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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Cubs


SafariChick
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This will be some kind of report about my recent trip to India, but please note that I am not planning to make this the typical day by day, drive by drive trip report. I know people say that and then they do anyway and I suppose that could happen, but I really dont expect to do so, one reason being that this did not feel like a typical safari, at least not compared to my African safaris. In general, the sightings were fewer and harder to come by than Id come to expect in Africa, and even than Id come to expect from India trip reports on Safaritalk. But then we also knew we were going at not the prime viewing time either. December is winter in India, and the monsoon season was only over a couple of months. That meant there could still be water inside the forest, so animals did not have to come out of the forest to the permanent water holes to drink as frequently.

 

ITINERARY

 

Dec. 4 arrive Delhi 11 a.m. overnight at LemonTree, near airport

Dec 5-8 four nights at Chitvan Jungle Lodge, Kanha National Park

Dec. 9-12 four nights Svasara Lodge, Tadoba National Park

Dec 13-14 KolKata 2 nights to attend wedding

Dec. 15 fly home

 

I was in India from December 4 through December 15 with @@Kitsafari and her lurker husband, H. They live much closer, in Singapore, so for them it was a 6-hour flight to get there, but for me I had to leave on December 2 and have an almost 6-hour layover at Heathrow so I ended up traveling about 24 hours, not counting the time getting to the airport near home. I did use frequent flier miles so I might have found a slightly better itinerary if I hadnt.

 

I will tell about the first 24 hours or so in a bit of detail as things didnt quite go according to plan and itturned into a bit of an adventure! I arrived at about 11 a.m. and used the e-VISA I had obtained not long beforeleaving (Thanks to Kit again for the inadvertent heads up about the fact that I needed one!) and was met by Abhishek from WWI, an energetic and always smiling fellow, very pleasant to be around. He had his driver take us to our hotel, just about 5 minutes away. He got me checked in so I didnt have to do anything. It was a very nice hotel.

 

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I had some lunch in the hotel restaurant, a 3-hour nap, and then met up with Vikram of WWI along with Abhishek in the lobby and had a nice chat. Later I came down to have dinner and ran into Kit and H who had just arrived, so they joined me at the restaurant. Abhishek had told us we needed to leave for the airport for our flight to Jabalpur at 6 a.m. and he arranged for the hotel to give us a wake up call at 5:30. We would take a box breakfast with us to the airport. I think I went to sleep a bit after midnight. He said he would not be there but his driver would take us.

 

At what seemed like the middle of the night, the phone rang, waking me with a start and finding me feeling very disoriented. I figured it was my wake-up call from the hotel, and answered. But instead I hear Abhisheksvoice. He tells me that theres been a change of plans. The night before, a plane that had landed at Jabalpur, the airport to which we were to fly to begin our safari, and was taxing when a herd of wild boar ran onto the runway. The plane hit one or more boars, sustaining damage and skidding off the runway! Luckily no humans were injured, but I later learned that at least seven boars were killed and the plane was badly damaged. Heres an article about the incident:

 

http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/jabalpur-wild-boars-on-runway-send-spicejet-plane-off-it/story-anT1H1WeZ1it9QcH1YOcfM.html

 

Apparently this was the very plane that would have taken us to Jabalpur the next day but beside that problem, authorities closed the Jabalpur airport for three days to investigate the incident I suppose! Abhishek told us he had luckily seen a report of the incident while his wife was flipping tv channels just before he went to bed and had ended up staying up all night to rearrange things for us! He did receive a text about it later but he probably would have been asleep and not seen it til morning and wed be in a pickle. So hed arranged for us to fly instead to Nagpur which would be a 5-6 hour drive to Kanha rather than a 3-4 hour drive from Jabalpur. Also, the flight was leaving Delhi 2 hours earlier. Oh, I said. What time is it now? Its about 3:30 he replied. OH. No wonder I was so disoriented Id napped maybe 3 hours. Good thing I had that other 3-hour nap! Kit and H had received a similar call

 

So we got up and got ready in a hurry and went off to the airport. We had no time for coffee on the way, so when we arrived we were pretty anxious to get a cup before the 5-6 hour drive. We were picked up by a driver whod been arranged by WWI and asked him if he knew of a place we could get a cup of coffee on the way. He said yes, there was a place about five minutes away. We drove off and he pulled up to a beautiful hotel, a Raddison Blu. He suggested we get a cup of coffee and meet him back outside in about ten minutes. We went in hoping they would have some kind of quick place to get just coffee but the only option was their full restaurant. After we ordered, it seemed to take forever for the coffees to come at least half an hour! So this ended up being probably a 45-minute stop.

