The Great Pied Hornbill

Valparai is a place that I have been visiting for the last 9 years. And every time I visit, the one photograph that I’ve always missed is that of the Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornis). More than one thing fascinates me about this great bird, their sheer size, their vivid colors, the loud sound made by their flapping wings when they fly and their monogamous pairing. This time, I was lucky enough to get different photographs of both the male and the female bird. I have edited an image to bring the male and the female bird to one image with the intention of showing the basic difference in the sexes. Taken at Valparai on the 10th of April, 2014.


Left: Female, Right: Male. Females are smaller than males and have bluish-white instead of red eyes although the orbital skin is pinkish. The most prominent feature of the hornbill is the bright yellow and black casque on top of the massive bill. The back of the casque is reddish in females while the underside of the front and back of the casque is black in males. The males have black marking on white tail and the females have white on black.


Photograph of a Tiger finally!

It’s only everyone’s dream to spot a wild Tiger in the jungle, and so is mine. After almost 25 years of watching out for wildlife in the forest and with not much luck with spotting tigers, I have other things in mind now, especially after getting into Birding. On the other hand, I have spotted close to 40 Leopards in the last decade, prior to which I had seen only one in Topslip. To date, I’ve spotted about 6 Tigers but almost every time it was only for a brief moment. So, I’ve never really had a chance to photograph one. Now, my eyes are tuned to look for leopards even though watching a Tiger to my hearts content is still a dream. However, in June 2013, when we visited Kabini, I was in disbelief when our naturalist pointed out to a Tiger. It took all of us in the safari vehicle almost a minute or two to actually locate the Tiger. That’s how far away it was from us. It was a 20 minute sighting but only through a binocular or my 500mm lens. Even then it was merely bigger than a spot. I was fortunate enough to take a photo of the tiger just as an elephant was entering the scene. My day was done. I have an elephant and a tiger in the same frame, but again, I was really disappointed with the image quality. It was all grainy and I had to crop it really tight to get a good view of the animals. I thought to myself, “Not posting that one”!!

However, I got lucky last month. I had my friend Shivangi visit me. We went to school together in Singapore. And, as usual when ever my friends visit me from where ever they are coming from, they want me to take them to the jungle. And I love it! The whole experience of how we got to spot the Tiger itself was awesome. I am going to post an image, and explain along how it actually took place.


As soon as we entered the park, we drove on the elevated road adjoining a huge waterhole (Just to give you an idea, the waterhole would have been about 10-15 medium sized sedan lengths).

Upon reaching “Stop 1”, I heard the spotted deer alarm calls towards our left. I instructed the driver to stop for while to analyze the situation. Right now, the alarm calls are chaotic, it was as if the cat launched an attack, it was all haywire. Our driver then took a left and drove towards the temple where we heard the alarm calls from.

Surprisingly, some deer there were absolutely normal doing their own thing. These deer rely on their ears, nose and eyes to watch out for a predator. Usually when they hear an alarm call, they must have seen or smelled a carnivore around them. Until the predator launches an attack, the deer have their eyes locked on to their animal of prey. It’s much more complex than how we see it.

Since nothing much was happening there, we got back to our “Stop 1” only to hear the second set of alarm calls across the waterhole at “Second Alarm Call”. Immediately we backed the Gypsy to “Stop 2”. After a clean surveillance, we proceeded towards the “Final Stop Facing Waterhole”. Assuming the carnivore is going to emerge from the water hole and walk towards where we were parked, we reached the spot and were ready with our cameras.

We waited for 10 minutes in silence, the deer had already settled down, it was absolutely quite. All hell broke lose when my friend heard something cracking behind us. Without wasting a second, I turned around to find a fine looking Tigress in her prime feeding on a Spotted Deer carcass. I got to spend 3 minutes with the Tigress, watching her eat and pick herself up to disappear into oblivion. Here are the photos from this series. Hope enjoyed the experience.


Tigress feeding on Spotted Deer carcass

D3S_0007 2

An alerted Tigress


My “Kumki”

Kumki elephants are found every where today. When I mention the words “kumki elephant”, people sometimes have asked me if it was a sub species of the Indian Elephant found here, innocently so. Kumki elephants are basically captive, trained elephants to keep the wild ones from foraging into human habitation. They are also used for breeding. However, the Kumki I mention here is not actually an elephant, although it is of the same color and is big, has four wheels and is in fact four wheel drive, it almost goes everywhere an elephant can, it almost feeds (milage) as much as an elephant, painted elephant grey and carries about 5 to 7 people comfortably just as an elephant does. What I am referring to here is a Mitsubishi Pajero christened by me as Kumki.

