1. Home
  2. India
  3. India Wildlife
  4. Leopard safari in Bera, Rajasthan and how not to take a wildlife video

Sign up to receive exclusive offers and a unique welcome gift

Got your own ideas? Add on Beach, Culture, City, Trek… Find out about our Bespoke Wildlife Tours.

Leopard safari in Bera, Rajasthan and how not to take a wildlife video


Leopard safari in Bera, Rajasthan and how not to take a wildlife video

I remember the wildlife documentary clearly. David Attenborough walking through a traditional Indian village in the state of Rajasthan and talking about the possible threat of leopards to the people sleeping at night. Anyone who has travelled through rural India will understand that it is actually very common for both adults and children to sleep outside their houses; especially in the extreme heat of the summer, when any slight evening breeze, is an escape from the searing temperatures.

I was already a regular visitor to India and as an extension to my next visit to Ranthambhore tiger reserve, I decided to add on a trip to the little visited and relatively unknown Jawai leopard sanctuary. I took the train from Ranthambhore (Sawai Madhopur) to Jodhpur and then drove around 2-3 hours to the town of Sheoganj and checked into Hotel Woodland – this was 2004 and it was clear that the property was not accustomed to international tourist arrivals. The hotel staff quickly moved the one small TV into our room and served the go to international dish of Chinese noodles – the menu stayed the same for the next 3 nights. No matter, we were not there for Bollywood movies, or fine cuisine, we wanted to get out at night to find the famous Leopards which Sir David had been ‘chasing’ just a few years earlier. We were the only guests in the hotel and were quickly introduced to the owner, his head wildlife guide and the beautiful 1970’s open jeep that was to be our mode of transport in the dry scrub forest which was home to a significant leopard population.

I think I should be very clear about one point here, we were not taking this jeep safari in a protected National Park; rather an area on the fringes of several small rural villages that is absolutely prime Leopard habitat. It reminded me of a small version of ‘Yala National Park’ in Sri Lanka, with the open scrubland dotted by huge rock monoliths, providing an impressive backdrop to our nightly excursions. Within 20 minutes of arriving at a known territory of a female Leopard we spotted her about 50 feet from the jeep, although the sighting was far from clear, I was exhilarated and managed a small amount of video footage, before she headed deeper into the scrub. On our return to the hotel we spotted Rusty-Spotted Cat, Jackal and Nilgai to round off a tremendous first evening.

The following morning we returned to the same area, but the female was not around and soon our brilliant guide found out the reason. Firstly, he spotted fresh footprints of two Hyenas walking together and within 30 minutes we could see them quite clearly moving around on one of the larger rocks in her territory. No luck in the morning, but we headed off to a new location for the evening drive and were rewarded with a close up of a different female relaxing on a 20 foot high boulder. She appeared to be completely oblivious to the spotlight and instead focused all her attention on the barking dogs in the nearby village. Village dogs, along with their goat herds are the main prey base for the leopards of Bera, as wild ungulates are not found here in large numbers.

The best was yet to come the following morning, but I am sure that none of us as we drove out that morning could have expected to see 3 Leopards within an hour of arriving at the territory of a resident male. We arrived in darkness, but it was soon obvious to our guide with his excellent eyesight, that a Leopard was keeping an eye on us from its elevated position slap bang in the middle of a huge rock. We waited in anticipation for the light to improve, no-one else was around to witness the event and I felt privileged that we were going to share this sunrise with a beautiful big cat.

That question was answered by our guide who directed our line of sight to the far right of the rock, as we witnessed in the half-light a male and female Leopard mating to a crescendo of calls from a group of nearby Peacocks. The two Leopards then came down from the rock and into the scrub and although not visible to us, we could follow their progress by the movement of the peacocks above them

The light was now improving rapidly and I had my video ready for the next opportunity, although I was not expecting what happened next. All three Leopards come together close to where we had seen the first Leopard, and the fact this lone female was tolerated suggested to me that she was a family member.

Our guide was now very excited as he knew that the Leopards would mate again and was keen for me to capture this on video. I walked with him using the cover of the trees to a closer viewing point, but still some distance from the Leopards, and steadied myself against a tree. Although I had a 500mm lens with me for my still camera, we were still too far away, but I found that the 20X optical zoom on my video recorder worked very well, as long as I didn’t go right out to the highest zoom.

The Leopards came together and nuzzled and my guide warned me to be ready, but the male was a little slow to take the hint and the female retired to a ledge 15 feet above him. What happened next caught me a little by surprise as suddenly she jumped down by another route and within a few seconds, they were mating. I had it all perfectly framed with no trees or bushes in the way and now the light was perfect. Alongside each other, the contrast in size was very evident and before long we witnessed the neck bite and finally the spine-tingling roar that hopefully signified a successful union.

I looked immediately down at my video recorder and was horrified to see that somehow it was on pause and the last footage I had was the male sniffing the ground just before mating occurred. I can only think that I had already been recording and when the female jumped down I automatically pressed record again. Many of you out there will probably have had a similar experience and will know how awful it feels to miss such a moment. However, I consoled myself with the thought that I had witnessed in peaceful isolation, the beginning of a new Leopard dynasty, that with luck would be seen roaming these hills in years to come.

Since that first trip to Bera, I have returned several times and in fact, on February 2020, we will return as a large extended family to celebrate 20 years of Wildlife Trails in the beautiful landscapes of southern Rajasthan. Why not follow in our footsteps and book your own leopard safari in Bera, Rajasthan.

Pssst… pass it on

If you like what we do, tell someone! Spread the word and you'll also be entered into our monthly prize draw.

Region Info