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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.      

Monday, July 31, 2017

Tiger Conservation - Role Park Elephants Play

The elephant trudged laboriously traversing tortured terrain to reach the tiger. The animal restless and cornered was in an extreme state of stress surrounded on both sides by the giant pachyderms with humans on top.  After some pictures and a look we returned back. The Tiger Show was over.   

The practice came much under protests. The stress on the elephant and the tiger was palpable. But this practice was a precursor of  the shikar days whence the hunters rode on elephant back to shoot the helpless predator. But the tiger show was  much more innocuous since here the animal did not lose it's life.    

Tiger has to be seen to be believed!

In times of less, the show worked wonders.

Many a myths were shattered especially among the common man as well as the decision makers. The animal came out of a malicious opprobrium of being bloodthirsty and an enemy of men. To many one look was enough to understand its role in the ecosystem. That the carnivore only killed for food that too - it was limited to the prey base - came out as a relief for those who considered it as a vermin. Man eating is an aberration the happens much less frequently than a fatal road accident.      

Anyway the tiger show was stopped for good and a new mechanism of  tracking has been discovered by guides and naturalists that enables to see the big cat in its natural surroundings. This is much less stressful thanks to set regulations and rules in the reserves.   

The mahout or elephant rider were disappointed, the tourist offerings went missing. Nevertheless the pachyderms had an intense role to play. They became the sentinels of the reserves. Now used extensively in patrolling, they safe guard the tiger heavens. They are also instrumental in conservation efforts thanks to the accessibility that they offer in the dense canopy. They aid and assist scientists, guards, conservationists and film makers in the arduous task of reaching the animals in the deep recess.     

To mitigate stress the animals are used mostly during daytime and the off period offers rest and more time to look after the young one's.  There are elephants camps set up within the reserves which reduce the distance and offer privacy. The mahouts with their knowledge of the wilderness also regularly study the  big cats in their areas and report any incidence or anomaly that could require human interventions.   

In India capturing elephants in the wild is banned hence the camps act as nurseries to keep the stock going. The animals are indispensable for conservation work. Some parks do permit elephant rides where in the tourists get good views of the habitat. But this is subject to availability.   

The park authorities and the mahouts look after the animals with care and consideration. They are sighted with much joy by the foreigners who have never seen an elephant.  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tiger Conservation & People Participation

Some years back I conducted kids for tiger conservation program organized by Sanctuary Asia at the behest of local campaigner Mr. Navneet Maheswari himself an avid conservationist and wildlife photographer. 

I went lecturing with the aid of slideshow provided by Sanctuary Asia to about forty schools. The enthusiasm was palpable both among the students and teachers.

Then recently, I conducted nature treks for schools in Jabalpur at the behest of then DFO Jabalpur, Mr. H.S. Mohanta an avid conservationist.         

My job as wildlife and birding guide leaves me with paucity of time now, hence I pen down my experiences regarding tigers. 

In order for a campaign or a program to succeed peoples participation becomes imperative. In a heavily populated country like ours complexities are four fold making success of a program riddled with problems. Getting over the complexities and problems is an arduous task but nevertheless  success is sweet whence overcome.     

Citizens from all walks of life need understand our inheritance and the importance of preserving the ecosystems that we have inherited.The younger the better. Peoples participation is a guarantee of success  especially whence an effort initiated by Govt. of India to save the critically endangered species like the tiger is concerned. 

Tigers need voice and what better than common men and children according it. Recently the tiger population has increased palpably but the predator is still on the brink of extinction. Hence much more has to be done. 

Active participation of  by people from all walks of life during International Day for Tiger was encouraging. 

An event was organized under Mr. Sanjay Shukla, Field Director, Conservator - Kanha National Park in the State of Madhya Pradesh in India. 

I have provided the FaceBook link below for people to know about this magnificent effort. 

A Leopard Dies!

30/7/2017
Jabalpur

This was the second instance whence a leopard was found dead at Barha Forest Range near Jabalpur. The first discovery was that of a mutilated leopard body with paws, canines missing few months back.

The second instance that probably happened yesterday was reported by the locals. This was a young leopard cub probably one year old. Since the postmortem report is not out in the open the cause of the death could not be ascertained.  The presence of leopards in this area is a big surprise in spite of the available habitat. There is nothing there for them to feed on! May be the animals peripatetic by nature venture into such areas from pockets that still accord sustenance.  

Few years back a tiger was reported on a cattle kill in these forests. The animal was probably a vagrant in search of prey. There are none at all, the herds of chinkara and spotted that could be seen some years back have all been poached. Few barking deer do not make a meal for big cats. This leaves no option for them but to go for livestock and the ensuing man animal conflict results.  Some of the locals may be resorting too poisoning, or the killing could be the handy work of poachers or wood loggers which roam this forests in search of wild boar or anything that comes around. 

Neglected with lots of interference, the reserve forests are well known for their minor forest produce including tendu leaf. I have seen few poachers with guns moving around the forests without any fear, and wood logging is a frequent occurrence in these jungles. 

A part of the area was undertaken for some period by TFRI, an institution into forest research. A concrete wall was built for the purpose but this was for a limited period. Experimental plantations could be seen for some time - done for research. But anyway from what I hear the area is back to the concerned forest department.

Most of the visits are by birders like us since the Narrai Nala a perennial stream sustains many avian species. The stream is the lifeline of the ecosystem and supports impressive floral diversity in a limited area.          

The lean forests are mixed type with affinity with forests of Kanha and Bandhavgarh as they where once a part of the tracts which have been intensively inhabited by humans and extensively farmed. Small pockets scattered here and there comprise of good canopy rest need repairs badly. The area was full of wildlife during the period lasting up to late seventies perhaps but no more. A tiger could easily be sighted during that period but now literally not even a rat is visible.    

Well this is the story of most of the reserve forests in India leaving some of the protected areas aside. Once the country's finest ecosystems they now present only a skeletal picture - the wildlife is long gone. These are the pockets that sustained large population of tigers in India. They are devoid of all forms of wildlife in the contemporary period. In order to fetch the big cats out of peril these forest have to be reclaimed and due protection accorded. Such an action would offer extra space for the predators if carefully nurtured.

But do we have the resources and the will?