Thursday, December 20, 2018

Breeding Tigers!

Guests Colin & Lynn & Family : Angela UK
Courtyard House Kanha

Banno Cubs!
Tiger - Uday Patel 

Reaching the spot where we missed seeing two tiger cubs a day before was again a disappointment. But I had decided to keep the spot under the scanner. So as always happens we began exploring the nearby area for the tiger that frequents. The male tiger was nowhere and we moved back again there was no sign of the cubs....disappointment. Have they moved away as predators always do...   

Tracking tigers is a game of patience, logical thinking, and it tests your skills using the sensory apparatus. We were waiting at the nearest cross road since all the jeeps had exhausted their search for the cubs at that spot and there was no hope. The waiting made me think. Yesterday whence we had missed the cubs there was no sign of the mother. Today also she was untraceable...that meant she was probably out hunting as six months old tigers could have a voracious appetite. So I began speaking to the guide explaining him that since the mother was not around for two days the cubs would probably be there hidden in the bushes at the same spot.  A questioning look on his countenance made me speak further. 

"The cubs would not move without their mother or until unless she calls them." I said.

This was unlikely to have happened. So I decided to to station our jeep near the spot and not at the crossroad planning for a search elsewhere. As we were reversing...on the rock sitting silently was a tiger cub staring curiously right at me the jeeps having gone it felt reassured to savor the warmth of the rock heated by the emerging sun. It had rained the previous night and hovering clouds made the matter worse. 

"Back," I shouted." 

The cub kept on looking at us curious and bit surprised. He changed his stance and angle to have a good look at us. Oh! "Mother never told of this weird animal!"  

My guests could photograph it well before the arrival of the second jeep pushed it back into the rocky bush never to emerge.        

This tigress had two cubs aged six months. Banno is one of the shyest animal in the park, and I have been spotting her paw prints since last two years but could never see her.   

Breeding Tigers 

Kanha National Park has provided excellent breeding ground for the big cats...but in my years of searching for tigers I have always found the cubs within the periphery of  the core zone. A core zone in the protected area of tiger reserve is devoid of human settlements, agrarian activities and trespasse. 

In this area only the staff are allowed to reside while tourists maneuver in twenty percent of the area and exit whence the time is over. This means there is little disturbance to breeding tigers from activities of people. Surprisingly they have immense toleration for jeeps...probably they consider it  as another animal, and in time to come after frequent encounters...harmless.     

While rearing cubs the mother has to move the family frequently albeit in the territory controlled by the male whom she has mated with. Though her territory is usually small there is ample space for moving cubs time to time to keep them safe. 

Tigress With Cub Courtesy Navneet Maheshwari

In the core zone the prey base is very high and within reach. The growing cubs have to be fed frequently and the mother has to eat to frequently too. A low prey base would definitely affect the breeding.  In fact tigers breed corresponding to the available prey base. 

Discounting internal mortality between the specie due to conflicts, predation of cubs, and breeding prerogative amongst the strongest, the survival rate is very high and at times it can be hundred percent. This has been seen in the tourism area since rest of the core is out of bounds for the public.   

Buffer Zone 

All this is not possible within the buffer zone of a protected area as human settlements, agriculture and commercial activities abound. Though tigers live here too, but they are there because of territorial implications. Breeding if any is surely limited.      

Big males frequent the area as some of them prefer livestock that offers more meat per kill. Females frequent areas adjoining to the core but their presence is very weak as I have noted. Creating buffer zone for tourism is a good step as it will accord additional area for the big cat movement in time to come. Unfortunately live stock still plunder the buffer tourism areas and there is distinct shortage of water. For the fear of poisoning by habitual poachers water holes or saucers are not created. Hence the prey base is extremely thin because of the dry terrain, water shortage, livestock grazing and frequent human movement on foot and vehicles. 

Ironically in order to sustain tourism in buffer zone they will have to be turned practically like the core zone. Only then the big cats will move and breed in the buffer favoring tourism as well. Till then the core will sustain breeding populations, but the extra space required for increasing population in the protected areas is a dim possibility with buffer being just a namesake.