Archives

Africa habitat degradation India Lifestyle

Ballerina & Her Family

What is their future? A photograph by Debashish Dutta, natural history photographer

Living Life in the Wilderness

Habitat Degradation and Its Threat to Wildlife

Publisher’s Note:

Debashish Dutta, a natural history photographer, returns to joanmatsuitravelwriter.com this month with a story of tranquility and peace. With sheer delight and awe-inspiring details and photographs, Debashish conveys the inherent beauty of biodiversity and why we are obligated to preserve and protect our planet. Join him on his expedition to Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. 
What is their future? A photograph by Debashish Dutta, natural history photographer
Wildlife and Natural History Photographer, Debashish Dutta, portrays the Indian Gazelle in his spectacular photos and detailed narrative from the Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, India. Dutta shares his expeditions with my readers every month on joanmatsuitravelwriter.com. Photos by Debashish Dutta

I watched her intently as she moved around the undulating and at times rocky terrain with the subtle deftness of a ballerina. The lovely golden light of the early February morning glistened against her silky-smooth coat while her big dreamy eyes reflected the contentment she felt in her life.

For those who are tuned; the cradle of nature reminds them of the existence of God and the sheer greatness of his kingdom.  And the satisfaction visible on the faces of the denizens of the forest a reminder to mankind about how simple, beautiful and harmonious life can be on the same planet that also houses the humans whose destructive force knows no bounds.

The doe’s eyes were talking to the ones she loved – a small family that was happily munching on the fresh morning grass and a little fawn that was happily prancing around his mother. They were experiencing joy.

After my advent in Pune in 2015; I have been doing my bit of research on happy hunting grounds around town for passionate wildlife lovers and serious natural history photographers. That is how I discovered Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.

Debashish Dutta photography of Indian Gazelle, Chinkara, Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary India
The shy Chinkara gives a series of snorts if approached and prances away with a peculiar bounding gait.

Nestled in Baramati at a distance of 70km from Pune, it is arguably the smallest wildlife sanctuary in the country.  Officially that is – because in India we have enough and more delightful spots of nature still relatively or totally unknown to the marauding city crowds who would waste no time in destroying their peace and solitude. There is an unwritten but well-understood rule amongst nature lovers and that rule is to maintain the secrecy and sanctity of a natural hotspot.

Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary is just about five sq. km in area. It has a big heart though and because it is relatively unknown; its peace and tranquility are still intact. The serenity has attracted a variety of mammals and bird species like the very rare Indian Grey Wolf, the Indian Fox, the Striped Hyena and the Indian Gazelle (Chinkara). The avian population on record has been the Indian Thick-Knee, White-bellied Minivet, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Laggar Falcon, Bonelli’s Eagle, Chestnut-Bellied Sandgrouse, the Indian Courser, and a few others.

When I headed for Mayureshwar; my main focus was on the Indian Gazelle. Locally called the Chinkara; Gazelles have always been one of my favourite ungulates because of their grace, charm, beautiful lithe structure akin to a seasoned athlete, flawless coat, lovely big and expressive eyes and the two-tone colour scheme of their coat. India, unfortunately, has been blessed with only one species of Gazelle. Africa, on the other hand, has a wide variety. In fact, of the 91 antelope and gazelle species in the world, the African continent is home to 72 of them. The Indian Gazelle closely resembles the Tommies or Thomson’s Gazelles visible in large numbers on the African savannah.

Back to the doe and family, I was watching. I had been on the same spot for over an hour. There was an obvious chill in the air reinforced by a relatively stiff northeasterly wind. The ability to be still, quiet, patient and watchful are good virtuous to have in the wilderness. They allow you to become one with the surroundings and enable you to soak in the unspeakable joy that only wilderness can offer to a human. The stillness allows the animal to relax and prevents a breach of the animal’s circle of fear.

Given the open terrain of Mayureshwar; it was possible for me to stay put inside my vehicle. The firmly planted bean bag on the window sill afforded my Nikon D750 a firm foundation for when it is coupled with the Nikkor 200mm-400mm/F4 VR II. The combined weight becomes substantial and a firm foundation is mandatory to avoid camera shake. My goal was to compose some nice frames capturing the doe in action solo and with her family.

