Part Three : From the Shadow to Light……
Explorers in 7th Heaven
The relationship between man and tiger is in existence since time immemorial. Our ancestors looked upon the tiger as a symbol of power. The tribes still worship tiger as god. Some of their deities are called Waghjai or Waghdev. In the Sundarbans, a little-known goddess Bon-biwi graces its forests. The story goes that Bonbiwi, the “lady of the jungle”, was chosen by God to protect people who worked in the Sundarbans against a greedy man-eating half sage half tiger-demon named Dakshin Rai.
Tigers were present in large numbers at the beginning of the twentieth century. They were found in almost all the forests. But since those days man has been determined to make them extinct. Looking at the large number of tigers in India, they will never perish here, is what all hunters seem to agree upon. During the rule of British Empire, tigers dwindled in a big way.
Tiger is a very sensitive animal and spotting a tiger in the forest is exciting for any nature lover. The explorers have been searching for this reclusive and enchanting animal of forest for a long time now. They were in Bandipur National Park, in the winter of 2015, when the news of killing of Gaur by a male tiger spreaded across the country and wildlife photographers and experts from all corners of the nation, rushed towards Bandipur, with a hope of sighting the killer tiger.
There they spotted another elusive big cat – leopard and also witnessed the rarest natural phenomena of their courtship, but no luck with Bengal Tiger.
They took part in one of the most difficult forest trekking of the country – bush walk in the tiger trail of Periyar Tiger Reserve, with Forest Officials and rehabilitated poachers. They felt the presence of the beautiful beast very closely – spotted fresh pug mark of huge male tiger on the muddy trail, heard strong warning call of Sambar in the vicinity of their tents, in core area of the forest, but no sight of the animal itself.
They explored forests of central India, in the summer of 2016 – and again they were pretty close to spot the most powerful predator of Indian forests. They heard strong warning calls of Sambar, Langur, Spotted Deer, Jackal, Peafowl, and Jungle Fowl –which were indicative of big cat movements -– the kind of call which they never heard before – nothing could be more affirmative than such calls, to confirm a big cat on the move. Such calls were also corroborated by evidences of fresh pug mark on soil. But the animal didn’t reveal itself.
With several close and failed attempts, they almost decided to declare that “they don’t want to spot Bengal Tiger in forest anymore!” And, then, they launched their seventh exploration – at the beginning of New Year, 2017 – in the tiger capital of India, at the jewel of Vidarbha – Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) – as their last dedicated attempt to spot Bengal Tiger in the wild.
Just the night before the exploration would start, Dwaipayan called Arnab and the enlightening conversation followed:
“I did some numerology!” he sounded super excited.
“What is the number of this series of our exploration?”
“’Wagh Alaa Patil’ is the 7th Exploration of Exploring Nature.”
“How many tiger reserves we have visited so far?”
“Six already and Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve will be the 7th Tiger Reserve to be visited”
“And what is the number of Indian Big 7 member, we are searching for?”
“We are in search of the 7th Member of Indian Big-7, i.e. Bengal Tiger, this time….wow everything is falling in line.” – Arnab was amused to notice this symmetry.
“And it doesn’t end here” – Dwaipayan kept telling – “Explorations will start on 14th of January 2017, 14 is a multiple of 7; T-Shirt of “Tigers’ Terrain (exploration in central India)” was released on 14th of January 2016; “Tigers’ Terrain” ended on 14th of May 2016; “In the cave with Orangutan” was announced on 14th July 2016; Exploring Nature in African Safari started on 14th February 2016, therefore, 7 is a lucky number for us, something different will definitely happen this time”
That was a hilarious but interesting observation and the explorers, literally, to be on the 7th heaven this time.
On the 14th of January, at 2:30 PM they started their 7th exploration in the buffer zone of TATR through Kolara gate. This time they had a third explorer – Subhashish in the team. Spotting rare wild lives in the buffer zone was less likely and so the anticipation was not nail-biting. Guide Praveen was telling them, that, animals are generally shy in the buffer zone, as they are not used to human beings and safari jeeps. Not many tourists visit the buffer zone. Forest is sporadic and there are less colonies or herds of herbivores in this part of the forest. That also reduces the movement of predators in this part. Therefore, spotting predators is more challenging in the buffer zone than in the core area.
