Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Male Tiger in Kanha
In Africa, game drives involve some luck, and some spotting skills on the part of your guide. In India, if you are looking for tigers, the assignment is tougher. You are often in a forest with a lot of brush cover, and possibly a couple meadows with tall grass - tall enough that a tiger can lay in them and not be seen. You have to stay on roads, and often assigned routes, and you have a limited window of time as you have to check in and out of the park - and being late gets your driver, park ranger, and jeep suspended - which is unacceptable. So basically you have to work harder - at least in February - to see them. In June the parks close for monsoon season for a few months - and that is when most poaching occurs, when there are fewer people in the parks. In October when they reopen, I am told tigers are shy for a few months, and it can be a challenge to see them. In Dec-Feb they can be quite hard to see due to conditions - there is enough water the tigers can be anywhere, so you have to wait for them to be where you are. Starting in March, tigers are easier to see as it gets really hot and the tigers must come to the few limited water spots, so you just park by a watering hole and wait. I'm told April and May are the best times to see tigers but are generally "too hot for foreigners."
To find tigers, the guide, driver and ranger look for tracks on the road. They can tell from the tracks the approximate timing (recent, yesterday, older, etc) and the sex of the tiger, and if they know the territories of the tigers, sometimes exactly which tiger it is. That can sometimes give a time and a direction. They also look for recent scat and/or tree marking as signs of tigers. They know the basic areas the tigers frequent and the time of day, and then the most valuable tool is the alarm calls of deer and monkeys. Those alarm calls give an indication of where and when the tiger is walking. It is a truly amazing skill to behold to watch wildlife guides find a tiger. This particular find by Rajan was my personal favorite because it seemed to wholly implausible.
We were on our evening game drive, waiting in places silently for alarm calls, waiting for the right time of day for tigers, driving to different potential areas, waiting. Someone heard an alarm call by a meadow and we went and waited there awhile. Several other cars did the same. Some people at the same lodge I was at were in a jeep that came by and they told me this was the place they saw a tiger the night before. About 5 jeeps came, waited a little bit, and moved off. We were waiting, waiting, and waiting. Soon we were the only ones. More waiting, followed by some waiting. Then, all of a sudden, an alarm call of a sambar deer. Rajan heard it and said "I got it," and off we went. We passed the jeep with the guests from my lodge and Rajan told their driver he'd heard the alarm call and the road it was on. They elected not to follow, despite him trying to help them out. It did seem insane that he could hear a call and know what road the tiger was on - especially since it was a road pretty far from the meadow we'd been at - but he was positive the tiger was there.
As we drove he looked for tracks. It was a ways - he was sure though. And then we saw fresh tracks. "The tiger is very, very close" he said. And then, we turned a bend in the road, and there was this tiger. The tiger was walking his territory, scent marking, patroling, once in awhile doing a small call. Our jeep was the only one there: the ideal perfect way for a tiger sighting. I will post a few more shots of this tiger on that sighting - as I had 30 minutes alone with him and 10 with another vehicle, I have about 200 shots to choose from!