Walk ALone

star male walking golden light B&W©

The unstoppable stride of a tiger.

Anybody remember Edwin Moses?

So languid it appears to be in slow motion and yet in the blink of an eye he is miles away from you.

The way a tiger cover ground so effortlessly almost seems like an illusion. Hills, lakes, ravines, rocky escarpments don’t slow him down. Neither do villages nor crop fields. Crop fields have cover. They have water. They have nilgai and wild boar. That is all he needs. A tiger could pass through a string of villages without ever being noticed.Tigers walk over 40 miles in a single night, patrolling their territories. Amazingly, a few years ago a missing Ranthambhore tiger was re-discovered in Madhya Pradesh, about 700 miles away. There is is no real contiguous forest between the two places – only farmland and rural human populations.

The stride of a tiger stops only when man stops it.  He runs into a poacher or his snare, a villager or his cattle, a bureaucrat and his development project or a politician and his mining/timber concession.

Are we striding into a better more developed world?

T22 towards camera low ©T28 in the shadows  T39 walking away on track T28 w prey as bkgnd t39 stalking zone 5 © T24 on the hill © T28 side on medium

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‘Baby Face’ of Ranthambhore

T 74 close up blur B&W ©

T-75, Ranthambhore

The seldom spotted ‘baby- faced gangsta’ of Ranthambhore.

T 75, a young male from T-17’s 1st litter gives us the look. He has been in some territorial skimishes with older, more established males earlier this year. He is the son of Sundari, the beautiful resident female of the Ranthambhore lakes, until she tragically ‘ disappeared some years back, never to be seen again.

Pythons & Lizards

python monitor 1

A Rock Python works his coils around a monitor lizard

Returning to Ranthambhore ( and this blog ) after a couple of months, we had a day full of tigers playing in the monsoon rains, stalking & hunting chitals, tracked a patrolling dominant tiger who stumbled upon and surprised a sub-adult into full flight. Saw a tiger run like a cheetah for the first time in my life. We also had a leopard sighting while waiting for a tiger to emerge from the same spot. However, nature throws surprises at you as it must and this was was the highlight of the day just as we were exiting the park- a life & death struggle between a large monitor lizard & a rock python.

python monitor

A large monitor lizard struggles in the grip of a coiled Rock Python

The photo that isn’t

t19 calling teeth ©

T19 calling out to her cubs in Jhalra, October 14th 2014

The tiger version of Begum Akhtar singing a ghazal? Or… Begum Akhtar at the dentist’s?
Neither.

This is a mother tigress calling her cubs upon her return from her wanderings. She moans softly, calling out to the invisible cubs who have remained hidden in a thicket in Ranthambhore for the entire day. They gradually emerge from the relative safety of dense foliage, squealing with excitement and have a grand reunion with mom. This is always a very moving moment for those lucky enough to witness it – as wildlife lovers or photographers- something I’ve have tried to capture quite a few times and failed badly.
This picture also fails ( it is more about the health of T19’s battle-scarred hunting equipment than anything else ) but seems somewhat suggestive of a mother’s longing. ~ ( 1dx X500mm, f/4, iso/640, sh/1/2000, full frame ) I would love to see if someone has captured this moment on camera.

T19 emerging towards jhalra©

T19 calling out her cubs, still hidden in the bushes

Boys to Men

It is fascinating to notice the body language change in a tiger as it grows. I saw this one at 2 months and now he is 6 months old. From a fearful and jumpy cub to a nervous youngster. In another 3 or 4 months he will put on a lot more weight and heft. According to tiger experts, that is when a big dose of confidence kicks in. At 3 or 4 years and a tiger looks and walks like he owns the world. Size does matter, it seems.

cub stopping at moms sight flp ©

cub at two months

cub stalking  flp©

cub at 2 months

cub crossing the track

cub at six months

t24 on bridge alt flp ©

full grown tiger at four years

Pussycats to Tigers

Mom & 2 cubs in water ©

“Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to be cow boys!”

In the extreme heat of Ranthambhore in June, these young cubs of T19 emerged tentatively from the bush only to face a battery of photographers with bazooka lenses. A few minutes later their mother joined them and, voila, there was an immediate change in body language.

Hesitant, cowering cubs instantly turned into, well……… confident young tigers!

The maternal instinct is a such a familiar feeling and the most powerful nurturing force- something we all recognise from our own experience. One that decides whether something will live or die, or perpetuate itself.

Something we should carry in our head and hearts when we interact with the other inhabitants of our planet.

The tragedy of Sundari

tiger panaorama, 2008 2

The beautiful T17 ( Sundari ), centrepiece of Ranthambore for many years, in the winter of 2008 when she ruled the lakes. She vanished suddenly in 2013, leaving 3 young cubs to fend for themselves.

A massive hunt was launched to find the seven-year-old tigress for over a month, but it came up empty.

An extremely successful and dominant tigress, Sundari was never heard from again and presumed dead. There were many stories and conspiracy theories. Many fingers were pointed in many directions. In the meantime, her cubs were scattered with two of them looking quite weak initially. All the three were later sighted together, but their mother was never found again.

The forest department intervened to a limited extent and the cubs are growing up without their mother. This once again raises the questions of leaving nature to nature or playing God or just being ‘human’. A very real dilemma in today’s vanishing wildernesses.

Its important to note that just like people, tigers also take a long time to teach their young the ways of life. How to hunt, where the water is, which trails lead where and where the danger is. This ‘rearing’ takes about 2 1/2 years, when a sub-adult is confident enough to strike out on its own.

It has been falsely assumed for many years that if you simply relocated a young healthy tiger to a new territory with adequate water and prey base, it will become self sufficient very quickly. Not true!

The Forest Fly-past

storks in flight ©

Sometimes being in the jungle is a bit like being a spectator at India’s Republic Day parade.

An archaic vestige from a time when the country took inspiration from all things Soviet, India celebrates the birth of its constitution by a parade of its military might and its cultural heritage. Regiments, tanks, armor and ethnic dances march by. The high point is the finale which is a fly-past of aircraft, whizzing by in tight formations.

Many hours can be spent without seeing anything in the jungle, just twiddling one’s thumbs, being at peace in the comfortable embrace of nature.  But sometimes when such a parade occurs and there’s a steady stream of critters, big and small, marching by, it can all get a little too much.

chital stag

You are a watching a tiger stealthily stalking a chital deer, upon whose back is a Drongo bird riding piggy-back, desperately trying to balance itself. On the tree behind which the tiger is hiding, a python creeps towards a bird’s nest. The frantic bird is squawking noisily trying to ward off the snake, which makes you look upwards, only to see a silent and smooth formation of painted storks flying overhead against the sky.

Drongo forest cp

All serious photographers go into the jungle with a specific purpose and objective.  They are disciplined enough to ignore all temptation and stay focused ( no pun intended ) on the job at hand . It is idiots like me who get all worked up and react to everything, often spraying my camera all over. It hardly ever works. This one time, I think it did.

stork line©

(C)attitude

jungle cat ©

Cats- small , medium or super-sized- they all seem to carry an attitude that’s a lot bigger than them.

Jungle car crouching ©

This is a Jungle Cat, the smallest of the wild cats, in Ranthambhore making a monitor lizard kill. Interestingly, while driving through Semli on a crisp winter morning, I asked our friend & guide, Yadvendra Singh when was the last time he saw a kill. Before I could even complete my question, we came upon this cat taking out a monitor lizard.

jungle cat monitor kill 1 ©

jungle cat monitor kill 3 ©

Incidentally, it is the Jungle Cat which was mummified along with the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, to keep them company on their onward journey.

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