The Thrill of a Leopard Sighting!

Jeana’s back! Here latest story is about the rush of seeing a leopard in the wild and how you can NEVER be ‘used to it’! Even as a guide ūüôā

Jeana is back, adding to her series of blog posts about her experience as a young guide at Kulu Safaris. Here, she recounts a memorable leopard sighting, but in the context that even as a guide who encounters leopard every day, each sighting is just as exciting as the first.

If I were to describe a typical safari ‚Äúguide‚ÄĚ, I imagine someone who remains cool and collected when being charged by an elephant, has a wealth of knowledgeable about flora and fauna, as well as has the confidence and people skills to share their knowledge with guests.

What struck me from the very beginning is that ‚Äėcalmness‚Äô is merely an¬†art we have to perfect¬†over time. As a young guide, seeing an animal in the wild gives me the same adrenaline rush as any tourist. I have had to intentionally keep myself from exclaiming and pushing in front of my guests to catch a better view! I learnt fast that as a guide, I’m responsible for bringing to life the Sri Lankan safari experience.

As guides who lead clients on a safari, the pressure on us to track and showcase Sri Lankan¬†wildlife is real and intense. Our typical ‚Äėteam‚Äô on a game drive comprises of an excellent Kulu driver, who has a sixth sense for the jungle and a knack for picking routes (our drivers Preme, Rohana, Kumara, and Namal all qualify as excellent) and a good tracker to support our driver. We need to work in unison, as a cohesive team, to read the jungle for signs and clues, and to anticipate as well as react. There are many moving parts to a sighting: from the build up of following clues and tracks, to the nature of the sighting (eg: watching a comfortable relaxed leopard is far different to being in the presence of an irritable bull elephant in musth!). Also important is the positioning of the vehicle ‚Äď are the guests rocking up with big zoom lenses and do we need to keep a distance to get their photographs, or are they happy to be a little closer to the animal etc. etc.

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A monitor lizard tucked into the hollow of a tree… not the easiest spot!

One afternoon in 2015, we ventured into Block 5 (also known as Lunugamwehera National Park) with our safari-modified Land Cruiser full of guests. Kumara was driving and I was the guide. Kumara’s eyes are magically accustomed to the jungle to such an extent that he can spot a monitor lizard in a tree hollow, while driving past (bear in mind that most often, the tree and the reptile are the same colour!!). As a guide, one of the aspects of your training is how to spot the little things, while keeping your eyes peeled for that hint of gold that‚Äôs out of place. It‚Äôs great to have a team that complements each other ‚Äď knowing I can rely on Kumara and our Kulu drivers to spot animals early means I can spend more time conversing with guests.

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The young female leopard on a¬†pallu¬†tree…watchful, patient, regal… and makes for beautiful photography!

We slowly take a bend and I’m looking out to my right, towards a small rocky outcrop where we had a recent leopard sighting, when the jeeps abruptly stops and the engine is switched off. Kumara looks back at me through his side mirror and points upwards ‚Ķ “Leopard in the tree‚ÄĚ he lip-syncs with a smug grin. Lo and behold, a stunning female sub-adult leopard is lounging on a low branch of a ‚Äúpallu‚ÄĚ tree within 20 feet from our jeep!

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A little inquisitive…shortly before she wandered off into the jungle again

 

Everyone in the jeep noticeably is in absolute awe of this beautiful creature, who is relaxed and comfortable in our presence. Thankfully, our guests appreciate the value of being quiet at a sighting and the only noises are of the jungle and soft camera clicks. I’m thrilled ‚Äď Kumara and I share a silent “oh yeah” moment in the mirror while the guests are engrossed with the leopard.

The leopard yawns and licks and looks around until she finally stands up, stretches and descends elegantly down the trunk of the tree, before strolling casually into the jungle. We have the privilege of having her all to ourselves for close to half an hour.

As Kumara turns the engine back to life and we drive off, I feel the post-sighting buzz, as the jeep is full of chatter about the beautiful cat and the guests compare photographs. I share equally in their excitement and tell myself once again that no matter how many leopards I see… I will always be as amazed as the first time I ever saw one.

