Candid Camera Trap Stills

In the lead up to WNPS Public Lecture ‘Leopards of Wilpattu National Park’ with Lead Researcher Dinal Samarasinghe, we’re sharing more fascinating camera trap images from this project. Over the last decade, camera traps and the candid images and videos that they produce have been featured in countless documentaries have been the focus of conservation efforts in establishing populations of animals in the wild.

Tune in tomorrow at 6.00 pm Sri Lankan time to learn more about an incredible long term project in camera trapping which began in Wilpattu National Park in 2018, with the aim of estimating population density, structure and threats to carnivores within the boundaries of the park, namely Leopard. To tune in, sign up online at https://forms.gle/NnFQEEod7hE14kvh9

Kulu Safaris was honored to have supported this initiative through sponsorship and logistical support.

Guest Blog: Sloth Bear Sighting

Guest Blog: How to get a great bear sighting in Yala — patience and skill to navigate away from the crowds!

Our friends and bloggers “Traveling Teacherz” visited us at Kulu camp for a few days and below is their account of a special bear sighting while on safari with us. All picture and video copyright are owned by them. Check them out at www.facebook.com/travelingteachrz www.youtube.com/travelingteachrz Make sure to scroll to the bottom of this blog post to watch the entire video! 

 

It was our last day of safaris, and we decided to go to Block 1 for this morning’s safari. We had seen a fish eagle hunting and herds of elephants grazing.

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We had also seen a huge variety of birds, including Indian paradise flycatchers.

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We were specifically hoping to see a sloth bear, even though we knew sightings were more common in April or late March, and it was only the beginning of March.

By mid-morning, we drove up to three other jeeps who had caught sight of a sloth bear in the bushes. Our driver got us in the best position to see into the bushes, and we caught a glimpse of the black fur as the bear walked around inside. We were not able to capture it on camera. We waited for a good 30 minutes before several other jeeps pulled up. We realized that the sloth bear may never come out of the bushes, even if we could hear the sticks breaking from him walking around. We decided to leave for other viewing opportunities.

After driving around for another hour and seeing plenty of elephants and mongoose, our guide got word that the sloth bear had come out from the bushes. We drove in a hurry back to that area, and saw many other jeeps in queue.

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However, the sloth bear made an appearance by walking around some of the jeeps and heading right toward our jeep!

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He lumbered slowly with his toes pointed inward and head low to the ground. We had our cameras ready, and steadily followed his movement toward us. I captured the top-down view as he passed right next to the right side of the jeep.

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I moved to the back of the jeep to continue filming and lost a shoe in the process! I was beyond enraptured in the moment; shoes were a much lower priority. The sloth bear paused to lift his leg, and excrete a small pebble, then he kept walking down the road. Eventually he made a turn into the trees. We were thrilled about our chance to see a sloth bear in the wild!

 

A sloth bear zig zags his way around jeeps and down a dusty road:

Guest Blog: Epic Leopard Sighting

A guest’s account of leopard hunting monkeys up in a tree ~ while on safari with us in the Yala National Park!

Our friends and bloggers “Traveling Teacherz” visited us at Kulu camp for a few days and below is their account of an amazing sighting while on safari with us. All picture and video copyright are owned by them. Check them out at www.facebook.com/travelingteachrz www.youtube.com/travelingteachrz Make sure to scroll to the bottom of this blog post to watch the entire video! 

A young leopard chases monkeys in a tree

In order to avoid crowds, we requested to visit Block 5 for most of our safaris. We were on an all-day safari, and we had already spent time that morning being utterly amazed by the animals we saw around every corner. We watched elephants munch and cool off in the heat of the day, and by lunch time we were ready to cool off and eat, too. We stopped at the river, enjoyed a swim, and ate some tasty rice and meat. We relaxed there for a while, until the heat of the day passed. Then, we got back into the jeep and made sure our cameras were all ready to go.

We had been on a couple drives without catching a glimpse of a leopard, and the anticipation of seeing one was causing us to listen intently for alarm calls. Nearly 15 minutes after leaving the river, we heard alarm calls from langur monkeys. Our guide carefully tried to follow the sound, and we drove around the area for a couple minutes. The sound intensified, and we knew we were close! Everyone in the jeep was on high alert.

