For someone who has been working with wildlife for nearly two decades, seeing leopard at close quarters in situations never seen before and in quick succession was certainly a ‘wow’ moment for Wildlife Cameraman and Film Director Andrew Chastney.
|Seeing leopard at close quarters in situations never seen before and in quick succession in Yala was a ‘wow’ moment for Chastney
Visiting Sri Lanka on an invitation from Sector Head Sector Head Sri Lankan Resorts of John Keells Hotels Jayantissa Kehelpannala to be Guest of Honour at the opening of Yala’s Chaaya Wild, Andrew, who also edited the famed Big Cat Diaries, enthused that, “What I’ve seen in just two days is most extraordinary. Within an hour inside the park, a leopard walked towards us quite leisurely and that’s a rarity.”
He recalled that on Big Cat Diaries it was the norm to follow females as they were more tolerant of vehicles. “The males are always elusive and if you’re really fortunate, you may just glimpse them somewhere in the jungle. But here he was walking towards us, quite unperturbed.”
Having espied another leopard sunning himself on the rock on the same visit, the next morning, Andrew who has also worked on Frozen Planet, Planet Earth, Human Planet, Life, Ray Mears and Living with the Grizzlies, saw male cubs, which he thought was the scoop for his lens, having seen four leopard in just a few hours. But there was more to come.
“One more male leopard made an appearance, giving us a fantastic display, rubbing his glands on the side of a tree, marking his territory. And then to top it all off, he went off into the bush, stared for some time and sure enough, out came another male leopard and before long, we were treated to one of the most rare sightings in the leopard world; a territorial display.”
Andrew however was destined to be delivered with a platter of unforgettable leopard memories as not long after, he was subjected to a male and female mating, which he excitedly stated that you wouldn’t even see in Africa. “If I was to see all these things in Africa, I would have to allow at least three weeks but to see all this within just two days, is just phenomenal.”
Currently the director/cameraman on ‘Behind the Scenes,’ a series of short films for the DVD/Bluray release of a Disney feature film, Andrew averred a number of reasons for this many leopard sightings in such a short time.
“Sri Lanka definitely has the highest leopard density per square kilometre and another is that the leopard helms the food chain as there are no threats, making them behave more like lions and almost relaxed in nature. They also have plenty of prey and since leopard like a varied diet, Yala is the ideal place for them.”
Having worked as far afield as Antarctica, Canada, Kenya, South Africa, Alaska and Spitzbergen in the Arctic Circle as well as Costa Rica, Andrew was also excited about the number of cubs that seem to be a part of the habitat, as it showed that leopard were breeding devoid of danger and Sri Lanka would be adding to the approximated seventy leopard in Yala.
|Wildlife Cameraman and Film Director Andrew Chastney with Keells Hotel Management Services Head of Eco Tourism and Special Projects Chitral Jayatilake at the roof top observation deck at Chaaya Wild, Yala
Vowing to return, especially since he had a long ‘to see’ list that included blue whales, sloth bear and the Elephant Gathering and for the support he gained from Nature Trails naturalists, the excursion arm of the John Keells Hotels Group, Andrew asserts, “In terms of knowledge and managing the experience, Chitral’s team comes out tops. The naturalists’ knowledge and experience was very evident because they knew exactly what to do and where to go. They also have great documented evidence of identified leopards which adds to the depth of knowledge. I’m really impressed.”
While expressing absolute contentment while staying at Chaaya Wild, which he says is truly reflective of a game lodge anywhere in the world, but has all the comfort and luxuries that one normally yearns for after a day in the wild, Andrew also enthused about the bird life in Sri Lanka. “This is a bird watcher’s paradise and your naturalists’ knowledge on the birds, behaviour and habitat is another area where they score high.”
Looking forward to spending Christmas at home in England but with an assignment in Peru working with giant otters taking his fancy immediately after, Andrew affirms that while all the leopard sightings were truly memorable, the one that stand out most is seeing the male leopard in the flesh, “a unique and right sight that was absolutely wonderful.”