The Night Stalkers come alive
Leopards...who are they? Have you ever got the chance to see the
Prince of the animal kingdom in Sri Lanka protect its territory, hunt
for a meal, protect its family or even just laze around looking for a
On the lookout
Well, I'm sure unless you are working in the Wildlife Department or
just a nature lover you wouldn't have got a chance to see the true
'nature' of these creatures at close range or at any range.
With night goggles
But now, even if you are not in the jungle itself, you will get a
chance to see these amazing animals in action and in full force under
the rays of the moonlight, infra red light and thermo made possible by
Chitral Jayatilake and young produced from UK Tom.
Tom who was planning on making a documentary of the leopards'
behaviour in the night wanted to come and see them in Yala and thus
began the story of the Night Stalkers.
"Tom was invited to visit Sri Lanka in early June for a recess and I
drove him personally to Yala National Park. Enroot to Yala, we met the
Director General - DWC and presented our plans of filming these elusive
cats at night. The three-day recce was a great success, with many cats
seen and the experiment of staying out at the park one night after
closing time with the kind assistance of the DWC worked well in spotting
several large males at night. Tom was convinced that Yala was indeed the
place to make his movie designed for Nat Geo Wild", Chitral said.
Four weeks of meticulous planning followed, custom-designing filming
doors fabricated in Tissa, seats removed to house two thermal cameras
and modified desktop computers on board the jeeps.
The Night Stalker team
The Nature Trails team at Chaaya Wild awaited the arrival of the
Ammonite Crew led by Martin Dhorn himself, accompanied by Thomas
On July 7, they set off for their first night of filming with Kalu,
their faithful driver carefully selected for the filming jeep. I took on
the wheel of the Tata myself driving up to the main gate was easy,
negotiating the jeep through the narrow gates certainly tested my night
vision driving skills. We headed straight up towards the Yala junction
when the spotter jeep picked up one of the 'Suduwelimulla Cubs' ahead.
I gently maneuvered the jeep into position and spotted the cub seated
on the drain by the road, relaxed though watching the jeep. Thirty
minutes later the cub stood up, stretched and began walking straight up
to the filming jeep. Tom whispered to me, "Back up CJ, he's too
close..." and I did, looking through Yukon night vision goggles; another
first - reversing a jeep through Infra Red vision.
Two days into filming, Thilanka broke the news we were all dreaming
of: "We captured a kill sequence; the leopard is still feeding on a
monkey," was the short message. I texted Martin in Africa and an elated
Dhorn fired back a text message, "You made my day."
The 47 days of filming at night had its rewards: 106 leopard
sightings of 46 nights, eleven sloth bears, 5 rusty spotted cats, 14
cobras and 7 pythons along with countless elephants arriving to water at
Gonagala and Heenwewa tanks, the awesome experience of driving at night
observing Yala's nights come alive was more than we can imagine. Was it
a blessing combined with meticulous planning or just luck we avoided any
injuries or accidents we'll never know perhaps we were truly blessed.
All of this was done with the help of world class night equipment
that have been used for the first time in the Asian region. They used
the Thermo starlight camera and infra red lights so that they can film
and capture these animals without disturbing them. Using these cameras,
they were able to spot them through the heat of their body temperature
if they got hidden behind bushes or were covered by falling branches of
Watching a short clip of the movie made me want to watch it over and
over again. The producers and the guys who study leopards saw things
they never thought were possible. And one has to see to believe what is
being told otherwise there is no depth or feeling in the story.
The Night Stalkers will be soon aired on National Geographic Channel
and plans are being made to bring it to the national television soon.