Tigers don't need wildlife boards to survive; they need to be left alone

I have been roaming in the forests of India for over 40 years and in the first 20 years, in spite of my best efforts the tiger or even its shadow eluded me.

Then, a few years ago I had a distant glimpse at Ranthambore. It either preceded me or showed up after I had left. Since I am a Leo, I was somewhat convinced that a tiger was reluctant to appear before a lion!

Nevertheless, for the last 30-odd years, photographing tigers in the wild has been my all consuming passion and temperatures of 46 degrees are no deterrent. I’m off to Tadoba-Andhari, a tiger reserve situated 155 km from Nagpur and 35 km from the mining town of Chandrapur in Maharashtra.

May and June are the ideal months to encounter a tiger at close quarters. In an open jeep, despite being garbed like a terrorist (head wrapped beyond recognition!), the hot winds blow straight into my face and the dust fully dyes my attire, merging it with the khaki landscape of the forest at this time of the year.

It is 8 am and the sun’s rays are like the needles of an amateur acupuncturist. But I am committed and it is only a committed person who will have the courage to venture under such hostile conditions.

The fear of dehydration is uppermost on my mind and I ensure that enough stocks of water and packets of rehydration powder are handy.

For the next 45 minutes we are patiently waiting at a waterhole for a miracle to happen. There is an eerie silence, punctuated by the occasional mating call of a cheetal deer. There is a rumbling of parched, dried teak leaves and my first reaction is to get the camera ready.

My eyes are focused in the direction of the sound. Suddenly the crumpling of the leaves stops and there is once again that old silence. Then suddenly the forest comes alive with the call of the sambhar, a perfect indicator of a tiger’s presence.

In a few minutes, a full grown two year old female cub emerges from the vegetation and heads straight to the waterhole, totally ignoring our presence in the jeep. We are just 20 ft from this magnificent cat.

A few sips of water, and it settles down to cool off in the muddy pond. It is a God-sent opportunity to be so close to it, in wonderful light and nobody else, except us. The shutter of my camera goes berserk;

Picture upon picture, capturing it’s every conceivable pose. The cub poses for us for a good half an hour and then with a few stretches walks off leisurely into the open. But not before marking its territory by first scratching itself, and then spraying on the tree (a rare sight).

This cub is one of three, and I am given to understand that by the onset of this monsoon, they will all separate from the mother, who unfortunately eludes us. We find the other two, however, blissfully having a nap under a thick forest cover.

The next evening, we are at the beautiful lake inside the sanctuary and set off once again to see the cubs and tigress. Dusk falls and after half an hour, a cute little 8 month old male cub emerges from the thick bamboo vegetation. He heads straight to its personal swimming pool and submerges itself.

This is one of four cubs I learn, and a notorious male. Generally, one cub in a litter is always more active than the others. A few minutes later a second one emerges and then the other two also. They all head for the pool, where their brother has taken centre stage. 


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