Posts Tagged ‘Tiger


Breathing with the Chitals

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”
– Chief Crowfoot

This incident happened 17 years ago, when Dhikala wasn’t the monkey-infested, jeep-cartel ridden, dirty, noisy place that it is now. It was always great to reach Dhikala after the long and exhilarating drive from Dhangarhi gate. Ignoring the tourism department’s restaurant we would head straight for Kaleji’s Dhabha; sit under the thatched roof waiting for aloo paranthas that would be washed down with steaming cups of tea and, checking what was being planned for dinner.

Continue reading ‘Breathing with the Chitals’


The singular case of Kalyani’s profundity

It has taken many years for Kalyani Warner to finally expend a few days of her 18th year visiting the Corbett Tiger Reserve with her Arun Chacha. These are her observations with my comments at the end of the photo feature.

What I anticipated:

Aware of the reducing tiger population I came to the Jim Corbett Park with very few hopes of sighting one. However, secretly, there was a small part of my heart that knew that not seeing a tiger would be most disappointing and not just for me but humanity in the larger sense.

When I saw the tiger:

When we saw the tiger, it was all very sudden. Ours was the only jeep there and we were separated by a small stream of water. It was just lying there… that’s when it hit me; it was one of the most beautiful sight ever… the most beautiful animal I had ever seen.

Continue reading ‘The singular case of Kalyani’s profundity’


“Yenu sahebre!”

Delighted to have this guest post from Samira Agnihotri, Ph.D. student, Centre for Ecological Sciences.

It was a cold, dripping December morning and we were looking for Racket-tailed drongos in the moist deciduous forest around Dhoomanagadde Raaste.  As we walked down the trail, we saw signs of elephant, gaur, wild pig and civet.  A startled sambar stag ran away with thudding hooves.  Very few birds were calling, and no drongos were in sight.

A couple of hours passed and we slowly thawed in the growing warmth of the sun.  And then, a racket-tail flew across the trail with a flock of jungle babblers. For the next ten minutes or so, it stays low in the undergrowth, feeding on insects disturbed by the babblers foraging on the ground.  It crosses the trail again, and disappears into the foliage. We wait for a bit – it might come back. But it flies further in, and we follow.  After crawling through lantana thickets, we reach a clearing and there it is again, in the shrubs at the edge. Other species have joined the flock – Grey-headed and Black bulbuls, Flameback woodpeckers, Hill mynas, a Paradise flycatcher, a Bar-winged flycatcher shrike, Bronzed drongos and Brown-cheeked fulvettas.  The air is filled with the calls of these birds, but the drongo is silent at present. It flies off again, and after a while, we realise that we can’t go after it – the lantana is too thick here. So we trace our way back towards the trail.

It is 0821 am.  As we step onto the path, a chital calls from the gully a few hundred metres to our right.  A minute later, a bonnet macaque gives the special alarm call that it reserves for big cats, and we are instantly on the alert. The macaque is close, just around the bend, and we can’t see what it is calling at. But we hear it the next moment, as the tiger growls! We are very close, and I’m not sure if it isn’t headed our way. I instinctively take a few steps back, but Jadeya gestures for me to hold his machete while he takes the video camera out. I hold on to the machete with trembling hands, and slowly follow him.  We see the tiger walking slowly down the path, and follow as silently as we can. It pauses to sniff at a tree trunk, and scrapes the ground.  I am almost sure it can hear my heart pounding in my head.  It walks on, and I notice that it has two bright, white spots on the back of its ears. It stops again, and sprays a tree trunk. We walk with it for about a hundred metres before it leaves the path and disappears into the forest. Jadeya finally turns and grins at me – and I beam back at him. The ‘kere’ is just ahead, and we are sure it is going in that direction. We jog down the path towards the kere, and there it is, sitting at the bank on the opposite side. It looks at us for a few moments, then yawns and sits down behind some bushes. It starts licking itself, and then rolls over with its paws in the air. We chuckle silently – it is a very contented tiger. We watch for a while, and then Jadeya says that all he needs to do is say ‘Yenu sahebre!’, and it will look up and he can take a picture, but I beg him not to.  The tiger is still sunning itself.  I whisper that we should leave – if we don’t disturb it, it might show itself to us another day.

It is 0908 am when I say ‘Tata’ to the basking tiger. On the way back, I can hardly contain myself, and hug trees when Jadeya is not watching.  We are on top of the world!


The Tera Tigress

“Do not blame God for having created the tiger, but thank him for not having given it wings” – Indian Proverb

There was a backlog of pending ‘kill reports’ that day. I had already logged-in three calls on Sunday, bringing our total to five from different areas – one, as far as Azamgarh. For the uninitiated, a ‘kill report’ here, stands for any incident of cattle being attacked and/or killed by the big cats (tiger and leopard). Based on the inspection and confirmation of a kill case by the team, an interim relief amount is made to the owner.

It would be a tough day for the staff and I wasn’t sure if we would be able to cover all locales.

Adding to my problems was the managements desire to turn serious conservation work into some kind of ‘tamasha’ for doddering, cowboy hat wielding, hung-over trustees – who wanted to be part of a team responding to any such report. We had unwarrantable instructions not to move out till the ‘venerated’ individuals dawdled down to our office.

So, there we were, on a Monday morning waiting for ‘six shooter’ and ‘jungle drums’ to arrive!

Continue reading ‘The Tera Tigress’


Once Upon a Time on Elephant-back


like dripping light sprinkled my body.

and a Khalij startlingly drew a

black line with its flight.

the lantana used its thorns to

protest against the invasion;

the shrike balanced on the tip of the

overloaded sarkanda…

somewhere the king moved and the langur

hacked its warning in tune

with the barking dear.

the jungle froze and with bated breath

i wait.

the moment passes.

