After years and years of depressing reports about poaching, man-animal conflict in rural areas, deaths due to shrinking forest spaces and sometimes sheer indifference – all leading to an overall alarming decrease in tiger numbers – there is finally good news.
The latest tiger census shows that the number now stands at 2226, up from around 1706 in the earlier census (2011). That’s a whopping 30% increase, a shot in the arm for forest officials and conservationists who have been working against all sorts of odds to protect the tiger. And India now has over 70% of the world’s tiger population.
On most of my trips to Indian forests, I have been lucky with tiger sightings, sometimes catching a fleeting glimpse, sometimes getting a decent ringside view. Here, some tiger memories from my forest visits…
Most of these times, I have been without a good wildlife lens, therefore making it impossible to get closeup shots of the tiger – but I cherish every one of these sightings, thankful for these quick or lingering glimpses of such a magnificent beast.
(infographic courtesy: Indian Express)
Ranthambhore was my first visit to a National Park, and my first ever tiger sighting, in the early summer of 2007. Although very popular among both Indians and foreigners (it is one of the most easily accessible tiger reserves, just a few hours from Delhi) Ranthambhore was still not the overcrowded circus that it has become today. We were in the much coveted Zone 3, waiting by the lake and listening to the alarm calls of the deer. After a wait of about 15 minutes, this tigress crossed the path right in front of our jeep and ambled over to the lake, where she lay for a few minutes, lapping at the water. After having her fill, she walked right back the way she came and once again a few dozen cameras went crazy.
After Ranthambhore, I had a fairly long dry spell despite living in Bangalore, in close proximity to the Bandipur and Nagarhole forests. Somehow each time I made a Bandipur plan, it got cancelled for one reason or the other. I did head to Nagarhole once but didn’t have much luck with any wildlife then.
Then came a trip to Panna with Taj Safaris in November 2013, where I stayed at the rustic Taj Pashangarh, quite a distance away from the town. Seeing a tiger here was particularly special (even though it was a quick sighting from a good distance), given the troubles Panna had been through in the last few years. Here is the story I wrote for Outlook Traveller on the revival of Panna.
We travelled to Pench in early April last year, when the forest was brown and dry, yet beautiful in its starkness. Here, the tiger made an appearance within a few minutes of our entering the forest. We had a fairly long sighting, as he slowly made his way through the thicket – parallel to the road we were on – for a few minutes and then sat down, partially hidden by the dry bushes.
And last November, I went to Satpura and Kanha with Pugdundee Safaris. Satpura is a beautiful forest, which I explored by boat, on foot and by jeep (both during the day and night). Even though Satpura is known for its high leopard population, I did not have much wildlife luck here – in terms of the big cats. Read all about my Satpura experience, written for Jet Wings magazine…
At Kanha, I had a great sighting, as a tigress once again crossed the path in front of our jeep – and the bonus, just as she was halfway through, her cub came prancing behind her, and in 2-3 leaps, was on the other side. It was lovely watching her walk, slow, regal and confident; the young cub leap, quick and somewhat frightened.
My most incredible tiger sighting came recently at Corbett (the long Republic Day weekend) – we had one hit and miss experience, where the tiger remained hidden among the bushes, only her stripes visible from time to time. After the four hour long safari, we were headed out of the park, when this cub suddenly appeared in front of us, walking on the mud track towards the jeep. What a lovely experience this was!
Each time I go to a National Park in India, I come back just a bit more in love with the forests and the abundant life and amazing ecosystems they contain within. India has such a rich variety of forests and I have only scratched the surface. There is so much more to see and experience: Bharatpur and Gir, Kaziranga, Bandipur and BR Hills, Ranthambhore again and again, Bandhavgarh, Tadoba…