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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tiger Cannibalism - Budbudi Queen Lost

Loud roars where heard during the morning safari at Karai Ghati road. But no tiger was seen and the commotion was made out to be a kill by a tiger possibly Dhamangaon male who frequents the area. 

Whence we heard about the incidence we explored the area nearly an hour later. The jungle had fallen silent and there was no sign of any life forget the big cat. 

During the evening safari, I advised guests staying at Courtyard House Kanha where I freelance as a naturalist and host to inspect the spot. They sighted what was actually Sangam male a visitor to Karai Ghatti.  

Sangam Male
Pranav Ade & Pratik Mudholkar are wildlife enthusiasts and keen photographers they have taken some excellent photograph of the killer male. The partially eaten carcass was later dragged towards the road and it was discovered to be that of another tiger. On inspection by the forest department it was found to be that of Budbudi female the star of Kisli Range and Queen of Kanha. 

Much is conjectured about the incidence but it is assumed that the male killed her as she was not willing to mate. Or it could be that he was after her cubs? In defence of the cubs she gave up her life. But it is not certain that she had cubs albeit search is going on. 

Often seen at Kisli Talao and Budbudi fire line she was very popular with guides, naturalist and regular visitors to Kanha National Park. 

Another tiger lost, a sad story but what is more saddening is the fate of the cubs? Search will reveal the  true status of the female and I hope soon.        



   Image Courtesy Pranav Ade

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tiger Conservation: Securing Food

Most of the protected areas that have registered an uptick in population of the tigers have also experienced an uptick in prey base. This has happened simultaneously along with improvement of the habitat after relocation of villages from the core zone or the critical tiger habitats.  

Predators are totally dependent upon prey base population for survival and breeding. The two categories of animals are inextricably linked and one cannot think of conserving the tertiary predators in absence of adequate prey base. 

The big cats intake includes spotted deer, sambar, wild boar, gaur, swamp deer and langur in descending order. Outside the core area frequent consumption of livestock chiefly cattle takes place. But this is the bone of contention which endangers the species at  the hands of the locals. Though the compensation plan mitigates the ire the incidence does create a grudge against the animal which could prove as further detriment for the existence of the already beleaguered species in India.  

The Project  Tiger Program in India is certainly inclusive and has been successful in preserving the ecosystems as whole. With proper implementation tiger populations have increased and could increase further.   

The positive number game has favoured the predators immensely and with increased breeding and protection. Subsequently the overflow of prey base into the buffer has also resulted in marginal increase in tiger population in the zone. Marginally because many big cats inhabiting the core areas have included parts of buffer zone within their territorial command. Hence the density though appears to have increased it is not the case. Well not to that extant.

There are tigers inhabiting the far regions of buffer zone where ever sufficient area is contained and wood logging and poaching is restricted. This is where challenge arises by the virtue of constant man animal conflict,  frequent transgressions, timber felling and poaching. The prey base is most susceptible in far flung areas whence inadequate protection mechanism is in picture. 

This is also the case of our reserve forests outside the purview of protected areas. Though infrequent incidence of the carnivores presence comes to our notice now and then these are the grounds with virtually none or scare prey base. Poaching is major threat in such areas while wood logging could be regular. Hence hope of saving the species lies within the precincts of the protected areas in India.     

As a smart strategy greater concentration is accorded to hitherto badly ravaged areas within the core and the viable corridors. Once these areas have been replenished with prey base the focus should include the buffer zone inhabited by humans, their farms and livestock. There is a tremendous biotic pressure in the buffer zone with scores of villages settled post relocation exercise. 

Many areas of the buffer zones have been degraded due to human pressure namely wood logging and indiscriminate grazing. Wetlands and other water bodies have experienced severe stress and need to be brought back. Creation of new water bodies wherever possible is an urgent requirement. Poaching though appears to be sporadic can run uncontrolled as many areas are neglected or could be deliberately overlooked by the patrol teams. Wildlife disease management is another important issue which is certainly being addressed in the core. 

Extensive afforestation programmes have to be initiated in order to create a habitable ecosystem. Human activities have to be contained, and no commercial activities should be permitted at all including construction of private houses.   

