I don’t think any living being born can escape this law of nature- Making a name. In this competitive world, each person struggles to create his own space and leave his own legacy. The recent death of Bollywood actors is a testimony to this rule. Both had distinct origins, made their way up to the top and became legends. This rule is no exception to tigers, in this blog to the male tigers. But the biggest difference between humans and tiger is the nomadic phase.
Tigers are territorial cats. They defend their territories fiercely from other competing tigers. Male tigers leave mother by the time they reach the age of 22-24 months. After that, they live a nomadic life for a few years. They will wander away from the homeland, go far and wide in search of prey and partner. They will settle only when they find prey and partner. In their nomadic state, unlike lions, they do not form collation. Every time young nomad crosses other male tigers territory or encroaches into other males territory, battles are not uncommon. Battles that will decide domination and can be fought till death. However, newer nomads will avoid these battles as they lack the strength and experience. These nomads are warriors whose fates are unknown. This is a story of a nomad who was set out to make his name.
This nomad was born to legendary Rajbhera female of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve some time in 2015. She is one of the biggest female tiger specimens I have ever seen. For her sheer size and stature, she could be easily mistaken for a male tiger. This nomad was born along with 3 other siblings. 2 male and 1 female. This was the last litter raised by Rajbhera. Before she died as a result of a territorial fight with another tiger in June 2018.
Our nomad was Fathered by Mangu the dominant male of Tala, who has not been sighted for a long time now. Our nomad was brought up majorly in Tala zone of the reserve. The area he was brought up consisted of tall sal trees and some of the best meadows. He grew up in an area called Bathan. Located on the backside of Bandhavgarh fort, Bathan is the foothill that has rocky patches, extensive meadows and beautiful perennial rivulets. The areas like Bathan, meadows of Sehra and thick foliage and dense growth around Rajbhera dam was his playground. His playground has no dearth of prey and Mumma was a proven hunter. The shades of dense sal protected him from sun and grass gave him ample opportunity to play hide and seek with siblings as well as learn the art of stealth from mother. It was in this wilderness he grew up been comfortable with tourists. He climbed trees with ease in front of them and pounced on siblings to hone his hunting skills. Instinctively he knew that these skills will keep him alive in nomadic future.
I had seen his images as cub doing rounds on social media and I was desperate to see him and his siblings. When I saw him the first time he was already a nomad. It was Diwali time just before vacations. First, two safaris had gone dry. It was my third safari when I saw him first. It was the last hour of safari. I was been mentored on camera settings by my mentor. Suddenly my wife, who was not part of mentoring, shouted, “tiger.” It was at a T-junction. It was the Nomad who was walking comfortably yet watchfully from the right side. Behind him, maintaining a safe distance was another gypsy. Actually he was leading convoy of Gypsies with tourist. We assumed he would walk straight on the left side of T, so my driver placed gypsy in such a way that we would get head-on and he would trail us. Tiger suddenly smelled something and changed his mind and started walking in the direction from where we had come. Now we were trailing him and we were trailed by another gypsy. Nomad suddenly sat on-road and dozed off. It was roadblock every tiger lover dreams of. Seemed as if his intention was to give us poses to shoot and I happily obliged.
The show wasn’t over. He started walking again and we trailed him. On his way, he kept smelling and scent marking trees. A point came where we had dry river bed with a small man-made cement bridge. He entered the river bed and that’s when my driver quickly moved ahead. Now we were in perfect position. Tiger was trailing us. Nomad quickly jumped on the bridge again. It all seemed like a dream. Nomad seemed to be a blessing to me. He was very relaxed even with the vehicle all around him. He decided to attend the nature call. Just like a mannered cat. He defecated in the river bed, not on road. He kept moving along the road, sniffing the air for the smell of other tigers and marking his territory by hugging trees. Unfortunately, we were running out of time and had to leave him.
The 4th safari. It was morning safari. My driver was sure- Tiger will walk along the same route as he was marking his territory and making his presence known. We took the same track. No other gypsy followed us. Within the next hour, we had him head-on. Ohhh boy! Ours was the only vehicle who was shooting him for an hour. Dream run for me. By an hour time many vehicles had arrived. Unfortunately for them he entered thickets and watched all vehicles. We left Nomad for other visitors and went to track tigress called spotty, who was raising a litter of three females in the same zone. We had great luck their too. I will write about it in another blog.
Safari 5. Evening safari. My driver said we will take the same route as Nomad might not have crossed the entire stretch. And I happily obliged. And we had him head-on for hours before havoc of tourist vehicle started along narrows stretch of Tala zone border. He was cool and calm. Doing the same thing- Walk, smell, scratch, spray and mark his presence. This nomad was a tree lover. He kept hugging trees, sniffing, spraying and also getting occasionally hit by trees. He could not gauge the spring effect of trees when they fold and it hit him many times. It was very funny to see, Innocence. He entered a small water body with a tree in the centre. He played Peek – a – Boo with me. Suddenly jumped on the tree. It was in these moments I got some of my best shots. One of the images of Nomad has featured on Animal Planet India page.
Next day we didn’t see him. What I had observed was what every nomad does. Marking his territory, making his presence felt and making name for himself. What happened to him no one knows. No one has ever seen him again. He hasn’t been tracked. Maybe he has established himself deep inside the park or maybe moved to some other place. We might never know. This happens to almost all tigers. The wild spirits disappear in thin air. They are free spirits after all. They need a lot of space to grow & that’s the only thing we can do for them- Give them back their jungles and create corridors for them to move. If we humans, don’t play our role now the future of Nomads is bleak!