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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Quest For Tigers


Delving into India’s wilder side, expedition leaders Susi Allison-Lama and Butch Lama give their perspective from the field on where to find and photograph the Royal Bengal tiger

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Bordering Bangladesh, around the Bay of Bengal, tigers live in perhaps the most challenging of habitats—the swampy mangroves of the Sundarbans, where estuarine mangrove forests change with the tide and weather, making accessibility but one challenge to finding and photographing the tigers there.

Knowing each tiger’s territory means knowing where the water is and where prey is likely to be found. The abundance or lack of either determines how well the tiger thrives. Too little water and they won’t thrive. Too much water means endless places to quench their thirst and hunt for prey—obviously, good for the tigers, but more challenging for the photographer on a two-week expedition.

eco india Tigers are among the world’s most powerful and beautiful animals. Globally, their numbers are dwindling. In India, there are major efforts underway to save the iconic Royal Bengal tiger from extinction. While there’s considerable disagreement as to how many of the great cats live in India’s wilderness, there’s no disagreement that the number is distressingly small. These magnificent animals can still make a comeback, thanks to the work of photographers who have been instrumental in bringing their cause to the world’s attention.
When To Go
India has three seasons—cool, hot and wet. Parks, sanctuaries and reserves are open year-round, except during monsoon season. Peak time is November to April. Choosing a more specific time depends on your requirements and preferences. If you have limited time, come in the summer months—late March to June. Hot weather makes tigers somewhat predictable—if not resting in a shaded area, they’re heading to a favorite watering hole unless already there. Otherwise, for more lush backgrounds and better light, plan to spend more time in fewer locations during the cooler months—November through early March.

Getting The Shots

Much depends upon your equipment and your skill as a photographer. Rather than leave the rest to luck, rely on local knowledge. Photojournalists and documentarians do; without local insights, they would be unable to share what they find.

Local insights are drawn from park guides, Jeep® drivers, lodge-employed naturalists and mahouts, or elephant drivers, who spend countless hours tracking and observing tigers. Very often there’s a language barrier, making it nearly impossible to tap these reservoirs of knowledge and experience.

A good option to consider is hiring a personal naturalist/photographic guide to optimize your vantage point before you set up your first shots. Look for someone with the following skills and qualifications:
• Extensive, relevant work experience
• Extensive knowledge of wildlife
• Passion for wildlife and photography
• Language skills; at a minimum, fluent in English and Hindi
• Excellent personal skills, with the ability to draw information out of others

A good photographic guide is keenly aware of what it takes to get the best photograph possible. This requires understanding individual animals, as well as limitations and conditions for stunning images. What a difference being in the right place at the right time makes for getting a superior tiger shot!

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