The buffer zones would be crucial inclusion in tiger conservation activities if the population has to sufficiently increase. Perhaps the number game if successful would fetch the tiger out of its critically endangered status and perhaps preserves the species forever. 

Though this malady exists possibly in all tiger reserves, Kanha sets a fine example. The population of gaur, chital, wild boar and sambar have definitely increased in the buffer augmenting more habitable regions for the tigers. But here too cases of sporadic poaching using various means especially electrocution surface now and then. 

Installation of solar based fencing which accord a mild shock is the answer to prevent man animal conflict or reduce the instances. Though this may appear as wishful thinking relocation from buffer or containing local or migrant populations would benefit immensely. Excessive human intrusion and activities especially livestock grazing could have a negative impact on the wilderness.      

At the moment things seem to be moving upwards greater efficiency and innovative management techniques along with strong political will can secure the future of the tiger in India. Perhaps forever.   

        

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tiger Conservation - A Number Game

Tigers are illusive animals and amazingly apt at being unseen even whence in vicinity. Their habitat preference aids in camouflage, an art which they have mastered anyway, and a structure along with enchanting colour patterns makes the big cats practically invisible wherever they live.

The predator can sit or stay still for an amazing long period, crouch low in small tufts of grass and walk silently unheard, even whence in proximity. It has an amazing ability to freeze and stay that way for an exasperating time span. The animal can virtually vanish at will from human reckoning.   

I believe many tigers complete their life cycle and die without being seen or being recorded by the tiger counting mechanism or the field personnel. This also assures that the predators occupy wider tiger landscape then we assume. The ghost of the darkness is an apt way to describe the magnificent beast for it is a nocturnal animal made so by necessity and to some extent by massive human intrusion everywhere they survive.        

In democracies life forms that vote are the privileged ones, and hence others are always endangered or facing extinction eternally. Situation is not good in countries that are governed by autocratic or dogmatic beliefs as well. In fact the tertiary predator is nowhere safe.      

Counting The Cat 

Earlier the cats in India and Russia were counted using only the pug mark method. This resulted in greatly exaggerated figures leading to a chancy complacency that was disastrous for conservation. With the advent of more scientific methods like camera trapping and DNA analysis we are coming to more accurate figures plus and minus a few. This development has also led to discovery of tigers elsewhere outside the protected areas in previously undocumented tiger landscape. But do these exciting finds assure that the population in India is rising? 

Well Yes & No

Tiger population is well managed in highly protected reserves it is rising there thanks to the efficiency of the staff, wild life managers and the political will prevalent generously to say so. On the other hand there may be many habitats where the animal is still being persecuted leading to reduction in numbers. Man animal conflict, hunting, poaching are still the factors instrumental in the critical status of the big cat. And yes, I have not forgotten the tremendous biotic and abiotic stress that the modern man is imposing. 

Crown cover of most of the landscapes may be receding drastically hence habitat destruction is an ever going disaster in a heavily populated country like India. Dams, mines and infrastructure projects are never going to see an end, hence the threat will prevail unchecked ever. 

With a virulent stress on development or rather unplanned rabid development that always takes place in haste to be repented at leisure.     

Tigress - Paul Diggins


A Nation hell bent under prioritise, the beleaguered cat has no place in the list.        

Whence we count the big cats we have only one species in mind this is a gross miscalculation. There may be no more than fifty South China tigers in the wild as per reports. The tigers have gone virtually extinct in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. We have lost the Bali tiger in Indonesia, the Caspian and  the Javan. 

Around three hundred Siberian tigers survive in a small pocket, precariously under severe threat from poachers. India is the country which is home to Bengal tiger with the largest number standing at more than half the global population. This species also survives in Nepal, Burma and Bangladesh. The last figures registered an appreciable growth of around thirty percent lets see if it stays that way. The country is doing all that is possible to protect the carnivore in its protected areas.           

