Have you ever wondered how do they go about tracking a tiger? We were sitting in a jeep deep inside the zone 5 of Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan. This was the zone where in the morning two tiger cubs had been spotted. Above the noise of the the Gypsy I couldn’t hear a thing. Suddenly the driver and Anish said, there was an alarm call of a langoor going on. The driver sprang into action and within no time we are close to the langoor which was giving the call. We could still see nothing. There was no tiger close by. As for scanning the area in front of us, it was vast, it included a nala and a hill as well. There was nothing even remotely resembling a tiger that I could see. All this excitement was happening on the Aircel’s #saveourtigers trip.
The driver, Vinod suddely said, “Woh kya hai?” He followed the gaze of the langoor and located the tiger. Leave me on my own and I would have not heard a thing, much less sight a tiger! All I managed was to botch up the shot when the tiger looked back for a fleeting second.
You have seen the side profile of the same tiger before. When I looked at the pictures I was quite heartbroken, but then I learn another lesson. Earlier, before 2013 when I had not seen a tiger ever, I would often wonder if the signs the guide and the driver look for were of any use. The guide would always get excited about the pug marks. I had seen pug marks on almost every trip,it would just not lead to the tiger. So, after a while I completely stopped getting excited about the pug marks. Remember my first real safari was in 2009 and I saw a tiger in 2013. Now that was a long wait.
Then there was this business of alarm calls. I clearly remember my trip to Kanha. Deer were giving alarm calls like their life depended on it, well hold a minute their life actually depended on it. It was late in the evening, the tiger was taking its own sweet time in coming out in the open and it was the park’s closing time. So alarm calls or no alarm class, we were forced to head back.
When Chhavi and I were at Sariska, the alarm call business was going on again. After a while it stopped. they told me the predatory decided to sit down somewhere in hiding. After all it had no obligation to anyone to come on the road and reveal itself! In Sariska the tigers are collared and yet nothing stops them from sitting deep in the woods rather than close to the tourist jeeps.
But then whenever I have spotted a tiger (a grand total of 4 tigers, managed pictures of two only) alarm calls have played a role. Even pug marks revealed the tiger moment at Pench.
So the next time your jungle experts talk about alarm calls and pug marks, don’t think of them as folklore just because you have not sighted a tiger yet. I have been in both situations where the experts tried to locate it via pug marks, calls etc and when they are collared. In the collared case, all the guide did was to make phone calls to various people who had tracking devices. I think the alarm call, pug mark way is much more fun. And remember as Anish says “a guaranteed tiger sighting is only possible in a zoo.” Now tracking a tiger is altogether a different game!
PS. Bhagte Tiger Ke Punch Hi Sahi means just managed to catch the vanishing tail of the tiger.
When you go to a tiger reserve in India, you of course wish to sight the tiger. But remember it is a wild animals, it has a free will of its own. The only place where a tiger sighting is guaranteed is the zoo. In the jungle you have to do tapasya to see it. These were the words of Anish Andheria who runs the NGO Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT). I wholeheartedly agree with him. However, if you care there is more to the jungle than just tiger. This was a #saveourtigers with Aircel.
1. Clean Air and Beautiful Tress
Dhonk Trees are quite prominent at Ranthambore. They give such a soft look when they have dropped their leaves. There were many other beauties like Jamun, banyan and peepal. Also if you pay attention you will realize you can breathe easily on lungful of air without feeling choked. If you are visiting from a big city in India, chances are such clean air is not available for love or money!
2. Small Things
I love birds, this was my first sighting of the plum headed parakeet. It was sitting on the flame of forest flowers was a bonus. If you get obsessed and upset about tiger sightings, chances are you will not even notice beauties like these. So, the next time the guide or the jeep driver points out a bird, do take a look. I also managed to spot my first Paradise Flycatcher but it was such a fleeting glimpse, there was no chance of clicking a picture.
3. Wildlife at the Lodge
Most of the jungle lodges are situated in peaceful environments. The lodge I stayed at Ranthambore was buzzing with butterflies. Same goes for the birds. Some of them get visited by leopards too! Now I certainly do not wish for a leopard sighting at the lodge but I am quite happy with the birds and the butterflies I get to see right there! Anish made an interesting statement about butterflies. He said men like to identify with big things, like tiger, hardly any male would admit that they love butterflies! Go figure.
4. A Philosophical Langoor
What to do, you get to see the langoors in such numbers in any forest they hold no special charm. Now if only they were elusive as the tigers, I am sure we would value them more. I have often enjoyed watching them in herds with little ones. A languor was also of invaluable help to us this time as it was his alarm call that finally gave the tiger away!