Unfortunately, Mayureshwar has received some negative feedback from people who are obviously not tuned to the rhythm of nature. A simple Google search will reveal uneducated and half-baked commentary from visitors whose exposure to natural habitats and the sheer vastness of their variety is minuscule. Now, these are visitors who want to quickly see a few big animals and leave. Their heart is not in nature and their understanding of jungle craft zero. Thus, those who understand that the Earth is blessed with a myriad of forest types and terrains are able to appreciate the diversity. They are also able to appreciate the fact that nature has blessed the planet with an astounding array of wildlife and not just the big cats and mammals. Sadly, we have lost a large number of them due to our own callousness, greed, and lack of respect for the planet we live in.

The human mind is boundless and unstoppable. Sitting still and at least some distance away from the daily humdrum of life underneath a vast and beautiful blue sky; my mind had wandered to distant shores and days gone by. This is another unique state of mind of a person deeply in love with nature and one who always finds solace in jungles. While soaking in the natural beauty around and marveling at another inimitable creation of God; my mind reminded me that my beloved jungles are being destroyed cruelly all around and my heart started to lament!

Habitat destruction, ecosystem pollution, deforestation, species vulnerability and extinction, and such horrendous thoughts kept flowing in and out of my mind. Gut-wrenching photos of the recent burning of the Amazonia filled my eyes. Has the decay of the human mind reached such a nadir that those hands which set the Amazonia on fire did not tremble and hesitate? Were they not deliberately oblivious to the fact that the Amazonia supplies 20 percent of the world’s supply of fresh Oxygen?

Just then my driver whispered. We noticed that the Chinkara family had moved a certain distance uphill. To ensure that we were correctly aligned with the angle of light; we had to circumvent a bit to catch up with the doe and her family again.

In Mayureshwar; one can easily alight from a vehicle and scan around, however, that is likely to scare the animal away. The Chinkara is shy of human beings; if approached, the animal gives a series of snorts and prances away with a peculiar bounding gait. When alarmed, the herd takes off at a frantic pace, then stops 100 to 200 m away to discover the cause of the alarm. Therefore, stay put in your vehicle. Always wear camouflage clothes in a jungle except in Africa where camouflage clothing is restricted to forest staff and the rangers. Avoid perfumes for they too will scare an animal. They are not used to strong synthetic smells. Dark glasses are a no-no, especially when dealing with big cats, apes, primates and large herbivores. They can trigger an alarm and a retaliation.

Indian Gazelles mating in Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary
Gazelles copulate often and Debashish was lucky to capture the couple in action.

I noticed that the doe and her little one had been joined by a male. How do you figure if the Chinkara is a male? Size apart, consider its horns. They appear straight when seen from the front. In profile, the horns of an adult male have an S-shape. The females have much slenderer and smaller horns compared to the males. Like other gazelles, adult Chinkara males are territorial and have a clear perimeter of operations. Other males are not tolerated but wandering females from other clans are always offered an opportunity to join the male’s harem. The male marks his territory by fecal mounds and uses these spots regularly. A Chinkara male is always around his lady in estrus and guards her aggressively. They copulate often and I was lucky to get some good shots while the couple was in action.

The little fawn was around all the time making merry. Chinkara females like most living beings make for doting mothers. I saw many tender moments between mother and baby and those scenes were heartwarming, to say the least. The fawn is with the mother for about a year and then ventures out on its own. Chinkara families are like humans with a size typically not more than five to six individuals.

The corrupt human mind looks at development as an opportunity to make money and makes development a bad word. Unfortunately, this is a global truth and as a result of the warped sense of development; our planet has lost a multitude of species and innumerable biodiversity hotspots. Extinct species will never return and damaged natural ecosystems are almost impossible to reinstate because forest ecosystems develop over millions of years. They cannot be replaced ever by plantations.