The drastic reduction in the habitat is the primary reason for the sad numbers of the animal almost everywhere,  and this threat does not seem to be mitigating. Of the roughly seven percent of the habitat left, the threat of denudation, wood logging and human pressure looms large. The animal needs vast space to survive. Are we willing to accord that do we have a policy which would enable increase the inviolate space badly required?

The populist governance prevailing in the country is incapable of doing this, containment will linger. The hopeless case of tiger corridors is evident so very much. This is due to lack of political courage. We have rapaciously taken over all the land for our cause without generously allocating some for other life forms. There seems to be no hope regarding this, and it seems to be wishful thinking and may seem ludicrous to some.       

The largest and single most threat that looms precariously is the use of tiger parts in Chinese systems of medicine and not to forget the culinary preferences. There seems to be no encouragement that the CITES convention would ever be followed there.      

Albeit the picture seems like doomsday prediction there is hope for the tiger at least in India. All it needs is stringent protection, political will and apt management. We must not forget laws that govern illegal practices regarding wildlife...these need a paradigm change if poachers and hunters have to be discouraged effectively.     

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tiger Deaths - A Real Conundrum

In a short span of time four tigers died at Shahdol District in MP, one each in Corbett National Park in UK and Sanjay Dubri in Chhattisgarh. A tiger was electrocuted near Pench National Park, a tiger was found dead near Sehore....the story goes on. Though more tiger inhabited area should be taken under the net of protection on many instance the process has laggard behind due to reasons unknown.

If any process in this country has to gather pace, that has to be tiger conservation measures. It seems conservation bodies at National and local level are obsessed with tourism rather than finding solutions that could save the big cats in India.    

It no longer surprises whence the tabloids speak of death of the big cats including the leopard. Though not all deaths have a alarming reason many die of one. The ongoing threat is of course electrocution. But poaching and poisoning goes on hand in hand. 

Poisoning is preventable as they do so at Kanha National Park by quickly shifting the carcass out of reach of the predator. This must be done elsewhere too but not everywhere especially in an around our reserve forests. Fortunately not many tigers inhabit our reserve forests as their number has drastically gone down and they are found only in and around the protected areas or the tiger reserves.  

What is missed out by the above factors is taken care of by the railways and road accidents. In case of leopards which venture too close to human habitations they are killed by the marauding mobs and over zealous hunters often in connivance with local politicians.  Neither is the reporting by local press constructive and it is seldom brought to notice about human intrusion in the land of wild denizens. We are urbanising at a fast pace too fast as a matter of fact and bringing to nought the habitats that come on the way. The animals suffer in mute silence as they watch their land being taken away. 

Power play does not affect only the downtrodden humans it is vicious in case of wild animals. Some politicians and local hunters indulge in hunting misusing their powers. Corrupt official from the forests and other departments are often too eager for a shoot out. 

Some members of hunter gatherer tribal communities are a persistent threat to wild animals, and are active in feeding the illegal wildlife trade. Die hard poacher sitting at the helm of the network rarely face penal action, thanks to legal loop holes and an indolent judicial system which drags the cases so long that justice virtually has no meaning.            

The threat to our tigers is real the rising numbers not withstanding. Multi pronged assaults can dip the figures dangerously there is no room for complacency. What is required is a concerted efforts to save the beleaguered animal not just physical protection, proactive policies are the need of the hour. Policing, habitat management, disease prevention and effective translocation of warring tigers wherever population is in plus category.                    

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Case of Missing Tigers of Kanha

The majestic bulk was moving straight towards us, a male tiger heading straight at you can be a chilling experience and if you are a novice it can be frightening. The tiger came close to us displaying its grace and beauty in the breaking light of the rising son.    

This was my first sight of the "red eye" a tiger so named because of a red blotch in his eyelids. Massive but gracefully built the big cat was literally gliding on the soft sand of the jungle road. We kept reversing for a long distance mesmerised by the spectacle that was looming straight at us. The male was busy scent marking and ignored us completely just keeping a slant eye to gauge our proximity. We were at a safe distance reversing all the time till eventually he disappeared on into to the bushes adjacent to the  Sulkum River. He was gone in a flip leaving us breathless and completely amazed it happened too quickly for us regain our composure instantly.    
Red Eye - Paul Fear

This male became the talk of Kanha and began to cover a large territory. His ultimate doom was Munna - who is still alive - whom he could not over power. In a tussle, which in reality was a roaring match he had backed out and left the space forever. Red Eye was seen in other territories and sired as well, but kept away from Munna. After some time he was never seen. he disappeared as mysteriously as he had surfaced. Many speculations where raised. 

