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Tiger Pause

We came to see a tiger in the wild...

semi-overcast 80 °F

We were awake twenty minutes before the 5:00am alarm and wake-up call arrived simultaneously to make doubly certain that we met our driver, naturalist and guide at the appointed time. We are scheduled to drive Sector Three of the Ranthambhore National Park in search of what we came to see: a tiger in the wild. Think of Ranthambhore as you would Yellowstone in the United States. There are park boundaries, animals roam free and wild inside those boundaries, there is no hunting nor is there a feeding program. But, when you leave the confines of the park, the animals are, in every way, fair game.

There is a chill in the air but it is not cold. Hot water bottles are thoughtfully provided however and blankets to cover both them and us are put to use as we drive away from Vanyavilas to make the short five minute drive to the park gate. Monkeys gather and watch us as we watch them. B4 loves the monkeys and so do I as long as they don't decide to come and grab something from our hand.

RanthambhoreMonkeysTickleJPG.JPGRanthambhoreParakeet.JPG

This is not a place to be holding a croissant. Colorful parakeets thrive in great numbers here as well. Formalities are undertaken, permits shown, authority granted and we drive beneath the gate arm on our safari. The Ranthambhore Fort is high on the hill nearby and pilgrims are making their way to the steps leading up to both the fort and a Hindu Temple. RanthambhoreFortWithSpottedDear.JPGaa661550-455e-11e9-8180-258f63737613.JPGRanthambhoreMonkeyOnMyBack.JPG

We quickly spot an owl in a tree and concentrate on it when our guide excitedly bursts out with, "sloth bear." RanthambhoreOwl1.JPGRanthambhoreSlothBear.JPGThe owl forgotten, we pivot to the other side of our vehicle, a six-seat four-wheel-drive open jeep like contraption to see a black sloth bear fifty yards distant making its way from right to left along the cliffside. Our team of Zeeshan, Bunty and "BL" let it be known that this was a long shot in both the photo to be taken and the odds of having a chance to take it. Nocturnal, sloth bears are seldom seen, they say. This one is seen fleetingly but seen nonetheless.
We drive. Spotted deer, wild boar, more owl, siberian ducks and snakebirds are sighted. But, no tigers. RanthambhoreSpottedDeer.JPGRanthambhoreWildPig.JPGRanthambhoreOwl2.JPGRanthambhoreOwl3.JPGRanthambhoreSiberianDucks.JPGRanthambhoreSnakebirdWithFish.JPG

The road is bumpy and dusty but this is what safari driving is all about.

We do, however, see tiger tracks. The dust in the side of the road reveals recent presence of a large male, a female and a cub. These tracks are recent or they would be obliterated by tire tracks. This is a good sign.RanthambhoreTigerTracks2.JPG4b1a5800-4562-11e9-a6b5-776d33acb7d0.jpgRanthambhoreTigerTracks.JPG

There are more vehicles in the park's zone three than just us of course. We see them and they see us. One tipoff that tigers are near is the alarm call put out by birds and animals alike. Everybody is on their guard when tigers stalk. Vehicles, hearing the calls, hone in on the place they think the animals and birds are pointing and, turning off engines, pause and wait. Sometimes, nothing happens; the alarm calls are real but the cause of those calls does not reveal itself. Anticipation is at a peak. Everyone is silent; I am aware of a quickening of my heartbeat and I grip my camera with too-tight hands. Oftentimes in this situation, nothing happens.
And then, sometimes, the cause appears. We spot a tiger. She is magnificent.

ee0211f0-4564-11e9-a510-85ca4129968e.JPGRanthambhoreTigerLickLipsWithCubs.JPGRanthambhoreTigerCubsCUGrowl.JPGRanthambhoreTiger4.JPG

As one might see on the National Geographic Channel, the female led her cubs to the water's edge, not noticing (as we clearly had noticed) that a crocodile lurked a few feet from the shore. The mother tiger and the crocodile spooked each other at about the same time and all beat a hasty retreat, the tiger and her cubs inland and the croc to deeper water. Certainly the cubs would have made a tasty snack for the croc and the croc would have made a fine meal for the tiger trio. But, that was not to happen this day. For that, all of us are glad.

