I was always intrigued by wide-angle mammal perspectives. Back in 2009, I built my camera trap kit, and had no clue where to use it, since permissions were required to use it in any national park or reserve. I did make some good images outside reserves, but always wanted to test it in a national park which had greater mammal density, or even rare mammals. This meant that I needed permissions, and during one of my meetings with the CCF, Mr. Vijay Mohan Raj (aka VMR), we discovered that we had common interests, and began exploring the possibilities of camera trapping.
In theory, camera trapping is very simple. You need an infrared beam as a trigger, and a cable connecting your camera to the device which emits this beam, which then triggers your camera whenever the beam is cut by a passing animal. A DSLR camera with a lens is required. So is a flash, for a couple of reasons: firstly, you don’t know whether the animal will be photographed during the day or the night, and secondly, a flash acts as a fill-light. It sounds easy, but hang on! This is just the beginning. You need to leave all this equipment in the forest for many days, come rain or shine, and day or night, under unknown circumstances like inclement weather. Another worrying factor is theft and damage of the gear by humans or animals. The batteries (for the camera, sensor and flash) need to last, since it isn’t possible to check them often. You also need to ensure that everything is married perfectly and that there is no failure, since many a time, you only have a single shot at getting a photograph right. We took over a year to figure out the fundamentals of the equipment, and to source them.
We were finally ready, and applied for our permissions; we were sanctioned to photograph in Daroji and Anshi-Dandeli. I religiously dedicated up to a week each month to this project. My very first trip to Dandeli yielded a tiger on my camera trap, but I was unlucky that only one of my three flashes fired. That was really encouraging though, and the coming months were fruitful, with many leopard images in the camera trap. However, we did struggle to get images, since animal densities are low in these parks, and the parks are vast, with limited road access.
Anshi-Dandeli is known for its black (melanistic) leopards. One evening, just as I had finished assembling my camera trap and was walking back to my vehicle, I had a physical sighting! This made me hopeful of capturing the Black Panther on my camera trap, but it eluded me quite a bit, and always remained a ghost. I had to constantly shift my gear’s location based on the information of sightings I received. It paid off, and we finally had an image of the Black Panther!
I am really thankful to the Karnataka Forest Department, especially the Anshi-Dandeli range. I owe a big thank you to the staff of Jungle Lodges’ Kali River Lodge, Old Magazine House and Hampi Heritage and Wilderness Resort properties, who helped me immensely during my stay there. And finally, I am extremely grateful to VMR for all the support and motivation throughout.