Tiger, tiger burning bright and majestic

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on July 31, 2019 Published on July 30, 2019

A young male tiger at Tadoba tiger reserve in Maharashtra.   -  N Ramakrishnan

Sighting a tiger in the wild is a lifetime experience that leaves you wanting more

Monday’s Tiger Census report, which shows that the number of tigers in the country has more than doubled since 2006, is probably the most heartwarming bit of information to come out in recent times. More so, for wildlife enthusiasts like me and my family.

The survey shows that the tiger population has been increasing steadily – from 1,411 in 2006 to 1,706 in 2010, 2,226 in 2014 and 2,967 in 2018.

While this is wonderful news, there is great cause for alarm, too. Tigers need their territory and their prey. As they roam around, there is bound to be human-animal conflict. To prevent that, the core and buffer zones in the tiger reserves need to be better managed.

It is perhaps time to rope in the private sector to create new tiger reserves or use the latest in technology to make sure the tigers stay safe and their numbers grow. Villages surrounding a tiger reserve play an important part in the conservation effort; after all, tour guides and drivers belong to these villages. Public roads pass through quite a few of the reserves, and movement of vehicles at night must not be allowed.

Visitors to the park need to be educated on forest etiquette: No talking loudly, especially on mobile phones; no getting out of the vehicle to take a selfie, as has been reported in quite a few reserves; and, no littering.

Lucky sighting

We have been to nearly 10 tiger and wildlife sanctuaries. On each visit, we tell ourselves that the visit is not just about sighting a tiger, and that there are other animals and birds.

But finally it is the tiger you want to see.

In Tadoba, this March, on our first safari into the forest, an alert guide spotted a tiger behind a bamboo cluster. There he was, over two years old, as our guide told us, peering at us from the safety of the bamboo bush. Cameras clicked away.

The guide told us that the cub has just left his mother and striking out on his own. Later, when we showed the photographs to wildlife researchers at the resort, they were thrilled. They had not seen him before in this area, they said. After they checked with Wildlife Institute resources, they were convinced that this tiger was from a different zone within the forest and, after leaving his mother, was marking out his territory.

The next three safaris into the forest were ‘dry’ — that is, no sighting. There are birds and other animals, but nothing interests you.

Just when you have lost all hope, with just one more day to go before you leave Tadoba, early in the morning, you strike gold.

Choti Tara and Chota Matka

An entire convoy of rickety Maruti Gypsys make a beeline for the spot where Choti Tara — daughter of Tara — has been sighted with her three cubs. One cub peers out from behind a bamboo thicket, while the rest are asleep and only partly visible. Each driver tries to get his vehicle into the best possible position so that his passengers can get a better view. You crane your neck, stand on the seat or, if you are a little younger, perch yourself on the cross beams that are meant for the canvas rooftop to come on, to see the tiger a little better.

For however long you see a tiger, you will never be satisfied. After spending quite a while with Choti Tara and her three cubs, our driver and guide, much to our chagrin, decided to go to some other spot. As the vehicle came around a bumpy bend, we almost run into a majestic adult male tiger sitting in the open. Our vehicle was one of the few to reach the spot and how lucky we were.

Four-year-old Chota Matka — so named as he was a son of Matkasur — was oblivious to all the excitement around him. The atmosphere was electric. With every movement of his neck or whenever he opened his mouth as if to growl, showing his fangs, cameras clicked. He sat there for almost an hour, radio-collared and majestic.

He then got up and came dangerously close to one of the parked vehicles. All our hearts must have missed a beat. He sniffed the air and nonchalantly walked away. Barring the clicking of the cameras, it was absolutely still — not even the forest noises of chirping of birds, the alarm sounds of the spotted deer or the warning calls of monkeys or peacocks.

After Chota Matka left, we did spot a few birds that we had not seen before. But all thoughts were about the wonderful male tiger that had made the trip to Tadoba worth it.

Published on July 30, 2019
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