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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tiger Trek

An acclaimed wildlife photographer goes to India in search of its national treasure

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Of the 42 key areas that have tiger populations with the potential to grow, 18 are in India, which has the most tigers. The Malenad-Mysore landscape in southern India is home to 220 adult tigers, one of the largest populations in the world.
I use Olympus equipment for all of my “shooting.” The Four Thirds System is perfect for me since my lenses are double in focal length compared to a full-frame camera. When I use a 300mm ƒ/2.8 lens, it’s actually equivalent to a 600mm ƒ/2.8 lens on a full-frame camera. Olympus also has image stabilization built into the body of its E-3 cameras, and that’s a big help since it stabilizes all of the lenses that I use.

Dust is one of the biggest problems with using cameras in the jungle. It’s bound to get into every nook and cranny just from bumping around on the tracks and picking it up from the tires. Olympus has great dust-reduction technology, but just to be sure, I wipe off my cameras after each run.

When I’m in the jungle, I can’t be bothered with a huge tripod or monopod. I like to handhold and shoot as this gives me incredible flexibility. You always have to be ready at the spur of a moment in case a tiger happens to come into view. That’s why the Olympus stabilization feature works great for me and is one I definitely need.

Although all tiger sightings are a thrill, one of the best occurred on this trip when the Queen of the Ranthambore tigers, Machali, came into view. She’s about 14 years old and has given birth to four litters. In 2009, she received a “lifetime achievement” award from the Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) organization for her value and economic contribution to Ranthambore National Park. It’s estimated that she has earned the local economy $10 million a year for the last decade by attracting tourists. And with only one tooth left, she still hunts. On this particular afternoon, my guide and I watched as she crouched down and surveyed the savannah where a herd of chital deer was grazing.

I’m back in New York now, but already I’m restless and planning another trip in May. It will be extremely hot—something like 95 degrees in the shade—but it’s the best time for spotting tigers since the vegetation is dry and the grass is low. There really is no time to waste. Some conservationists believe that at the present rate of decline, the tiger will cease to exist in the wild in as little as five years.

To see more of John Isaac’s photography, visit www.johnisaac.com.

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