Jungle Tales: A Peek Into MP's Satpura With Naturalist Aly Rashid
Lodged within the untamed terrains of Madhya Pradesh's Satpura lies a fascinating world of biodiversity. Here, amidst the lush forests and landscapes, wildlife thrives, offering a haven for rare and endangered species. The region is a treasure trove of natural wonders, housing diverse ecosystems that support the existence of elusive predators like tigers, leopards, sloth bears, and wild dogs.
Amidst this rich wilderness, naturalist and ornithologist Aly Rashid stands as a stalwart for wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism. As the Director of Jehan Numa Wilderness, a collection of conservation and wildlife-focused jungle lodges and camps, his unwavering commitment to preserving Satpura's delicate ecosystem is evident. Rashid's latest book, "Tales from the Bush," intricately captures the essence of this biodiverse landscape. Through this project, he paints a vivid picture of Satpura's natural splendour, revealing the connections between its inhabitants and the environment they call home.
What inspired you to write "Tales from the Bush"?
My earliest recollections of embarking on a safari date back to the early 1990s when I was just a five-year-old. Back then, safaris were an entirely different experience than the ones we partake in today. We lodged in the vintage forest rest house from the British era, hoping we'd packed enough provisions since nothing was available within a 50-kilometre radius of the bungalow. These formative adventures during my childhood instilled in me a deep passion for wildlife, which served as an inspiration for this book.
Can you share a memorable personal experience from your encounters with Satpura that influenced your connection with this landscape?
Spending extended periods in the jungles offers numerous encounters, yet one particularly heartwarming moment stands out vividly in my memory. Witnessing a sloth bear proudly introducing her cubs to the world for the first time left an indelible mark on me. Among all bear species, sloth bears uniquely carry their offspring on their backs during the initial six months of their lives. In Satpura, we've been fortunate to regularly witness habituated bears bring their cubs out, an occurrence that repeats year after year.
The book features contributions from various experts and wildlife enthusiasts. How did you curate these diverse perspectives?
Absolutely, the book incorporates insights from a diverse array of experts, each chosen for their profound connection with Satpura. Our primary criterion was to seek contributors who were deeply immersed in their respective fields and impassioned by their experiences in Satpura.
Pradip Krishen, author of "Jungle Trees of Central India," drew inspiration from Satpura and extensively studied the flora of Central India in Pachmarhi. Similarly, David Raju and Surya Ramachandran, authors of a comprehensive field guide to the wildlife of central India, served as naturalists in Satpura and found inspiration within the park while crafting their informative guide.
Sarosh Lodhi, a wildlife photographer, discovered Satpura's essence while documenting and photographing various tiger families within the park. Shivang Mehta, a wildlife photographer, not only lent his expertise in photography advice but also forged a deep connection with Satpura through numerous visits.
Additionally, Dr H.S. Pabla, a retired forest officer who served as the Principal Chief Conservator of the forest, was instrumental in creating the distinctive Satpura tourism model.
Could you elaborate on the significance of the chapter "Satpura After Dark" and the use of SLR camera traps in capturing nocturnal wildlife outside the protected area?
"Satpura After Dark" is a chapter penned by Shivang Mehta, a close friend and the photography consultant for "Tales from the Bush." In this section, he delves into an often-overlooked realm of wildlife that exists beyond the perimeters of core reserves. While most wildlife thrives and finds protection within these reserves, the creatures inhabiting human-dominated areas often remain elusive, avoiding human presence.
Despite their scarcity in plain sight, these animals flourish abundantly in these regions. The true extent of their presence is unveiled through the meticulous monitoring facilitated by camera traps. Mehta, leveraging DSLR camera traps extensively over several years, has documented the nocturnal wildlife thriving outside the protective boundaries of reserves. This method captures the elusive and rare species and yields high-quality, curated, and artistic images that vividly depict these creatures in their natural habitat.
Satpura has been a part of your family's connection with the central Indian jungle. How has your conservation involvement evolved over the years?
My family and I share a multi-generational bond with this park that stretches back to the 1980s. Our involvement here extends beyond a mere business presence; it's deeply intertwined with personal connections and a commitment to the region's well-being. Since the establishment of Reni Pani Jungle Lodge in 2009, we've worked hand in hand with the forest department, striving to forge a distinctive tourism model within Satpura. This collaborative effort has created a sustainable tourism ecosystem, offering viable alternative income avenues for local communities.
Our commitment to the region's conservation is evident through our contributions to the M.P. Tiger Foundation Society, wherein we actively support various conservation initiatives within the Satpura Tiger Reserve. Projects like the Barasingha Reintroduction program and aiding forest guards reflect our dedication to safeguarding the reserve's biodiversity.
Moreover, our efforts extend to nurturing and preserving habitats in and around our lodges. By cultivating mini wildlife habitats within our premises, we've provided safe passage for animals to freely traverse in and out, fostering a harmonious coexistence between guests and wildlife.
Additionally, our local community engagement involves supporting schools near our lodges. We've taken strides to enhance infrastructure in these schools, aiming to inspire and motivate children, encouraging attendance and active participation in their primary education.
You have led expeditions in various locations globally. How does your experience in different ecosystems influence your approach to wildlife conservation in Satpura?