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We spotted the beautiful young leopard lying in a small clearing of trees. She seemed to be enjoying the shade, and she was laying down with her legs stretched out and her head up watching us.

The monkeys were right above her in the trees, screeching their alarm calls. She ignored there calls at first, but, after a little while, she seemed agitated by them. We watched her gaze follow the monkeys as they jumped around in the trees. Suddenly, she made a quick move to get up, and she positioned herself at the base of one tree.

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In a few short leaps, she was up in the trees, chasing the monkeys around! We heard lots of rustling and more screeching, and we lost sight of her at one point. 

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Then, a minute later, she was coming back down the tree, seemingly content to have scared off the monkeys.

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Once down the tree, she lumbered toward the bushes across the road, walking right in front of our jeep. We were the only jeep in sight. We watched as the leopard casually walked toward the bushes, then she seemed to catch movement and got into a crouched position. Within seconds, she was off chasing something in the bushes, and that’s the last we saw of her. Our anticipation had been met with a special sighting, in which we enjoyed without any other noise or jeep queues! It was truly a memorable experience.

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Sri Lanka’s Migrant Birding Season Begins!

Kulu’s guide Ramani is looking forward to this year’s migrant birding season in Yala National Park! Here’s what to expect:

The annual journey of migrant birds to Sri Lanka is now in effect!  It typically starts around mid-August during the start of the Northern Autumn and extends into April.

Approximately 200 bird species can be expected to fly in from Northern India, Siberia, Scandinavia and Western Europe. But not all our visitors are from the North. Some pelagic species of seabirds like Shearwaters, Petrels, and Noddies migrate to Sri Lankan waters from Southern Oceanic islands during the southern hemisphere’s winter (March-October).

These seasonal migrations which are thousands of miles long have captured man’s curiosity and awe for millennia. Birds migrate for various reasons, and many of which are complex and not fully understood. The simpler explanations include ease of sourcing food, safe breeding grounds, and favourable weather.

The specific routes they take may be genetically programmed or learned to varying degrees. Many (but not all) take the same routes to return home.

And not all birds return after the winter. The immature birds of many wader species spend the 2nd year of their life in Sri Lanka, instead of immediately returning to their breeding grounds. They leave for breeding when they have reached maturity the following year.

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Yala National Park is well suited to host a broad array of birds because of its diverse ecology. During migrant season, Yala is home to a long list of visiting waders, shorebirds and forest birds so make sure to keep a look out on your game drive. Especially around water holes and lagoons.

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A Kulu guide does a birding walk with some kids at camp

The location of our camp in Yala makes it a great place for bird watching as well! The lake in front of camp fills up with the November rains and birdlife in and around your tent is plenty! This is great for kids because we can keep them occupied with birding and nature walks 🙂

You can enjoy a great view of some of these migrants from the deck of your tent or sit out by the water in the morning and watch these vibrantly coloured bombers whizz by while you sip your coffee. Commons winter visitors at camp include Blue Tailed Bee Eaters, Indian Pitta, Forest Wagtail, Brown Shrike, and the Bhahminy Myna. We’ll also be on the lookout for waders once the lake in front of camp fills up. Heading out on the water early morning, in one of our kayaks with a pair of binoculars is a great way observe birds!

During game drives, we will be scouring the waterholes and marshlands in Yala for a host of waders and shorebirds that include several species of duck (Gargany, Pintail and Teal), Plovers, Stints, Sandpipers and Terns. We’ll also be on the lookout for the famous Combed Duck who returned to Sri Lanka in 2012, after 80 years in exile 🙂

Whichever you choose, migrant season has begun and we look forward to hosting our winter visitors on your annual trek to Sri Lanka 🙂

Kulu Safaris guide Ramani is one of the most passionate birders on our team of guides. Shas been involved in bird research projects in the past, and has had some great exposure to the nuances of bird behaviour and their habits. Ramani has also worked with some ornithological experts during their research projects in Sri Lanka. 

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Bird watching is a great way to disconnect from the grid and spend time with nature

World Elephant Day – a Sri Lankan Perspective

Most of our wild elephants roam outside our national parks. We know exactly where to find them, but it also means we need to be more cognisant in how we protect them.

