally sleeping, I felt a tug on my shorts. I woke up immediately to find Shiv Singh pointing towards the waterhole. He told me that he could hear the sound of some animal drinking there though we could hardly see anything even after the full moon lighting all over us as the waterhole was under the shade of a tree. I tried looking for a few minutes but my head was feeling just too heavy so I lay down again while he continued to look. A few minutes later, he again woke me up telling that their is something at the waterhole for sure. This time even I could hear the sound of a tongue licking near the waterhole. Soon, we could also hear the deep sound typical of big cats like lions, tigers and leopards. Still, we couldn't see anything as the animal was under the shade. A few minutes later, we saw the silhouette of the animal move quickly which is typical of a leopard. As soon as it moved towards our right, the sharp sound of Sambar deer warning call came from that direction as well. So, we were now sure that this was a leopard at the waterhole. After this, I slept again fully satisfied having seen a sloth bear and a leopard during night.

Jungle Mouse?
I woke up at 0515 hours when the dawn was just coming up. I immediately sat up to look at the waterhole hoping to see some animal there for his early morning drink. But, there were only a few birds there. A little while later, 3 jackals came to the waterhole. They played around for sometime before moving further ahead towards our left. Soon, Shiv Singh also woke up and his mobile phone rang too. It was the forester, Omprakash Sharma who ordered him to walk to the Jamoda I waterhole and bring the two volunteers sitting there to our waterhole. I was seriously disappointed to see that these people don't plan to provide us a vehicle again even after all that happened with us yesterday. Shiv Singh asked me to come with him to fetch these other volunteers as he felt that I can talk them into walking again. I decided to cooperate with him and walked 3 kilometers in the jungle looking for pugmarks. When we reached them, they told us that they saw a tiger move below their machan during the night. I then assisted Shiv Singh in taking off the machan and throwing the sticks in different directions while taking the rope with us. This was done to ensure that we don't end up providing readymade equipment for any hunters that might plan to sit in the forest. Then, all four of us walked back to Aam Chowki.

Aam Chowki. This is where I sat all night
Looking for animals to come at this artificial waterhole
Though, it was just 8 in the morning, but the sun was already really harsh and it wasn't easy walking back. When we reached Aam Chowki, we found out that now we were to walk our way back to Kushalipura check-post from where vehicle would pick us to take us back to the division office. Now that was the maximum patience I could keep with the operations of Forest Department and I called up the control room to provide us a vehicle. The person there told us that it was only a few kilometers further away and that we have walked so much, why not a little more. At that point, we decided to end cooperating with the forest department and walked to the road where we hopped onto a local bus that drove us to Sawai Madhopur City.

Walking to Jamoda I waterhole to fetch the two volunteers there
The experience of sitting inside the jungle overnight is frightening but equally fun. However, the arrangements provided by forest department were really disappointing. I will put those in points here:
1.Nobody came to check on us after putting us on machans for 7.5 hours. If we might have hurt our head or any such part when our machan came down, we could easily have died due to loss of blood in that much time. Ideally, they should check on all machans in 2-3 hours for such emergency situation. Other than machan coming down, snake bites or animal attacks could also need such patrols.
2. It was their duty to take us to our machans in vehicles, but they simply refused to provide that and told us to walk when temperature was soaring at 45 degrees.
3. We were also told that we would be provided with drinking water while we were told to drink the greenish standing water of the waterholes where all the animals bath and drink as well. We can easily fall sick drinking it.
4. Even when we are telling them that our machan came down, instead of accepting that and being a little apologetic, the forester, Omprakash Sharma is shouting back at us telling us that we are trying to fool him.
Thats the Machan I was supposed to sit at and the one that crashed onto the rocks
And its branches had these fresh claw marks of a Leopard
Overall, the forest department didn't seem to care at all for the volunteers and anyone wanting to do this in coming years should be prepared to do this at their own risk and responsibility.


While I was hanging on the tree, these primates are seated on the ground

7 comments:

Shikha Dixit said...

Experience of a lifetime..! Amazing patience dealing with the lack of facilities..you're a sport !! :)

sachin dixit said...

Was just too desperate to be there!! :-)

abhilash.p said...

Greetings, i was just looking for information about the census and found your blog post! Sounds like nasty treatment you got :/ Anyways, could you please provide the FB link to the details? Thanks!

sachin dixit said...

Hey Abhilash
What FB link are you referring to? I don't have any details on FB..

sachin dixit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
swati phore said...

hi dear.. can you please tell the email id where you sent your biodata as an application for tiger census.. kindly mail at drswatiphore@gmail.com.
thank you.

sachin dixit said...

Hi Swati,

The census used to happen once every year in June. However, it didn't happen this year because the authorities decided to use some technology to count wildlife this time around. I wonder if it will happen next June or not!!