Following are episodes from my recent visit to Tadoba National Park, 625 sq km of protected forest, under the Project Tiger Reserve.
It was around 5:30 pm. We had just arrived at Tadoba that afternoon, and it was our first safari. After seeing some of the more common animals and birds, all of us were wishing for the sight we came all this way for – a tiger in the wild.
The driver and guide took us to a part of the forest which was a common spot for tiger sighting, owing to the little greenery and shade left there (it was peak summer) and also a small puddle of water. As we were driving past the area very quietly, each one scanning the bamboo for any movement, we heard a high pitched sound – the alert call of a Sambar. The driver immediately slowed further and the guide quickly drew our attention to something in the trees, something we all strained our eyes to see and finally the shape was clear – it was a kill; a dead Sambar. The guide told us that the tiger would be close by, guarding it’s kill, and would head to the water now that it was exhausted chasing its prey. Soon all other jeeps arrived at the spot, and everyone was very quiet, with all engines switched off. There were more callings of the Sambars – alerting each one in the area of the assassin!
Finally after sometime we got the first glimpse of a pattern of black stripes, perfectly camouflaged in the trees – it was a tiger, approaching the waterhole as expected. Much later, it came out of the cover and we could see her face.
It was a female, as explained later by the famous ornithologist and wildlife expert, Mr. Kiran Purandare. Notice that the face is slightly oblong (not very round and flat) and the absence of frill around the face – these are ways to distinguish between male and female. After coming out a bit in the open, she went and sat in a sort of private area, near the waterhole. We were all very excited, and wished she would come out again. Soon enough, she emerged out of her hiding, giving us a nice photo shoot!
The entire episode lasted about half an hour, and after giving us this confident look, she went deeper into the forest, out of our sight within minutes.
It was Day 2, around 6:30 am. Early in the morning, at first we were greeted by a beautiful peacock dance! However, we didn’t spend much time there and were on our way ahead, when we saw something very interesting – a sloth bear, out in an open field!
It was breakfast time (not us, the bear!) and the bear seemed to be very playful about the whole act of finding and feeding on it’s favourite dish – termites! Actually the bear seems to be almost smiling if you observe the partially open mouth!
It was totally unaware of (or at least showed as if it didn’t care about!) our presence, and was just running around, sniffing the ground with it’s ultra sensitive nose. As soon as it found something interesting it stopped and bent down to feed. Within seconds it would again continue with the running around; we took it as a dance put up for us!
We all took plenty of photos, did some video shooting, and then finally left to proceed ahead. Our friend was still in a happy mood, running around on his playground!
This happened a few hours after episode two, ie around 9.30 am. While passing another common tiger-sighting spot, we heard successive calls of Sambars. There wasn’t any visible prey, but sure enough a tiger was close by.
This was the longest we had to wait to see a tiger; for almost an hour we were just sitting quietly in our jeep, listening to the alert calls and anticipating where the tiger would emerge from. There was a waterhole and for sure it would come out and drink at it, the question was only ‘when?’! Sometime in between the forest department’s tanker came by to refill the waterhole (there are many artificial waterholes by the roadside that are filled regularly in the summer to provide water to the animals and birds in the scorching heat) and this created additional disturbance. It meant the tiger would only take longer to come out in the open.
The patience paid off; he finally came out to drink and cool himself! Notice the round face and frill around the face, indicating a male.
However, there was a series of quite understandable thoughts in his mind, which were as follows. As soon as he came out, he saw jeeps full of people at a distance, waiting and climbing on seats to have a better look. As he approached the waterhole, he started shying away.
We were all sulking, about how a great opportunity was lost. But this was not to be the case. As he neared the forest line, he changed his mind again! He turned towards the waterhole, and gave us that same confident look!
(The above photo is different from the first photo in this episode! The intentions are the same though – it’s clear who’s the boss here!)
The adult male finally came to the waterhole to have a dip and sip.
He settled in, and quickly gave a few poses, before he felt uncomfortable (maybe due to so much human presence) and left the open waterhole to return to his forest.
The whole event unfolded before our eyes in less than a minute flat! A friend had taken a video clip, which actually has continuous clicks – clicks of my cam’s shutter going off; I took close to 30 photos within that minute!
This is a very small episode, bringing out the livelihood or rather dynamism of the smaller world. Just after the tiger from the above episode left the scene, our attention was drawn to some movement on the ground, very close to our jeep. A chameleon was posing proudly!
The chameleon then went for a quick bite. Its prey seemed to be fighting for life, but was no match to the sheer strength of this reptile!
As expected, this entire action took place within a minute, but we were lucky enough to be very close to it to see it from start to finish!
Click here for the entire album.