It was getting a bit annoying – not being able to do our work because of the hordes of tourists that seemed to take over the place! No elephants were available for us to cross the river. The garbage around the riverbanks had to be cleaned soon.

Looking at the human animals, I wondered about the Homo Sapiens’s selfish and unreasonable fight for space with the world’s wildlife, which has to contend with hunting, poaching, pollution, pesticides – and most important, the loss of habitat. Very often, determination of dedicated people is all that stands between an endangered species and extinction. But why do they bother? Why should we bother about the tiger? Does it really matter if the tiger becomes an extinct species in India? Yes it does. Every animal and plant is an integral part of the environment… with a major role to play in maintaining the ecological stability of his or her delicate environment. Conservation is very much in tune with our own survival… the world would be a lonelier, poorer place without them.

Hoots of shrill laughter interrupted my musings. Looking across the chaur, I spotted Anarkali, the cow-elephant returning from the forest with a group of tourists.

“Kuch dikha?” I asked the mahout, as the elephant came towards me.

“Sirf hiran aur junglee sooar”, whined the man in the designer jungle-suit, “Hum toe tiger dhekhne aaye theh!”

Anarkali blew an agitated “paruuff” and I exchanged a private look with the mahout. His dark and angry face betrayed his thoughts. How could these people ever expect to see anything with the noise they must have made during the trip? They were lucky to spot the ‘hiran and junglee sooar’, and also fortunate that the mahout had been able to control Anarkali’s nervousness.

I feel that all those who visit National Parks, Sanctuaries and Reserves must undergo a day’s orientation programme on ‘human behaviour’, before they are allowed to enter.

Anyway, here I was with time on my hand and tigers on my mind.

Well, one particular tiger!

Rahim Chacha, Rambha’s mahout had spotted Badshah’s pugmarks across the north chaur towards the watchtower. Yes, THE Badshah! There was general excitement in the air as

Badshah was the elusive tiger – a massive beast known for its majestic size and craftiness. Few had sighted him but many had heard his roar that curdled the blood and turned firm legs into jelly! Known for his stealth, this big cat’s stories were narrated by the elderly mahouts. It was believed that Badshah was a forest spirit. Remarkably, there were no stories of Badshah ever attacking any human. The old hands of the jungle gave him the respect he deserved.

Those who were fortunate to spot Badshah spoke in hushed and awed tones of its size and power. Rahim Chacha was the only mahout who had seen the animal. According to him, the tiger had materialised out of no-where and looked at him, as if asking a question – wanting to know what Rahim was doing in his domain?

Chacha was the one to give the tiger the name Badshah. He would also whisper a prayer each time he narrated this incident and in the same breath blessed Rambha for standing firm.

That night, little Razia, Chacha’s granddaughter came over to inform me that Rambha would be free the following evening. I was overjoyed with the prospect of the tourists leaving and the elephant available. I had been rather dismayed with the authorities’ decision to deny us the elephant. More so, because the re-allocation was based on the fact that it had ‘politically more important’ trips to undertake… daughter of some high-ranking government official was on a visit with her incredibly noisy Hindu College classmates. Later, a mahout had complained of being thrust into a potentially dangerous situation during a forest trip, when the said collegians disregarded the mahout’s advice.

There was another VIP family too, with a gun-toting security guard. It was ludicrous to watch the overweight MLA and his entourage being followed everywhere by the gunman!

By 3 o’clock in the afternoon the forest seemed to settle down. I made my way to Chacha’s house. Rambha had just returned from the river after her bath and her skin was glistening. She had been given a good scrub by a stone. Her eyes were twinkling and her gait was sensuous. She kept blowing air gently and stayed as close as possible to Chacha. I have always marvelled at this wonderful relationship between the elephants and their mahouts!

“Huzoor! Nadi kal paar Karengay,” said Chacha, “Charakat bimaar hai aur jungle janaa parega.”

I was still contemplating this new eventuality, when Chacha asked, “ Aap saath chalengay?”

My blatant glee was so obvious that Chacha could not suppress his smile and tried to hide his amusement by filling his mouth with tobacco.

We set out on Rambha around 4 o’clock and crossed the slightly elevated ridged valley that has the river coursing through it, breaking into many subsidiary streams running in all directions to cut-up the sandy, shingley valley bed into innumerable little ridges and ravines. The nullahs and ravines that go deep into the tree forests are of great importance to the animals. These hold brake of bamboo along their margins and also thick shrub growth, useful both as fodder and as cover.

Chital scattered out of our way and then cautiously resumed their grazing. A wild boar snorted somewhere and a jungle fowl scuttled in the undergrowth. It felt good to be here. I shifted my position to adjust to the elephant’s gait and slowly allowed myself to listen to the forest.

Into the thick Sal forest, Rambha ambled through thick and thorny lantana, occasionally pausing to inspect an interesting tree. Her trunk would then coil around to snap-off juicy branches.

Suddenly, I realised that the forest had become very silent and Chacha’s quick hand gesture held me back from asking any question. I saw him tighten his grip on the rope and push his feet firmly behind Rambha’s ears.

The sound of the langur’s hack made my hair stand on edge. Chacha pointed to his right and I strained my eyes to see what he had seen. A sambar called out a warning adding to the langur’s agitation. Rambha was nervous and Chacha bent forward to murmur soothing sounds into her ear. The forest went deeper into a strange silence and I crept close to Chacha.

Continue reading ‘Once Upon a Time on Elephant-back’

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