Q&A with Amith Bangre… Head Naturalist at Jaagir Lodge
Dudhwa National Park is situated in the Himalaya just 80 km from the Nepalese border in what is known as the Terai region. It stretches over 490 square kilometres and houses a large number of endangered species, including Indian one-horned rhinos and Bengal tigers.
Amith Bangre is the head naturalist at Jaagir Lodge. He believes that tourism in Dudhwa can positively contribute to the conservation of wildlife in the national park as a whole. Working in collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, the lodge monitors park wildlife while conducting safari drives. With more visitors, they will be able to monitor the animals more regularly on more frequent safari drives. Cox & Kings spoke to Amith Bangre to find out more about the lodge’s partnership with the forest department, their efforts to help the local community and the varied wildlife at Dudhwa.
How long have you been working in Dudhwa?
I grew up in a small hill station called Chikmagalur in the south-western Indian state of Karnataka. I began working in Dudhwa National Park in 2015, seeking out wildlife and small mammals. During my time here I have learned a great deal about the local flora and fauna. My favourite part of the job is showing Jaagir Lodge’s visitors the park and its surrounding areas.
What does your job entail?
My job as head naturalist is very diverse, from handcrafting the jungle experiences to ensuring that our naturalist team maintain up to date in their knowledge of the area. It involves hands-on field training as well as considerable amounts of background research. I work directly with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, helping them to implement regulations to protect the national park and its wildlife and find ways to offer our safari experiences that benefit the area’s conservation.
What animals and birds inhabit the Dudhwa national park?
The landscape of Dudhwa is known as the Terai region, a Nepalese lowland region that incorporates tall grasslands, savannah, sal forests and clay rich swamps. With its varied terrain, the Terai provides habitats for more than 500 species of birds and over 25 mammals. These include tigers, leopards, sloth bears, barasingha (swamp deer), hog deer, Indian otters, fishing cats, jungle cats, Bengal floricans, Asian elephants, river dolphins, gharials and Indian one-horned rhinos.
Are any of the fauna or flora endemic to Uttar Pradesh or India?
There are many bird species that are endemic to Uttar Pradesh, including the swamp francolin, Bengal florican and chestnut capped babbler. 70 % of the world’s population of barasingha are found in Uttar Pradesh, and gharials – fish eating crocodiles – are only found in tributaries of the Ganges river. We also have many softshell turtles, 15 species out of the 33 present in India can be found in the Terai, and can be identified by their distinct leathery shells and freshwater habitat. Other species that are endemic to the region include Dudhwa bush frogs, regional species of Burmese python, Indian skimmers and red coral kukri snakes.
What is the rarest mammal or bird found in the Terai region? Where are you most likely to spot it?
There are 18 key species that we focus on at Jaagir Lodge, all of which are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. These include the Ganges river dolphin, gharials, one-horned rhinoceros, fishing cats, elephants, hog deer, Bengal floricans, leopards and sloth bears. While animals like river dolphins and gharials can be spotted in Gerwa river, a tributary of the Ganga river, swamp and hog deer are found in grasslands or swamplands, alongside fishing cats and otters.
Jaagir Lodge, Dudhwa
What can guests expect from staying at Jaagir Lodge, both excursion-wise and service?
At Jaagir Lodge, we offer a range of wildlife experiences including jeep safaris, walking trails and boat trips. All of our naturalists are highly passionate and bring the region to life with their knowledge. We have designed comfortable safari vehicles and ponchos that are safari-friendly in winter, so that visitors can enjoy the wildlife year-round. There is also a personalized butler service, and our skilled chefs create the best of our local cuisine using fresh produce from the garden.
What is your favourite experience from Jaagir Lodge?
It’s nearly impossible to choose a favourite experience; I'm enchanted with the region and the lodge! Each experience is carefully designed to suit our client’s needs, which makes them all special in their own individual ways. However, if I had to pick, I’d say being on the water in fishermen canoes, searching for otters and fishing cats.
Does Jaagir Lodge give back to the local community?
We work closely with the regional Tharu tribe, and 60% of our staff are local. In their training process, we equip them with the communication, hospitality and wildlife skills necessary to work in the lodge. Our naturalists also work very closely with local schoolchildren, regularly visiting them with our guests, contributing learning essentials and recycled books.
Can you tell us more about both Jaagir Lodge and the Terai region’s conservation projects?
With the help of the Terari region’s conservation team, we have taken the initiative to introduce more tourism to the area in the form of rowing boats/canoes. These activities provide employment to the local fisherman, and secure the water bodies by allowing them to be constantly monitored by the touring boats. Through hiring fishermen as rowers, we aim to change their mindsets about the creatures inhabiting the waters. By giving them an alternative source for their income to fishing, we not only protect the wildlife from harmful fishing activities, but also raise awareness amongst the local villagers about the importance of these creatures.
We have also banned plastic in the lodge so as to minimise our impact on the environment, and have established village clean-up programs that are designed and executed by Jaagir lodge staff. We also send out in-house paramedics on visits to villages and schools during their free time to consult children and villagers suffering from ailments to give them quick medical attention that my otherwise be unavailable to them.
Cox & Kings arranges escorted group tours and tailor-made travel throughout India. Our India: Secluded Dudhwa and Historic Lucknow private tour includes a four-night stay at Jaagir Lodge, giving you plenty of time to search for animals and birds in the nearby reserves and national parks. Alternatively, speak to one of our India experts about creating your own tailor-made itinerary, or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.
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