Praveen was actually telling them; the job of forest guides and gypsy drivers of the core area, is easier than their counter parts in the buffer area, as in the core area they know where a territorial predator can be spotted. Every predator has their defined territory in the core area. But in the buffer zone, they are always in movement, so they need to move throughout the forest to spot them.
Literally, they didn’t find even a single spotted deer, which was very unusual for them with respect to their experiences in Indian rain and dry or moist deciduous forest. The most common animal glimpsed in this type of forest is spotted deer.
However, at their surprise, they spotted a big male antelope looking at their gypsy, curious and scared. Driver Ashish stopped the vehicle, so that everybody could get an opportunity to take pictures. Initially they were confused, if it was an Indian Muntjack, but later they realized that, it was one of the rare ungulates to spot in the forest – a four horned antelope or Chausingha.
At the same place, where the Chausingha was grazing, they saw one sacred grove decorated with lot of colorful scarves (dupatta used as part of dress by Indian women). Guide Praveen told them the folklore of a village woman, who was chased by a tiger in this forest. While running away, the woman threw her dupatta and the tiger pounced on the dupatta instead of her and tore it apart. The woman escaped and her life was spared. After that incident, the local villagers started worshipping that place and offered colored scarves, symbolizing protection from tiger attacks.
Generally tigers of TATR are not known for man eating; however, just two days before the exploration, reportedly one village woman was killed by a tiger. Driver Ashish told them, there were more such cases of tiger attacks on human, but not all were reported officially. TATR is a good maternity center for Bengal Tiger and number of tigers is on the rise, in good proportion. Currently there are 88 tigers in a 624 sq km forest area. Not enough space for such territorial animals. Based on news published in national print media – “For more than four years now, one person dies in tiger attacks around Tadoba every month—a frequency of conflict higher than anywhere, recorded, except the Bangladeshi Sunderbans, in recent times”. In TATR, most of these incidents took place in the buffer zone.
Their first safari ended at 6:30 PM, key species spotted were, Male Nilagai, Northern Plain Langur, Female Bison, Herds of Sambar, Male Wild Boar and 23 different species of birds.
Next day onwards, all safaris were in the core zone. The 2nd safari in the morning of 15th January, started at 6:00 AM. Subhasish could not join, as his entry permit was not ready, so it was the duo Dwaipayan and Arnab. The early morning was dark and freezing cold, temperature was around 7-8OC. In the open top moving gypsy, in the core area of TATR forest, the chilling wind was piercing their bodies. Guide Eknath and driver Nikhil were hopeful and enthusiasts for tiger sightings, as in the previous evening, a tigress with her cubs were spotted near Panderpouni water hole. The Explorers were familiar with the kind of enthusiasms from the forest guides, which eventually yielded nothing in all previous cases. So, they were not as cheerful as their fellow forest mates. On top of that, they were struggling to keep their fingers on camera shutters in that biting cold. Gradually the light was improving; accordingly, explorers were adjusting exposure and ISO setting of cameras. At around 6:45 AM, strong call of a spotted deer was heard from the North East direction of their movement.
The call did not excite them, as warning call of spotted deer can hardly be trusted.
“Wild Boars are running away” – Both Eknath and Dwaipayan whispered at the same time.
“Similar situation we witnessed in Kanha, near Munna’s den” – Arnab, was not optimistic enough.
An entire herd of spotted deer and two wild boars were found running away to opposite direction. Eknath asked Nikhil to turn around the vehicle and move towards water body number 01, where a forest department watch tower was stationed. Skilled gypsy driver Nikhil, parked the vehicle diagonally opposite to the watch tower and in few seconds, B3 aka Maya, the queen of TATR appeared through bushes. She was moving slowly towards a herd of spotted deer, she was waiting for a kill. The spotted deer was giving warning call furiously.
Arnab looked at his watch – it was exactly 7:00 AM!
The life of the tiger is entwined with the forest. His color, built, size, and habitats are all attuned to that particular forest. A tiger moves around the forest like a predator. A predator has to be superior to its prey, or else it will be difficult for him to survive. Whether it’s a deer, an antelope or a bison, the tiger has to employ both devious and robust tactics to dishearten the prey. Nature has bestowed upon tiger all the requisites to be a good hunter. He almost seems like a destructive hunting machine. The tiger is the supreme hunter of the forest. There is no animal in the forest that hunts the tiger for meal; an almost every animal can be a tiger’s prey. So the forests are filled with the terror of the tiger, and celebrated tigress of TATR, Maya’s movement in front of the explorers, in her territory at Panderpouni, was depicting all these features. She was hungry and stalking the herd of spotted deer. The explorers watched her movement for one hour before she disappeared into thick forest.
