It was my 4th trip to Desert National Park (DNP)in Jaisalmer and my friend’s first. I had already seen the likes of Great Indian Bustard, King Vulture, Cream Courser and desert fox etc in my previous trips. Out of my newly acquired fascination of small cats, I was very keen to see a desert cat on this trip, and had told the guide to specifically take us to areas where the desert cats are found.
The day we arrived, on evening we saw a family of GIBs, mother and little ones. Somehow they got used to our presence and came unusually close than my previous encounters. Even with a great sighting of GIB, my mind was still focussed on the Cat, and wanted to spend the next day searching for it.
Next day we started early at 5.30am. Urus our guide said happily that he had seen something like a desert Cat cross the road last night after he dropped us. We were hopeful and wanted to see it during the day. He took us to exact same point where he saw it and thus started our search.
The place was near to the DNP entry gate of Sudasari and in our tough Bolero we started to scan the arid scrublands for the elusive one. Our first encounter happened with an Indian fox, which like all foxes, kept looking back at us while running away, thus giving some memorable moments for the camera.
Once it departed, again we went for the Cat. Near the fence of DNP, Urus saw something unusual and shouted to us “Cat..Cat..”.
It was more than 500 metres away and barely visible even in my 600mm lens. We had the option to drive nearby, but we decided not to. If it gets scared by us and runs away to other side of fence, or even in the scrublands, it would be impossible for us to track it down again.
We decided to be patient and watch it movements from this distance, and hope that it comes close. We stopped the engine and waited for it. We could clearly see, it was going back and forth and possibly was looking for something. Actually it was in hunting mode and was looking for small Rats or birds in these deserts. After 15 mins, we started engine and covered half the distance, and would be still about 200-300 meters away from the Cat.
By this time, we could see it was a Male Cat and single. Usually mother with Cubs are seen more frequently (relatively) and a single Male was uncommon sighting. This was the first time we could get some record shots of the Cat. We again turned off engine and waited and waited. Another 20 mins passed by, and by now it possibly became comfortable with our presence.
It started coming towards us at a moment, not for us but for a bird it was chasing. It completely ignored our presence and that is what we wanted. There were couple of moments when it came as close as 50 metres, like the one below.
It was possibly hungry and was looking actively to hunt. This was a classic Cat stalking position to attempt at a lapwing which we could see. The hunt was not successful and it missed its target. However the hunting behaviour and stalking was very similar to the Big Cats we have seen – Tiger and Leopard. There is a reason why all these are classified in same Cat family.
Another 20 minutes and it got so comfortable that it even started to use our vehicle as a hide like this image. It was not looking at us, but at a bird on other side of our vehicle, which unfortunately flew away before it could charge.
Seeing this Cat hunt successfully before us would have been a lifetime memory for us, but nonetheless, the intimate time we could spend with this elusive Desert Cat that too in early morning golden light, would remain in our memory forever.