Whenever I venture to diverse destinations, I absorb and bring back the most effective approaches to Satpura. In India, private entities are not directly involved in active wildlife management or direct conservation efforts. Hence, any contributions toward conservation work are channelled indirectly through community engagement initiatives or fundraising endeavours.
While direct involvement in conservation may not be feasible for private entities, the continuous learning and adaptation of best practices from global experiences significantly enhance and advance our efforts in indirectly supporting conservation and fostering sustainable tourism within Satpura.
The book offers a blend of photography, storytelling, and expert contributions. How did you balance these elements to create an immersive journey for readers?
We aimed to create a coffee table book beyond a typical photo album. We wanted it to feature personal stories from myself, our naturalists, guests, and experts who share our deep connection and experiences with the park. These stories naturally translate into immersive narratives, combining captivating visuals with heartfelt accounts. We aimed for a book that captures the true essence of the forest, and we hope we've achieved just that.
"Satpura After Dark" showcases the nocturnal side of wildlife. What unique challenges and rewards did you encounter while capturing these elusive moments?
Our field team, led by Erwin Drose, the lodge manager at Reni Pani, played a pivotal role in the extensive fieldwork for this project, collaborating closely with Shivang Mehta's team. Wildlife outside protected areas tends to be elusive, prompting us to survey and map wildlife movement patterns in and around the lodge. Setting up cameras posed a challenge since these animals are sensitive to environmental changes, requiring a gradual acclimation to the camera presence.
Camera trapping involves meticulous image curation following animal movement identification. However, capturing the anticipated visuals remains a significant challenge due to the unpredictability of wild animal behaviour. For instance, it took us over three months to capture an image of a leopard crossing in front of the gate at Reni Pani. Additionally, photographing the Satpura Leopard Gecko, an elusive and nocturnal species endemic to Central India, presented a daunting challenge.
For readers interested in experiencing Satpura firsthand, what tips or suggestions do you have for making the most of their visit, and how can they contribute to the conservation efforts in the region?
Visiting Satpura itself is a substantial contribution to its conservation efforts. When individuals visit, they contribute directly to the park's management by paying for park permits, supporting local community benefits through our inclusive values, and choosing to stay with us. People need to understand that eco-tourism plays a significant role in conservation, and their mere visit aids in this ongoing process.
For those experiencing Satpura for the first time, exploring its diverse and distinctive activities is highly recommended. Engaging in walks, canoe safaris, night drives, horseback safaris, and camping adventures offers a unique perspective of this landscape. Venturing on drives to Madhai and Churna is a must, considering the high concentration of wildlife in these areas. Additionally, Satpura's buffer zones offer a more flexible and equally enthralling wildlife encounter, making exploring beyond the core areas worthwhile.
For travellers seeking a unique experience in Satpura, what aspects of the region would you recommend they explore, and are there any hidden gems or less-explored areas?
The allure of Satpura lies in its versatility, catering to diverse traveller preferences. It is an exceptional destination for those seeking immersive experiences, offering various activities like game drives, canoe safaris, walking safaris, night drives, and our latest addition, horseback safaris traversing through the wilderness.
Alternatively, Satpura's abundant wildlife and the option to spend time in jeeps offer an ideal setting for individuals inclined toward observing mammals or photographing them. Combining the northern side (Reni Pani) and the southern side (Bori Safari Lodge) provides enthusiasts with a comprehensive view of the park, presenting opportunities to witness Central India's iconic predators—tigers, sloth bears, leopards, and wild dogs.
Pachmarhi appeals to those fond of hiking and seeking a serene hill station atmosphere. However, a true hidden gem lies in Forsyth's Trail. This two-night, three-day trek immerses guests in untouched wilderness, offering a camping experience amidst unspoiled surroundings devoid of human habitation.
How do you see the role of eco-tourism in promoting conservation and sustainable travel practices, especially in lesser-known destinations like Satpura?
Eco-tourism plays a pivotal role globally in wildlife conservation efforts. Revenue generated from tourism significantly contributes to preserving wildlife and their habitats. When tourists visit, their park fees directly fund park management and conservation initiatives. Moreover, lodges employing local staff create alternative livelihood opportunities within the landscape. The eco-tourism or wildlife tourism industry employs drivers and guides, enabling wildlife enthusiasts to observe and appreciate the natural world.
The accommodations' needs, sourced locally, also stimulate the local economy. This interdependence fosters a mini ecosystem of financial sustainability within these landscapes. Satpura exemplifies this trend. Since the advent of organised tourism around 2008-09, these benefits have transformed locals' perspective towards wildlife—from viewing it as something to endure or occasionally compete with to recognising it as an asset worthy of preservation and mutual benefit.
As someone who has led expeditions in diverse locations such as Ladakh, Borneo, and Masai Mara, how does Satpura stand out?
Each wildlife destination holds its distinct allure, often centred around specific species or remarkable species diversity. Ladakh entices with the elusive snow leopard, Borneo beckons for the captivating Orangutan, the Pantanal fascinates with its majestic jaguars, and the Masai Mara enchants with its array of large African game. Yet, it's not solely about these flagship species; their presence often signifies a biodiversity-rich habitat where various other species thrive.
Satpura is a unique and essential destination because it offers all of Central India's iconic predators—tigers, leopards, sloth bears, and wild dogs—within a single region. It's relatively undiscovered status sets it apart, allowing visitors to explore the wilderness without the usual crowds offering a more immersive and tranquil experience.