 

We got back on the road and had an interesting drive dodging around motorcycles, some of which were ridden by 3-4 people (some with one or two children as part of that number) and some of which had a woman riding side-saddle and wearing a sari with flowing fabric hanging off the back. I was constantly worried one of these women would get fabric from her sari caught in the wheel or some other part of the motorcycle, a la Isadora Duncan, the dancer, who died tragically when a flowing scarf became entangled with the wheel of the car in which she was riding. Fortunately, I did not witness any such incident. As @@Kitsafari and H will attest to, I am an anxious person, especially in cars. I do have some reason for this, having been in a car accident in which my aunt was killed. Perhaps India is not the best place for me as driving there is quite anxiety-provoking for me! The other aspect besides many obstacles in the road that was challenging for me was the constant honking of horns. Mind you, I grew up in Manhattan so I am no stranger to traffic, aggressive driving and horns. But this was on another level! I found it amusing that many trucks have bumper stickers saying Please Honk! I think it is kind of a method of communication on the road saying Hey, Im about to pass you! or Hey, Im zooming up on your side, so just be aware that I will soon be right next to you with less than an inch between us! Here's a shot from the drive:

 

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After some time driving, our driver stopped and we learned the reason was we had a flat tire. He seemed to fix it fairly quickly and we were back on our way. But then a short time later, he pulled over again at a tire repair stand of sorts. This was a longer stop, maybe about half an hour, as he wanted to get the tire properly repaired as we still had a long journey ahead.

 

Needless to say, by the time we arrived at Chitvan, we were quite happy to finally be there! There was time fora quick lunch, dropping off our bags, and then we met up with our guide, Rajen, and we were off to our first game drive.

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Our first drive at Kanha was the afternoon drive. As I recall, the park opened at 3 p.m. and closed at 6 p.m. so we didn't have a terribly long time for our first drive. And I think we were running late after a delicious lunch, making it even shorter. We enjoyed getting our first glimpses of the park after the long journey to get there. Here are some of the animals we saw as we drove around:

 

A Peacock peeking:

 

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Why did the Peacock cross the road?:

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To get to the other side, of course:

 

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Drongo:

 

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Sambar doe:

 

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And then …. At about 5 p.m. which was not long before we needed to start heading back to the gate to be out on time --- Rajen excitedly says "Tiger!" Looking where he was pointing, we saw this female partly obscured by the foliage.

 

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There were several other cars there but not nearly as many as we’d have at our subsequent tiger sightings. Suddenly Rajen said “There’s another tiger!” It was farther away and frankly, I could not spot it even with binoculars. Rajen has the most amazing eyes! I think the female then walked out of sight. Then my memory is fuzzy as to what happened next, but hopefully @@Kitsafari can chime in and fill in the gaps. I think that I experienced some kind of shock from being so excited at seeing my first tiger and then finding out it was not one, but two! Possibly I was also delirious from lack of sleep! But I remember hearing alarm calls from a deer and us driving at a high rate of speed towards that sound. And then seeing this tiger which Rajen said was Big Male. What a magnificent animal! We watched him walk a ways and I remember being in a line of cars and we all had to back up to keep him in sight as he walked behind us. He marked on a tree, and then he was gone.

 

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@Safari Chick

 

Wow! on the tigers. How amazing that must have been. Good thing you had your camera. Otherwise, you might have been able to convince yourself that the whole thing had been nothing more than a dream, given the state of things.

 

I'm looking forward to hearing more, as I have not been to India -- though you are doing nothing to dissuade me from my practice of being an old man and spending a few days in an entry city to sleep off the jet lag and rest up for the real adventure. You all were real troopers under the circumstances. Way to go!

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Oh lucky you, we saw the Tiger in the first 15 mins, for just a minute, then she disappeared, and we never saw another, so you are already making me jealous. A few hiccups before you got going, all well though, I think India, more than anywhere, can be …..challenging, but the payoff makes it worthwhile. Your beautiful jungle photos take me straight back.

