By Shatabdi Chakrabarti
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Wildlife photographer, Shivang Mehta and his team got together to document and photograph the tigers in the Terai belt of the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh, India.
This particular area of the Terai belt in the reserve has rarely been documented and the tigers in this region are hard to spot, due to being shy and mostly nocturnal.
Shivang and his team resorted to camera trapping so that they do not disturb the big cats. After researching and following the jungle tracks for two days, the team zeroed in on one small track, which ran near a swampland.
"The next 20 days were an eye opener for us," said the photographer.
What was supposed to be a photographic documentation of tigers in the area, soon turned into a beautiful gallery of images of various species of the region; including porcupine and fishing cats.
For the next 20 days, the team documented a plethora of nocturnal species and smaller cats, as all of them walked the marked camera trapped tracks set up for the tigers.
Shivang said: "During the first few nights, we caught a pair of fishing cats walking across the cameras. One of the only tropical riparian felid of South Asia, the elusive fishing cat is a habitat specialist and is one of predominant small cat in this belt of Terai.
"The pair seemed to have ventured out on a hunting expedition as they returned in the morning and were trapped again in our cameras."
But the team had to be patient to get the images of the tigers.
Shivang said: "The wait for tigers was getting anxious but our cameras were busy photographing porcupines and the fishing cat frequently against a starlit sky.
"During the middle of the project, a leopard sprung past the camera on a misty morning and that evening decided to visit the location with fresh sets of batteries and cards.
"Alarm calls in the neighbouring water body ensured the presence of a big cat and our hopes were high. We set up our gears and decided to leave the area undisturbed for the next 36 hours.”
It was only towards the end of the project that they managed to capture images of the striped-cats.
The photographer said: "We were at the last stage of the project and as we paid a visit to check the last bit of results on our cameras, our curiosity was high. We were really interested to know which other animals walked this path along with the variety of species we had got so far.
"A huge male tiger along with his mate was caught on multiple occasions at various areas of the forest track. The tigers followed the trails used by their cat counterparts in the night and returned during the morning hours making this one mile track in a remote forest a composite ecosystem supporting various life forms."
The images from the camera trap show clearly that different species use the same one-mile track at different times of the day.
A project by team UNIQUES, India & Government of Uttar Pradesh
Field Team - Shivang Mehta, Abhilasha Yadav; Assistants: Shantanu Prasad, Mridul Kantikar, Sourav Mondal)