We’d visited some of the tiger reserves in India before, but in March / April. In October it is very different. Most noticeable its much greener and more water is flowing in the rivers. This makes searching and photographing wildlife, especially Tigers, a real challenge. Also photographic safaris in Indian are very different to those in much of Africa. In India driving off road is not allowed so you have to rely on the guides and drivers tracking the Tigers. Then you wait for the tiger to come to you. Whereas in Africa the guides still track but if the wildlife wanders along a dry river bed or through some thick bush you follow. This makes both sightings and getting closer somewhat easier.
It was obvious, from the pug marks, that there were a number of tigers moving along the many tracks that ran though the reserve. We had been on five drives in two different areas without a sighting. The sixth drive was scheduled for a visit to the Madhgi area.
Day Four 4.30 am
The early morning calls got the group up and ready to set off in the three jeeps. We were at the gate ready to enter at first light, well before sun rise.Not too far along the track the guides picked up the tracks of a large male. A little further along one of the guides spotted our first tiger. He was lying down in a clearing some distance from the track. and quite difficult to see. Within minutes other jeeps had arrived.
On African safaris, in our experience, most of the time in remote areas you are often the only vehicle. In some African reserves there’s a policy of a maximum of three jeeps, with others waiting to take their turn. In India it can, despite the numbers of jeeps in the area being restricted, become a confusing mess of jeeps all jostling for a view, making getting any good images difficult.
This male tiger was well known to the guides. He was the father of three cubs whose mother had recently died. They had all been weaned and he apparently had tried to feed them for a few days before the cubs were taken away and put into a protected area. She had been electrocuted crossing an electric fence. Although illegal the villagers in the buffer zone had put the fence around their fields to protect their crops and cattle.
The gamble for the best position
On this occasion our guides suggested that as the sun began to rise the tiger would start to move to find water. Our best option was to wait a little further along the track. When the tiger decided to move we would be in his likely path and in the best position.
After about fifteen to twenty minutes, as predicted, the tiger began to become restless. He rolled on his back before stretching, standing and beginning to make his way to a nearby water hole. This is where a good guide with local knowledge pays off, as the tiger moved straight towards our vehicle. He seemed to be checking the ground and trees on the way for the scent of other tigers that might have entered his territory.
Finally he strolled beside the jeep before making his way into the deeper vegetation. Our first tiger and hopefully some decent photos. The guides, despite some having worked in the park for 25 years, always seem to be pleased and get very excited about the sighting.
Mission accomplished, tiger found.
Further into the park a second tiger had been sighted we decided to check out that area before the sun got too high and the temperature drove the tigers to their resting places. The view of the tiger was very restricted due to the number of jeeps. A glimpse of an eye or a paw being raised as the tiger rolled over was all we could see this time. We then decided to move on, there was a few more alarm calls and then silence.
We spent the rest of the morning, before having breakfast at the central meeting point, spotting and photographing the other inhabitants of the park.
Over the next two days we managed further tiger sightings, despite on one occasion our search being cut short. As we had to fix a punctured tyre in the middle of a tiger reserve. Unfortunately the other sights on this occasion were at some distance, often with the tiger moving into the thick vegetation.