Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tiger Family on Wildlife Safari

Guests: Tirjmen & Miranda - Netherland 

Munna Tiger the beloved was our target for that eventful evening. I was bit apprehensive about his appearance as in this season water is well spread and so is the prey. Munna supervises and marks his whole territory in order to remain as the dominant male. Winters is also abuzz with mating big cats hence busy time for them. 

Nevertheless we took a chance. Me and my Dutch guests.  

"Digdola" I said as the driver turned into the act. Air was high with expectancy and we were fully alert. This hillside is part of Kisli Zone at Kanha National Park and home to very many tigers big and small. The picturesque range is preferred zone of those on tiger safari. The approach road is from Khatia Gate, it eventually connects with the road to Kanha Zone. The wildlife park has three main entrances other two are Sarhi and Mukki.

The unique feature of this terrain is presence of many water bodies, dense Sal, mixed forests, bamboo and grasslands. Most of the water bodies are on the right of the approach road while one large body is situated at the end of Digdola Hill with extensive meadows.

Kanha contains many table top mountains with plateaus having unique vegetation. The meandering rivulets are striking especially Sulkum at Sarhi Zone.  Termed as nalas in Hindi these are spots where tigers get localized during summers since water becomes a precious commodity in the scorching heat. 

As we proceeded towards the Sambar Nala we came across some jeeps waiting in expectation. Fortified by alarm cries we could make out the presence of a predator. 

"Tiger," the guide in jeep ahead of us whispered. We looked towards right only to see the dense bush. We moved back some distance and tried to have a better look. Meanwhile the jeeps heading for Kanha Zone also began arriving.    

"I can see the tiger" Miranda whispered and so could Tirjmen. Relieved, I told the driver to move forward some distance away from other jeeps. "We will wait," I said.    

There was a momentary cluster of jeeps but they soon departed after having a look at the big cat. Those with Kanha permit had to go and many in our zone did not wait, much satisfied after having seen the tiger in the bush. We could see the tiger from one point while others did from other."Two tigers," whispered the driver.   

The logjam soon cleared and only one jeep with a bunch of young photo enthusiasts waited along with us. 'We will wait right here at a good distance from the tiger," I said loud enough for the occupants in the other jeep to hear so they would follow suit. I put my hand on the driver's shoulder...stay put. My intention was not to hoard around the animal and push it out of sight. 

We waited with baited breathe in the deafening silence. Then there was a scuffle and growls. Mating? I was bubbling with excitement at the very thought.  The animals could go either way...slip down the hill or cross the jungle road. The guide informed us that there was water down the hill. "Good," I whispered if they have satiated their thirst they will either hang around or cross the road. 

We waited. 


"Look there!" the lady pointed towards the bush. A large head emerged and in walked a male in order to cross the road. "Kankata," I hissed. This is a big male who commands territory next to that of Munna and sometimes dares to overlap.  "King of The Jungle" master of all he surveys...If this cliche let it be.     

I have learned one amazing fact that males rarely intercede into each other's domain. They get the message from scent marking on trees and other vegetation. On instance whence one male decides to take over anther's territory the scuffle begins with loud thundering roars and eye contact...glaring. If that does not settle the issue then a frenzied bout follows with minor injuries.  

If that is not enough the scuffle turns into a real fight. In case the domination is established the loser runs away else there takes place grievous injuries often resulting in death. This happens less since the domination is quiet often settled in less violent manner. This is nature's way of mitigating specie loss while deciding upon the strongest gene.    

Kankata with a dent in the ear emerged from the bush and stood on the road. The dominant males though aware of humans are rarely affected whilst on their task. The male then crossed over the road and began to drop foul smelling scat on the edge. Totally oblivious of us he cleared the neighborhood of the scat and entered the forest to lie down. 

We stayed at a safe distance...more was expected. 

"What next!,"I hissed. Ha!Ha!   

The next was emergence of an aggressive female grimacing fearfully at us, and quickly crossing over to enter the forest behind the male. The aggression among this species is often due to fear and uncertainty and whence in the company of female with cubs. Else they are extremely distrustful and frightened of humans...well who isn't?     

"So that's it," I said."The story ends here. I am sure you clicked some amazing shots." I said to my guests brimming with happiness. Earlier trips to Corbett and Ranthambhore were devoid of tiger sightings for them.

"There is another," the guide exclaimed. Well there was more in the store for us on that amazing evening. 

When in the dense jungle, swarming with predators around you, the nerves are taut with excitement and  the heart beats with fear...you can make out on the countenance of those not well versed with jungle life. 

I was expecting a courting ritual but this put that to rest. Are there two males seeking the female? Well all sorts of bizarre strike your brain as consternation develops.     

We peered into the bush at the far end and sure we could make out movement. 

Whence the tigers move there is no sound thanks to the thick padding on the feet...not even a crackle of dried leaves. The animal moves on the digits. Impression of upper pad/sole and digits is visible on ground and we describe them as pug marks. The fifth toe is way up...this is evolution and adaptation in a given habitat where speed and stealth is the order of the day. But sometimes you  can see turbulence in the grass and the vegetation, and thin sound emerges whence the body brushes against the twigs and leaves.    

For tracking tigers in the wild, a highly sensitive and trained sensory apparatus is required apart from experience. The animal belies simplicity in all terms and far out wits humans and its prey. Regularity in movement to some degree is seen near water holes in summers.     

Well patience pays and out came a young cub obviously a male. Family!. In the far out wilderness surprise belies belief. This is what was happening to us. Utter disbelief on my countenance I could see in the rear view mirror. 

The cub walked out nervously but steadily since we were at a good distance. Beauty is grace all entwined in natures magic. Pure Magic. The cub carried an expression of innocence much like our children do. It was perhaps seeing a new creature in a bewildering contraption that was not part of the ecosystem and his food chain. Fear engulfs logic and rather then waste time pondering over us he slithered into the dense canopy besides his parents.          

And Then. 

"Withhold your breathe," I said to the crowd... well on two jeeps. "There is another."

A young tiger of dimension little less the cub we saw emerged from the bush. Upon seeing the disproportionate size I could quickly infer that this one was a female. The cubs were about six to seven months old judging from the size. Fear and consternation was visible on her face.      

The young cub walked out but was still bit distant from the road. But it could not gather courage and went back into hiding. "This is a female and hence very cautious as per their basic nature. The cub though at good distance from us decided to go further ahead to cross over.     

There was a chatter of excitement as more jeeps arrived. They could see the female in the halo created by intertwining twigs and leaves. We could see both the tigress and male who was lazing upturned on the bed of grass. The tigress though on full alert was nevertheless at ease assured that her cubs were safe and at a distance from us.     

Stop Press. 

An Encounter With Tiger Family

The fearful tribe of killers, murderers in cold blood and perpetual enemies of humans (sic). The headlines said in the news papers.  Well nearly.

Such associations of majestic beast are encountered on notably very few occasions. This was a moment of discovery of natural history at work.  

You feel great and bloated over an encounter like this and even while describing. Why Not? 

Male Tiger

Photo Credit Tirjmen & Miranda - Netherland 

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