Saturday, 22 February 2014 11:37
One of the best and most memorable leopard sightings in my life would be with Eye One of Wilpattu.
Known by this name due to the blue haze on its right eye, this female leopard was first sighted with her brother in 2010, this unique characteristic makes her easy to identify. The cause of this unique feature could be a cataract or a childhood injury or even a birth defect. Despite this debilitating weakness, the leopard seems to be thriving.
It was April 2012 and it would be my seventh or eighth visit to the park since 2003. Despite so many visits, I was yet to properly photograph a leopard in Wilpattu. I have had several great sightings in Yala, but not a single shot of this elusive cat in the largest national park in Sri Lanka.
The first day bore no fruit and other than few footprints here and there, we did not even catch a glimpse of a leopard.
Early morning the next day I departed from Panikkawila with slight desperation, as this was the make-or-break safari of our trip. Driving down the misty dark, almost tunnel-like road off Mahapatessa, we fell to the beautiful Eriyakkulam Villu.
Suddenly without warning my driver Senevi hit the brakes and we saw right in front of us a leopard crouched next to the water, having a drink. Upon sighting our vehicle it tried to get up and make its way back into the forest. My heart sank for a few seconds, but as we had turned our engine off, it gave the leopard the reassurance to walk back to the water to finish her drink.
This was my chance, and it was now or never, I started clicking away, and while looking through the view finder I noticed the distinctive blue right eye. This was Eye One or Ivan for short, the legendary female I had heard so much about. We were all dumbfounded regarding our luck and I managed to get some lovely pictures of the graceful cat on the green meadows of the villu.
The moment was very peaceful and, best of all, we had this sighting to ourselves. This was something I had longed for in Yala, but had not had the privilege to experience in a long time. Wilpattu provides an amazing opportunity for patient wildlife enthusiasts to enjoy the park in peace, and if lucky have an amazing sighting like the one we experienced.
One of the key factors for a good sighting is to give the animal its due space, getting too close would ruin a sighting. My advice would be upon sighting a leopard to turn off the engine and stop and wait. Once the animal gets used to your presence you may attempt to get closer, but all the time keeping a close observation on the mood and behaviour of the animal. The nature and character of the individual leopard also plays a part, as some animals are much more forward than others.
The animal was in prime condition and seemed to have had a very hearty meal the night before or she was pregnant by looking at her stomach. I had heard reports that she had given birth to some cubs, and I presume they were hidden somewhere in the forest close to the villu, therefore the pregnancy theory may not apply.
After drinking her fill, Eye One slowly walked away into the forest, but not before giving us one more haunting look from her good eye.
(Read more from Rajiv at www.wildlifediaries.blogspot.com. You can view his photography portfolio at www.flickr.com/photos/rajivw and contact him via email on [email protected].)