Close encounter, real close!
Travel With Me Series -2
“The Tiger a Gentleman? The Tigress is NO lady!”
(The Tiger is a Gentleman, Vivek R Sinha ISBN 81-7525-106-9)
“Tigers are one of the most beautiful animals on planet earth. They have been evoked in sacred books, literature, proverbs, stories and plays for their majestic strength and beauty “- Anonymous
With deep respects to the doubters, let us get to better understand and appreciate this saviour of our planet!
…they do love a gentle massage, you do a good job and you can walk out to live
My first contact with the tiger in the wild, occurred over three decades back at the Jim Corbett, National Park. We were on an elephant safari; my in-laws were on the preceding elephant; me, my wife and 2 sons – one 4 and another babe in arms following on the second elephant. I spotted a slight movement at the 2 o’clock position and then suddenly a blur leaping at us. Oh My God!!, was our involuntary exclamation. Even today, thinking of it, we shudder but recollect with admiration the charming grace, agility, gymnastic acumen and sterling performance of the Tiger.
It was certainly a case of love at first fright!
“When a man wants to murder a tiger he calls it sport; when a tiger wants to murder him he calls it ferocity” -George Bernard Shaw
Close encounter, real close!
Search your heart…what comes to your mind when you think of Tigers?
- Cruel and merciless
Any positive thoughts at all?
Why are Tigers extremely important to our planet and people?
My father-in-law, Vivek Ranjan Sinha –now 94+, is a very well-known conservationist, award winning photographer and author of two books. He initiated my wife and me into love the for wild-life, national parks, sanctuaries and conservation. He took a lot of time and effort including several field trips to explain and illustrate what he calls as “The Law of the Jungle” and the Tiger’s role therein.
“The tiger is a unique animal which plays a pivotal role in the health and diversity of an ecosystem. It is a top predator which is at the apex of the food chain and keeps the population of wild ungulates in check, thereby maintaining the balance between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. Therefore, the presence of tigers in the forest is an indicator of the well-being of the ecosystem. The extinction of this top predator is an indication that its ecosystem is not sufficiently protected, and neither would it exist for long thereafter.”
A very elementary but factual contribution of the tiger to the ecosystem
How well do we really know the Tiger? ….it is not a quiz but a random collection of titbits from the internet:* Abhishek Gurung.
Tigers are largest amongst other wild cats – did you know that a fully grown male tiger weighs upto 300 kilograms! That could be the combined weight of 6 average human beings!
A friendly ‘Hi’ or a punch from the tiger can kill you, just look at their hands and legs and you will know what they pack!
Tigers are indeed nocturnal animals; they prefer to hunt in the dark so as to avoid direct confrontation with humans. They also like to secure their territory from other predators. Not all tigers hunt at night!
Amazingly, tiger cubs are born ‘blind’ and hence can’t see anything for about a week. They are therefore very dependent on their mother, whom they literally follow blindly by their sense of smell. This leads to a high rate of infant mortality.
Rivers, ponds, puddles, jungle streams are very important in the life of a tiger. They are powerful swimmers and can cover long distances in river quite quickly say 35 kms in a day!
Tigers can live (if allowed) for 20 to 25 years but most, unfortunately, don’t survive that long.
Tigers are very possessive about their stripes! They have the same stripes on their skin also. Each Tiger has a unique set of stripes, works like a ‘fingerprint’!
Tigers do not look at humans as good meal; I guess they know that even a dead human can be highly toxic…
A group of Tigers are called an ambush or streak
Tigers have antiseptic saliva
Tigers can, when essential, sprint at over 60 kilometre/hour though not for very long
Tigers are one of the most humble species. Often it is seen in the wildlife that the male tigers allow the female and cubs to eat first!
Wild animals enjoy a surprise kill but not as much as tigers. Due to their stripe camouflage, they hide behind thick bushes and attack their victim from behind. It is also said that tigers are less likely to attack when face to face!
Tigers have a varied diet and can feast on anything that comes their way, be it, wild boar, deer/antelope, rodent, bear, bird, rhino, crocodile, buffalo and even their own group of cats like leopards. They even eat fish!
Tigers are considered to be ‘loners’, yet the tigress, like any mother, is highly devoted to her cubs till about 3 years of age and then the cubs (by now adults) venture out on their own!
With just one tiger, the World Wildlife Fund can protect around 25,000 acres of forest!
Video: Tiger eating grass self-medication!