 

Maybe there is still some time left. Therefore, people should look around. Nurture a natural spot that you chance upon or happens to be in your neighbourhood. Mobilise sensible people and ensure peace and tranquility of that little Garden of Eden. Debashish Dutta, Natural History Photographer

Startled Indian Gazelle and her family
Do your part to preserve the ecosystems that support our forests and the wildlife that call the habitats home. Debashish takes on the task of reporting on the challenges he has encountered while documenting wild species through his magnificent camera lens and narratives.

Getting There

Getting to Mayureshwar is simple once you are in Pune. Hire an SUV or MPV or drive down yourself. If you start at about 7 a.m.; you will be able to cover the 70 km distance in 1.5 hours. Google Maps is all you need for guidance. The entrance is at 8 AM and the fee is basic. Carry your own water bottle, tuck in a few sandwiches and munchies.

Please do not litter. Once inside; figure a tree by the side of the road where you can park your vehicle. Set up your equipment if you are a photographer or videographer. Settle down. Let the jungle take over.

Debashish Dutta is a BBC Earth and Nikon Asia recognized professional Natural History Photographer. Visit his website www.fromdawntodusk.in for a detailed insight into his wildlife portfolios. He is also Global Director & Head – Operational Risk for a major financial services firm.

Read a companion story by Debashish Dutta, Wild Girls Uninterrupted.

 

No Comments
Indian Culture Indian writers and photographers Jungles of India and Africa Lifestyle Natural History Photography Royal Bengal Tigers

Wild Girls Uninterrupted

  • By
  • November 11, 2019
Royal Bengal Tigers by Wildlife Photographer Debashish Dutta

Royal Bengal Tigers in Raw Nature

Life in the Land of the Tiger

The Formative Years of 4 Tigresses

Debashish Dutta, a Natural History Photographer, has been featured extensively on mainstream national media like CEO India, Asian Age, DNA, Indian Express Indulge and Fever 104 FM Radio.

Join Debashish here at joanmatsuitravelwriter.com every month as he shares his extraordinary photographs and stories from his travels. Follow his journey as he continues his quest to shine a light on Royal Bengal Tigers and other animals. 

A good photograph speaks a thousand words and has the power to awaken the latent love for nature innate in every human being.

Debashish Dutta

 

The forest was quiet. And it was dusty. Fine red dust formed a thin layer all over my vehicle, equipment bag and face. At almost 50°Celsius, it was incredibly hot, and the sun was beating down the soil mercilessly. The ground in return was reflecting back the heat in equal measure. Years of scanning forests during the peak of summers had taught me many lessons. Hence, I had the upper part of the body well covered by fine white cotton “dupatta” – a sort of Stole ladies use as an accessory in India. The garment exposed just my face to ensure my eyes were ready to catch any movement anywhere around me. That tactic is a key jungle craft developed over time.

Debashish Dutta Wildlife and Natural History Photographer
Patience and diligence play a significant role in Debashish Dutta’s success as a wildlife and natural history photographer.

 

When you think the forest is calm and the denizens have retired to cooler areas – caves, thickets, undergrowth, burrows, and watering holes, you might be surprised. If you’re alert, you might catch a sudden movement of an animal. Sipping water supplemented with essential salts helps to avoid dehydration. In the meantime, my driver and I rolled along towards a water hole we knew was frequented by a family of Royal Bengal Tigers. I, too, felt at home even though the forest was a veritable oven.

Such is the hold of nature and wilderness on those who are blessed by its magnanimity. Where else can a soul find such bliss, peace and the company of those who live life so meaningfully?

Debashish Dutta

 

 

 

My eyes scanned the forest for the “Telia Sisters” who were growing up around the Telia lake region of the Mohurli Zone of Tadoba. The area is an extraordinary gift of nature to humans who, regrettably, are hell-bent on destroying every region of solitude on the only planet we call home. The intelligence I had was credible because the folks from the BBC were in the forest as well to film the formative years of the girls. Tracking wild animals, especially the very elusive big cats in the dense forests of India, is a game of patience that’s quite often under trying circumstances. I learnt this from the time I was a kid pouring over every book written by Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson. Those books are timeless classics that are a treasure trove of lessons on animal behaviour and jungle craft. No classroom can teach them.

Debashish Dutta Wildlife Photographer
Shown in his safari vehicle, Debashish and his driver endured intense heat in the Mohurli range of Tadoba while in search of five tigresses in the forest.