World Elephant Day — emotionally stirring social media posts aside, we feel that it also ought to be identified as World “WILD” Elephant day.

The elephant is perhaps the most controversial of all wildlife on the island of Sri Lanka. They are venerated by local culture and are a prominent fixture of our much-loved “peraharas”; they have played an important part in Sri Lanka’s history in both wild and domesticated forms. Yet in the villages, they are treated as rogues and are chased away with firecrackers, even shot with rifles when they wander into farm land (land that has in fact, encroached into their wild habitat). Owning an elephant is also a status symbol for an old-school, aspirational bourgeois.  Meanwhile, conservationists are puling their hair out trying to figure out more effective ways to protect and conserve this fascinating creature within a system of static, fenced, national parks that pay little heed to their innate nature to roam nomadically; some researchers estimate that an entire two-thirds of our wild elephant population roam outside our National Parks!

On the bright side, this means that we are not limited to National Parks to observe these beautiful, regal, intelligent, entertaining creatures. When we are fortunate enough to be amongst them, we typically see only a tiny part of their spectrum of behaviour — usually its feeding (elephants can consume the better part of a ton of food a day!) or asserting their comfort zone with warning gestures and mock charges towards a human audience, especially in the presence of young. But as social animals, there is amazing depth to the nuances of their behaviour — intricacies that can take a lifetime of studying to fully appreciate the riches of their existence.

 

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A pair of bull elephants square off in a battle of wits (and strength!) to test their dominance, in Kudakalliya, Arugambay

Kudakalliya Bungalow is part of our Haritha Collection portfolio, and sits on a relatively lonely stretch of beach in one of the most fascinating little pockets of ecological wonder (arguably in the entire country!). In front of the bungalow is a tiny island of a few acres with lush vegetation, surrounded by a brackish water moat, flanked by the ocean and rice paddy on either side. Hundreds of acres of such rice paddy are scattered in a messy grid across an expanse of jungle and scrub that informally extends from Lahugala National Park in the north of us, into Kudumbigala Sanctuary and the Kumana National Park to the south of us.

The tall foliage on this particular island makes the stealthy pachyderms almost invisible from ground level — but the balcony from our bungalow is an ideal vantage point to observe them unobtrusively. The video below was from a special morning when a group of bulls (male elephants who are typically solitary) who were feeding on the island decided to have a bit of fun in the moat right in front of our bungalow. Such amazing sightings of unusual elephant behaviour are rare throughout in the world!

 

 

Development in this part of the country was acutely suppressed by Sri Lanka’s battle with terrorism — the war (arguably) preserved these “unprotected” wild habitats that elephants enjoyed for much longer than their cousins who have been in conflict with humans in more developed regions. But with a recent surge of tourism taking over Arugambay (what was once a sleepy town that only the most hardcore surfers visited), these wild areas are under severe pressure to handle a new wave of economic growth without hindrance to a magnificent wild ecosystem right on Arugambay’s doorstep.

While the fate of our wild elephants hangs in the balance, a few pockets of informal wilderness still exist. Kulu Safaris and the Haritha Collection are fortunate to have the Kudakalliya Bungalow in our portfolio, that sits alongside such a fascinating wild oasis. The ability to have such exclusive, non-intrusive access to some of Sri Lanka’s most sought after wildlife — wild elephants, crocodiles, several species of eagles and migrant birds are all visible from the bungalow — is a special privilege. How would you like to sip your evening tea or a sundowner while watching an undisturbed group of wild elephants entirely to yourselves?

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A lone (wild) bull elephant grazes peaceful in front of Kudakalliya Bungalow, just a couple of miles south of Arugambay – Sri Lanka’s (and now, one of the world’s) hottest surfing town

The picture below is iconic of the life of a Sri Lankan wild elephant. Here, two males have wandered away from the refuge of the island at sunset, having swum across the moat. As night falls, they will (quietly and stealthily!) graze on what remains of an already harvested rice paddy. In the background, you can see power lines alongside the main road that connects Arugambay with Panama, Kudumbigala Sanctuary, and Kumana National Park.  The flip side of “Human Elephant-conflict” coin is “Human-Elephant cohabitation” — hopefully we can evolve to cohabit with these amazing creatures so that sights like these will be enjoyed by future generations.