Maya grew up as part of a recognized and noticeable family, by the Telia lake, with three other siblings, two boisterous sisters and a very shy brother. Maya was the most rowdy and gregarious one in her family and till today reigns in the area. After the NTCA directive, Tadoba has cut down on many routes which resulted in overcrowding of vehicles in Maya’s territory at Pandharpaoni. Currently, the entire Kolsa range has been kept inviolate as all the premium routes like Kakadghat, Shivanzari, Kuoni, Suklibodi Lake and Yenbodi have been closed for tourism. Besides, the route between Moharli-Kolsa has also been shut. Only village roads from Pangdi and Zari to Kolsa and Rantalodi are open for tourists. Moreover, in Tadoba range, Vasant Bhandara-Katezari-Kala Amba-Ambe Paat route has also been closed. Hence, the other popular tigers like Namdeo, Gabbar, Pandu are not being sighted. Jamni’s ‘Chhoti Tara’ has left for a secluded spot as she is busy nursing her new borns, while ‘Sonam’ of Telia and her cubs are not regularly sighted. Hence, tourists make a beeline for Maya.
When Maya was spotted for the first time, through apertures of trees and the watch tower, the explorers held their breath for a while and for the next few minutes they remained awestruck, in disbelief, that, finally lady luck favored them. They were unaware what was happening around them for the next half an hour, their eyes laid on view finders of the cameras, left hand occupying and adjusting lenses and index finger of right hand was restless pressing the shutters. They could not notice anything but the beautiful creature; they didn’t hear anything but the sound of shutters. Beyond Maya, space-time continuum was standstill. The spectators were hypnotized by her “Maya”, magic spell.
After Maya’s disappearance into dense forest, water hens in the water hole number 1 were clicked. Shortly after, Eknath and Nikhil moved their gypsy towards Tadoba lake via Jamni, with a hope to encounter Choti Tara and her cubs. But fate didn’t approve in the next two and half hours of combing through the forest.
While passing through the Tadoba lake, Nikhil stopped his gypsy again and Eknath exclaimed “Tiger”!
The very word tiger evokes an image of courage and cruelty, and inspires awe. A huge male tiger T54 aka Matkasur was spotted near Tadoba Lake at 9:30 AM, a living image of that vigor and ferocity. He was moving along the lake-shore, pausing intermittently and looking at the water. A huge marsh crocodile was basking on the bank. Matkasur tried to attack it, and the explorers heard a large noise of water splash, the crocodile jumped into water to save its life. After that, the mighty Matkasur kept walking again along the brink of the lake and en route, he was halting and smelling tree trunks. Tigers practice it to identify smell of his or any previous tiger’s urine to identify their territory. After 15-20 minutes of walk, the explorers followed him in gypsy; he crossed the road in front of them and vanished into the other side of the forest.
The safari ended at 10:30 AM and other key species identified were Bronze Winged Jacana, Pied Bush Chat and few birds of prey like Oriental Honey Buzzard, White Eyed Buzzard and Changeable Hawk Eagle. While exiting forest, they found another eluding, nocturnal animal, a Tree Shrew and before reaching their base camp at Chimur, one venomous Russel’s Viper snake was spotted sprawling near a paddy field.
The explorers began their third safari on the same day, between 2:15 and 6:30 PM. Pug mark of female tiger and cub were noticed at around 4:00 PM. But the animals were nowhere to be found.
The 4th Safari started on 16th January, at 6:15 AM and ended at 10:30 AM. The forest was very quiet on that day, with no indication of any big cat movement, which reminded Arnab about the experiences in the forest of Pench and Kanha in last summer. Subhashis missed the drama on previous day and was hopeful of big cat sightings. But so far the situation was disappointing.
At around 8:30 AM, pug marks of Leopard and Jungle Cat was found on the way towards Navengaon area. Around 10:00 AM near Panderpouni area, mild warning calls of Sambar and spotted deer was heard. The explorers interpreted the calls to be Maya and her cubs movements from one side of their territory to other.