Another legendary male of Kanha was Kankata who maintained territory besides that of Munna but never challenged. I had seen him in a family grouping with female and two cubs nearing 7/8 months. After that sighting, he was often seen and was believed to have sired cubs with a female in Kisli Zone. There were rumours of his disposition health wise but was seen often. He too disappeared completely and was never seen again. Many other big cats have made an about turn from the tourism zone much to the surprise of the guides, naturalists and regular visitors. This disappearance have shrouded the reserve in a mysterious veil of doubt.  

Albeit the usual conclusion is change of territory but this is doubtful. Why would big cats firmly entrenched in a a perfect habitat leave it all of a sudden. This especially whence they know that the cubs they have sired will be put to death by the overtaking male.            
Kankata - Doornik 

Translocation is another possibility but certainly those in charge would know that if they trans-locate a dominant male his cubs will surely be killed. 

The third possibility is of poaching because now and then a dead tiger surfaces which has died under mysterious circumstances or electrocuted. 

Take over or expansion of a territory is a regular activity of dominant males but the the loser is usually pushed to being a subordinate or left in command of lesser ground. The actual cause is difficult to ascertain as the non tourism area is out of bounds to all expect the administeration.        

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Searching For Tigers - Bandhavgarh National Park

Bandhavgarh National Park 

The Fort of The Gond Kings 

Rising majestically from the tortured terrain is the Bandhavgarh Hillock scaling 800 plus MSL. On the dizzy heights an ancient fort built more than  two thousand years back nestles imposingly amidst long stretch of grassy meadows and dense canopy. In spite of being in ruins the surrounding spectacle is mesmerising. 

Zoomorphic idols of Lord Vishnu the creator are scattered all over among them the Varha Avatar, Matsya Avatar and Kasyap Avatar are engrossing. Large reservoirs are spread all over the premises presumably surrounding the central building which is no more. 

An ancient temple devoted to Lord Rama, Sita and Laxman stands still over looking the expanse of the hilly forests, swampy grasslands and majestic trees. Rivulets snake through, down from the hills into the plains and glens to create a unique ecosystem of low lying swamps filled grass. These are favourite hunting grounds for the tigers. Known as “bohera” they provide food for the herbivores which in turn become a meal for tigers lurking unseen in the grass.     
Fort Entrance - Pic Teerath Singh

Tigers rule the wild kingdom but telltale signs of human intervention are scattered all over amidst the dense Sal forests of Bandhavgarh. Man made caves, idols, stables, shelters, pools lie still in the kingdom of the wild. The assemblage functional long time back housed armies of the rulers. Turbulent past is etched all over bloody conquests that took place time and again repeatedly one after the other. 

The indomitable spirit of the tiger preserved the species throughout the bloody conquests, and later the marauding hunting pogroms. The survival of the dominant species aided in preservation of the whole ecosystems albeit much reduced.        

Sesh Shhaiya      

Reclining Vishnu - Pic Gopal Desai
Somewhere near the ascent to the fort is an esoteric fairy tale like pool dating back many centuries. Ensconced in a groove of flowering trees a pool made of rocks lies listlessly in the centre. A twenty feet long rock idol of reclining Vishnu is the centre of attraction. Revered by the locals the idol is an archaeological wonder deep in the remote confines of Central India.  
Caves - Pic Teerath Singh
Idols - Pic Teerath Singh  

The pool is fed by number of springs that trickle down the edges over grown with moss, lichens and ferns. As the wind blows from between the hillocks a comfort level astoundingly cool enhanced by the shade of the grooves refreshes in parched heat of the intense summer. The fairy tale like  ambience is an esoteric experience for visitors from the contemporary Worlds. Here time stands still, and the panoramic spread amazes and enchants beyond belief.       

