Up early before the dawn today so we could be out in the open trucks to look for tigers in the park. It was chilly enough for me to put on a jumper and my jacket. The hotel provided rugs to wrap around us and I was grateful for mine as we drove off down the road. Once we were in the park proper, and our speed dropped, we began to warm up.
We had a sighting of a sloth bear (actually a black, indistinguishable shape hidden in the scrub), and were assured this was a rare event, these creatures being both nocturnal and inhabitants of the denser areas of jungle. I’ll take their word for it.
We also found monkeys, deer – both Sāmbhar and spotted, and some birds. The guide reminded us that the purpose of the morning’s activity was to find tigers, so there was no stopping for pictures. We bounced along through the park, frequently meeting other searchers equally unsuccessful in their search for the tiger.
I was resigned to failure and reminded myself that big girls not only didn’t cry, but they didn’t throw tantrums over missing big cats either. I wasn’t sure I’d convinced myself and our truck seemed headed for home when our way was blocked by four approaching vehicles. Our truck cleared the way, then abruptly swung around to follow the other trucks. The hunt was on! We bounced vigorously up hill and down dale over the rutted tracks in a convoy of excited tourists. We were just about to climb a hill when the whole party came to a juddering halt. I assumed the first vehicle was having trouble climbing the slope, but no. There was a tiger asleep in the middle of the track.
We were about the sixth vehicle back, and although the guide kept pointing it out to us, the ‘tiger’ was just a non-descript patch of white, hidden by the vehicles in front of us and intervening scrub.
We waited, craning our necks, for so long that we’d begun to think the creature was dead. The relief when she started to move! Very slowly and casually she lifted her head and looked around before getting to her feet and moving a few feet to the left where she relieved herself. The trucks didn’t seem to worry her at all and we were able to follow beside her for several minutes. I suppose she was used to all the clamour and activity, because she didn’t hesitate to squat and defecate before resuming her amble down the track. All part of her morning routine I presume. Eventually she found another comfortable spot and sat down.
After a while we left her in peace and returned for our own breakfast.
Later in the afternoon we went out in the park again. We’d been told we were unlikely to see tigers again, but I’d hoped for jackals, hyenas and maybe a leopard (although they’re up in the high ridges where we weren't going). We saw many deer, and a variety of birds, but no jackals or hyenas.
Then, towards the end of our trip we found another tiger. This time a young mother, No 84. The guide, who knew her, told us that she had her cubs hidden close to the wall of the park. He obviously knew her habits sufficiently to be able to predict where she would appear. We, and 17 other vehicles jostled for position and tracked her for about half an hour. I got some great shots, but I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with our harassment. Celebrities suffer from the paparazzi, and this is what it looked like. And of course I recognise the hypocrisy in that thought because I was equally as determined to see and photograph the tiger. The zeal and enthusiasm with which we all followed her was a reminder that we are all still hunters at heart.
I realise this intrusion is what guarantees her survival, and that of her cubs. The money tourism brings in pays for the park and for those who protect her and her species. Even so, I was glad when we all left her in peace and went back to the hotel for dinner.
Out on safari
Tiger No 39