You could be 10 feet from a leopard and never see it! Its the ultimate in big cat camouflage. There is something about the rosettes, the tone, the color, hue, shape and movement of this cat that makes it practically invisible if it chooses not to be seen.
This is probably why it manages to exist in very close proximity to man without him ever sensing its presence. Many communities, even in urban areas in India would be shocked to discover that these cats live, eat, breed under their very noses, because they manage to do so very secretively.
The exploding human population is changing this dynamic very rapidly. Instances of conflict in outer Mumbai, Uttarakhand and many other places suggest the proximity has gotten way too close for comfort.
With our diminishing forest cover, these cats have no place to go. They need a new trick. Quick.
Who would have thought that one could have a frame full of tigers in one shot!
If the light was any poorer one could have mistaken them for a group of Sāmbhar moving cautiously through the tall grass. Yet, this is a very common sight these days in Ranthambhore. Frequent sightings of families of tigers, nonchalantly moving about in broad daylight, surrounded by jeep-fulls of visitors, testifying to the recent good news of more tigers in Indian reserves.
40 years ago when Fateh Singh Rathore, the visionary architect of Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve fought the ‘System’ valiantly for these forests, he would see a tiger perhaps once in two weeks, and that too in the middle of the night.
I wonder what he would think today.
“ I see that you have seen me, seeing you”. A peekaboo through some very thick foliage of the not-often-seen T-75 ( the offspring of T17 aka Sundari ).
Some people mistook him for an older male, Romeo ( T6 ) but that Rudolf nose is a dead-giveaway. The pink is a sign of youth. As they grow older the pigmentation turns darker.
With the recent population explosion at Ranthambhore, and the resident tiger moms raising their offspring from infancy to adulthood in full public view of park visitors, a notable behavioural change over that last 15, 20 years, it remains to be seen how the park and the town of Ranthambhore manages this recent ‘good news’ of more tigers. Limited space, more tigers – more tigers used to human proximity. Something for all of us think about, worry about…