5. Sambar Deer on Morning Walk
When I saw the deer on their morning walk, my heart stopped for a while. It was such a beautiful sight to see them crossing the road in line! The early morning clean air, the open spaces and the joy of being in jungle is in itself exquisite. The backdrop of the mountains and deer crossing made it made it extra special. I rarely ever click from a moving vehicle as I can hardly hold the camera still even when we are stationary. But to me this sight was so extraordinary that I did. And I glad the picture came out as half way decent.
6. Spotted Deer
My daughter calls them dot deer and kisses their picture in a book. They are one of the weakest in the food chain, one of the cutest in the animal kingdom. Once again Anish said “if you wish to curse someone, tell them they would be born as deer in Ranthambore.” These pretty creatures are always skittish not knowing when they will become tiger food! Not a pretty thought, I know but such is the animal world or should I say the world?
7. Water, Peacock, Flowers, Mountains
Water, peacock, flowering trees and mountains- when they all of them come together it can be magic. I was fortunate that at this point we were allowed to get out of our vehicles. Otherwise you are strictly required to remain in your vehicle within a national park in India.
8. Water Snake
If it were not for the trained eyes of the driver and the guide we city slickers would have never spotted the water snake. I am no fan of snakes but from a distance they make for a pretty picture.
9. A Young Crocodile
Crocodiles are damn good at camouflage, but then so is the most of the animal kingdom. There have been times when crocodiles have been pretty indistinguishable from the rocks they choose to sun on. I am not sure why this young crocodile made itself so conspicuous!
10. The Selfie of a Peacock
If a peacock was able to take a selfie I wonder if it would be similar to this? I would like to think that it would resemble my picture but then I guess the bird itself would put on display its magnificent feathers too.
So the next time when you go to jungle, I know it would be thrilling to spot a tiger. But even if you do not, don’t worry the supporting cast is alluring too, but if only you would take an interest. After all there is more to the jungle than just tiger.
When the good folks at Aircel asked if I enjoyed their Save Our Tigers trip to Ranthambore, I told them it should have been obvious to them by my happy state. They then asked what did I like? To me the most valuable part of this trip was the conversations I was privileged to be a part of.
Mr. Yogesh Kumar Sahu (Field Officer, Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan): When asked what did he think of the ban on tourists to the national parks, he said that if Taj Mahal was devoid of visitors it will vanish in time, people will remove it piece by piece. He was of the opinion that the tourists were not a challenge. On the contrary, he told us that there is a temple and a fort right in the middle of the park. If they tried to stop private vehicles people would go to the court. Now some time back a tiger came on the road and due to some agitation attacked human beings. He cannot ban the private vehicles and he cannot ask the tiger not to go on that road, now that according to him, that was a tough task, managing the local expectations along with the interest of the animal. He is a pretty articulate man.
Anish Andheria (Director, Wildlife Conservation Trust, WCT): For its program Kids for Tigers Express (KFT Express) Aircel has tied up with WCT. When Anish was asked how could a lay person contribute to the cause of environment, he said “if you think you cannot talk about the environment without becoming an expert, but you are wrong. You might know more than someone else, and that person will benefit it you shared your thoughts.” That was a seriously empowering statement for me personally. If you follow me on Twitter you will see I am saying much more about environment, even though they might be just my silly thoughts. Before this conversation, I wasn’t even aware of my hesitation.
The Village Surpanch (Head) of Kilchipur: It is a pity that I didn’t catch his name. We were visiting the Dastkar Village near the Ranthambore National Park, he came to meet us. When we asked if he was scared to live in such a close proximity of the tiger, he said when the power comes only at night they are. Because they get just 6 hours of power supply when their turn comes at night, they are scared because of the tiger movement. He said they have petitioned various authorities but to no avail. They feel the villages close to the park should get power during the day time.
Vinod, the Driver of our Jeep on the Evening Safari: As I was sitting next to him, we were talking about various tiger sightings. he told me that when T24, the most famous tiger of Ranthambore, comes on the fort/temple road, entire Swai Madhopur village (the village closest to the park) comes on that road as it is a free road. And as no one is afraid of the tiger people put their cell phones in the tiger’s face to get a better picture. He said there have been times when police has to be called to mange the crowd. Vinodji and Anish also managed to track a tiger for us!
For me much more than anything else, the conversations, the ones I wrote here and many more that I didn’t, were the most enriching part of the trip. And thanks to Aircel’s #saveourtigers campaign for connecting me to all the people.