After a long wait and a lot of thought, I decided to get myself an off-roader to suit my style of life. I am mostly found traveling to places where there are no roads virtually. The cars I had used earlier where sometimes damaged due to driving in such terrain and sometimes I have never reached the intended destination because of the road conditions. Even photographing birds was a challenge because they would just fly off if we get closer or the other sedan I have, couldn’t take me up close in cover. So, what I needed was a vehicle that can take me every where.

After looking at Land Rover Defender 110’s, 90’s, Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Landcruiser 80 Series, 90 Series, 100 Series, 120 Series, Nissan Patrol Y60’s and Y61’s even the all wheel drive Subaru Forester, I couldn’t narrow down on one vehicle due to a lot of reasons. The most later models were too expensive to be thrashed, the cheaper SUVs were really really old to be a reliable vehicle. The last thing I want is to be stuck in the jungle with a broken down SUV. Dejected is how I felt every time I came back with no SUV to own. One final day, I decided to myself, lets try one last time and if nothing works out, I’ll be back to taking my Honda City to the jungle again.

Got on to an online used car sales website and searched under the SUV column and I saw a Pajero listed on the top of the list. First off, I loved the color. I am not a big fan of the Dual-Tone Pajeros that they sell in India. The previous owner had painted this one dark grey and I loved it. I contacted the owner Antony James and asked him about the vehicle and he said that it is parked in his family home in Trissur, which is about a 2 hour drive from Coimbatore. I asked him about the color of the vehicle again just to make sure if it wasn’t the crappy dual tone, he said “Elephant Grey”. As soon as he said “Elephant” grey, I decided in my mind that this one was for keeps and immediately named him Kumki.

I’ve been having Kumki with me for a little over 6 months now and its just perfect. It saved all my other cars from being bruised and dented.


Kumki at Anamalais foot hills.

We have stocked this one up with a kit, what we call the Pajero Kit which has 4 Chairs, 1 Foldable Table fitted with 4 stools, a 4 man Quechua T4.1 B tent, Coleman Camp Rest, a 1 liter Fire Extinguisher (gifted to me by my childhood friend Prabu), Camo Umbrella, Micro-pore masks, Gloves, 2 sleeping bags, 3 tent lanterns, one pair of Motorola Wireless, Knives, Shovels, Rain Coat, Blankets, Portable Stove, Cooking fuel that lasts for 8 hours, Plates, Cups (paper, foldable and aluminum) Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Kit, Thermos Flask, Serviettes, Universal Powerpoint Adaptor, Extra batteries (AA, AAA, 26650, 18650, CR123A) 9 led UltraFire flood light, Pepper Spray, Insect Repellent Spray, Toilet Seat cover, Toilet Seat Sanitizer spray, Disinfectant Tissues, Snake Bite Suction Kit, and loads of tea, coffee, sugar, salt, instant noodles, Garbage bags and finally a first aid kit and a full fledged medicine kit.


The Pajero Kit

This kit goes everywhere Kumki goes. And we are finally equipped with whatever we would need on a rainy day. Meet Kumki the Mitsubishi Pajero.

To Valparai in search of Lion-Tailed Macaques

The Lion Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus), one of the most endangered primates of the world, is endemic to the Western Ghats. Almost after three days of no show, I got a call from a friend of mine saying there is a troop of LTM behind the tea estate managers bungalow he works at. Without wasting time, I immediately hopped into my car and drove off to shoot these Old World Monkeys. As soon as I reached the spot, my companion by the name Guru, ~ a local volleyball player who was famous among the young girls there~ walked me to the Lion Tailed Macaques.

Unfortunately, the main troop had already left the place before we reached. However there was a lone monkey still loitering around. This particular animal seemed very alerted and restless. Moments before I made this photograph a leopard was sighted in the vicinity and it was evident in this Macaque’s behavior.


Lion Tailed Macaque in Golden Light

It never stayed in one place for more than five to ten seconds. I already had a few images in my mind that I wanted to make, and because of sparse light it seemed like a flop show. But, after staying with the LTM for about an hour, I could clearly see a pattern that he adopted to safely move and monitor the area, both from the top of the tree and the ground, looking for the leopard. He climbs on the tree shown in the above photo, sits on it for a while, climbs down only to walk for a bit to the concrete post to get on the roof of the building and this continued. Moments before he took the last couple of leaps to jump on the concrete post, I made an image. Fortunately it wasn’t a flop show after all.


