John Whittles Wildlife

Wildlife Photography Locations

Bandhavgarh and Panna Tiger Reserves

The high spot of a visit to a tiger reserve is, undoubtedly, to see a Bengal Tiger. It is a mistake however to concentrate wholly on the big cats. To do so will mean that you will not fully appreciate the stunning diversity of Indian wildlife.

There is something new to see everywhere you look. I was particularly impressed by the numbers and variety of the butterflies but the same can be said for the bird life and mammals. The photographs in the gallery give only a glimpse of what is on offer.

You will be driven around the reserves in Indian open-topped jeeps. These are owned by local villagers. This helps to give them an interest in the success of the reserve. In addition to the driver a park guide will accompany you. He will help you spot the wildlife and most are very sharp. It takes a little while to train your eyes but after a few days you will surprise yourself in what you see. The guide is also there to ensure that no one leaves the jeeps to go walkabout except in designated areas. It is not Epping Forest.

We were fortunate to be accompanied by a field biologist, K S Shekhar, whose knowledge of wildlife was extensive. He is also an expert on the ecology of the area and he taught us how the different species interact. Sometimes we would sit in the jeep and trace the movement of tigers, leopards or wild dogs, just from the warning calls of the sambar and chital deer and the calls of the langur monkeys. For anyone who has read Jim Corbettís books, they are brought to life.

The creatures that live in the reserves are largely undisturbed and are used to the jeeps. Most of the pictures in the gallery were taken from the jeep. Tripods are of little use as there is no room to set them up, and the opportunities for photographs arise all round and above. After the first day I left my tripod behind and relied on a 100-400 stabilised Canon zoom lens. I used this with a home-made shoulder stock for added stability and the combination worked.

The reserves are large, with a lot of cover. The chances of spotting tigers are not high. For this reason, teams of mahouts on elephants set out before dawn to try to locate them. They do this by following the alarm calls of the other animals and also seeing pug marks on the dirt roads. If successful, by morning they know roughly where a tiger may be lying up. Using their local knowledge they set out in a line into the forest. The elephants can smell tigers and when they do, they close in and surround it. Tigers are not disturbed by elephants and also ignore the humans they carry. Leaving two or three elephants to guard the tiger, the rest return to ferry any visitors fortunate to be in the vicinity, back to the spot.

The elephants approach to within twenty to thirty feet of the tiger, so there is a very real chance that the photographer is too close for the lens fitted to the camera. Image stabilisation really comes into its own when shooting with a telephoto from the back of a swaying elephant. Burst shooting is also useful if available. It will have cost a lot of money to put you in a position to take the shot and it is good to have a lot to chose from. I found the zoom lens to be an advantage as it enabled me to go from long shots to extreme close-ups without changing lenses. There just isnít the time or the space.

Even if you do not take a photograph, the sight of a wild Bengal Tiger will live with you always.