But things have not proved so straightforward. Meanwhile, I have been working my way steadily through the cast list.
Not known for its tiger sightings here Shere Khan tends to stick to the hills , this reserve attracts fewer tourists. This means there is more peace in which to seek out other wildlife. Unusually, you can explore on foot. The only way into Satpura is across the river. Skeins of bar-headed geese broke the dawn mist as we left our launch and clambered into the leaf litter of the teak forest.
Within 50 yards we were staring at a large tiger print on the trail. Our trail.
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There was a palpable tension as we fell back into step. But as we lost the tracks I relaxed into my surroundings. Erwin pointed out the treetop chatter of a Malabar giant squirrel and a spotted owlet peeking from its roost. He also showed me the trunk of a ghost tree deeply gouged by the claws of a sloth bear. With tigers thin on the ground, he explained, Satpura is a haven for the bears. This was exciting, I thought: a chance of bagging Baloo. Shaggy and black, it is also notoriously irascible.
There was thus some excitement when we soon came across one rooting for termites in a clearing. I could just make out a mop of fur before, catching our scent, she — this Baloo was a female — shambled away, two half-grown cubs close behind. Checking the wind, we followed. The bears showed again briefly, clambering over a rocky outcrop, but a warning growl from a bamboo thicket ahead soon had us returning to the trail. My remaining time at Satpura was more relaxed.
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We explored by jeep, finding deer, monkeys and another bear. We brunched beside a tumbling stream while bee-eaters hawked insects overhead. And we cruised upriver by motor launch, watching crocodiles slide off the banks. Returning on the final evening to Reni Pani Lodge — nestled into the forest less than eight miles from the park — Erwin pointed out fresh leopard tracks on the road.
Erwin swept the spotlight.
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Bagheera stayed hidden, but we spied the eye-shine and lithe silhouette of a jungle cat, a smaller nocturnal feline, and watched an eagle owl alight on a bare tree and hoot self-importantly. Later, over dinner beneath the stars, Erwin told me how predators thrive outside the park and that he often sees leopards near the lodge. This can cause problems for local livestock herders — a tiger on a cross-river jaunt recently killed six cattle in one night. It also made me thankful for the torchlit escort back up the forest track to my chalet.
By the time we arrived at Pench the following afternoon, the weather had turned. Unseasonal cloud and drizzle meant tigers were likely to hunker down, waiting for sunshine. I also found time for the monkeys: both the elegant grey langurs, whose silver coats caught the forest light; and the rhesus macaques, which squabbled by the verge and huddled in the dawn chill.
I felt they deserved some attention and respect. There were tracks on the road, alarm calls from thickets and, one morning, a tantalising — and pungent — spray of urine on a roadside tree trunk, left by a territorial tiger just moments earlier.
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Each stationary vehicle brought hope. Urgent consultation between drivers had us U-turning furiously. We staked out river bends and rock outcrops while deer and monkeys vented their fury at something just beyond our vision. It was thrilling.
It was frustrating. Meanwhile, my tick-list was lengthening. On our final morning, two rufous Indian wild dogs — also known as dholes — appeared suddenly from the forest, circled our jeep, sniffed the verge then continued on their way. Even tigers avoid them. It was a lucky sighting. But I noticed he still had an eye on the skies. Barely a century ago, India had more than , tigers; white hunters would slaughter 20 in a single safari.
Today, the latest count is 2, — a pitiful total, though it has seen a modest rise recently. Perfect for Year 5 pupils who are interested in facts and non-fiction texts. The agency finds the perfect home for the Wilkinsons in a ruin, and tells them they can move in on Friday 13th. Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke A silver dragon named Firedrake, the Brownie Sorrel, and Ben, a boy, search for the mythical mountain range called the Rim of Heaven to escape persecution from humans.
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Heard it in the Playground by Allan Ahlberg A funny illustrated collection of poems and songs about primary school life. The Ultimate Alphabet by Mike Wilks A stunning and quirky book featuring amazing paintings each depicting a letter of the alphabet. Within each picture are hundreds of objects beginning with that letter. The challenge is to find them all! The book includes an answer key. Great for long train journeys. She needs to make a new fur coat. The Iron Man by Ted Hughes A giant metal man rains destruction on the countryside by attacking farm equipment, before befriending a boy and defending the world from an alien monster.
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