On their return, the gypsy driver Nikhil was briefing on the tiger community of TATR. He was stating the conflict between Maya and Matkasur. Matkasur wanted Maya’s surrender but the cubs were a hindrance to that. Once Matkasur attacked her cubs, Maya and her sons defeated him, fighting all together. Maya’s cubs were borne by another male tiger Gabbar (also known as Leopard face) aka Sher Khan aka Ma7 (TAD), who was once the undisputed king of TATR. After the rise of Matkasur, the conflict between Gabbar and Matkasur was inevitable. Recent fight was reported at water body number 97, probably over Maya. Another tigress Choti Tara is incognito in the forest nowadays, as she has young cubs to protect and feed. However, cubs of Choti Tara were borne by Matkasur. Maya had three cubs with Gabbar, out of that one male and one female were separated from her, because of frequent attacks by Matkasur. Now the parted male cub cannot come back to Maya as his brother has grown up and would not allow him to come close to her mother. However, he would not have any problem with her once isolated sister to come back, as he would require a mating partner soon.
All these stories suggest that Maya aka B3’s sub adult cub has all the potential to give a good run for the money to all contemporary male tigers of TATR, over right of the territory.
The Road Show
The 5th Safari started at 2:30 PM of 16th January and that was the last safari for the explorers through Kolara gate. After that, their plan was to move towards Moharli gate which would be around 40 km from their current base location. Three explorers with guide Dilip and driver Vinod started towards North-West direction. Afternoon in the forest of TATR was quite bright and warm with approximately 30-35 O C temperature. After 30 minutes of driving, pug mark of female with cubs were spotted. They started following the pug mark which lingered into South East direction. Fresh pug mark of sloth bear was spotted along the way. After few kilometers of driving, they moved again into North-West direction, and pug mark of male tiger was observed, along with mild call of Sambar. Their previous guide Eknath was in another gypsy ahead of them, he signaled to move towards water body number 79, close to Nawachila.
The explorers, along with 6 other gypsies, stopped in front of water body 79 at Nawachila. They waited there for 15 minutes, but no indication of any movement was sensed. The call stopped long time back. One after another, gypsies left that place, tourists who regarded forest as a zoological park, lost patience in no time.
However, Dilip and Vinod decided not to move at all. If there was any possibility of sighting a tiger at all, under the circumstances, it was there in that particular spot. The logic was simple, fresh pug mark followed the route and faded near the bushes, on the side of the forest path. The tiger moves as stealthily as a shadow. It is difficult to believe that, this animal, weighing 150-250 kg, can walk in utter silence. The tiger’s paws are padded. So, their foothills are cushioned while walking, and dry leaves or twigs don’t crackle under his foot. But as their paws are padded, they don’t prefer to walk in thorny undergrowth. The tigers roam the paths in the forests and also the roads. Therefore, there was strong a chance that, a male tiger whose pug mark they followed, had a temporary hideout in the undergrowth alongside the forest path and he would come out at some point of time. However, nobody knew for sure, might be after dusk, might not before tourists leave the forest at the closing hour of safari, defined by forest department.
After waiting there for 45 more minutes, at around 3:45 PM, Arnab muttered, “Langur’s call!”
Dilip nodded his head in agreement; langur’s call was heard twice. Vinod moved the gypsy little further towards North-West direction, from where the call was coming.
Arnab cried again, “Stop, stop!”
Around 5-6 langurs were found at a tree top – restless and giving warning calls gazing underneath, inside the forest; as frequent as five times. Dilip advised to go back to the original place, and wait there. Dwaipayan assured, “Definitely there is a tiger, and there is no doubt about it, only it’s a matter of time when it will come out in clear!”
Vinod parked the vehicle again in front of water body number 79. Next 15 minutes was plain waiting, in apprehension, realigning position of cameras, checking and readjusting camera settings anticipating from where the tiger could come out and what should be the light setting requirements of that area.
“Alarm call again!” yelled Dwaipayan and Dilip almost at the same time. A spotted deer was bellowing ceaselessly, in life and death situation and the call was coming from not more than 500 meters of distance from their gypsy.
It was confirmed; as the forest proclaimed to each and every living and non-living beings in the wilderness of TATR, the terror of TATR, the most dreaded predator of any Indian forest, manifested in close proximity.
Other gypsies were coming back one by one; everybody in forest heard that call.