Let’s not let the sun set on our wild elephants – they need us urgently.

“Happy” #WorldElephantDay to you all.

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Two male elephants banter at dusk, before feeding on the remains of an already harvested rice paddy – 10 minutes south of Sri Lanka’s surf hotspot Arugambay

Best time to visit Yala: May-July ?

#Summer2016 has been phenomenal for leopard sightings thus far!

Yet again, 2016 proved that the months of May-July could well be the best time to visit the Yala National Park, to spend a few exciting days on safari in Sri Lanka with Kulu Safaris.

 

This year, we were blessed with some unexpected rain in May that helped keep Yala greener for a little longer that usual. However, with the onset of the annual dry season and lower visitation numbers from May-July, we have experienced some great leopard sightings, with very few vehicles around to crowd the animals. Our guests had exclusive, front-row seats to some fascinating animal behaviour!

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An adult leopard on an evening patrol of its territory

Yala Block 5 in particular has been very rewarding for our guests. Strong populations of spotted deer have definitely underpinned the health of the leopard population in this block.

True to our pioneering ethos, Kulu Safaris was a key proponent in encouraging the Department of Wildlife and Conservation to prepare and open Yala Block 5 for visitation. As the first regular visitor to this sector, we were careful in how we approached animals while on safari, always keeping a respectful distance from wild animals (in effect, we stayed well outside the comfort zone so that they never felt threatened by vehicles).

Our guests especially enjoyed the diversity in vegetation and ecology that Block 5 offered, as well as the undisturbed leopard sightings; thus Kulu spent a lot of time exploring this sector. As a result, we are seeing an encouraging degree of comfort amongst the adult leopards that are resident in this sector — they already seem relatively habituated and tolerant of vehicles. We are also looking forward to watching the first (since Yala Block 5 was opened commercially) set of leopard cubs grow up over the next year as well!

All in all, Yala Block 5 has afforded us excellent wildlife viewing this summer, and we expect this trend to continue.

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This cat’s hungry — as you can see from the hollow in its lower stomach

Two amazing sightings stand out as highlights of this summer thus far. The sighting with the best optics was undoubtedly the wild-boar kill that a huge female leopard hoisted up a tree. The strength and ferocity of a wild-boar makes it a relatively high-risk meal for a leopard. Although leopards are known to commonly steal piglets from a sounder of boars, it requires patience and immense skill for a leopard to successfully take down an adult boar.

The video of the wild-boar kill below is a quick edit of what was a relatively long and uninterrupted sighting. The leopard was not comfortable with the positioning of the boar so decided to drag it elsewhere, probably further away from the road to a quieter location. From our angle, the drag looked quite comical but the leopard was determined to move the kill and did so successfully – this was one strong cat!

 

The other amazing sighting was an actual kill that happened right in front of us. On a game drive, we stopped to watch a herd of deer because of alarm calls. We also knew there was a leopard prowling nearby but we had lost visual.

More often than not, a deer can outrun a leopard if it has even the slightest advantage, such as warning or line of sight. Thus, leopards use their stealth and camouflage to get as close as possible before springing an attack. And this particular hunt is a perfect example of just how close a leopard can get to a herd of deer, undetected. (For us watching, it was NatGeo material! – minus the lenses).

In the video below, the deer are grazing with the leopard hidden in the tall grass, just a few feet away from the target, unaware of its presence until the very last moment. The time that lapsed from launching itself at the deer to the actual takedown was less than a second!

 

Kulu Safaris offers several special deals during low-season to take advantage of the exclusive access to wildlife during this time. So we advise our fans and partners to keep an eye on our promotions page !

We also welcome large groups who enjoying booking camp exclusively for themselves for a special and exclusive wildlife experience, so please write to us at safari@kulusafaris.com with your inquiries.

Until next time!

 

 

 

 

 

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 🙂

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 “guide”, 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 ‘calmness’ 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 ‘team’ 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 – 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’s out of place. It’s great to have a team that complements each other – 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 … “Leopard in the tree” he lip-syncs with a smug grin. Lo and behold, a stunning female sub-adult leopard is lounging on a low branch of a “pallu” 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 – 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

 

Mating Leopard – a Tale of Ferocious Courtship!

