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Wildlife Safaris in India - Tips from the Expert

2 Indian Elephants
Photo kindly provided by Vikram Nanjappa
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Vikram NanjappaAuthor:

Vikram Nanjappa
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Taking a jungle safari in is an exhilarating experience if done properly. To fully enjoy and experience nature the visitor needs to be extremely sensitive to his surroundings and display a large measure of patience and self-discipline.

India is blessed with a large diversity of wildlife. This is because of the variations in climate and topography of the sub-continent. is divided into ten bio-geographical zones based on a distinctive set of physical and historical conditions. These are further divided into twenty-three biotic provinces. The major ecosystems found in these provinces are called biomes. Each biome is unique and is home to different types of animals and birds with a certain amount of overlap. To put it simply possesses a large variety of animal and bird life.

India has about four hundred species of mammals and 1300 species of birds. It is the only country to have the Asiatic Lion and is home to about 65% of the world’s tigers and 85 % of the world’s Asian one horned rhino. It is also home to five species of big cats, four species of wild cattle, eleven wild goat and sheep and fifteen primates. However, in the Indian jungles one will not find many species in close proximity as often seen in Africa, though there are places where wildlife can be viewed in abundance.

The Asiatic Lion can only be found in the Gir forest of Gujarat and number no more than about three hundred individuals. One needs to consider himself fortunate to be able to see them in the wild- truly the last of the Mohicans. However, the most charismatic of the Indian big cats is the tiger and a tiger safari in is the ultimate safari experience for the average visitor. Apart from the tiger, the One Horned Rhino, the Asian Elephant and the Gaur are some of the other wildlife that can be best viewed only in India.

India has more than five hundred National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries and more than half of them have adequate infrastructure for the tourist. For those willing to put up with a certain amount of physical discomfort the sky is the limit.

A safari can be best described as a sojourn into the wild and there are many ways to do so. Most parks in offer jeep rides into the park and these are one of the best ways to do so. The advantage of a jeep ride is that one is able to cover a lot of ground in the shortest possible time thus maximizing ones chances of seeing wildlife. However, most jeep safaris turn out to just mindless driving in the forest. One needs to stop every now and then especially near ecological features that attract game like waterholes etc. A discerning guide is necessary on any safari and he should not be pressured to show animals, as no one is a magician to be able to conjure up game. Sounds play an important role and one must be willing to stop and spend time listening.

An elephant safari is probably the best way to get up close and personal with nature and in certain habitats, such as the tall elephant grass habitats, it is the only way to go about. The advantages of elephants are that wildlife accepts them as animals and does not associate them with an alien presence. With the result, that one can usually get very close to wildlife. The other advantage is that there is no noise pollution and one can get to listen to the jungle sounds, which are usually drowned out in the roar of a jeep engine. The elephant also give you a vantage point and visibility is much improved adding to the overall experience.

Trekking in protected areas is discouraged in and rightly so. The average tourist does not posses the skills required to survive in the forest and is thus most vulnerable while on foot. Fitness levels and the ability to climb trees play an important role is escaping danger while on foot and as these are hard to assess it is best to avoid going into the forest on foot.

Water based safaris are on offer in certain parks that have large water bodies within them. A boat safari can be quite an enjoyable experience at the right time of the year and is certainly the most comfortable and relaxing way to do a safari. For the avid bird watcher a boat is one of the best ways to get close to certain species of birds.

A machan or a hide situated close to a waterhole during the heat of summer is probably the best way to view game. However, one demands a lot of patience. Most parks have machans built close to waterholes and with prior permission one can get to use them. Make sure to check on the availability of these before you visit a park the next time.

To derive maximum pleasure from a safari one must go properly prepared. A pair of good binoculars is the most important piece of equipment to carry on safari. A pair of 8X magnification is suitable for the mammals but for watching birds a 10X magnification is required to bring out details of plumage for correct identification. One should carry a pair that has an adequate diameter of lens as it helps in capturing more light. A ratio of 1:5 (magnification to diameter) is the norm.

A good camera is an asset to jog your memory later however one should not get obsessed with taking the perfect picture, as the effort tends to distract for the experience. Large and cumbersome lens add to the discomfort and it is best to restrict your photography when using hides or machans. Most resorts allow photographers to hire jeeps for their exclusive use, for an extra charge, and if photography is your purpose it is recommended that you do so.
A good field guide that is easy to carry can be an invaluable asset.

Dress for comfort and cotton fabrics in neutral or dull colours is most suitable. Avoid synthetic fabrics and those made of vinyl as they reflect UV light that is visible to animals. Use detergents that do not contain brighteners for the same reason. A wide brimmed hat is useful in summers and dark glasses are a strict no no.

Smells plays an important role in the wild and therefore do not use strong deodorants and avoid insect repellents and sunscreens that have powerful scents.

Your behavior and gestures are extremely important. Do not get excited on seeing wildlife, take care to speak in hushed tones and do not make any sudden or violent gestures. Try not to break the profile of the jeep by standing up.

Leave the forest as you find it. Do not litter, it can be fatal for wildlife. Resist the temptation to pluck flowers and fruit. Do not leave anything behind and do not take anything away except memories.

In addition, give yourself time. Nature cannot be hurried. She does not respond to deadlines. If you wish to get a better understanding then you must be prepared to be patient. The more time you spend the better your chances of seeing wildlife and the more time you spend watching wildlife the more you learn about them.

Strictly follow the local rules that may vary from place to place and listen to your guide. In the forest, he is also your minder and teacher. Respect him and respect wildlife. Wildlife can be dangerous and therefore it is best to avoid cheap thrills. Do not under any circumstances encroach upon an animal’s private space – it can be fatal.

If you strictly observe these guidelines, you can have one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. A word of caution- wildlife safaris can be highly addictive!

Note: This article has been published with the permission of the Author. This article does not necessarily express the views of www.ecotourdirectory.com

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