At around 4:00 PM, one sub adult male tiger appeared near water body number 79, at Nawachila. He was the male descendent of B3 aka Maya. The explorers’ gypsy was at the nearest within 200 meters from the fascinating creature.
The explorers froze at the juncture, with their eyes on the view finder, bodies bent over side railing of the gypsy, left hands on lenses, placed carefully on bin bags and index fingers of right hand didn’t know how to stop pressing the shutter.
What they saw through the view finders, was a proportionate long body, silent foothills, long back stripes on brownish-orange or tawny coat body, round head – coming closer and closer. With his every sturdy step, he was exuding the message loud and clear – why every animal in the forest should be terrified of him. Through the view finder it seemed, the head was growing bigger and he was approaching right towards them, conquering distances, from 200 meters to 100 meters to 50 meters. His bright yellowish eyes were fixated on them, sending chills down the spine, causing stress on the nervous systems. Was that the time to throw away cameras and scream for life?
No way! That was the rarest moment of life, probably would never come again!
They could not remove their eyes from the view finder or their right index fingers from the shutter. That was the moment they were yearning for such a long time, since winter of 2015, since Nagarhole and Bandipur.
He started moving towards the course of South-East, sniffing everything around him. He had the requisite to smell urine spread by him or any other previous tigers, to identify the safe territory, he was a cub after all, an adolescent cub who was learning how to live life in the forest without his mother’s protection. Then he needed to spread urine furthermore, to mark the territory and kept walking on the forest path in the same direction. All the gypsies (by that time there were around 50 gypsies gathered, if not more) started following him.
The road show continued for around 10 minutes, before he became invisible in the deep forest. In last 5 minutes, explorers shut their cameras, and enjoyed the whole exhibit through their naked eyes, rather than the view finders of their cameras.
Natural phenomena are enjoyed best by natural tools.
That was Bhola, the sub adult cub of B3 aka Maya. For most of the forest guides and gypsy drivers, that very evening was the first moment of seeing him alone, travelling out of his territory and moving from one corner of forest to other.
After 15 days of these explorations, Dwaipayan received news from his special source, that Bhola had a fight with T54 aka Matkasur near Panderpouni, resulting in his defeat and eventual expulsion.
Probably, very soon, whole of TATR will witness a coronation ceremony of their new crown prince.
On 17th January, in the morning, the explorers left for Moharli gate and reached at MTDC resort by afternoon. They didn’t have any safari planned for that day, therefore in the evening; they decided to go near the entry gate of the core area of the forest to replenish their rations. The idea was to walk around 2 kms from the MTDC resort to the Moharli gate at around 7:00 PM. However, at the last minute, they changed their plan and booked a cab to go to Chandrapur town, which was 35 kms away from the resort. The road between MTDC resort and Chandrapur passes through the forest area of Tadoba. On their way, they found a Palm Civet on the side of the road, and again at around 9:30 PM, on their way back. Driver Palash informed them about his countless exposures with Leopards while driving through this road, and the incidents of Leopards attacking local villagers. The tale of a man eating Leopard, killing 5-6 villagers, before it was caught by forest department and sent to rescue center, was particularly haunting.
Then he mentioned something, which left the explorers shivering. On that evening, when he was on his way to pick up the explorers, caught a glimpse of a Leopard near MTDC resort, and that was not an unfamiliar occurrence for him. The explorers were hesitant, their initial idea of walking 2 km to go to the entry gate of the forest from MTDC resort at 7:00 PM, was certainly not wise and they were saved by the bell.
The 6th Safari and the first one from Moharli gate of TATR undertook at 6:30 AM, they started off South, reached Aswalhira and then Telia lake, which was known for M6 (TAD) aka Sonam’s area. Sonam was residing there with her adolescent cubs. After one and half hour of driving through the forest, they started moving towards North and at around 8:45 AM reached Jamni lake. There were strong calls of spotted deer, but the Safari ended at 10:00 AM without a glance of any big cat.
Photo courtesy: Dwaipayan Ghosh
The afternoon safari started at 2:00 PM, towards South again and after crossing Telia Lake, they reached near Jamunbudi. Already 5-6 gypsies were waiting there. Apparently, warning call was heard from the other side of the lake. They waited there for about 30 minutes. One Ruddy Mongoose was spotted multiple times, running here and there; searching for food, gave good photo opportunities for the explorers. After that they started moving towards East and fresh pug marks of female tiger was spotted. After driving 1-2 kms further, they stopped after seeing couple of gypsies waiting there on the forest path at Ayanbodi area. Apparently B3 (Maya) was sleeping in the bushes and people were waiting there with a hope of her spectacle. The anticipation was that, she would wake up in a while and come out of the bush to give a road show.
