INDIA
2001


"In the Python's Grip"

Near Pendra, Chhattisgarh State

Map of Chhattisgarh & Madhya Pradesh States, central India showing primary and secondary locations
(click on map for enlarged view)

 

Our destination was a small picturesque village an hour's drive from Pendra. Here we planned to set up the bear cage and spent several nights attempting to film sloth bears in the wild.

Views of village near Pendra, Chhattisgarh

On one of our drives out to the village we met a snake charmer by the side of the road, but clearly he intended to live a long and safe life because his only snake was a harmless Dharman ratsnake (Ptyas musosa). He also had the vertebrae of two snakes as a necklace around his neck.

A snake charmer outside the village, working a very safe snake, a nonvenomous
Dharman ratsnake, Ptyas mucosa

 

There is a small foresty reserve near the village where we hoped to set up our bear cage. We were accompanied by a local wildlife ranger who warned us that sloth bears slept in a large rocky outcrop nearby and it was unsafe to venture too close. The next thing we noticed was that the ranger was up on the rocks shouting that he had found a python, which meant everyone one of us immediately headed up the rocks, making enough noise to wake every sloth bear in the area. Indeed there was an Indian rock python (Python molurus) wedged into a crevice, our first python since the Burmese pythons of West Bengal, but try as we might we could not extricate him.

The rocks in the forest reserve

 

The python was not coming out
so I went looking for lizards

Although I could not capture the python I was able to noose several Blanford's rock agamas (Psammophilus blanfordanus) on the outcrop, using a fishing nylon noose on the end of a fishing rod.

Noosing Blanford's rock agama, Psammophilus blanfordanus, and swinging it into the hand

We recce'd the area and decided where to set the bear cage. The next day the finished and very heavycage was transported to the location in a truck and then overland by a team of carriers. This took a very great deal of time so it was long past dark when the cage was finally in place and bolted together.

Carrying the cage to the location in sections
And walking back by torchlight

We spent three nights trying to film a sloth bear to be attracted by our bait - rotten fruit. The first night I sighted a bear in the darkness at 18:00, using night-vision goggles, and told cameraman Mark, in a whisper, that it was coming. He said he had it and we filmed and watched in silence as the bear got closer. After a while the bear wandered off and I turned to Mark, to find he was filming a large tree stump in the darkness 90 degrees to my left. Camera view-finders are black and white so it is very difficult to see what you are filming in the darkness, and he had completely missed the bear, great shots of the log though.

The next night we slept in our cars and waiting in an orchard for bears to arrive. I sighted three from a vantage point on top of a haystack but none were filmed. Eventually on the third night we got excellent footage of a foraging sloth bear from the bear cage.

Using night-vision goggles
Eventually we got footage of a sloth bear

After our days based at Pendra we drove for nine hours to reach Jabalpur. Enroute we encountered another troop of Common langurs (Presbytis entellus) on the road, the females were in oestrus and the males were following them everywhere and paying them a lot of attention. After nine hours on the road the hotel at Jabalpur was not quite what we had hoped for. The next day we flew to Dehli.