Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lion-watching at Sasan Gir, part 1

Probably the most depressing part of my visit to India, was the jeep safari experience at the Gir Forest National Park. Thank goodness for Mark Newell and I's excellent driver Mahendra Singh, who put the ridiculous amount of time in (hours) queuing and messing around and paying off the 'officials' to get access to the park, a jeep safari organised with a driver and guide and camera permits.
The jeep safari itself was expensive but ok and the guide reasonable, but it all went a bit ugly when news came through on the guides phone that some lions had been found. We drove to the well-driven track in a party of several vehicles all spewing out stinking exhaust and throwing up masses of dust. But my gripe is not with that, but the area around the lions themselves.
There were already several vehicles parked within 10m of the resting group of adult femals and young lions (about 6-7 in total). And on the ground were a few guys with long sticks shouting and directing traffic and generally being exceedingly disrespectful to the lions. They even shouted and turned their backs on the pride, as if to show who was really in control there.
It was an ugly presentation of magnificent wild animals reduced to tourist fodder. And their motivation was clearly to get the maximum tip for having 'tracked' the lion group to their favrourite area of shade.
Our guide started getting shirty when our tip to the trackers wasn't enough. I would have paid them considerably more if the views were much more distant, and they weren't shouting at every opportunity. Thankfully, we were spared the spectacel fo a tracker going into the forest to chivvy a lion out with his stick, as I have heard reported, but the whole business was a disgrace, adn it is with some shame that I show these photos of the lionesses and young males heading off back into the jungle away from the people.
At the end of the safari, our guide kicked up another row as his tip was reasonable not excessive and he started accusing us of having too many cameras for the permit and so on. Unpleasant scenes concluding the safari.
The trip was fine, with good views of Spotted Deer and Sambar Deer and a couple of roosting owl species, langurs and so on. The downer was encoutering the lions in such a poor way. Two days later we had a mornign safari when we didn't see any lions and hte whole event was much better for it...

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