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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Gory Killings Nature At Work

Whence herbivores are killed by the predators it cannot always be a scene picked from a National Geography wildlife serial. Some the moments could be heart wrenching, agonising and a strikingly painful experience. The pathos such incidence generate are difficult to contain what with emotions streaking through the over awed mind. 

While tigers and leopards are efficient hunting machines causing swift death, predators like the wild dog and jackals are not. The charge is often a series of fumbled attacks that end up mauling and scaring the terrified prey. The resultant attacks lead to torture misery and painful death sometimes taking a long time.          

I observed jackal attack on two occasions on tiger safari in April. The first one was a single jackal in a meadow that managed to pick out flesh from cheeks and eyes of a terrified fawn. Agonised to extreme the helpless fawn bleeding and weakened stood up its ground but to no avail. In a series of charges the the jackal could succeed in an awkward kill as other deer watched haplessly.   

The scene was heart wrenching and many among the crowd had closed their eyes, and some simply left the scene. The end was agonising slow but he predator succeeded in availing food. 

The second incidence was at the edge of the forest where two jackals had managed to rip open the stomach cavity, and the entrails where hanging loose. It was indeed a gory event and certainly not for the weak hearts. The animal eventually succumbed and became a meal for the jackals followed by crows and vultures. All was over in a short time.  

Though the events are described here as gory this is the way nature works. In almost all the events the death is painfully slow there is an inbuilt death mechanism amongst the prey but sometimes it does not work. 

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Jackals by nature are omnivorous animals but whence there is preponderance of prey they develop instinct and capability to kill the small one's. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Tiger Ambush & Chase - Hunting

With Margaret & Georges France
Guests Courtyard House Kanha
  

Tiger Hunting Deer Video - Uday Patel
Kanha National Park in India

She must have arrived at predawn in the grassland and had settled down unseen. Whence we saw her she was safely ensconced in between the grass and could hardly be seen. We stayed there admiring the big cat in sylvan surroundings and serene settings that the forests are popular for. The rising sun had lit the strands of grass here and there creating a awe striking splendour. 

We must have waited for some time observing the tigress taking a peek at deer in and around preparing for the kill. This continued for some time till there was a rustle amongst the bushes across the road. Swiftly she turned around and vanished into a grassy patch behind, right opposite to the deer preparing to cross the road. We could not see her at all. Where was she?     

Ambush & Chase     

Suspense mounted as the deer (fawn + doe) slowly edged towards probably where the tigress was waiting. The camouflage was incredible as the big cat lay flat on her belly without a whisker being shaken. Tigers can sit incredibly silent and still of a very long time in wait for their prey and this is what the female was doing. She must be in the range of 130 to 150 kg weight and fully grown. 

The black stripes and yellow must be aiding her due to pattern disruption making her invisible in the meadow. The camouflage is remarkable and many times it is difficult for the prey to sight the predator. The body contours fit well in the terrain completely engulfing the animal, this is a unique feature and makes tigers stand out from other predators. Stealth and surprise are the key aspects of hunting and survival.       

The deer had yet not seen her and were few feet away totally unaware of death waiting ahead.  The fawn was following few steps behind the doe.  

It happened within a flick of the second as the tigress lunged at the fawn totally taken by surprise and fear. Rolling on its digit the big cat closed on the fawn covering a distance of about thirty feet. The move was effortless and strikingly fast. Upon nearing the fawn she struck at the tiny leg making him lose balance. Thus grounded she pierced her canines and broke the vertebrae of the prey. 

I could hear the heart wrenching sound of the fawn as it struck the ground. But mercifully it was all over in seconds. In nature death strikes fast due to a shock mechanism thus reducing the sufferings.

In the same movement the tigress gripped the fawn and was on her way to the cubs. She had come near to our jeep as it happened in few seconds and we could not reverse.  What was really surprising  the big cat had not run out of breadth and was moving swiftly probably towards her cubs. 

Dual Mode of Hunting 

The female had not only used an ambush but also chased the prey exhibit how the tigers hunt in the wild. The patience exhibited was remarkable and the ground chosen to hide showed how experienced the animal was.     

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Intruding Male Tigers Killing Cubs

With the sad demise of Budbudi female her cubs would have perished as well or perhaps eaten by the intruding male tiger. An impressive number of cubs are born every year, but few survive to repopulate the reserves in India.

The males that sire the cubs do not kill them rather protect them from attacks and often meet and share meals with the family as a matter of assurance. It is the duty of not only the female but the male as well to see the cubs through the two plus years of vulnerability.   

Territorial hold of dominant males is porous and is often intruded by transgressing rivals. This is bound to be as male tigers are peripatetic, busy patrolling their territory leaving females and cubs vulnerable to an attack by an intruding male. It is difficult to manage large territories that the dominant cats hold. They may have mated with other females in their area in order to ensure healthy population of their species. Darwin's survival of the fittest is very much evident in tiger landscapes where battle for space and food is intense.    

The killing of young ones is a natural phenomenon and insures transfer of better genes. Well this can not be often as many times the intruding male is sent packing or is unable to kill all the cubs. Death of all the cubs could mean female coming back into oestrus. This is what the intruding males seek. By killing all the cubs they are able to transfer their genes. 

The big cats are possessive mothers and go out of the way to protect young ones. Not only protection but they also impart skills for survival in the wilderness. In order to remain safe they keep on shifting their territories but the shifting process may make them more vulnerable to attacks by rival males.  

Whence the tigress is able to resist takeover it could ensue into an internecine battle often resulting in the death of the female. The male is hurt too but being stronger and larger is able to fend off death. This is what happened in case of Budbudi tigress in Kanha National Park. The male eventually consumed the female which again is not surprising.     

Tigresses do mate with more than one male to ensure fertilisation as well as avoid conflict with a rival. This often happens whence the males are siblings and hence allowed to stay in vicinity. The big cats show greater tolerance towards their siblings then towards strangers.     

Within a spate of couple of months about ten cubs have been killed at Kanha National Park. This is a regular occurrence and those that have lost young cubs may soon give birth to another litter. These events certainly do not call for human intervention since it is nature doing its bit.  

The loss of young ones is certainly sad since we are losing tigers fast due to other factors chiefly lack of habitat, electrocution and poaching. But many times hundred percent survival rate is experienced in well managed parks, and this is what maintains a population balance in the ecosystem.

The cubs are vulnerable for two years but take more time than that to learn and gather experience. This is essential to fend of dominant males hence they have to find uncharted territory. In case of space restriction they have to face humans which are more dangerous than rival males.      

Tigers are prolific breeders and swiftly replenish the stock if adequate protection and space is provided.  Winters are preferred for mating albeit it goes on throughout they year as and when opportunity arises. This is the period whence conflicts are accentuated including territorial fights among the males. 

Generally the core undisturbed area is sought after by dominant males. The high prey base, water and adequate shelter makes the core inviolate area more preferable than the buffer which is littered settlements and farms.             

    

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.