Gypsies started queuing there and in no time, there were at least 30 gypsies, from all six gates, hopeful to see the celebrity tigress of TATR. As usual, there were huge speculations among all kinds of visitors, likely the “zoological park type”; “selfie type”; “DSLR type”; “so-called forest and wild life experts”; and the forest guides; gypsy drivers – on what route she would follow to give the “road show”. Every time she was moving her head or shaking her hinge legs, swaying her tail tip to keep away flies – the excitement was getting multiplied.
After one and half hours of suspense, Maya woke up and quickly dissipated deep inside the forest.
Such an anti-climax! The jungle is where the silence is profound, lend a keen ear and one can listen to the quietude. One would be ignorant to think, he can witness the mysteries of the jungle unfolding in just couple of hours of a jeep safari. The involvement of Edward James Corbett or Kenneth Anderson with India’s wild was long and persistent, which lasted for decades.
The 8th safari started on usual time, at 6:30 AM, towards West, on the way to Telia. On their way, one male sloth bear was spotted grazing. After realizing human invasion, he hid himself into the camouflage of the forest. However, the crackling sound of movements of heavy paws on twigs and undergrowth were still audible. They waited there for some time. The sloth bear came out after 5-10 minutes briefly and dwindled inside the thick bushes.
Photo courtesy: Dwaipayan Ghosh
Guide Sanjay suggested, the bear ought to cross the path, but could not, because of human interference. They decided to wait for few more minutes to ensure his unimpeded passage. Driver Kankesh parked the vehicle at a safe distance from his anticipated route. They waited there for another 45 minutes. But the bear didn’t come out in the open and early morning light did not suffice to take snaps.
Meanwhile, strong call was ascertained from Jamni water body. When they arrived at Jamni, already few Gypsies assembled there and reportedly, Choti Tara just crossed the forest path, 2 minutes before. The spotted deer were still giving call. The explorers decided to wait there and were all ears to Sanjay’s story on “False mating”. In September, 2016, Maya was seen mating with Gabbar, Sanjay voiced, Maya was bold enough to engage in such strategic “False Mating”.
“False mating” is a mother’s desperate measures to confuse all the male tigers in the forest, in order to save her cubs. Normally one male tiger does not kill his own cubs, but he maneuvers to eliminate other contender’s genes. When a female tiger copulates with multiple male tigers, all her pairs in the forest think, her cubs are actually their offspring and let them to thrive.
Some local naturalists think that, Maya’s behavior is actually evidence of a crafty new strategy to safeguard her cubs’ survival: “false mating” exists among many mammals—including bears, lions and bottlenose dolphins—male tigers kill the cubs of their rivals whenever they can, so as to precipitate a new estrus cycle and impregnate the tigress with their own offspring. Tiger moms typically seek to protect their cubs from such a fate for 18 to 24 months, before pushing them out to establish their own territories. (Tiger fathers have no role in raising the young, so no help there.). But the crowded conditions in Tadoba and other Indian national parks are making that increasingly difficult. The ranges of several roving rivals frequently overlap with the dominant males, bringing danger precariously close to vulnerable cubs.
According to Bilal Habib, a carnivore researcher at the Wildlife Institute of India, “In high-density areas, where there are more males, the best strategy for a female is to try to leave the cubs early, go with the males, and then go back and look for her litter again,” Habib explains. “A brawl with a male might turn out to be lethal for her and the cubs.”
The name “false mating”—which occurs among lions and other species—is a little misleading. It refers to actual sex, just not at the time when a female is able to conceive. (Typically, female tigers go into estrus once every three to nine weeks, and are most likely to conceive during three to six days within that period). Habib’s theory is that, Maya deceived the roving male tigers to placate them and perhaps to make them think, they have successfully impregnated her.
Afterwards, she could return back to her cubs, leaving the appeased males none the wiser.
Explorers waited there for another 2 hours, and there was no indication of any big cat movement, eventually they left the forest to end that safari at 10:30 AM.