The Terrain   

Surrounding Bandhavgarh are a number of hillocks or tabletop mountains with a unique mix of steep edges and gentle slopes. The hills are covered with bamboo wherever fertility prevails else barren stony escarpment jut out like shining daggers creating an intricate tapestry a unique feature among the surrounding wilderness.        
Meadows - Teerath Singh

Rivulets arising from mountain tops snake through crossing through the low lying terrains. Here they form swampy grasslands which support a wide variety of life forms in their niche. Dense Sal, mix forests and bamboo cover the slopes and the deep glens.     
Bandhavgarh - Teerath Singh

The abundant diversity and unique land features enthral the visitors with their beauty and panoramic excellence. Bandhavgarh is amongst the most picturesque tiger reserves in India.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Post Monsoon Safaris A Wild Goose Chase?

Well not exactly but searching for tigers during the period whence monsoon has just ended is an exhausting  exercise. Tigers are scarce while sightings mostly are of short duration and safaris often are not fruitful. But let me add this happens usually if it rains or drizzles or is intensely cloudy. The likely hood of this kind of the weather is much more whence the park begins in the month of October.  

Good weather in tiger reserves means good sightings post monsoon, winters or summers. Bad weather any time and you  are likely to miss the boat.

Tiger is an elusive beast and a wanderer especially the males. The males guard their territory avidly and post monsoon the water availability and presence of prey everywhere makes territorial patrolling easy and less trouble some.  Hence whence you are searching for tiger in the tourism zone he is well outside of it.

Females too wander extensively but usually those with cubs do not stray far for hunting. They are well ensconced in the dense canopy and do not come out needlessly. But knowing their movements helps in tracking them down.   The biggest joy is to find them with cubs which needs a lot of skill and understanding of their movements and of course a long wait. 

This period also requires extensive safaris because tigers can be found anywhere even in the buffer where most of the accommodations are located. So keep your senses on alert. Areas where extensive human movement has not taken place can yield surprises post monsoon.   

Tigers new to tourism zone are often seen at places unexpectedly this is the greatest fun. Regular movements of the big cats can also change put stress on you to redo your mathematics.     

Albeit safaris should be holistic which we make it but there could be instance whence the guest is only interested in the tiger. Well this is not surprising as we all wish to see one but an all-round interest in nature is rewarding, And this is the right approach as tigers are sometimes not seen during a trip making most of the amazing wilderness, birds and magnificent animals leads to a successful trip. 

 Photo Credits Anshuman Singh.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Post Monsoon Safari Begins Today - 2017-2018

1st October 2017 

With heightened expectations the post monsoon safari begins today in Central Indian Tiger Reserves and perhaps elsewhere in India. The beginning seasons that is October and November are in stark contrast to summer months. 
Tiger on KIll - Monu Dubey 

You come across lush green forests after being freshly inundated by months of torrential rains. The canopy is thick and grass is taller, greener. This is a good time for predators to hunt thanks to almost impenetrable and dense forest cover and grass with plenty of game.      
Tiger Reserve Forest - Neeraj Vegad

For those on tiger safari especially the naturalists and guides it is a tough season. The green cover offers plenty for the predators to hide. Their movements are full of stealth with few traces on ground and alarm cries as the only sources to track and locate the big cats - tigers and leopards. 

The surroundings creates immense pressure and throw open challenge to tracking skills. This is the time to be fully aware of animal movements pertaining to time. Reaching tigers is no guarantee of sighting them as they may remain hidden in the thick canopy. 

Courtyard House Kanha
Courtyard House Kanha - Mukul Yadav 

Last season we reached the tiger three times only to hear it roar. The last time we were terribly unlucky as one jeep was parked right on the pugdandee or jungle track from where the big cat was moving towards the road. Well...that's tiger safari!  

Wildlife Photography 

Grasslands - Neeraj Vegad
For nature photographers interested in capturing habitats along with the subjects this is a good time. While visibility of herbivores remain the same, the bison prefers higher grounds of table top mountains most of which are out of bound for the tourists. Hence less chance of photographing gaur as it is called in Hindi the local lingo.  

