Bandipur national park is part of a biosphere reserve, and has a vast range of vegetation: scrub forests, dry and moist deciduous forests and open grassy areas. The vegetation, along with the many water holes, encourages the presence of a variety of wildlife.
The most commonly spotted of these are the Asian/Indian elephant, gaur (often called the Indian bison), chital (spotted deer), sambar (the biggest Indian deer) and langur (monkey). It is possible to see most of these on a jeep safari accompanied by trained naturalists, organized by the tourist resorts.
The reserve is home to herds of Asian elephants, which is an endangered species due to human activity and greed. Despite loss of natural habitat, harsh steps by villagers to ward off elephants straying into the fields and greedy poachers, there are herds of elephants to be seen in this area. The females and some male Asian elephants do not have tusks. Since elephants have a matriarchal system, the oldest female leads a group, and a male lives with it till it is about 15 years old. Elephants are fiercely protective about their babies, and visitors are often treated to a mock charge by the leader of a group, while the mother stays with the baby.
The gaur is the largest bovine species in the world, generally seen in small groups. Cows are a deep brown-black color, while the males are jet black. Both have smooth upsweeping horns. Gaurs graze during the cooler parts of the morning and evening, and are prey for tigers.
The chital or pretty spotted deer with long antlers are seen all over the Bandipur reserve, and even along the highway bordering the forest. The heavy traffic on the main road often spells doom for these gentle creatures while they are crossing. They move out of the forest at dusk to avoid predators, and return to the forest in the morning. Only the males have branched antlers.
Sambar, the largest among the Asian deer, is seen in small groups, generally at dusk, and near swampy areas. The stags have magnificent antlers, and unlike the female, are not seen easily in the open.
Langur can be spotted along the highway, sitting by the roadside or swinging from the branches of trees. In the jungle, sometimes their presence is felt only by the violent movement in the trees, where they feed off the leaves, fruits, flowers and even seeds. They are known for sounding an alarm call at the sight of predators like the tiger or leopard.
The tiger, leopard, dhole (wild dog) and sloth bear may not be seen as often, but neither are they rare sights. The tiger is the lord of the Indian jungle, but is also under threat from human beings. Bandipur Park was among the first few to adopt the “Project Tiger” program to save the species from extinction. Tigers are large, magnificent creatures, which generally prey at night. Their coat acts as a camouflage, but it is not rare to see one.
The leopard is the elegant and sleek member of the cat family, and often makes its home in trees. Its patterned coat is an effective camouflage, while its swift, gliding movement makes it even more difficult to spot.
Dhole is an Asiatic wild dog, red in color, and found in packs. They hunt together for prey like deer and smaller mammals, and use different strategies.
The sloth bear is the only species of bear found in South India. It is a powerful black animal, with a light v shaped pattern on the chest. Sharp claws help it to dig up termites, which along with fruit and honey, are its main food. These bears are out in the early morning or late evening, and so eludes most visitors to the park.
Among the other creatures sighted most often are the stripenecked mongoose, the largest of Asian mongooses, and the largest of squirrels, the Indian giant squirrel.
The sighting of a large predator depends on the season and time of day, and of course, luck! However, one is sure to see many other species, though a lot depends on the accompanying naturalist. Basavanna H.S (of Jungle Lodges resort) is renowned as among the best, and a safari with him to the Bandipur national park is an enriching and unforgettable experience!
Field Guide to Animals of Bandipur: published by Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka Forest Department, Wildlife wing
Sanctuaries and Wildlife of Karnataka: S. G. Neginhal
Interview with Basavanna H.S