“Do not blame God for having created the tiger, but thank him for not having given it wings.”
Since the beginning of time, humans have always feared two things- Predators in wild and darkness of night. Predators make us realize we are not immortal. Nature has given us predators like the tiger, leopard, wolves etc. Tigers are the masterpiece of gods creation. They not only possess more physical strength than humans but also a genetic set up to thrive in dark. Tigers are crepuscular by nature. That is active at dawn and dusk. This is the time they hunt. Tigers have 6 times vision at night compared to humans. Tiger does not like hot sunny weather. So no wonder they are active at night and can sleep almost throughout the day.
I am fortunate one, who has closely experienced this fear of tiger in the wild, at night. This blog is an episode of how it feels to be vulnerable in dark with apex predator. It was a humbling experience and it increased my love for the Tiger. This incident happened sometime in the 1990s at Melghat national park and tiger reserve. I distinctly remember it was summers because the river bed we were crossing were completely dry.
We had put a base in PWD guest house at Seemadoh. We had early dinner and decided to drive to Raipur. Raipur is a small tribal village in the interior of Melghat tiger reserve. We were traveling to Raipur to meet some locals. The distance is around 20kms and took about 75-90 mins to complete. This village is located along banks of a tributary of Tapi river. Tapi river runs along Satpura mountains. Tapi marks the border between the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. This part of the park has shallow but wide ravines. With a very high density of teak and bamboo trees. These ravines go completely dry in summers. In monsoon the ravines get flooded if it rains more than average. Since the night had cast its shadow on the entire forest it was pitch black. We could see only what came in front of the headlamps of our car. The air was fresh and I could smell oxygen. The breeze was cold had a spine chilling effect. I must admit, I was scared of dark. But that was also a thrill I seek. Thrill of night drive in forest which tigers call home.
I was accompanied by 5 people. My dad, veterinary resident doctor of Raipur, forest officer, driver and an armed forest guard. On our way to Raipur, we saw a lot of wildlife. Wild boars, bears, many types of deer but no tiger. During summers, bears can be easily spotted in this park but tigers have always been a challenge here. On our way back, the jungle seemed to have gone quiet. It was an eerie silence. Its something I never heard before. The only sound I could hear was my own breath, the occasional sound of nightjar and engine of our car. As we were zipping through the forest road along the ravines, we had to cross a river bed. Just before river bed, we had a sharp C curve that opened in a dry river bed.
As we entered the curve I felt as if I heard a rumble. For a moment I thought it was my mind playing games in dark. The rumble caused my eardrums to vibrate creating a sense of fear. With fearful eyes, I looked at the guard who was sitting next to me. I was looking to answers that would comfort me from what I heard. The guard just smiled. I thought he did not hear the rumble but somewhere I knew in his smile had a fear. Or maybe I was over analyzing the sounds in dark. In the next few seconds, we were into the curve and this time we heard a loud growl. I looked at guard again. He smiled again and said “It is a tiger, look ahead”
I was shocked by what I saw. We were on the edge of the river bed, it was not the tiger. It was a huge male Gaur limping. His left hind leg was ripped off. The flesh on legs was floating in air attached to bones by fibrous tendons. The guide said, “Tiger must be hunting in dark. We have intervened. We must maintain the distance and not interfere in the hunt. The tiger is clearly upset”
It was gory sight. The Gaur was all bloodied. The Gaur had injuries on neck. It was clear the Gaur had managed to stay alive but had lost of blood. Gaur wasn’t able to run and the tiger was still in chase mode till we arrived. I felt sad for gentle giant and same time I was amazed at the strength of the tiger.
“Sir, It is not safe here. This is the territory of the old male. He is extremely shy and aggressive. He has mock charged foot patrols when surprised. The gaur survived because the tiger is old and has lost one canine. We will intervene in natures cycle if we stay here. Tiger might go hungry” Everyone echoed the wisdom of the old guide. Guide said to us, “Let us wait on the other side of the riverbank.”
The guide told the driver and driver obliged. And then we waited on another side of the riverbank. We used our searchlight. We could see gaur limping along the edge of the bank of the river. He seemed unsure to enter the thickets or to cross uneven river bed which will need more energy. We waited for a good 30 – 40 mins. Nothing happened. The guide advised, “let us go all dark.” We put off all lights. It was pitch black. We waited for another 30-40 mins no change in status. We were contemplating what should be our next move. Suddenly we heard huge bellowing sound and grand thud from the other side of the river bed. By the time we could switch on searchlights to see what had happened, It was over. The Gaur was not to be seen. The shy male tiger had made Gaur kill. Hunt in dark was successful. The old tiger lived to see other day but not the Gaur. I learnt why ancient men thanked god for not giving wings to tiger. We are so powerless in might of nature.
That night I learnt few laws of wild spirits. Everyone has a role to play in the cycle of life. Human interference can have both positive and negative on the survival of wild spirits. We need more people like the old wise guide. The old Tiger had made a kill in dead of night. Even in the dark phases of life, survival is possible provided you trust your instinct to be free, the instinct to survive.