 

In my own ways; I have always tried applying them when I am in the jungle. And after 12 years of meandering across forests of India and of late Africa; some degree of jungle tuning has been achieved. Another key lesson being – drive slowly. Thus, the emissions of a series of low growls and scratching sounds did not miss my alert ears. The Mohurli range of Tadoba is dotted with Bamboo forests – thickets of Bamboo interspersed with bits and pieces of open areas. In some of these open patches; the forest department had dug large holes that would be replenished with water regularly to help the jungle dwellers quench their thirst. Such a coping strategy is employed during years with relatively low rainfall.

If you go to Tadoba today; those water holes would not be visible as they were abandoned after heavy rainfall over the last few years. The jungle took charge quickly and covered them up with wild finery. But back in May 2013; the man-made watering holes were an absolute must. Extreme heat and low rainfall meant the jungle’s own stock of water was running dry. Slowing down the vehicle even further; the four eyes at our disposal peered at the Bamboo thicket earnestly. The low growls were at times replaced by snarls and I could gauge that they were not all coming from the same area. It was evident that the family was in the bamboo thickets to my left and lounging around liberally. They had no space constraint and it also seemed probable that the sisters were trying to play around a bit as well.

Knowing this was where we had to stay put; my driver aligned the vehicle along the edge of the forest fire line in a manner that would enable me to get the right shot. It was still morning when unexpectedly, a slight breeze wafted towards us from the Telia lakeside, thereby bringing to our not so capable noses that unique smell of raw meat in the jungle. Shortly, the sound of the crunching of bones followed. My eyes popped out as I now knew that the sisters had a kill inside the Bamboo thicket and all those growls and snarls resulted from the feeding frenzy. Per eyewitnesses; the girls were very much with their mother, Madhuri, at this stage of their lives. That discovery prompted me to assess the animal I guessed was slain to feed such a big family. It was quite possibly the Indian Gaur – also called the Indian Bison, the largest extant bovine native to South and Southeast Asia and listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1986. Had we been herbivores; we would have known the presence of a dead animal a long time ago.

Royal Bengal Tigers photographed by Debashish Dutta
The five tigers found the pool of water refreshing on a sweltering day. Debashish Dutta’s strategy is two-pronged – stir peoples’ hearts with evocative wildlife photographs and then leverage those emotions to motivate people to work for afforestation at individual levels. Royal Bengal Tigers photos by Debashish Dutta

 

We were parallel to the water hole that lay next to the bamboo thicket at a distance of about 30 feet sheltering the Tiger family. A straight line drawn perpendicular to the water hole would have reached us in about 18 feet. This description is intended to give you a mental picture of the distances between the three parties involved – the Tigers, the water hole, and me. It was now a game of waiting and watching. The presence of the Telia Sisters – Sonam, Lara, Geeta, and Mona, along with their mother Madhuri, was likely going by the number of growls and snarls we heard. The question was when and if at all they would step out of the thicket? They were daughters of the legendary and massive Tadoba male Tiger called Wagdoh. Although the time was around 8:30 a.m.; the sun was blazing away and the light already harsh. Those days I was armed with the still very capable Nikon D600 and the ever-reliable and effective Nikkor 200mm-400mm/F4/VRII.

Royal Bengal Tigers by Wildlife Photographer Debashish Dutta
Armed with his Nikon D600 and the Nikkor 200mm-400mm/F4/VRII, Debashish captured the Telia Sisters cooling off in a watering hole.

 

In my assessment and per my experience; Tigers cannot do without a cool pool in peak summers. I was certain they would not resist the inviting water hole that had been replenished sometime earlier in the day. The fresh tire marks of a heavy vehicle were evident. My driver, on the other hand, decided to snooze. He knew this would be a long vigil while I kept peering at the water hole and the thickets surrounding the banks. The magnificence of the Royal Bengal Tiger has held the humankind in its sway since eternity. Deplorably, that fascination has led to the murder of a massive number of this magnificent beast. As a result, today we are grappling with the real danger of losing it forever. As I rested my chin on my DSLR that was sitting snug on a fat and stable bean bag; I wondered what the girls must be doing inside the thicket and why they weren’t stepping out. They led me to believe they had fallen asleep after a hearty meal and might not step out after all. I whispered my concern to my trusted driver who said we could not afford to desert this spot. And how right he was!

