Dawn broke just as we were nearing Panna, lighting up the landscape. My naturalist and guide from the wildlife reserve said that “A few tigers and tigresses have been relocated from the other national parks.” I yawned and told him that my luck with tiger and leopard sightings had been rather dismal. He immediately smiled and said “Then hopefully we would change that.”
The waters of the River Ken sparkled as we went to see if we could spot any crocodiles. I had not seen a prettier forest. Just as the safari became rather predictable, we heard the call of a nilgai. I was distracted by the sighting of the red headed vulture, a lifer for me but the guide mentioned that it was an alarm call, signalling probably the presence of a tiger. And then the driver took us one of those rides of our lives; driving at top speed even as we asked him to slow down.
After what seemed like an eternity, we drove back towards the river. The guide was disappointed that he could not show us a tiger while I rued at the missed opportunity of photographing the red headed vulture.
However, another call of the wild soon changed our moods. It was loud and seemed extremely close. We trembled in a mix of nervous energy, fear and excitement as the guide whispered it was the mating call of a leopard. There is nothing more exciting than hearing the call of a wild mammal, knowing its somewhere near you, probably even watching you , but you cannot see it.
As we scanned with our binoculars, we finally spotted a coat of spots, seated on the rocks on the other side of the river. The leopard was looking in our direction but we had no idea if we had been spotted. It was too far away for a photograph; but too close for comfort as well. We watched it for a while as the guide smiled at me and said, “Didn’t I say we will change your luck?” And then he pointed to another tree. I almost expected to see another leopard, but there was my red headed vulture scanning the landscape for prey.
My day was made.