Up, close and personal with wildlife at Bannerghatta

I believe that we develop interests based on the environment and the social circles that we are exposed to. Born in a small hill-dwelling community whose lineage takes pride in hunting games, it once got me to think where my interests towards nature and wildlife conservation came from. Although I couldn’t join too many dots, one significant period was my high-school days where I would have long conversations with a friend, about animals’ health, their behavior, their habitat etc. Her father worked in the Karnataka forest department. I thus chanced upon once, to stay for a couple of days along with her, in the official quarters located inside the Bannerghatta Biological park.

A stay dating back to June 2007: Five friends and I embarked on this memorable trip (yeah, I can call it life changing too.. It probably changed my perspective about zoo keeping and keeping animals in captivity).

Day 1:
After bracing through long traffic jams and burping on our pre-booked lunch at the Jungle resorts within the park, it was Safari time for us. Even though I’ve been to Bannerghatta innumerous number of times in the past, this was a nice experience. On my previous visits as a normal visitor in the zoo, I would have to buy separate passes for each section. But this time, I was exploring the place with special privileges. The herbivores safari, tiger safari, lion safari, bear safari all done by sunset time and we unwound at the quarters.. You have 6 chatter-box girls in one house and what do you expect? A lot of gossip 😛 The evening thus passed by. The cook served our dinner and post that, we all geared up for one of the most memorable nights of our lives.

Deep inside the jungle

We were all set for “The Night Safari”. The forest guards would go on their regular night beats in the forest and this time, we would accompany them. Apart from being the first experience for all of us out at night in deep jungle, what was more exciting was that we were going in an open pick-up vehicle. As the eeriness of the deep dark wild started to excite us more and more, we got a better understanding of such places at night. While we were being attentive and soaking in all the sensuousness of mother nature, we spotted some wild animal that crossed our path.. and then came back and stood infront of our vehicle. I thought it was some sort of a wild cat and my jaws dropped in awe. I shouted in excitement, “Cat, Cat!”. Then noticing the weird glances I received and the silence of others, I realized I had to shut up. A friend was quick to realise what it was. She shouted “Leopard, Leopard!”. Imagine a LEOPARD, totally untamed and WILD.. right infront of us…!!! The driver halted the vehicle. Another friend yelled out, “Don’t stop, don’t stop.. Move move..”. But the driver took the jeep in reverse and closer to the cat. The leopard had now walked past our jeep and come to the rear side. At a distance of less than 10meters or so.. Instead of pouncing on us and grabbing one of us, strangely the leopard ran away within a few seconds. PHEWWW… still feels like I just woke up from a dream..!!

We were then told that the leopard had littered cubs somewhere in the vicinity and hence, ran away. The forest guards know their forests and its inhabitants. The leopard was frightened about a threat to its babies and hence ran away to protect them. They are usually in defensive mode during these time unless attacking is an absolute necessary. The Safari continued.. We spotted bisons, antelopes, spotted deers, neelghais, wild cat, black bucks, mongoose, rabbits, so on and so forth… The nigh safari was indeed an experience in itself!

Day 2:
Next morning we all woke up before sunrise and again, headed towards the jungle. This time, it was a morning ride with a hope of spotting a few wild elephants. As we travelled deep, deeper and deepest into the forest, the terrain got more bumpier and rocky. The painful ride however, did not yield any good sightings apart from fresh elephant dung everywhere. But, some wonders of the jungles that we had missed in the darkness of the previous night, made up for the disappointment of our morning ride. Picture these little scenes: hundreds of butterflies flying out of a bush, all at once; the glittering clear waters of the lakes lost in the deep jungle; many more.

After reaching back to the quarters, we immediately headed to a pond located behind the quarters. It was bathing time for the pachyderms at the zoo… Two majestic sweethearts walked past us, with a calf: Vanaraja, Darshan & Baby Nisarga (Those are the names of the elephants at Bannerghatta). We too stretched ourselves to give them a scrub and in the process, got all wet with the ever playfull little Nisarga.

It was our zoo time post breakfast. In a separate area, an elephant calf named Geetha was in deep slumber. The calf who was barely as old as a month-and-a-half was guarded by her mother. We accompanied the mahout to feed them and spent. During this, the little one woke up and we got lucky to spend some time playing around with her. She would nod her head and playfully chase us. We would run around the tree until both of us got tired, and then start the cycle again. While at this, the vetinerary doctors of the zoo welcomed us to the backyard of the Vet-hospital. Under their supervision, we got an opportunity to touch, carry and care for wounded or sick animals that were being treated there. Among them were an alligator, civet cat, guinea pigs, rabbits etc.

Later in the afternoon, we visted the SOS centre. I didn’t even know such a place existed within the premises despite coming to the zoo several times in the past Special privileges! This is a rehabilitation center for wounded lions, tigers, bears etc. These animals are mostly rescued from circuses, bear charmers etc. treated here before letting them into the actual zoo area. This is a public prohibited zone. The handsome Siberian tigers were my favourite.

At the SOS centre

Next was the drive uphill- to Udige bande. We got a nice view of the ‘Bannerghatta National Park’ from here. You can find innumerous dolmens here, believed to be the place where the local tribes once laid their dead ancestors to sleep. There is also another large rock, called as the Barber’s stone which is believed to have been featured in Dr.Rajkumar’s ‘Gandhada Gudi’ movie.

From Top left: 1.The view from Udige Bande, 2. The Barber’s stone, 3.The Dolmens atop Udige Bande, 4.View of a small check dam constructed by the forest department as a watering hole for the wild animals.

Day 3:
We were taken to the tiger and lion conservation area. The pictures taken here are something that I would be flaunting for the rest of my life. Not all get a chance to touch and play around with tiger cubs 😉 The big cats that are ready for their breeding / mating are brought here. After the cubs are born, the parents and the cubs are nurtured here until the cubs are of a suitable age to go back to the wild. Here, there is no wild as such. They are let in the safari area to mingle with the other cats in a controlled space, which is also another form of captivity.

Playing with a tiger cub at Bannerghatta lion and tiger conservation area

We took a walk around the museum and got a few insights into preservation and conservation of our natural heritage. We then headed to the last part of our long weekend. The butterfly park was newly set back then and it was a good crowd puller among the public.

To my experiences of going on wildlife safaris and what I had watched on discovery & Nat-geo, I guess this trip gave me a new insight into wildlife conservation. Until now I had only been hearing and watching it. This trip gave me an opportunity to EXPERIENCE it. You cannot connect with nature unless, you get up, close and personal with wildlife.

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