Stranger things

Most of the people with whom I tag along, visit forests to enjoy the beauty of nature and also see the wildlife. If it is a park known for high density of tiger then the expectation is set towards sighting and photographing tigers. Tadoba Andhari Tiger reserve is no exception. This is a park known for a regular sighting of tigers and I have a hit rate of 50% myself. It means I have seen a tiger in one out of two safaris. But strange things can happen and statistics can go for a toss.

During my last weekend visit, I did 4 safaris with wildlifer friend. He had come to TATR for 1st time. First, three safaris went dry. Dry means no tiger luck. I was sure my concept of beginner luck will work for him and we will see tiger properly in the last safari. What we saw was a fleeting glance of a tigress in the last ten minutes of the last safari. No photography only glance. That too in the end. Was this message from spirit of wild? Closing address? Take away? Read on.

The first experience is leopard cub crossing road alone.

We were on our way back from the second safari. Our permitted time was getting over. It was a dry spell, no tigers. Suddenly we noticed a gypsy and canter waiting on side of the safari road. When enquired the gypsy driver said that a leopard cub wanting to cross the road has backtracked when he saw gypsy coming. He was hiding behind a small mud mount in bamboo thickets. He was well camouflaged and out of sight. We parked our vehicle in such a way that if he comes out I should be able to get a clear shot.

My heartbeat was racing. Leopard cub alone!

I had many thoughts running. Knowing the shy nature of leopards I thought to myself he might never come out. But then I said to myself if its cub, it can’t be alone his mum must be around. He tried to cross earlier to go to mumma. His mumma was surely on the other side of the road. If that’s the case I knew he will dash for it. Unlike tigers, leopards don’t give roadshow. Tigers can walk will walk hours on road. Leopard sighting can get over in seconds. It was going to be challenge shooting leopard cub who is running. I knew he will come out as soon as silence falls. Few minutes passed by. We all were silent. My guide saw movement, he said, ”sir be ready”!

The question was from where will the cub come out? I knew he will cross the at the curve on the road which was the lowest point that leads to small nullah on left and got my camera ready. The guide said “Sir, shoot! he is moving out” and my camera went berzerk and it was over! Sighting that lasted maybe a 1 second!

Just a second – One the most challenging shots. Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, February 2020
(c) Shirish S Bhakare

Second experience black fur ball – Sloth bear.

Another shy and hyperactive creature of the jungle. Mostly nocturnal and omnivorous sloth bears are plenty in number across central India. The sloth bear is regular sighting in Tadoba. This time it was different. This incident happened in the first few minutes of our last safari in Agarzari buffer. Early morning temperatures were low of 12 and because of thick forest and Irai back water nearby, it felt like 6 to 8 degrees. Everything misted up. The fog was all around. We saw a stone with soft bristles. Oops! No, it wasn’t boulder it was huge sloth bear in deep sleep on the roadside. He was keeping himself warm. He looked around once and slept again. Whatta experience. He was least concerned about vehicles around.

Fur ball all cuddled up like stone. Sloth bear. Tadoba February 20202

Third – no tiger sighting in core or buffer areas.

Our primary goal was to photograph tigers. We got not one shot. Thanks to new disrupter. A new young intruder male has been challenging the defender – the experienced dominant male of Tadoba range. It seems dominant male was badly wounded by this new male in a territorial fight seen by tourists a few weeks ago. Defender is known to be limping and hiding to recover. The new male is very active and moves around establishing a territory for himself. This is also a threat to all cubs and mates of defender male. The new male will kill cubs if any to ensure females mate with him. Another famous tigress from Tadoba range who rules Jamini area is now infrequent. She’s more in non-tourism areas.

Lush meadows of Jamini lake in core zone. Ideal tiger habitat. No tiger sighting here too. Tadoba Feb 2020.
(c) Shirish S Bhakare

The famous tigress of Tadoba range was seen mating a few months ago. I suspect she is having cubs that’s why she was off the record for almost ten days and appeared once before disappearing again. Another famous tigress from Moharli range who rules Teliya is believed to be bearing cubs. She too is an untraceable wild cat now. Another tigress who was sighted regularly has moved to a newer area thanks to the relocation of the village outside the park. Since the village has moved out she has check dam water for herself. This dam also brings in prey. Her new place is far away from prying eyes of tourists.

Teliya lake shot early morning- painters perspective shot from my Canon 5d Mark IV. Post processed for effect. The leading lady was missing from here too.
Tadoba Feb 2020.
(c) Shirish S Bhakare

Buffers on Moharli gate like Junona, Agarzari Adegaon Devada and Mamla has got 10 cubs, many sub-adults and adult tigers. But unseasonal rains, thick forest and unpredictability of cubs made it difficult to spot them. More over luck was not in our favour. Key highlight was dying antelope who had cut off himself by siting on island in Irai back waters. It was waiting for eventuality to happen.

Animals sense the eventuality and are known to isolate themselves for peaceful end. Image of this deer taken at Agarzari buffer in backwaters of Irai dam. Feb 2020. (c) Shirish S Bhakare

All these experiences had a message from wild spirits. For this experience, I had tried my best right from planning to execution. It didn’t work. Luck seemed to be heading somewhere else. I saw dead ends in dying antelope. After every dry safari, we got disheartened and I was questioning myself if all the effort and resources put in where they really worth it? I was doubting my luck and my first-timer friend had a doubt that did tigers even exist in this Tadoba. The little leopard told me to wait and watch and have patience. The bear not to get carried away with disturbing thoughts. Finally, at the end of the last safari, we did see tigress though just a glimpse. She gave us hope and I started believing in our luck. My friend knew we were in area infested with tigers. She was a messenger of hope.

The message was clear. I had aim (seeing a tiger) in mind hence the dry safari though disheartening never took enthusiasm away. Most of us do what we do for the sake of doing it. We wander aimlessly without a goal. That’s what spirit of wild was telling ”do something you love, a set goal that will keep you motivated and keep pushing without getting distracted ultimately you get what you want”

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