Curious about Kulu’s Tented Safari experience¬†? Visit us at¬†www.kulusafaris.com or write to us at¬†safari@kulusafaris.com

 

My First “Recce”

Jeana, our of Kulu’s team of young guides, recaps her first ‘recce’ into the jungle with the seniors on her team.

Manjula (one of our senior guides) informs me that we have¬†a young¬†couple checking into our Yala camp the next day, and that they have requested a hike. With the help of Preme¬†(Preme is an operational wizard, and one of the pillars of Kulu Safaris) they will¬†carry out a recce into the jungle behind camp to¬†plan and check a new route¬†on which to take the guests. It was part notice, part tentative invitation to gauge my courage I felt, so my obvious response was “What time should ¬†I be ready?”

We set off at about 10am, Manjula with a backpack and water, myself with a backpack and water, and Preme only carrying just a ‚Äúkeththa‚ÄĚ, (Sri Lankan¬†equivalent¬†of a machete)¬†to clear our path. The walk is approximately 6km one way.

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Preme and his machete. He is so at-home in the jungle, I felt safer than going for a walk in a park in a city.

After we veer off¬†the main road that leads to camp,¬† we find a¬†game trail¬†that leads through small shrubs and bushes. The further we walk, the shrub¬†turns into thicker jungle and the Keththa comes in handy. Soon, we are on an¬†incline, like intermediate¬†rock climbing, and the recce begins to feel¬†like jungle boot-camp. Twenty¬†minutes in, we pause to rehydrate and catch our breath, and have a seat¬†on a flat bit of rock. The view sinks in — a¬†typical, rural Sri Lankan vista comprised of random paddy fields carved into the fringe of the¬†jungle, man-made lakes, and the ever-present, brilliant white village temple. To the other side, Yala National Park stretches into a rolling green carpet and disappears into the horizon. ¬†Manjula and I drink water but Preme says ‚Äúno thank you‚ÄĚ. (I feel that that is his ex-army stamina).

Deeper into¬†the walk, you become¬†more aware of the nuances of the jungle, like the different bird calls, details on the trees, vibrantly coloured butterflies and small insects scuttling around. As¬†we rest again, the view from higher up is¬†even more magnificent. A perfect spot to look around below with binoculars, (of course Manjula has brought binoculars – if anyone catch a Kulu guide unprepared, I’ll ¬†treat them to a pint!). ¬†We spot a pair of Brown-headed Barbets; this time even the stoic Preme¬†gives¬†in to his thirst.

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Walking again for the last time before reaching the turnaround point, we notice¬†a fair bit of¬†elephant dung scattered on the ground. Preme¬†examines how old the dung is,¬†and luckily it’s been at least a day since the elephant has traversed over our path. That’s one fit elephant to be¬†ambling up¬†this slope!

At the top of the hill, there is a beautiful outcrop of rock shaded by trees and we lie down and spend about an hour there. The view and tranquil feeling is a wonderful reward for the climb. It’s almost addictive. It was my “A-ha!” moment, where it all fell into place — what I want to do with my life, and how I want to live etc… maybe I’ll write about this epiphany in a different post in the near future!

Tomorrow we plan to bring a packed snack¬†and a thermal bottle of tea for the guests. (I wish we had done that today!). There are a few trees up here good for climbing too, something fun to do if kids ever come on this walk. (I later shared my¬†idea with Javana and his response was a terse “certainly not!”).

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This is pretty safe….. right???

On the way down, as we take note of small landmarks so we remember the exact path tomorrow, we see two eagles soaring almost parallel to us; a Crested Hawk Eagle and a Black Eagle (a rare sighting in the Katagamuwa area!!). Being about 150 meters up really does make a difference to bird watching. At eye level, we could clearly see how raptors subtlely adjust the tips of their wings to control their flight! Further down, we stop to set up a camera trap. (Stay tuned for a future blog post on our first camera trap findings!). Manju was eager to show off a few tips and tricks of that he learnt while working with Steve Winter on the Camera Trap project in Yala last year. Clearing a small area and disguising the camera with foliage, we switch it on and leave with exciting anticipation of what we might see on film in a few days.

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Manju sets up a camera trap.