The 9th safari started in afternoon at 2:30 PM and the explorers kick-started towards Jamni lake. On the way, another male sloth bear was glimpsed. Immediately after seeing the gypsy, he concealed himself into the dense woods. The explorers started tracking him by the forest path of Aswalhira, covered by heavy bamboo trees and they spotted him again. This time the bear was within 100 meters from their gypsy. He crossed the path and hid inside thick vegetation again.
After that not so “sloth”, rather “busy” moments with the bear, the explorers travelled upto Jamni lake, then Tadoba lake, Panderpouni and finally Telia. News emerged that, M6 (TAD) aka Sonam, an adult female tiger was spotted with her sub adult cubs. Already two gypsies were waiting there, and the guide from one of the gypsies asserted them, “Sonam is there, sitting in the grass land”.
Photo courtesy: Dwaipayan Ghosh
The grassland of Telia zone is absolutely thick and an ideal hide out for tigers. With little or no effort, the dark stripes on pale fur, breaking up an outline of long slender body, lying in the grassland and well camouflaged – was spotted – the white spots behind the black ears – a characteristic mark of tigers – were also noticed. The presence of the beast was conspicuous, resting in that grass land, but was not obvious, how many of them, one or could be more, an adult or with cubs.
Photo courtesy: Dwaipayan Ghosh
The tiger stood up and started moving, now it was clearly visible even with bare eyes. Sanjay confirmed the striking four-legged to be Sonam. Sonam is part of the famous litter of four very illustrious female cubs, brought up by Madhuri in the Telia Lake area, overseen by their caring father Scarface. She has an S shape mark on her right neck which is noticed easily, but through thick grasses the explorers could not discern that.
Sonam became invisible again in the grasses and the explorers moved towards the fire line, with the hope that she would come out from there. They waited there from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM, but she was not seen further.
They ended the safari there, and while coming out of the forest found one male barking deer crossing the path in front of their gypsy. The last safari of this series was in the morning of 20th January. They set another goal to spot Sonam and travelled towards Jamni lake and waited there for 2 hours. There were sporadic calls of peafowl, spotted deer and jungle fowl on seeing of tiger. When the tiger is idle, the calling animals stop at a place and signal. When the alarm call redirects from different places, it implies that the tiger is on the move. Taking into account the motion of the calling animal, the direction the petrified animal signifies, it is easy to trail the movements of the tiger. Birds and animals alert everybody in the forest precisely, if there is a spectre of a tiger. Sometimes, human intrusions alarm Langur and Sambar, but once they recognize human beings, they cease their calls.
However, 2 hours of waiting didn’t yield much result and they moved towards Telia lake, but in vain!
They concluded their safari at 10:30 AM and retreated to MTDC resort to culminate the series.
End of Story till next Exploration:
The explorations of “Wagh Alaa Patil” discontinued there. While returning to the comforts of their homes, the explorers were reminiscing about all the phenomena of the forest in the last week and the wisdom they are imbibed with. Especially, the story of Roshan who owns a souvenir shop near Kolara gate of TATR. Once, he worked as a tour guide and also with forest guards for tree cutting contracts. He used to go inside the forest with daily wage workers from local villages. Once he was attacked by Kankrajhuri Male, a famous male tiger of the buffer zone of TATR. To save his life he climbed up a
tree and injured himself. Thankfully, he was rescued by the forest guards. After that incident, Roshan was traumatized and decided to cease operating in the forest and thus, the souvenir shop.
Roshan enlightened us; Kankrajhuri male generally roams in the buffer zone, where he is seldom defied by human. The tigers in the buffer zone are more inclined to attack humans, as there is a scarcity of prey and minimal exposure to mankind.
Definitely the number of tigers is increasing in this so called “maternity center” of Bengal Tiger in Indian Forests. But the state of congestion in tiger population, throws TATR at the risk of aggravating inter and intra species conflict.
The whole series would be memorable for the explorers, as acquiring knowledge on the behavioral patterns of Bengal Tigers, the altering traits of tigers in the buffer and core zone; the effect of space on deriving new survival strategy for female and her cubs. They also learnt the significance of understanding such familiarities, to trace those reclusive creatures of Mother Nature.
The explorers endeavored to capture all their experiences in this report and to promote the biodiversity culture and awareness among common people; and the explorers of Exploring Nature will continue to do so.
Till the next exploration bring us together, adieus!