Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Tigers of Bandhavgarh !

The Chakradhara Female

I spent a few amazing days in Bandhavgarh in the last week of May. There were Tigers visible everywhere and the Park was really beautiful..awaiting the monsoon rains. I was very lucky to see many of my favourite Tigers..the Chakradhara female, which is the 'first lady' of the Park, was lying in the Chakradhara meadow, one hot afternoon. She took a passing interest in a Wild Boar nearby and looked up at us for a moment, before going back to her nap. I was so happy to catch a glimpse of this amazing Tigress whose progeny has made Bandhavgarh what it is today..famous world-over for it's Tigers. She had five litters so far and is about 13 years old. She has 3 nine month old Cubs now.

The Chorbehera Tigress

This is a daughter of the Chakradhara Tigress from her third litter and her territory is the first one you will encounter when you get into the Park. It is a small but a beautiful space stacked with prey and the perennial Charanganga flowing through it. The low hills with their rocky outcrops on both sides in the Jamunia area is one of the most dramatic entrances to any Park in India and my favourite! Each time i drive through this patch of dense forest, i get goose-bumps!

The Jhurjhura Tigress with her family.

This Tigress is the sister of Chorbehera and has three beautiful juveniles..one male and two females, which are extremely play full and are frequently seen in summer, playing and cooling off in the Rajbehera pond. The two females are quite relaxed in front of vehicles packed with excited tourists, but the their brother is a bit nervous and likes to stay away from people..

The nervous Jhurjhura male !
He is a very shy Tiger and tends to keep away from the crowds..and usually growls like this to make his dis-pleasure clear..before bounding away in relief!

The female juvenile trying to stalk Chital...

The Panpatha Cubs !
I was also very lucky to view the three 4-5 month old Cubs in the Panpatha area of Bandhavgarh, which is a new area open for tourism..away from the main tourism zone of Tala. The mother of these Cubs is one of the females from Chakradhara's earlier litter. We also caught a glimpse of her resting in a nallah. This area is one of the dispersal options for the Tigers in Bandhavgarh but is fraught with dangers..as it is adjoining many villages and the Tigers frequently run into confrontation with humans..in fact, this Tigress is accused of killing a cowherd, who strayed too close to her Cubs recently...

The Dominant Male-B2 !
Every time i go to Bandhavgarh, i yearn to see him! The charismatic B2 ! I really feel i have some strange bond with him...since the very first time i came to this Park, almost four years back, he has been bestowing me with some very special 'darshan' of himself..the true King of these jungles! He is over 12 years old now..and he has been the Dominant Tiger of Bandhavgarh for more than nine years now! Yes, he is slowly losing ground to a new male from the South, nick-named Bokha, as one of his canines is missing..but he still has the swagger of a King in his step!
One beautiful morning, i came across B2 lying in the grass near Chakradhara meadow..after 5 odd minutes, almost as if he sensed my presence, he looked up..straight into my eyes!!

B2 eating some grass !
He then eat some grass..actually quite a bit..before going back to his slumber!

The Dominant male in South-Bokha!
I even caught a glimpse of this beautiful male Tiger, who is trying to take over B2's territory. He was seen in the company of the Jhurjhura Tigress and her juvenile Cubs..probably trying to court her again..these are his Cubs from a previous litter.

The New male in Bamera (Panpatha) !
This is a big male Tiger, who is the father of the Panpatha Cubs (in a previous picture), who is the Dominant Tiger in waiting..i feel that he and Bokha will fight over B2's territory, once B2 loses his dominance..who will be the new King of Bandhavgarh?!

Rhesus Macaques in a play full mood!
One of the reasons why Bandhavgrah is so productive in terms of it's meadows and the high Prey densities it supports is the many perennial springs which flow as streams in the Park..these Macaques were at play in Charanganga, the main stream and the life-line of Bandhavgarh. They were actually jumping into the stream from a low tree and playing like a bunch of urchins!

The Vanvai Tigress with Cubs...
Bandhavgarh's success story as a stupendous Tiger habitat rests mainly on these breeding Tigresses, who have managed to raise their Cubs against all odds..like this one in a picture taken by me in January 2009. She is the Vanvai Tigress, who has successfully raised three Cubs. Alas, she is no more now...she was found dead under mysterious circumstances on May 5th 2009. Her territory is on the Eastern boundary of the Park and has the most chances of running into trouble with human populations in the area, who are not known to be very friendly to wildlife. Her Cubs are about 18 months old now and the good news is that they have somehow learnt to hunt and are managing to survive on their own so far...one morning we saw their fresh pug marks..and somebody else actually saw two of them...looking healthy...
Bandhavgarh..like most Parks in our crowded landscape teeming with people, is merely an island habitat for Tigers. Unless, we do something drastic both in the short-term and in the long-term, we will lose such productive Tiger populations (also known as 'source populations') forever..
In the short-term, we need to deal with the human populations living on the periphery of the Park..win them over by addressing their existential, every day needs like alternative economic opportunities and grazing areas. One such economic opportunity is tourism..the farms along the Park boundary can have home-stays with machans, which visitors can use at night! The locals should be proud of their Tigers..and should realise that they have a stake in protecting them for the long term..simply put, a live Tiger earning tourism money should be seen as more worthy than a dead one. Something like in Rumbak valley, where i went to see the Snow Leopard..the locals now look at the Snow Leopards as assets..and protect them, as they are bringing them badly needed revenues through Tourism.
What we also desperately need, for these things to happen are highly committed Park managers backed up with visionary leaders. The mangers, among other things, need fixed terms for about five years.. and not get shifted out within a year..like it happened in some Parks of M.P recently. How can they even think of winning over local communities and do so many other things to protect the Tigers, if they are not sure of their jobs? And one of the depressing things is that the officer who comes in, has his own ideas and dis-continues the initiatives taken by his predecessor, even if they are good!
The long-term measures which will secure the future of Tigers in Bandhavgarh include restoring it's connectivity with Parks like Sanjay and adjoining forests to it's North-west and maybe even with the Kanha-Pench landscape in the South, which is much more challenging, as one has to link up degraded, patchy forests.
Do we, as a Nation, have the desire, vision, commitment and the guts to save our Tigers?? Or are we mere by-standers..watching these amazing animals slowly disappear into the oblivion...while as a species, we keep chomping up their habitat and of all other wildlife. We humans are such an arrogant and a selfish species...i really feel depressed that i am one of them..

1 comment:

Joseph said...

Hi Sarath,

Your pictures are amazing and your message is strong........Joe.
Let me know how can I become a wildlife photographer and naturalist. I am late in taking up this career but I wanted to learn & become a person like you to spread the message to the people in preserving the forests and Wildlife. my email ID: josephsteve25@hotmail.com. I await for your response. Thank you....Joe