The trek down has its own challenges, but manageable by a moderately experienced trekker, and¬†much easier than going up. Walking back to camp after about 3 hours, it struck me that we had built up a ravenous appetite — lunch was going to be good!¬†The guests are definitely¬†going to love this!

***The couple that did the walk have hiked and trekked in many places around the world and rated it a Level 5 hike and totally loved it. Makes me feel like a pro!***

This blog post was written by Jeana –¬†our¬†junior, ¬†knowledgeable, and enthusiastic naturalist who joined us recently.¬†Jeana’s posts are her own¬†perspective of¬†life in the jungle and¬†experiences with Kulu.

A Defining Moment for Conservation in Sri Lanka

KULU SAFARI TEAM ATTENDS THE BLOOD IVORY CRUSH IN SRI LANKA. Held at Galle Face on the 26th of January 2016.

We squeezed through the security checks and into the crowd in the sweltering heat to watch the blood ivory being crushed; an experience only made real when we saw the tusks with our own eyes.
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359 massive tusks. Working in wildlife, we see tusks often, but these tusks were held by giants much larger than those¬†we see on a daily basis. These belonged to the African Elephant. They were displayed alongside the FEO’s Sri Lankan Elephant Exhibition which will tour in human/elephant conflict areas island wide this Jan-Feb.

After 4 years of being held in SL customs, the ceremony and crushing itself created such a beautiful feeling of unison with the shared sadness of everyone present. Representatives from every religion were present and prayed for the lives of the Tanzanian Elephants that had been slaughtered for their tusks.

The destruction of these tusks not only marks the iconic commitment to the CITES convention but the improving transparency and dedication of Sri Lankan customs and Wildlife Ministry, as well as purposeful and impactful awareness.

How all elephants deserve to be:

 

This gives every wildlife worker, lover and enthusiast hope that change is coming, slowly but surely. We need desperately by Sri Lanka, to keep up with (and hopefully be an example to) the rest of the world in moving towards the peaceful co existence of man and nature.

(Words and Photograph by our guide Jeana De Zoysa)

Jeana’s Journey at Kulu Begins…

Jeana first blog post, about how her experience as a Kulu Safaris guide kicks off.

There are only so many expectations one can have when joining a high-end, safari company for the first time. Mine included animals, guests, animals, guests and more animals. It took me actually getting here, and working for three short months to realize that there is so much more to life as a guide than that!

Right now I’m sitting at a table alone at 7.30 in the morning in the middle of the campsite, trying not to get distracted by the Common Hoopoe on the tree in front of me. Our chef, Ranga just walked past me and I pointed it out, but I don’t think he cared too much. Fair enough, it’s not really an uncommon sight. (no pun intended). Wildlife is abundant at camp; this morning I woke up to a peacock call right outside my tent.
My home is¬†the city of Colombo, Sri Lanka‚Äôs Capital; so when I’m in the jungle, I love to take it all in. I can only imagine what it must be like for some of our guests who haven‚Äôt experienced living alongside nature like this. It’s truly beautiful!

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Accompanying a young guest on a kayaking expedition #Ilovemyjob !

I didn‚Äôt mention before that I‚Äôm here training as a ‚Äėnaturalist‚Äô, being trained¬†and mentored by Kulu‚Äôs brilliant presiding naturalists, Manjula and Ramani. Their knowledge is outstanding and I feel like I really am learning from the best.

My pre-requisites for this were a lifetime of trips and excursions into the multiple jungles and national parks of Sri Lanka, a huge dose of bravery, a willingness to learn, and embracing the importance of teamwork. My father and grandfather have taught me so much about wildlife and nature from a young age, but I still continue to learn something fascinating every day; most of which I will share with you in the posts to come.

All the pictures on this blog are either taken by Manjula or myself. I’m no wildlife photographer but im definitely starting to get a feel for it.

Follow my short but spectacular journey to get a deeper look into Kulu Safaris and Yala National Park, from my perspective!

This blog post was written by Jeana –¬†our¬†junior, ¬†knowledgeable, and enthusiastic naturalist who joined us recently.¬†Jeana’s posts are her own¬†perspective of¬†life in the jungle and¬†experiences with Kulu.