One of my biggest surprises on my last trip to India was encountering several giant squirrels. I am use to the cute and cuddly squirrels of North America, so it was quite a shock when I first saw one of these tree beasts. Measuring a body length of around 14 inches, and a tail length of over 2 feet, these squirrels were bordering on raccoon size!
One of the squirrels had gotten ahold of a banana from someone in our forest camp in Mudumalai. He took it up into a tree and proceeded to devour it, holding it firmly in his dexterous grip while balancing his body weight across a small branch.
This is a tree dwelling species that rarely leaves the upper canopy. I felt lucky to see three of these shy creatures in less than 24 hours. My last sighting was a stroke of luck. We had pulled over to let the car rest half way up a long a winding climb up to Ooty. One side of the road was a cliff towering above, and the other side was lush with the tops of trees growing far below. And there through the canopy, directly at eye level was another giant squirrel.
I got several photos of this guy, but this was my favorite. Although I had a direct view, I shot through some leaves at a wide aperture to give the feeling of peering through a thick forest at a shy, solitary creature.
On my recent trip to Mudumalai National Park in India, I was lucky to encounter a herd of forest elephants. Asian elephants differ greatly from their African counterparts in that they are smaller, have much smaller ears, larger nails on their feet (for digging and foraging) and have two large forehead bulges.
Unlike the elephants I saw in Africa earlier this year, which were in the open savanna, these forest elephants seemed to appear out of nowhere. Like giant ghosts, they emerged from the thick forest overgrowth and surprised us. I was very glad at this point not to be on foot. These elephants seem gentle enough from a distance, but getting up close and personal could be a very dangerous prospect!
Later in the evening after seeing the elephants, I was back at the forest camp in which I was staying. About 10:00 at night we starting hearing some loud cracking and snapping coming from the dark forest, very near to us. We soon realized it was an elephant snapping bamboo and crashing through the underbrush. After a few minutes of this, we saw a large flash in the trees. The lights of the camp flickered a few times and then went dead for good. It turns out a large bamboo tree fell against the power line coming into the camp.
About 15 minutes later, we heard people shouting, banging pots, and lighting off fire crackers in the distance. The rogue elephant had left our camp and was now approaching a nearby village. Eventually these sounds died off and the forest went back to sleep. With no power. And an upset elephant. In the dark.
One of India’s less attractive wildlife is the Indian boar. While these guys won’t be winning any beauty pageants, I found them quite cute in their own way. We were lucky enough to see several mothers with babies, and it was fun to see them cuddling and nursing.
These animals provided a good example of the results I’ve been able to get using the 50 megapixel Canon 5DSr for wildlife. While I bought the camera primarily for landscape work, I’ve found that for wildlife portraits (slow moving, non-action shots), nothing can beat its resolving power. I’m not going to print any of these shots wall sized (though I could!), but it is pretty amazing to be able to zoom in on the monitor to see the fine detail of the boar’s tiny hairs.
One of my most challenging subjects from my recent India trip was the tufted gray langur. Any animal that has a mixture of very light and very dark colors is an exercise of balance. It takes just the right kind of light, and the perfect exposure to get enough light to see details in the dark areas, while making sure not to blow out the highlights. In the case of the gray langur, I had to make sure the black face was bright enough, while the white hair surrounding the face still rendered in fine detail.
In the portrait above, I was fortunate to have diffused afternoon sunlight directly lighting the face. This helped keep the contrast of the scene low and caught all the details of his solemn expression.
The langur seemed to live more wild than the ubiquitous macaques. They have extremely long tails, as can be seen in the photo above. Gray langurs have superior eyesight which allows them to sit in the tops of trees to watch for predators from a distance. They are often seen near herds of chital, as each species can warn each other of approaching predators. In fact, one morning in Mudumalai National Park, we did hear the treetops go wild with monkey calls. About 30 seconds of waiting earned us the growling of a tiger in the thick underbrush. We never did sight the tiger, but the langurs certainly alerted us to its presence.
In all, I only spent a few short moments with these monkeys. In the future, I hope to capture active interactions between family members, as I have in the past with macaques. The unpredictability of wildlife always gives me reasons to keep going back for more.