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@@SafariChick catchy title, I like it!

 

Oh what bad luck with the plane and the longer than expected trip to Kanha - and how lucky to have such a great tiger sighting on your first game drive. I am really looking forward to the rest of your report and the photos of course.

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The sudden change in the flight to Jabalpur did not perturb us much. we pretty went with the flow. but the checkin at the Delhi domestic airport was incredibly chaotic and confusing. somehow we muddled through it - but the important thing to note when going through any airports in India - ensure that each and every piece of hand carry luggage or handbag has a tag. the tags are given after the X ray machines and have to be stamped by security officials before you board the flight. if you have no tag, you are sent right back to the x-ray machines and do the process all over again. another thing to note - no one queues.

 

The traffic was just as chaotic and confusing. as safarichick noted, rather politely though!, the vehicles yell at each other incessantly, honking: "Get out of my way", Watch your back I'm overtaking, Move to the left and give me space!, Here I come to snatch that one-inch gap you left for me to squeeze in.

 

everyone steps on the brakes at the last minute, leaving an awesome inch between your vehicle and his. With school kids meandering on the narrow roads or cycling through with cattle or goats walking in the middle of the road, I was amazed that our vehicle went through unscathed and we arrived in Chitvan in one piece. I told safarichick to close her eyes and ignore the traffic, but i was just like her - with morbid fascination, we watched as a truck or a bus come bearing down on us in the opposite direction or as a motorcycle magically appears from a side road into the front of our vehicle. There's madness on the roads, but there is method in that madness and if you don't get that right, you can't drive or walk there!

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@@SafariChick - you had great captures of Big Male! mine came out rather dodgy and blurry and i think it's the camera settings that I might have changed. Rajen found my settings not as clear and sharp as yours.

 

we first heard the alarms made by the sambar deer. as we rounded the corner, there were 3-4 stationary vehicles. Rajen, the forest guide and our driver had an exchange of information, a move that is repeated many times over our trip, and then we were told to stand and wait. soon, a tiger came into view but was obscured by the thick bushes. It looked cautious and was looking towards its right where the sambar were still honking. the bushes caused major problems when we tried to focus on the tiger. as safarichick mentioned, rajen saw the second tiger in the far distance. i totally missed it as I didn't know where to look!

 

we waited a bit for the first tiger to move to a clearing, but it seemed to have settled down behind a particularly large bush so we went off to look for the second tiger.

 

the Big Male was walking towards the waterhole. But there was already a line of vehicles and we were on the embankment between two waterholes. it was a like a scene from some comedy show - as the tiger moved forward, there was a lot gesturing and yelling as the vehicles behind us shouted for the guys in front to move forward. then as the tiger emerged from the waterhole to move behind us, the convoy of vehicles started to reverse again and again. The Big Male was quite a distance from us, but I was glad when he moved far behind us and walked from the left to the right, and none of the vehicles pursued him. And that was because it was time to leave the park.

 

I'll just add a couple more pix. mine came out fuzzy.... :wacko:

 

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some of the following pictures were taken by Rajen. I remembered that @@Atravelynn had said Rajen took excellent photos, so I shoved my camera to him since he was standing on the seat and had far better views than shortie me. if you see fuzzy ones - they're probably mine!

 

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as we squinted to get a good view of the Big Male, Rajen says Barasingha on your right in good light. so snaps to the right, then back to tiger on the left.

 

 

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here a couple of videos of Big Male. there are a few shaky moments as the gypsy came to life moving forward, and thereafter, backward...

 

 

 

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@@Kitsafari - that's a pretty good sighting ...... Quick question about video 1. It looked like you had a good position and the video was ongoing when your driver suddenly zooms away?

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@@madaboutcheetah yes. it happened a couple of times. It was a rather frenetic time - everyone was rushing to get pictures and there was a fair bit of shouting as our driver followed the crowds to move forward and backward a few times. But the driver did give a very rapid warning - hang on hang on! that's the signal the vehicle was moving. there were a couple of positions which I thought were great for us, but the driver would move and we lost sight of the tiger or the vantage point - I can't recall who was giving the orders to move.

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@@SafariChick

@@Kitsafari

A great start to the trip report! - though not a very relaxing one for you. But what a good job your company did for you in response to the plane accident. Putting that together in the middle of the night is good service.

