Mike Pandey is a wildlife film-maker and conservationist, and three-time winner of the prestigious Green Oscar. He’s spent time in jungles around the world and will be writing a column that’s a survival guide, an account of his close shaves and a paean to his beloved forests, all rolled in one.
I am always asked which are the wildest jungles on earth. The Brazilian rain forests are no doubt the most primordial on the planet. The African Savanna is paradise. The Indian jungles are the most diverse, they can be brutal but also delicate and warm.
If you relax and allow the jungle to touch your heart, you’ll never be able to escape its charm. I always ask those who’re afraid — how can you fear something you’ve never experienced?
Contrary to popular belief, tigers are rather shy and avoid confrontation with man. I’ve crossed paths with tigers often and more than a dozen times, I was caught unawares. Each time the big cat moved away, without any sign of aggressive behaviour. Only twice did things almost go wrong. Once when I stumbled upon a tiger feeding on a fresh kill; and then when a tigress charged to protect her cubs.
There’s one experience that I never forget. I was filming a python that was swallowing a peacock. A python full of peacock can barely move, so I had all the time I needed. At some point, the feeling of being watched made me look up. Less than 10 feet away was the largest tiger I’d ever seen. It was sitting calmly, watching me with a bemused expression. As our eyes locked, he rose up as though startled, and grimaced, exposing the largest canines I’ve ever seen.
I stood paralysed and watched. He stretched majestically, gave me a once over, and then melted away into the forest with a low growl. The import of it registered 45 minutes later, however, at no time did I feel I was in danger.
Despite my fair share of close brushes, tigers have never injured me. I think one reason is that I don’t panic at first sight. I freeze and keep my distance. But ultimately, I believe it’s your intentions that matter. Animals have a superior ability to sense, feel and reciprocate. What else can explain my experience?
Trips into the wild teach us valuable lessons and give us an insight into nature’s complex creations and the intricate web of life.
A few rules and precautions can make your trip memorable. Carry a camera and let it do the talking! Take water bottles and biscuits but don’t carry strong smelling food. Avoid musical instruments, plastic bottles and plastic wrappers. Carry a Swiss knife, it comes in handy. Don’t crowd or try to box in the animal. Do not make sudden moves, sharp sounds or use strong flash bulbs as they can startle the animal.
Remember the unwritten law of the jungle — animals have the right of way — and respect it.