A detailed account of an amazing encounter with a pair of mating leopards – by Kulu Safaris guest Daphne Goodyear!

A warm welcome to Kulu Safaris’ first guest blogger – Daphne Goodyear! Daphne is from the United States and visited us recently.  It was her first visit to Yala, and the spirits of the jungle connected with her. They offered Daphne an iconic wildlife experience — an exclusive and close sighting of a pair of mating leopards. Below is her detailed account of how the sighting unfolded. Thank you Daphne for sharing!

All photographs are property of Daphne Goodyear. 

 

Kulu Safaris Game Drive
Yala National Park
February 2016
Traveling through Yala National Park on a Kulu Safari was a first rate, extraordinary and
fabulous experience. Searching for animal sightings is very exciting because one never knows what will be seen around the next corner!
On one of our safaris into Yala National Park, our experienced driver from Kulu Safari
Camp, made a detour down a side road where there were no other vehicles. As we approached a thicket, my friend, Norma, spotted the very back end of a Leopard disappearing into the underbrush. She immediately said, “Stop!”
Our driver must have known where the Leopard would emerge, as he immediately made
a U turn, drove a short distance, positioned the vehicle towards an open field and switched off the engine. We began our wait. At that moment we had no idea what a treat was in store for us.

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The male was a fine specimen. The female picked her mate wisely!

It was not long before a male Leopard walked out into the open not far from the front of our vehicle. We were all mesmerized! Because the Leopard was in close proximity, we could watch his every graceful step. The beauty of his golden spotted body defied his well-known ferocious hunting techniques.

Instead of disappearing, the Leopard lay down in the middle of the open field right in front of us. Not long afterwards, what appeared? A female Leopard! We simply could not believe we were seeing these two magnificent wild animals right in front of our eyes.

 

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The female begins her ritual of getting him interested.

Out came my camera with the long lens! For the next forty-five minutes we watched these two Leopards conduct a mating dance, as I snapped one picture after another. How interesting it was observing the male Leopard showing absolutely no interest in the female. He lay there in the field as if nothing was going on around him. This tactic amused us all. The female Leopard would nudge him, lay down beside him, walk on top of him, circle him, and nip at him…no reaction.

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And boy, did he play hard to get! The female snarls, probably in annoyance!

Then she’d walk away, as if to say, “I am no longer interested.” Yet moments later she’d was back frolicking with the object of her affections. This happened over and over again. The male Leopard continued to lay there stoically, un-moved by her advances, acting as if she were invisible. This Mating Dance was fascinating to watch.

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Come on boy !

The male Leopard finally came to life. With little fanfare he mounted the female consummating their relationship three time right in front of our astonished eyes.

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Finally, mating begins. A pair of leopard can stay and hunt together for several days during courtship, before going their separate ways.

During copulation, the male Leopard bit down on the female Leopard’s neck causing her to make a loud roar. Once he dismounted, the female Leopard growled loudly again and swatted him one good! The entire process took less than 30 seconds. After it was over, the female would lay on her back with her feet in the air for a few minutes…a very relaxing pose. Then the mating dance would begin all over again.

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Leopard mating rituals usually don’t end with the politest of pleasantries! Here, the male gets swatted as he dismounts.

 

It is an understatement to say we were mesmerized. Watching these two magnificent wild animals putting on this show was magical. Our incredible good fortune to witness this mating dance was an extraordinary moment in time for my three friends and me. And, in approximately three and a half months, Leopard cubs should be prancing around their mother in Yala National Park. A big treat yet to come for future safari-goers.

 

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Rolling over on her back is a common post-mating ritual amongst females leopard, and is suspected to be essential to improve the chances of fertility.

Our Kulu Safari Camp experience was awesome as we saw many different animals, beautiful birds and gorgeous flora and fauna everywhere. But the biggest thrill of all was the Leopard’s mating dance. An experience my friends and I will never forget.

Curious about the Kulu Experience? 

Visit us at www.kulusafaris.com or write to us at safari@kulusafaris.com