Best Spots to see Big Cats
From watching a Royal Bengal Tiger on the prowl in the jungles of India to getting close to a pride of African Lions waiting to ambush prey at a waterhole, the power and appeal of seeing big cats is not only universal but truly hypnotic. Having said that, the real pleasure to watch these majestic felines can only be derived by spending time in the environment they are most likely to be found in.
Big cats, being so adaptive as they are by nature, can be found in almost any habitat right from the icy Himalayan slopes to the scorching deserts of the Sahara. With regards to classification, only seven of the 38 odd cat species qualify as being called big cats, primarily because they are linked with the panthera linkage. Knowing where to look for them in the wild depends largely on luck, dedication and being there at the right moment.
So to make your task that much easier, here is a list of the seven universal big cat species and all the information with regards to the best places to find them in.
Royal Bengal Tiger (Central India)
Out of an estimated 4000 tiger numbers of all species that are left in the wild the world over, India has the envious distinction of being home to nearly 75% of them. The most notable of them is the Royal Bengal Tiger which can be found right across the length and breadth of the sub continent. Till date, the highest tiger concentration remains in the Central India Tiger Reserves of Bandhavgarh and Kanha.
Both these National Parks have a healthy tiger population, which allow nature enthusiasts to get a good glimpse of this elusive animal in its natural habitat. The tiger is not only the largest of all the big cats in the world but also the most endangered. Both these parks remain open from the months of October to June, with April onwards being the best time to catch a glimpse of them.
African Lion (Botswana)
There are numerous contenders for places to see African lions, with the most obvious choice, for most, being the plains of Masai Mara or Kruger National Park in South Africa. While this may be true to an extent with regards to frequent sightings, Duba Plains located within the Okavango Delta in Botswana, hold a special appeal.
This is the only place in Africa, where normal lion behaviour is amiss. Contrary to other parks, lions here have mastered the art of hunting during the day. Hunting in a group or in prides, allow them to hunt down animals much larger than their size.
This predator and prey interaction in broad daylight, especially when hunting down buffalo, is sight which is sure to take a lot of beating for those who are conversant with wildlife encounters.
The water loving Jaguar is the largest of all cats to be found in the Americas. Even though its range is said to extend from the United States to Argentina, the jaguar numbers are diminishing at the most alarming rate forcing authorities to put it on the highly threatened IUCN Red List.
The ideal place to spot this elusive animal is along the Cuiaba river in the Brazilian Pantanal. They love to hunt caimans, which are abundant in numbers on the banks of this river. A river cruise commencing from the town of Porto Jofre, situated at the end of the Transpantaneira highway, is almost certain to show jaguars in their natural habitat, and if lucky, even see them hunting.
Leopard (Sri Lanka)
Of all the big cats to be found in the wild the world over, the leopard enjoys the largest area of distribution. Healthy leopard numbers are present in the whole of Africa, Indian Subcontinent and parts of Eastern and Southern Asia as well. Unfortunately, the leopard is also on the vulnerable IUCN list throughout its range.
The Yala National Park in Sri Lanka is home to a large population of leopards and is undoubtedly the best place to observe them. A safari in an open vehicle along the bumpy roads of Yala is guaranteed to throw up great leopard sightings from close distances.
Snow Leopard (Ulley Valley, Ladakh)
Tracking down this high altitude predator, as the name suggests, offers the most difficult of all challenges as far as big cat watching is concerned. Found only in the tough mountain terrain from the Himalayas to the Central Asian peaks of Mongolia, there are fewer than a couple of thousand individuals left in the wild.
The only possibility of catching even a glimpse of this gorgeous animal is by spending time in the inhospitable habitat it is found in. The Valley of Ulley, in the icy region of Ladakh, can take you close providing you have a high level of fitness and agility to adapt to the rigours of the Roof of the World.
It is aptly said that in the big game watching world, there is no better reward than seeing a snow leopard pursue its prey.
The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania holds a sizable population of the fastest land animal on earth. The wide open savannah plains, with its short grass, make for the perfect setting to watch a cheetah run down a Thomson gazelle.
The eastern boundaries of Serengeti are home to the Namiri or Big cat Plains, a region which was made out of bounds to visitors for almost two decades while cheetah research programs were in place. Now open to all, this cheetah friendly environment offers wildlife enthusiasts a great opportunity to observe this speedy animal in the wild.
Puma, also referred to as the cougar or mountain lion is a relatively small cat found from Canada right down to South America. A healthy population can be found in the wild, but there is no better place on earth than the beautiful Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, where these shy felines can be spotted.
The puma roams the mountain ranges of the Patagonian steppes, in its eternal quest for bringing down its favourite food, the guanacos. The period from February to April offers better opportunities as these cats are prone to hunt during daylight hours in order to feed their growing cubs.
With the passage of time, the wildlife population is constantly shrinking all over the world and the big cats are no exception. There are not many left in the wild, but the lucky few who have had their fair share of sightings, can proudly relate their experiences to their grandchildren.
There is something so mesmerizing and captivating about these adorable creatures, that wildlife lovers make a beeline to add them to their watch list. So if you want to see these admired animals in the wild, now is the time to plan a trip.
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