INDIA
2001


"In the Python's Grip"

Koeladeo, Rajesthan State

 

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

Keoladeo National Park, formerly known as Bharatur Bird Sanctuary five hours drive east of Jaipur, used to be anything but a sanctuary. It was established in the 18th Century when it served as a hunting reserve for the Maharajas and other dignitaries including British Viceroys and Governor-Generals. Today there are notice boards listing the thousands of birds shot by the rich and famous during their visits to Bharatur.

Keoladeo National Park, a world-famous bird sanctuary.
In the photograph are roosting
Painted storks, Mycteria leucocephala, and a Sambar deer, Rusa unicolor.

Today the huge man-made wetlands are a genuine sanctuary and gazeteered natural park, where visitors stalk birds with binoculars and zoom-lenses rather than telescopic-sighted rifles or shotguns. Keoladeo is a World Heritage Site and one of the best 'birding areas' in Asia. It is less well known for its pythons, but it is probably also the 'python capital of India'.

Dr Subramanian Bhupathy is a keen herpetologist but he studied ornithology so that he could get to work at Keoladeo and study the pythons as well as the abundant bird-life. Now he has his dream job following pythons and recording their life-histories. Quite rightly pythons are protected in India but oddly this protection is so strict that even qualified experts like Subramanian are not allowed to actually touch their study animals, he has to recognise each individual python by its unchanging dorsal pattern. Before filming began I was issued 'Python handling permit No.1' to enable me to pick up pythons in India and talk about them on camera. It was a very odd scenario, Subramanian, the local expert, not being allowed to touch the pythons I had come to visit.

Mark and Subramanian Bhupathy
out looking for pythons
and finding the first one near a porcupine burrow
An Indian rock python, Python molurus
at a burrow site

 

Keoladeo certainly was 'python central'. The first day, walking with Subramanian Bhupathy we quickly found an Indian rock python (Python molurus) lying near some porcupine burrows and we found two large females under an unturned boat besides a temple. In the evening we visited the burrows to see if any pythons or porcupines would emerge, but none did although we could hear jackals in the background.

The second python is recovered from under the boat Director Hugo guards the python, aided by Bhupathy, as Mark goes after a third
Flip the old boat and there she is underneath
and out she comes
Wild pythons are not as docile as captive specimens, especially when newly captured

 

An Indian rock python, Python molurus
from under the boat

 

The second day we went out to another area supposedly good for pythons at Keoladeo. We encountered many monkeys and found the tracks of a young female tiger, and then a python trail which we followed. This trail converged on another trail and the two led us to a pair of pythons lying up besides another cluster of burrows. I caught both pythons and then, when a camera had been rigged in one of the burrow entrances, released both snakes to rush past it into the darkness within.

An Indian rock python, Python molurus,
on the move using rectilinear motion
A python trail in the sand
A coiled Indian rock python, Python molurus,
near porcupine or hyena burrows

 

An Indian rock python, Python molurus
at the second burrow site we called "Python Central"

 

A nice pair ! Mark and Subramainian Bhupathy with his study animals
Mark with the courting pair of pythons at the burrow site

We considered our brief stay at Keoladeo a resounding success having found five Indian rock pythons. It was a good way to round off the film and the next day we caught the train to Dehli. On the train I was asked to join an Indian Army colonel and his wife in their private room, it transpired they were both big fans of OBA.

Director Hugo terrorises exhausted sound recordist Terry as we wait for our lift to the railway station

 

Bharatpur station at the end of an expedition which was truly "Trains, Planes and Automobiles"

 

In Dehli we packed to leave India. The crew flew directly back to the United Kingdom, while the next day I flew down to Chennai, and onwards to Colombo, Sri Lanka, for the 4th World Congress of Herpetology.

I was meeting up with another OBA Director there, Mark McMullen. I was attending the symposium and he planned to show some of the films from Seasons One and Two and look for more ideas in Asia. The fourth film in Season Three,"Venom" came about directly as a result of the 4WCH in Bentota, Sri Lanka.