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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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Census Note
Although the conclusions are disputed by Forest Officials, the 2008 tiger census reported less than 1,500 tigers left in India’s wild places, down from 3,600-plus in 2001-02. The drop is attributed to flawed census methodology, poaching and habitat destruction. Recently, tigers have been relocated to Sariska and Panna, reserves where tiger populations have vanished inexplicably. Without an official investigation into what happened, many question the long-term survival of the relocated tigers.
Tiger Tracking
Before the sun rises, your search for tigers begins. Experienced guides often return to where tigers were last seen or most likely to go during the night; tigers travel up 20 to 50 kilometers either on patrol, in search of prey or, in the colder months, to help stay warm. Look and listen for clues to the tigers’ whereabouts—pugmarks left in the soft dirt or sand indicate where a tiger is headed, and most prey animals and some birds sound distinctive alarm calls when a predator is nearby.

If the park keeps a stable of elephants, mahouts saddle them up and enter the park before it opens. They have key advantages over the Jeeps®—their head start, their higher vantage point and their ability to go “off-road” just about anywhere in search of tigers. Some parks permit viewing tigers briefly from the elephant—a costly option, as under certain conditions you may be able to reserve an elephant for an entire day(s).

The Unexpected In Untouched India

Should you decide to see the wilder side of India, don’t be surprised if you’re moved in ways you hadn’t expected. With all of the pressures on India, seeing it through the prism of its wildlife also reveals much about the culture and its people in these remote places. It’s not uncommon for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts to return to India’s parks year after year. You’ve been forewarned.

Recommended Camera Equipment
• D-SLR—at least one camera body with a resolution of at least 6 megapixels
• 70-200mm zoom (ƒ/2.8 preferably)
• 200-400mm or 100-400mm zoom (at least ƒ/4 preferably)
• 400mm ƒ/4
• 600mm ƒ/4
• Sturdy tripod with ballhead
• Monopod and beanbag
• Cloth to protect against the dust while driving
• Preferred method for removing fine dust
• Memory cards, card reader/external hard drive
• Extra batteries
• Power adapter
• Teleconverter for extending the zoom range
• Clamp
eco india
Nikon 200-400mm ƒ/4 VR

eco india
Nikon TC-14E II
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70-200mm ƒ/2.8

Relative Probabilities Of Finding Royal Bengal Tigers In India’s Tiger Reserves 
(Minimum of one sighting during five to six game drives)



Butch Lama and Susi Allison-Lama are co-owners of Wild India LLC, a travel company specializing in wildlife destinations in India, catering to wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. To learn more, visit www.butchlama.com.


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