For the love of Wildlife

Far away from the hustle and bustle of city life, life at a jungle camp is a life of unhurried living full of nature and surprises! Growing up in a region teeming with wildlife, appreciating the beauty of the natural world is engrained in Yusuf Ansari, an expert naturalist living his life pursuing his passion-Wildlife. We are fortunate to have him share with you his story and his love for wildlife and for Ranthambore:

Yusuf Ansari“I come from a region teeming with game and much of my childhood was spent observing wildlife around the family home in Ghazipur on the Gangetic plain and at my parent’s farm, bordering the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal. As children my siblings and I often visited areas like Jim Corbett National Park, (where I was charged by an elephant aged 7), Rajaji National Park, Dudhwa and other such places. The Nepal terai was of course a haven for wildlife and is still salvageable as are the marshes and riverine plains of the Ganges in Eastern UP. It was impossible not to be influenced by the environment around us and stories of great feats of ancestors who were prodigious hunters (hunting was a normal way of life in their own time) and knew their wildlife intimately.

I was introduced to Ranthambhore in 2003, by my close friend Jaisal Singh who had started his pioneering luxury tented camp, Sher Bagh on a part of his family estate in 2000, just bordering the National Park. The first time I visited Ranthambhore, I lost all objectivity about the place, there is a certain magical allure to it, an almost mystical magnetism which draws one back to it constantly. It is a unique habitat; the western most range of one of nature’s most charismatic creatures, the tiger and the only dry deciduous dry thorn forest where it is still found naturally (it has been reintroduced into other such forests). The other unique feature about Ranthambhore – ‘The Place of the Pillars of War’ – is the scale at which historic monuments and acres of history lie entangled amidst the wilderness. Nowhere else can one witness such a profuse scattering of palaces, tombs, temples and mosques, dating as far into antiquity as the 10th century AD whose only inhabitants are denizens of the Indian forests. Ranthambhore compels any human spirit that is sensitive to nature to yield before its charms in a way very few places can.

b2-with-cubsLife at camp has its own enduring charms. I moved to Ranthambhore permanently in 2007, as General Manager of Sher Bagh and continued in the role until early 2011. I now only manage the wildlife experiences of our guests and work as far as possible with the Park authorities in conservation initiatives. Although a more limited role than that of a GM’s, my present position includes heading our Department of Trackers and Guides at Sher Bagh, comes with its own challenges and offers an exciting albeit unconventional lifestyle. The day never ends and without exception one wishes it wouldn’t. What can beat the experience of coming across some of nature’s most riveting phenomenon and sharing that experience with our guests, many of whom have spent a lifetime in the appreciation of nature but are perhaps making their very first journey to these wilds? An unhindered encounter with wildlife’s most powerful renditions, without barriers, without obstructions, in their own raw element is a moving moment for many of our visitors. Many of our guests have seen tigers and other big cats or wildlife moments only on their television screens or read about them in books; others are familiar with the African wildlife experience, quite distinct to the Indian one. Our first endeavour is to apprise and familiarise our guests with what Indian wildlife has to offer, being a rich and diverse tableaux of species, habitats and ecosystems. Our methods of tracking animals are also specialised and based around the topography and animal behavioural patterns of individual regions. For example, in Ranthambhore, one of the primary ways of tracking our predators is by assessing the behaviour, mood and actions of their prey species. We try to attune our guests to the environment as soon as they arrive here and by the end of a three day stay most of them leave Sher Bagh having learnt certain basic skills of ‘bushcraft’. The Sher Bagh campfire has something of an iconic status in Ranthambhore and countless discussions and stories have been exchanged around its embers which have burned every winter from the time the Camp was set up. They only grow more engrossing with retelling. The atmosphere around the campfire every evening is resonant of a house-party where the day’s gossip about the park and disparate experiences of game drives, encounters with our animals are exchanged and analysed. This is one of my favourite parts of the day and opens up the discussions leading to a wider understanding of wildlife, the environment, history and life in India. Chats are sometimes punctuated by the bronchial alarm calls of a sambar deer and the occasional roar of a tiger resounding through the hills around camp is not unheard of!

Personally, the sense of privilege about living in a tiger habitat and around wild tigers, not to mention all the lesser seen but other iconic species like leopard, caracal, bear and many others, never fades. This is something that immediately filters through to our guests, for no one can ever become jaded by the experience of living in Ranthambhore and that energy is transferred on to even first time visitors. Tiger habitat, by which we mean a space which not only supports this magnificent apex predator, but also the entire ecosystem that thrives under it, is as endangered as the tiger itself. Only 9 per cent of the tiger’s original global range still exists. To visit such a rare, precious and fragile landscape is in itself a marvellous privilege, something visitors to Ranthambhore appreciate. At the same time, one is always keen to draw attention to the host of other species that exist in Ranthambhore; significant among these are the sloth bear, leopard, caracal and the striped hyena as well as over 350 species of birds. The flourishing population of birds really does make the area a ‘twitcher’s paradise’. On many occasions, it is by stopping to observe these, spending time listening to birdsong and their behaviour that one catches sight of the tiger or leopard. I always like to show our guests Ranthambhore in its entirety; the dramatic landscape and its rich biodiversity, the inter-play between different species and their relationship with the earth; for only then can they comprehensively appreciate and understand the enormity and significance of watching what they have all come to see, a tiger in the wild. What makes it all special is that I never tire of sharing the experience with our guests. To pass on awareness about wildlife, share what one has learnt over the years and in some small measure add to human understanding about the wilderness and wildlife is a hugely rewarding experience for me.”

                                                                               -Yusuf Ansari, Naturalist, Ranthambore

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