While on safari carry some rain-wear albeit the jeeps are equipped with a top if it showers. Most of the rains have been exhausted but some may visit post monsoon...it is not a surprise.    

Jungle Roads - Neeraj Vegad
This is good time for habitat shots as well with the Sun not shying away much. The verdant landscape offers some amazing panoramic delights. This equally good time to sun whence in your resort. Bit please do carry warm clothing until unless you are fond of shivers...     

Other Options

At Kanha - Night Safari

Other safari options are day and night safari at Khatia Buffer. Sarhi and Khapa Buffer. Pl confirm with the HO at Mandla regarding the safaris in these three places outside the core zone.

Visit to Ajgar Hill is also a good option if you wish to see the constrictors. Be there between 10 to 12 am the drive is about thirty five kilometres.

Penh Wildlife Sanctuary  (Micro Core Kanha)    


Directors Cabin
This is pristine and strikingly beautiful sanctuary about three hours drive from Kanha. Tiger sightings are practically nil, but it is good place to see the wild dog, sloth bear and the leopard. Excursions are available for day which is suggested. Phen is a very good place for birding as well.

No accommodation inside, but a MPTDC resort outside is available if open? Please inquire.

Take all the required eatables which you can consume inside the rest house. Carry all required cutlery and lots of drinking water.    

Phen Forests

Phen Landscape

Phen Grasslands


Regulations 

Some jungle roads may be closed due to slush not drying in time. Till 15th of  October whole of Kanha Zone is out of bounds because of  blocked, slippery roads caused by slush. This could be the case elsewhere as well. 

The core areas do not permit foot safaris keep this in mind and do not leave the vehicles. Permits may be available but better book in advance especially for weekends and holiday periods. 

 The parks close on last day of the June every year. 
          

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why Are We Not in The Tiger's Food Chain?


Do humans taste awful? 
Do we have less meat?
Have we been ousted from genetic coding of the tiger's food habit? 


The last question seems more of a plausible answer. 

This Story : Is probably repeat but this time with a twist. 

Having lost a wonderful sighting of Chota Munna somewhere in Kanha meadow we set our brains busy. We then began to encircle a mountain to reach a fire line which the big cat often frequented after crossing over the grasslands in the plains.     

Two alarm calls made us stop a little ahead. And then we heard him. Thinking he would circumvent since there was no doubt that he knew of our presence and exactly.    

Hence I stood up to take a peak over the tall grass and bush. We could hear him brush past the thickets...he had come closer. We were in the middle of the jungle road but in that silence all seemed still except the massive tiger climbing up hill. 

And then straight from the bushes I could see the white patches peering at me.  We were at a distance nevertheless fear engulfed me. I quietly sat down. Many times on safari the big cats emerge by surprise at a distance good enough to attack visitors. We reversed immediately to be at a safer distance. On our first sight the big beast could have charged at us but the attack did not take place. As it does not almost always...

From that spot the cat turned back only to emerge from an opening situated a little ahead. Without a glance at us he began to ambush deer time to time hungry as he was.     

A lone tusker in muust could have charged, may be we could have been charged if the animal was a wild water buffalo...   

That made me think ...the massive tiger was hungry...yet he did not go after us... he would not have attacked a forester on foot in his kingdom. The staff patrols the whole forest on foot and two wheeler every day without an incidence.... 
Anshuman Singh

Man killing is rare and is considered an aberration or an act of self defence whence surprised.  It is evident tigers do not consider us as food till more stressful situation arise....As we say there is plenty of meat (prey) for the predators to survive.    

In most of the man killing cases hunger drives invalidated tigers to kill humans but this is a cause. Else they prefer to stay away from us. 

Possible another answer to this benevolence is that somehow we appear indomitable to the predator. The other answer could be that we have managed to stay away from the wild food chain for long and that has cut us out of the system. 

It is true that other life forms are fearful of this two legged creature...and their intelligence warns them to stay away. Hence no animal attacks without provocation or fear. 

All said and done we should respect wildlife and maintain a safe distance always.