 

Indian roads are a unique experience (and I would certainly never dream of driving myself there!)

 

An exciting first drive - and 2 tigers - great to see the photos and the videos. And to have the perspective of both of you.

I look forward to the rest of this report.

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Thanks everyone for then nice comments, and thanks @@Kitsafari for filling in my memory of the Big Male sighting - and I'm so glad you got video as that really helps take me back. Oh and thanks for filling in about our journey to get to Kanha too. One thing we forgot to mention which I had not encountered before India, but maybe some other countries do it too - at the airports, they separate men and women into two different lines to go through security - and for women, you go into a little booth with a curtain to have a wand run over your whole body before they let you go.

 

More to come as time permits.

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@SafariChick@Kitsafari...you male tiger is just beautiful. This is so different from Africa where everyone is quiet and we try to stay in one place or move slowly and just watch.

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@@marg yes, it was very different. Firstly, any tiger sighting usually had many many vehicles. And while some guides did try to be quiet, not all did and not all the guests seemed to feel the need to be quiet. There was such a sense of excitement when a tiger was seen, perhaps because it really is less common to see them than seeing the typical large predators in Africa, that combined with a perceived need to jockey for position, it really was quite a different experience from Africa! Now when we had some other sightings that were not tiger, which I will get to, it was a different story and much more relaxed.

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Great start to your report! Lovely first sighting! Looking forward to more! :)

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@@marg it was indeed different from the African experiences. The guides told us that many of the local Indian tourists aim only to see tigers. They were not interested to see anything else. If they did stop, the main question they had was :"Dekka?" Translated loosely into "you saw?" And we all knew what they were asking for.

 

To see a tiger was a huge thrill for them, and I can't blame them given that tiger sightings are so rare. @@SafariChick, correct me if I'm wrong here - only 20% of the Kanha park is opened to the public. Even if there are 90+ tigers as claimed for Kanha, many of the tigers were in the off limit zones. I tend to think that tigers do not come out when there are crowds. So the lunch hours and the night times when the park is closed gives the striped cats time to relax and emerge. Not all cats are as unfazed as the Big Male.

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@@Kitsafari I think you are right about the amount of the park we were told was off limits to the public. You mentioned the local Indian tourists. I wanted to mention that I found it interesting that so many of the tourists were local Indians. It was quite different from my experiences in Africa, where the majority of guests were from abroad. I think it is great that so many of the visitors are locals and they really looked very excited and anxious to see the tigers. Hopefully the fact that people are interested and invested in the wildlife of their country leads to the best possible conservation.

 

Sorry for the delay in continuing the report. I have a lot of photos to go through (sometimes due to Rajen grabbing my camera gleefully and taking a lot of photos on burst mode - not that I am complaining, he does take great photos!!)

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What a great start to this TR, it must have been so exciting and somewhat of a relief to see not one but two tigers on your first game drive.

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Fantastic, I have been waiting for this report!! What a crazy trip you had getting there, I would have been a wreck, but as you say, you really have to just accept and go with the flow. WWI sounds like they did a fantastic job of re-routing at the last minute. I might need to take a sedative for the driving :o

 

So lucky to have seen a tiger on your first drive, it takes a bit of the pressure off!

 

But Rajan better keep his hands off my camera, LOL. No one touches my cameras but me. I don't even let hubby near them. :lol:

 

Can't wait to hear more!

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@@SafariChick i thought it was wonderful that the citizens of India took such strong interest in the tigers, and that has contributed to a great sense of pride in their tigers, and augur well for the many tiger reserves in the country. It would be even better if they were interested in the other wildlife, but tigers is a good start!

 

I believe that the average Indian citizen has a higher have better spending power than the average in Africa. according to the UNDP, GNP per capita for India was at US$5497 but for Zambia and Kenya, for examples, it was USD$3734 and US$2762.

 

India's safaris are also far more accessible in terms of costs and locations than those in Africa. Moves in Africa to bring schoolchildren on safaris are a solid start to building such a foundation. When the population in Africa can see how precious their wildlife is in their natural environment, they will learn to appreciate and value them more.

 

just a quick tangent from your TR Safarichick, but I saw this distressing news about 4 tiger cubs that died of starvation in the Saoli forest range, which is in the buffer zone to Tadoba park. Such sad news. :(

 

http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/4-tiger-cubs-found-dead-in-maharashtra-govt-orders-probe-115122700656_1.html

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~ @@SafariChick and @@Kitsafari

 

This trip report has begun like no other.