ed9175d0-4564-11e9-bfed-218fcf13dd36.JPGed87fff0-4564-11e9-a317-97a785e4a00b.JPGRanthambhoreTigers3Faces.JPGedba0c70-4564-11e9-a317-97a785e4a00b.JPGed41f640-4564-11e9-a317-97a785e4a00b.JPG

Then, quickly, she is seen to be leading a pair of cubs lagging a bit too far behind her for safety. They are four months old; she is four years old. These two, we're told, are her second litter. She lost the first pair she bore to inexperience and inadequate parenting. For these, better care will be taken as she has better learned her job. We are joined by more vehicles who have noted our alarm sound much as we had noted that of the birds. Soon we are joined by a dozen other vehicles, some quite large, some carrying professional filmmakers and most the size of ours with similar cargo. They don't matter much to B4 and me; our eyes and energy are glued to this family of tigers.

RanthambhoreTouristGaggle.JPGRanthambhoreTouristLargeBus.JPG

Tigers, one of the most formidable predators on earth, are the largest and most powerful of all the big cats. Over the past 100 years, as their habitat has shrunk, their population declined by 95% but is now rebounding. The World Wildlife Federation estimates that while between five and seven thousand tigers live in captivity inside the United States, only four thousand survive in the wild, 70% of them in India and three of them now lurk before us. India needs to create more space for tigers to live. But, how do you do that and accommodate explosive growth of humans? Probably, you don’t. You are forced to better manage what you have and that can be done through fees and taxes levied upon tourists such as us.

A perfect tiger habitat would be far from human populations, include plenty of water even in the dry season, open grasslands to provide habitat for prey and thicket cover to facilitate tiger-striped-stealth during a hunt. Langur monkeys, wild boar, peacocks and sambar and barking deer all make fine meals.

Tiger cubs, often four to a litter, are vulnerable for the first two years of life, requiring their mother’s constant attention to survive. It is rare that a tiger mother would be able to raise four cubs to adulthood; typically, only half survive till adulthood. Hunting for food demands that tiger mothers leave their broods unattended for extended periods; tiger fathers, at 700 pounds a third bigger and more powerful than females, have no role in the rearing of cubs. Males will kill cubs not their own, but those they rarely meet.

Sloth bears, leopard, striped hyena, jackal and bengal fox will hunt for dens housing newborn cubs to kill and eat them while mothers are away finding prey.

Tigers are highly territorial and exclusively control their domains which need to be at least five square miles in size to support a family of tigers. As populations grow, competition for space can become violent and intense. Violence between adult tigers is not unusual so they normally avoid each other and respect territorial boundaries. They seem to care not one bit about all of us who care enormously about them.

Bunty, our accomplished driver, maneuvers us and outmaneuvers most of them and we feast on this experience. Just see.RanthambhoreTigerCubCUCU.JPGRanthambhoreTigersAllThreeInSun1.JPGRanthambhoreTigersAllThreeInSun.JPGRanthambhoreTigerCubMuddy.JPGRanthambhoreTigerECU.JPGRanthambhoreTiger1.JPGRanthambhoreTigerCU1.JPGRanthambhoreTigerCU.JPGe78833e0-4564-11e9-bfed-218fcf13dd36.JPGRanthambhoreTigerCUCU.JPG

We also shot a movie or two.

Jackpot. That really says it. It was a jackpot of a morning. We head home.

We're anxious for a chance to clean some dust off and eat a delayed breakfast. Breakfast is my favorite food here because, unadventurous as I am, it is most like home. Eggs. Maybe bacon or sausage. Toast. And good Americano black coffee. We turn into the Vanyavilas driveway and see that one more delight awaits us. It is Lakshmi waiting to greet us. Or, get fed by us. In any event, she is a sight for us as, perhaps, we are for her. PaulLacksmiB4.JPG

After freshening up, B4 finds still another recipe she can make at home: French Toast Sandwiches.VanyavilasFrenchToast.JPG

We separate in the afternoon, B4 to the spa and me to this keyboard. Dinner tonight is earlier and afterwards we stop by the fire pit where more Indian music is being played and after dinner drinks--coffee for me--are being consumed. My love's eyes are heavy so we call for the "buggy" which is required to transport us back to 203. Before today's drive we might have thought it silly to be escorted after nightfall but now, well, it seems prudent. Very prudent.

Posted by paulej4 08:25 Archived in India Tagged tigers ranthambhore

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