Friday, August 14, 2015

Searching For Tigers!!

Tigers are conspicuous by their presence and illusive by their movement. As naturalist guide I am entrusted to search for tigers for my guests by Courtyard House at Kanha. This job we have to do as to make the day for the visitors..     

This is one of the most difficult jobs and at times thankless, but thrilling as well. Nevertheless I do come out with startling finds frequently in the deep recess of the woods of our reserves. I am no tiger expert like the field biologists who spend considerable time studying the big cats. But nevertheless our creed deserves kudos for understanding strands of tiger behavior - psssssssssst - as much as guides can do. 

Tigers thrive in dense forests which are usually encompassed in the reserve called core zones. The outer layer called the buffer zone is supposed to accord some sort of protection from the marauding humanity.  At places where the buffer is reasonably intact and is populated by fewer villages tourism has been introduced.

At Pench  National Park the buffer zone is subject to night safaris while at Bandhavgarh this zone offers safaris during the monsoon. These are positive developments since activities in outer layer means better future for neglected areas suffering from undue biotic pressure and man animal conflict. This tourism also takes off the load from the core zone. This also means more employment for the guides and drivers who are usually locals.   

As per NTCA guidelines tourism is restricted to twenty percent of the area of the reserves. This area is further divided into zones in order to manage vehicular movement. Hence we move in area limited by the tourism zone we are allotted.    

As you get experienced you sharpen your tracking skills, learn from others and get assistance from the network of drivers and guides on other jeeps. Searching for tigers tests your sensory apparatus as well as your logic and understanding of the behavior pattern, and movement of the hunter and hunted. It is imperative to understand the movement of individual animal in the area of expedition and their preferred timings as per the weather. At the same time one has to take into account the vehicular movements including park staff and the foresters on foot.
Red Eye Male Tiger - Paul Fear at Kanha

Pench Tiger - Dharmagiri

Tigress With Cub - Dharmagiri Pench

Tigress + Cub - Dhramagiri

Tigers are highly individualistic in their nature. At times I have been surprised by big cats exhibiting almost human like grasp of their ecosystem. While dominant males and experienced females are uninhibited the rest are extremely shy - especially the young ones and cubs. In fact most of the tigers are frightened to bone in presence of humans.        

Alarm cries, pug marks, spoor, smells, sounds and tree markings are tell tale signs of the presence of the animal. The movement of this animals is irregular except during the summers whence water shortage arises. But most of these carnivores are restricted to a given area for a long time, especially the dominant males whilst breeding mothers keep on changing places locally.    

People come from far and wide to see the tiger. Whether they are regular tourists, naturalists, wildlife photographers, conservationists or plain fun loving holiday makers, the big cat is always on the menu and on every visit I must add. 

Most of the reserves in India receive few birders or tree watchers albeit these are excellent for both.