Moments before he jumped on the concrete post.

Finally, after a long time he climbed down to the ground, finds himself a rock to sit on. I was just a few meters away from him with my camera focus locked waiting for an action. He yawned, I was lethargic and missed the action. Mad at my self for missing the shot, I decided to hold the camera still and be alert until he moves. Equipped with the 9 fps of my Nikon D3s and my aching muscles holding the heavy camera for a while now, thinking to myself to never give up. Suddenly, I sensed a movement through my viewfinder and I went trigger happy without even realizing what he was doing. This time, it wasn’t a yawn. He was trying to get some debris off of his steel grey mane by pointing his head upwards and shaking it really fast. Bham! I managed to get some good shots of it. It almost seems like he is a faceless monkey.


Faceless Lion Tailed Macaque

After an hour of restless behavior, finally after sensing that the Leopard had left the vicinity, he beat a hasty retreat into the jungle and eventually disappeared. The last 3000-3500, as listed by IUCN, of these primates roam the rain forests of Western Ghats.

Nikon D3s | Sigma APO DG HSM 150-500mm f/5-6.3 OS
Valparai | Tamil Nadu
26 Feb, 2014

“Let’s Talk” program- Man-Animal Conflict

Let’s Talk Program organized by Coimbatore Arts and Theatrical Society in association with Young Indians and Confederation of Indian Industry as a part of Coimbatore Vizha that happens every year, this year, the topic that was in discussion was Man-Animal Conflict. 

There were some distinguished people in the Panel Discussion, who have contributed a lot towards wildlife conservation, habitat restoration, creating awareness among people, sustainable conservation etc.

Usually, people seldom relate to how vegetation can make a change in today’s Man-Animal Conflict scenario, and the impact it can create. Mr. Arthur Steele, Director of Nilgiri Biosphere Nature Park, threw some light on this issue, saying how planting the right type of crop in the fringe areas can ward off wild animals from destroying the crop. Today, there are vast farmlands adjoining all forest reserves, invariably. This often invites wild animals to foray into the fields and raid the crops. Mr. Steele pointed out, planting the right type of cash crops and using fencing plants (eg. Lime Tree) is a more eco friendly way of keeping wild elephants and wild boars away from destroying the crop than using electric fences. He also mentions that not a single coffee plant in his Organic Coffee Estate in Kodaikanal had been broken in the last 20 odd years because of such adaptive measures.

Dr. Manohar, The Chief Veterinarian of the Tamilnadu Forest Department, pointed out one of the major contributors to Man-Animal Conflict- Human Behaviour. He describes, how these animals in the sensitive area have learnt to deal with human beings who usually only taunt them and provoke them invariably all the time. He mentions, in some fringe areas, there have been reports of peaceful co-existence between humans and wild animals. Over a given period of time, animals change their behavior towards humans and how to deal with them, he adds.

Dr. B. A. Daniel, Scientist/Entomologist and Secretary Trustee at Zoo Outreach Organization, points out how much educating the locals can bring about a change in todays Man-Animal Conflict scenario. Having held awareness programs in India, Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand, Dr. Daniel has proof for his education program working. Mr. K. V. Siddhartha of Coimbatore Arts and Theatrical Society put forward a very radical idea of introducing insurance policies for farmers who plant the right crop in their fields.

Peaceful co-existance

Wild Elephant walking towards village hut.

One of the many ways today’s farmers try to keep wild elephants away is by digging out Elephant Proof Trenches (EPT). But today, huge EPTs covering a massive piece of farmland, has the potential to alter ravines and small streams which in turn affects the water flow to reach its destination.


Elephant getting dangerously close to human habitation.

At the Let’s Talk Man-Animal Conflict program, we tried to throw in all our ideas, concerns, and possible solutions to reduce the rate of Man-Animal Conflict in and around Coimbatore and try to develop Coimbatore as one of the most sustainable bases for Wildlife Tourism.

How far we succeed in imbibing these measures and containing Man-Animal Conflicts will be a matter of evaluation in the coming days. The event brought all the wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists together and it was a privilege for me (Harishvara Venkat) to moderate the discussions and share space with all of them.