To re-emphasize – Tiger is a symbol of our National Pride
This is what India.gov.in has to say about our National Animal: “The magnificent tiger, panthera tigris is a striped animal. It has a thick yellow coat of fur with dark stripes. The combination of grace, strength, agility and enormous power has earned the tiger its pride of place as the national animal of India. Out of eight races of the species known, the Indian race, the Royal Bengal Tiger, is found throughout the country except in the north-western region and also in the neighbouring countries, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh”.
Also read: The fascinating world of sea creatures at the world’s largest shallow-water marine park!
What are the current efforts being made to save the tiger?
India is home to 70 per cent of global tiger population. Therefore, the country has an important role to play in tiger conservation. The Government of India started ‘Project Tiger’ in 1972 with a view to conserving the animal. As part of this project initially nine core buffer areas for maintaining tiger population were notified, which keeps getting expanded aptly facilitated by The National Tiger Conservation Authority.
How to Track a Tiger? “Elementary, my dear Watson, just allow it to track you”
“The tiger will see you hundred times before you see it once” ― Anonymous
Set right expectations:
- First and the foremost point to be made and noted is sighting a tiger is essentially a matter of luck and chance…have an open mind when you go into the forest…convince yourself that there is life, wildlife beyond the tiger… we have been to Bandipur, Nagarhole, Kabini, Madumalai and Wynad at least 10+ times in recent times and it is only in the last visit (January 2020) we saw our first tiger in Bandipur and removed the jinx.
- But in each of the visits to the same forests we saw–Magnificent elephants, Indian gaurs (mistakenly called bison), wild boar, leopard cub on a tree, 100s of deers, chitals, wild dogs, enchanting birds, owls, monkeys, barking deer, and jungle fowls
- Many a times you may not get to see anything at all! This is what will bring you back and then hopefully….You get noticed!!
- Be alert, look for “pug marks”; this will perhaps prompt you in the right direction.
- Have faith in the Naturalist, Guide or the Driver (earlier times it was the Mahouts on elephant safaris). Joy rides apart, serious elephant safaris are being withdrawn progressively.
- Whatever it may be, don’t ever blame yourself or anybody else…this is not in anyone’s control.
The Jungle Safari
In almost all National Parks, Tiger Reserves, Sanctuaries you have these two types of vehicles that are permitted for safaris:
It goes without saying that Jeeps with lesser tourists are better but keep your fingers crossed that your co-travellers are genuinely interested in wildlife and you don’t have young children or ‘adults who behave as children’. But then, normally the Canters are sent to the most ‘likely zones’…simple logic…more people can see, if there is a sighting.
- To avoid disappointments, eliminate rush, middlemen / touts, as far as possible, resort to advance online bookings for the safari and the type of vehicle that you want. You can take the assistance of the manager of your accommodation, they normally help out to the extent they can.
- Yes, high level references, contacts, relationship with Officials does make a difference
- Some forests have a well-organized mafia – ‘agent, guide, driver and their nexus with men in uniform.’ This flourishes essentially because of us, perhaps our greed enhances the ‘ law of demand and supply’
- Recommended Dos and Don’ts from veterans (we have taken a 4 year old and a babe in arms and spent 2.5 hours with a tiger…they did not make a single sound)
- Do maintain total silence at all times, speak, if you must in whispers
- Wear clothing that blends naturally with the environment / forests, take caps / windcheaters / jackets
- Carry sufficient water, keep essential items like a small pocket torch but do not shine it on the animals
- Carry your cameras, spare battery, lens + extra lenses… DO NOT USE FLASH at all. This can endanger you.
- Do not carry food items of any kind
- Do not use perfumes, deodorants, aftershave lotions
- Keep you mobile in total silent mode, even pre-set alarms to be switched off
- Do NOT step out of the vehicle unless allowed by the driver-cum-guide
Why this clamour to see me? Why am I always under observation?
I am no celebrity – no politician, no world leader, no hero / heroine…. not even a villain! Yet people surround me; block my path, aim some funny things at me and that too in my very own home and backyard! Except for nights and jungle closures, I have to be always alert and put my best foot forward!! Thank God for small mercies like this.
*Shiv as he is popularly called is an intrepid traveler, road trekker, adventure and wildlife enthusiast, and a keen photographer. He and his wife Mukta as navigator, have self-driven more than 104,000 Kilometers on Indian Roads as a part of Khoj India Series 1 to 6. He has 37+ years of management consulting and people development.
©All photo/video credits, unless mentioned otherwise belong to P. Shivanand