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"I used to go running every evening at sunset from my lodge at Bandhavgarh to a village nearby. One evening, as I was walking back, I heard langur alarm calls. They were excited and frantic, and I knew what that meant—a big cat. After about 45 minutes, I saw something come out of the bushes, look at me, and charge. Almost instinctively, I jumped up and yelled back, and the leopard ran away. The female came out of the bushes next, and simply walked away. I guess I won the alpha-off.”
Suyash Keshari is a young wildlife photographer and presenter who produced his first web-series, Safari with Suyash, which released on Dec 6, 2019, in collaboration with WWF International. Keshari spent his childhood in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh exploring the wild with his father. “I remember I was at the zoo when a tiger snarled at me,” says Keshari. “I was so excited! But my nanaji asked me a simple question: Do you like seeing animals in cages? That really hit home. The natural world should not be caged for human entertainment. And it set me on a path about learning more about wildlife.”
What’s the story behind Safari with Suyash?
I chose Bandhavgarh because I knew so many tigers there. Cubs, parents, siblings, I knew the people, I spoke the local language—Bagheli. I set out to connect people to tigers, and also show how people are already connected to them. We filmed for two months, put together a draft and pitched it to different organisations. WWF liked my concept of taking people who don’t really care much for wildlife, and igniting a spark in them.
When did you first meet Solo, what’s the story behind that?
Rajbehra, Solo’s mother, was the first tigress I ever saw in Bandhavgarh. She was trying to establish her territory 12 years ago. Solo had two sisters—Kankati Jr and Dhamokhar Female—and one brother. One by one, the siblings were either poached, or they left, and Solo took over her mother’s territory. I’ve known Solo since she was a cub, we almost grew up together. And she’s had a tough life. Her first litter was killed by a male tiger, she had to fight another tigress for territory, and I actually watched her have a run in with another male tiger when her second litter was young. Her chest was ripped open, she was bleeding, and yet she drove off a male twice her size. I caught it on camera, but soon realised I was shaking.
Usually, a tigress’ territory is overlapped by one or two males. But because of loss of habitat, Solo’s territory is overlapped by nine male tigers.
How do you think other young professionals can get involved with with conservation?
Start exploring, go to the park in your city, see how nature thrives. There are hundreds of national parks and reserves in the country, understand how important people are in these ecosystems. Stop being armchair conservationists! Protecting the wildlife is not the responsibility of just those in power, it rests equally among us. What we can see, we can love. And what we love, we will fight to protect.
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