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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Message from Tigerland

"The mango tree in which I sat and photographed this tiger in 1978 was in the Ministerguthi nallah about 2 km from Bandipur village, where I had established my base camp."
AJT Johnsingh

Drudgery makes the mind fly.

Tedious homeowner rituals send my thoughts sailing, and often they settle somewhere East of Suez to dwell on old friends and places, once so familiar, now far away and changed by time.

A recent message from A.J.T. Johnsingh, who has been traipsing through Indian jungles since boyhood -- reassured me that this old friend still lives an adventurous life.

AJT Johnsingh in Eravikulum National Park, Kerala, India

He shared these photos and wrote, "On 4th November early in the morning I was walking in Sigur Range (east of Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary) with four colleagues along a path that parallels the Moyar river.

"Lying and facing away, as we found her."

"We saw a tigress resting on the path about 20 m away, and stopped to observe and photograph."

"She became suspicious of our presence and was about to stand up."

"She had two cubs about the size of domestic cats that were playing behind a bush."

"Standing and growling at us before bounding away"

"When the tigress growled at us, the cubs in confusion almost ran towards us."

Seems we both still get our jollies getting surprises in the woods.

Johnsingh has logged years in the jungle studying large Indian mammals, has encountered elephants, gaur and tigers at close range, and owes his survival to keen senses, quick reflexes, and good jungle lore.

The young post-doctoral fellow who studied radio-telemetry at the National Zoo's Conservation & Research Center in the late 1970s grew into a senior wildlifer and an icon of jungle savvy admired by the younger generation.

We were both devotees of Jim Corbett's books about life in the Indian jungles, and when Johnsingh finished his postdoc I confessed that someday I wanted to see Corbett's old haunts -- and trek the Rudraprayag pilgrim trail together, where the famous man-eating leopard snatched sleepers from a crowded waystation without detection.

Johnsingh welcomed the prospect, but I never found the time to break free.

The good news is that my friend did go to see Corbett's haunts, and wrote a book about his adventures -- On Jim Corbett's Trail and Other Tales from Tree Tops.

Readers of Corbett can't help but wonder what if anything remains of the intimate places he described so well.

Read Johnsingh's book and you'll find out.

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