Thursday, October 30, 2014

A day with "Prince" the leopard of Wilpattu

Hello everyone. Its been a long time since I wrote my last blogpost. The reason being that I haven't been travelling a lot lately. Mainly due to weather and also commitments at home at office. But there is an encounter recently which was unbelievably fantastic and amazing that I had to share it with you all.

I was on a day trip to Wilpattu one Sunday. It was just one of those random trips which we didn't plan and to be honest was not expecting much either. We drove in early morning as usual and was covering all the villus. We noticed many tracks everywhere, and it seemed that leopards have been very active that night. After several hours of driving around we were disappointed not to find any sightings. But we enjoyed the morning nevertheless with our amazing tracker Saranga and driver Bobby.

During our stop at Kumbukwila, Saranga went into the forest and came back with the most amazing fruit which he picked from the jungle. It was a small red berry with so much flavor it was a mix of spicy and sweet. He said its called "Bol Pana". It was also the season for a fruit called Dam which we also found at Kumbukwila. After spending a few minutes at the rest stop we continued our search.

While driving past Kokkari villu towards Kuruttu Pandi, we suddenly spotted a leopard up ahead, seated on the road. We drove up to the leopard and the bold feline was the least concerned of our presence. We realized that this was non other than "Prince" aka "Natta" the original Panikkavillu cub. This bold leopard is in my opinion the most accustomed to vehicles out of all the animals found in Wilpattu and Yala. Despite dozens of jeeps at times he doesn't care about them at all and will go about doing his own thing.

In this case as well, he treated our presence with a mild indifference, and simply yawned, stretched and walked right next to the vehicle along the road towards Kokkari. While walking he kept marking his territory. He was slowly growing up to be a dominant male and its glad to see him looking healthy.

We slowly followed him on his path which included several times where he simply sat and waited, and yawned and stretched some more. Also he licked himself clean and it was a feast for our cameras to capture so many actions of this leopard. While walking on the trail at one moment his actions changed as he noticed something in the forest. He crouched down and started stalking. Anticipating a kill we waited patiently. Prince was slowly moving towards his target in the forest. But the deer he was stalking saw him first and started giving out the alarm call.

He was back on the road again and we kept following him. At one point he started eating the grass on the roadside. This was done by cats at time even the domestic felines. Suddenly after leaving the grass he got on his two hind feet and scratched his nails on a large tree.

Continuing his walk , we kept following while he marked his territory. After few hours he laid back on the sand on the road and fell asleep. It was mid afternoon by then and we were hungry, so decided to have our lunch while Prince slept.

While rolling lazily on the sand we noticed that he is very observant to certain sounds. He completely ignored the sound of the jeep and the noises coming from the vehicle from the creaks of us shifting on the seats, the crackle of the plastic water bottles while we quenched our thirst etc. But when my friend Raveendra had to relieve himself out of the jeep, the leopard suddenly raised his head and listed to the sound, and he kept looking up at the sky to see if its raining. It was clear that he was confused with this noise. But what we realized was how quickly he learns because the second time Ravee answered the call of nature, he completely ignored the noise.

After over 5 hours he finally reached Kokkari villu. For this entire period of time, we were the only jeeps present and Prince gave us a private show. After reaching the villu he walked into the forest. The sighting we had was the best leopard encounter we both have had ever in our lives. The photographs came out perfect and Mr Prince gave us memories which we will never forget. May the young prince of Wilpattu continue to roam free in his home and continue to awe us for years to come.