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30 March 2015 / leggypeggy

Trailing tigers in Pench National Park

Junewani tiger

Junewani patrols her jungle

India has been full of exciting moments. Top of the list has to be the unexpected marriage of our daughter, Libby, to Daniel.

To be honest, that didn’t happen in India, but we were in India when the ceremony took place in Australia. Check out the story of how we missed their shindig.

But two other amazing events are next in line. I’ve already written about the great show we got from the Asian lions in Gir National Park in Gujarat. And then Pench National Park outdid itself with two excellent sightings of Bengal tigers.

We loved Pench the first time we visited in 2013—in fact, it was probably our favourite park even if we didn’t see a tiger then—and this year it outdid itself.

It didn’t seem promising at first. Day one, a lone tiger was spotted having an afternoon snooze. He was far, far in the distance—it was a miracle that anyone noticed him. Dense trees and shrubs obscured him, and most of the time all we saw were a slice of his bum and a flicking tail.

tiger

The best view we had of the first tiger

safari vehicle India

The gypsies descend to view one lone tiger in the distance

As often happens in parks, word of a tiger sighting spread quickly and soon 15 Gypsies descended—full of noisy tourists. We know how to behave on a game drive, but so many people don’t. Every park would be wise to give guests a crash course on being quiet and respectful to the animals and fellow visitors.

Unfortunately, the most annoying Gypsy passengers were next to us. It was a large family with Dad complaining Where is it? I can’t see anything, mum pointing and shouting it’s there, it’s there and three teenage girls squealing isn’t he cute. Obviously the three girls have a thing for male bums.

Luckily the tiger raised his head for a few minutes and people could snap some slightly better photos. Then it was a mad dash to get out of the park before closing time. Gypsy drivers who return late are often heavily fined and barred from the park for up to a month.

But then came day two—the day of Libby and Daniel’s post-wedding party!

tiger close up

Junewani looking her best

We set off in the early morning with a seasoned guide and driver, who both knew their park and its tigers. As an added authority, Anand, one of the naturalists leading our trip, was with us. He usually lives near Pench and knows it well.

The park guide and Anand must have had the hint of a sound, a whiff of a smell, a sixth sense, physic powers or maybe all of the above. Because they urged the driver to turn left down a side road. It seemed that no one else had gone that way.

Within 30 minutes of entering the park there she was—Junewani—a seven-year-old female padding through the forest. She saw us but ignored us, and kept ambling on.

A big bonus was that there was only one other Gypsy present, carrying a couple of tourists who did know how to behave.

We watched spellbound for quite sometime. It might have been hours, but I suppose it was only minutes. After she sauntered past us and into the bush, we zipped around a corner to catch another sighting. She did reappear and then strolled into taller grass and stopped for a lie down.

Tiger in grass

Junewari settles down for a rest in the tall grass

With her back to us and her ears poking up above the grass, we decided to move on to explore more of the park.

The thrill of this wasn’t going to wear off anytime soon. It had been the best and closest sighting of any species we’d had in something like 30 game drives over two trips to India in 16 months.

But another big surprise was to come. About an hour later, we came upon Collar Valley, an aptly named 10-year-old female who sports a tracking collar.

tiger in Pench

Collar Valley graces us with her presence

She’s the mum of the tiger we saw on day one, and she is most likely pregnant again. She strode across some open ground and no one had the heart to ask if we were seeing a baby bump or middle-age spread.

When we first encountered Collar Valley, there were only four or five Gyspies around but, as I said, news of such a find travels fast and vehicle numbers swelled quickly.

Meanwhile CV (you know who I mean) plodded on and the Gypsies followed, jockeying for the best viewing position. At one point, she slipped into a thicket of lantana and we thought she might hunker down for some privacy.

Tiger Pench

Collar Valley on the hunt. Is there a baby bump?

Then a couple of unexpected but breathtaking things happened.

CV crept on through the lantana and emerged from an opening almost beside us. While there’s no way of knowing what a tiger is thinking, it seemed she wasn’t all that happy to be almost surrounded by hordes of gawkers. She glanced around and growled. You can bet the three of us in the back of our Gypsy ducked down with our noses (and my camera) poking over the seat.

Tiger in lantana

Collar Valley peers from the lantana

Tiger in lantana 2

Where did all these Gypsies come from?

tiger growling

Maybe they’ll get out of the way if I growl

tiger on the run

Making a dash for it

Suddenly she dashed across the road. There couldn’t have been more than five metres, possibly less, between our Gypsy and the one behind us. It’s not much when she could have decided to grab a quick meal on her way by.

Our cautious reaction didn’t last long. CV moved on and so did we. It seemed that she had her eye on a small herd of spotted deer, so we stayed on her trail/tail for as long as we could to see if she started to stalk. Tigers often give birth to four cubs, so if CV is pregnant, she is eating for five.