The zigzagging logistics sound fairly stressful at time, requiring a high degree of resilience.

It's very nice to have various “Only in India” realities pointed out. Were one to ever visit India, knowing about such details in advance might lessen jarring culture shock.

Thank you for the peacock crossing the track shots. I hadn't realized that peacocks might be a standard sighting there.

The hubbub you experienced is quite a contrast from the reverent sightings I've experienced in Africa, many of which were as silent as a convent.

Your tiger images convey a sense of massive bone structure.

Do they move as casually as lions?

Glad to know about local enthusiasm for India's signature predator.

The barasingha image seems to have all males? Was it anything like the bachelor herds seen in Africa.

In any case, a lovely photograph of them with the water.

Thank you for undertaking this trip report during the busy holiday season.

Tom K.

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@@Kitsafari I also read about the cubs that died at Tadoba, very upsetting. It was being said on a Facebook site I belong to that it happened in an area not open to the public and not regularly patrolled and they were unsure what happened but it seemed like the mother had abandoned them :-( Now I see you say it was in the buffer zone.

 

On another note, Kit, in your post # 8 how did you do the thing with the last photo, where it keeps changing from one photo to another like a slide show? Is it doing that for everyone, or has my jet lag still not lifted and that's only a phenomenon I am seeing?

 

As I mentioned above, we did not see tigers for the rest of our time at Kanha but it is a lovely park and we did see a variety of wildlife. In the mornings it would be extremely cold. I'm very glad i followed the advice of several people from ST and brought a lot of warm layers! We would begin game drives at about 6 a.m. and I would be wearing a long-sleeved shirt, sometimes a thin sweater or fleece, and then a lightweight packable down jacket that went down to mid-thigh. Then I'd wear a hat, scarf and gloves. Then a blanket on top of that. And I was still cold! This would persist from about 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. At about 9 we would stop for breakfast, which would have been packed by Chitvan lodge. There was a designated place we had to eat as mentioned by Michael and Lynn in their trip report. Rajen told us that it was not permitted to eat while driving around or just to stop anywhere to eat because too many people threw trash in the park if they let people eat while driving around. We also could not pull over to just use the "bush loo" when needed as one does in Africa. This was difficult for me at times, especially in the morning! Apparently a major reason is that the forest is just too dense and it is too hard to know if a tiger or other dangerous animal might pop out right where you chose to use the loo.

 

I will now post some photos and recollections from of the rest of our stay in Kanha.

 

A Diet Coke can with the green circle inside a square that designated it as "vegetarian." This was something I absolutely loved in India!Every food item would have a green circle for Veg or a red circle inidicating "non-veg." In a country with many vegetarians, this is obviously something valuable to many people, and for me as a vegetarian too. This would also extend to some restaurant buffet meals as well where a little card would have the green or red circle - so helpful and so nice that it was a uniform symbol everywhere we went.

 

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The lineup in the morning waiting to enter the park:

 

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Lovely misty scenes like this greeted us each morning:

 

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Sunrise:

 

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One of my favorite sightings and I don't know how Rajen spotted it - adorable pair of owls! (this was zoomed in and then cropped so you can imagine it was not that close or easy to see!) We saw them there again at least one other morning - must have been their little home.

 

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Pugmarks! Caused excitement but often didn't lead us to the actual tiger:

 

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Langur monkeys - we saw many of them. The light wasn't ideal here, will post some better photos later when I get to them

 

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Chital, or Spotted Deer, were frequently seen:

 

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This male looks a bit surprised at my taking his photo:

 

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Arch made of antlers at the Kanha breakfast and rest stop. Reminded me of the similar ones in the town square in Jackson, Wyoming!

 

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Edited by SafariChick
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@@Tom Kellie It definitely felt different than Africa, though I would say that there could be a similar feel in the Mara when there are a lot of vehicles at a sighting - we didn't really see it so much as we were in the Mara not during peak season, but the one sighting where I would say we saw a glimpse of how it could be crazy in the Mara was when we saw Malaika and her cubs hunting. There were a lot of vehicles there and most of them zoomed after Malaika when she started hunting. We were glad our guide did not do that.

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