His belief reinforced my will to stay put and the experience I was rewarded with will stay etched in my memories forever. The jungle was still. The early morning bird songs were over. There was an eerie calm all around when clear rustling sounds – caused by the movement of heavy bodies – came from the undergrowth directly opposite me. Thickly padded feet were landing on dry leaves and twigs causing them to crackle. The Tigers were on the move. The signs were obvious. And then came the moment – two heads broke through the Bamboo thicket on the left bank of the water hole. And they looked straight at me. The adolescent girls were tentative and curious. Albeit gingerly; one girl headed for the water hole while the other for the other bank and straight into the Bamboo thicket.

Finding a Tiger in the wilderness is difficult and here I was in the company of two! Soon enough more Tigers emerged – from the left and the right. They added up to five. My mouth was a gaping hole! It was a scene like I had never encountered. Five Tigresses in one frame! That I was overwhelmed would be a gross understatement. Each Tigress noticed my presence – the miserable human. No one else was in the vicinity. I was greeted with glares, snarls, and growls but I felt no fear for unlike humans; animals have no malice and mean no harm to us unless we breach their circle of fear which compels them to respond in self – defense.

In time, the ladies settled down for a day out in the pool in big-cat style. What an incredible show nature was putting up for me and I couldn’t have been thankful enough! The girls were free and empowered souls. They were indulging in fun and frolic without a care compelling me to compare their society to ours where women are always concerned about their safety. How ironic! A forest and its dwellers present a perfect example of disciplined and harmonious living. No one crosses the line nature has established. For three hours I watched Madhuri and her daughters enjoy their pool party – a perfect girl’s day out and shot over 2,000 frames capturing their many moods and moments. And they allowed me to enjoy their company as they didn’t take long to notice my complete love and admiration for them. The girls were so playful – splashing and spraying water on each other, gamboling and jumping around under the watchful eye of their mother.

They were too young then to have any inkling that both their home and their ilk were struggling to retain their rightful place on this planet. And there I was with a mind that was convincing me to wonder how long humans would allow such Gardens of Eden to survive! That is a fear I live with every day. Over the last 6 years; Sonam and Lara have grown into dominant Tigresses while not much is known about Geeta and Mona. I am back in Tadoba later this month with tracking Geeta and Mona being a key objective. Come to Tadoba for a tête-à-tête with Royal Bengal Tigers in raw nature. Hope this story provides the inspiration.

Extended Bio: 

Debashish Dutta was also a senior banker with 20 years of core corporate experience across global banks like HSBC, ABN AMRO, Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse and State Street Bank & Trust Company.

Debashish is putting a whole new thrust on conservation and promoting visuals straight from the jungles. Voices combine together to form a movement and that is what Debashish is striving to achieve through his photography and a brand-new conservation project called Return to the Jungles. It is a two-pronged strategy – stir peoples’ hearts with evocative wildlife photographs and then leverage those emotions to motivate people to work for afforestation at individual levels.

Recognized by both BBC Earth and Nikon Asia; Debashish shoots extensively in the jungles of India and Africa. He has multiple exhibitions to his credit and is focusing on awakening and nurturing a love for nature, wilderness, and wildlife amongst school children as he believes that a significant onus of conservation is now on GenNext. His beautiful Natural History Photography portfolios are presented on his website www.fromdawntodusk.in. His premium wood-framed photographs are retailed under the brand name From Dawn to Dusk.

Royal Bengal Tigers are one of the many species of animals Debashish has photographed and you’ll be charmed by his stories and photographs in the coming months. 

Here’s another post we know you’ll enjoy! 

 

From My Partner, Qatar Airways…

Explore Asia with our incredible offers, save up to 25%  from Sep 2, 2019, to Mar 31, 2020

Qatar Airways will take to you where you need to go, whether you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track getaway or the best-undiscovered adventure destinations. 

 

No Comments