Amazingly, throughout the sighting, our Gypsy managed to maintain one of the best viewing positions. Even now when I look at the pics, I am gobsmacked to think I have been that close to wild tigers. I’m thrilled too.

tiger lying down

Collar Valley takes a break after escaping from us

Some tiger tidbits

My first childhood memory of tigers must have been Tony the Tiger, a promotional gimmick for a brand of over-sugared cereal targeted at kids.

Luckily, my knowledge has moved beyond that.

Now I know—in fact most of us know—that Bengal tigers are endangered. And no amount of pictures of tigers on the sides of cereal packets will bring them back.

But India is working on saving them, with varying degrees of success. Project Tiger was launched in 1973. It aims to protect and expand tiger habitat so the country can have a healthy population of tigers.

Within 11 years there were 15 tiger reserves covering 24,700 square kilometres. At that time, India probably had just over 1800 tigers.

 

on the move again

Back to hunting

pregnant tiger

A baby bump slightly more obvious

Collar Valley tiger

I’ve had a enough of you folks

Numbers doubled by 2002. Then, because of poaching and killings by locals, numbers plummeted dramatically. By 2008, tiger numbers in India were thought to be as low as 1400.

Methods for counting tigers are not foolproof—early censuses relied on identifying the footprints, known as pug marks, of individual tigers. But many reserves now use camera traps so India is fairly confident that numbers exceed 2200.

You’d think a tiger would be easy to spot. As the largest member of the cat family, males can weigh up to 325 kilograms or 700+ pounds. On average, males weigh 500 pounds and females about 350. By comparison, male African lions weigh 300–400 pounds. Including the tail, a typical male tiger measures 270 to 310 centimetres (110–120 inches). Females are a little less.

Every single tiger is distinctively marked and colours vary too. The coat is yellow to light orange. Stripes range from dark brown to black. The belly and inside of the limbs are white. The tail is orange with black rings.

tiger tail

Admire my tail because I’m on my way

Mothers and their offspring are the main social unit for tigers. Females give birth to one to four cubs after a gestation period of just over 100 days. Cubs suckle for about six months, which is about when mum starts to teach them to hunt.

The little ones leave their mum when they are 2–3 years of age. After the family splits, the female comes into heat again.

Without the family unit, tigers lead solitary lives, establishing home ranges that may overlap or at least be near other tigers, especially those of the opposite sex.

Which is good news for all of us who hope that tigers keep going forth and multiplying.

The country’s The Telegraph newspaper had another encouraging news item yesterday. In an effort to promote further conservation, India has decided to provide tigers and training to other countries.

I wonder how they’ll manage providing their favourite foods of chital (spotted deer), sambar deer and gaur (bison)?

spotted deer (chital)

Collar Valley has her eye on this herd of spotted deer

35 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Mike / Mar 30 2015 3:05 pm

    Super post, Peggy! Amazing pics of the tiger. I hope India is successful in keeping the numbers growing, and tourism will save them. Sadly in this world if wild things don’t have a dollar value they will soon be gone. Wow, to be that close would have been a hell of a rush!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 30 2015 8:41 pm

      Thanks Mike. Like you, I hope tourism outplays any other temptation. And the whole experience was a rush—still is just thinking about it!

      Like

  2. Rhonda / Mar 30 2015 3:13 pm

    What magnificent animals! And your photos are fabulous. Great post, Peggy. Thanks!

    Like

  3. simpletravelourway / Mar 30 2015 3:57 pm

    Lucky, lucky you!

    Like

  4. Michael Andrew Just / Mar 30 2015 5:58 pm

    Great looking creature and photos!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 30 2015 9:01 pm

      They really are magnificent. Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  5. jeanettev2014 / Mar 30 2015 7:33 pm

    Lovely Peggy. I felt like I was there as I read your Blog. The tigers are so big. The photo of the female crossing the road it my favorite.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 30 2015 8:48 pm

      I like it too. I almost didn’t post that pic because it was a little blurry and missing a head and a tail, but I figured everyone would realise it was a tiger in a hurry.

      Like

      • jeanettev2014 / Mar 30 2015 9:22 pm

        The tiger with her feet up in movement was wonderful, thank you!

        Like

  6. Dorothy / Mar 30 2015 8:25 pm

    Wow,great pictures Peggy what a great experience to get so close to such beautiful creatures. Another super post.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 30 2015 8:49 pm

      Thanks Dorothy. It really was an incredible experience.

      Like

  7. Midwestern Plant Girl / Mar 30 2015 9:38 pm

    That must have got your heart racing as Ms. Tiger came your way! 🐯 What an amazing day. I’m glad to hear India is carrying for her tigers. They are so magnificent. A treasure for sure!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 30 2015 10:23 pm

      I was too mesmerised to be afraid. That came later. And yes, many parts of India are making good progress with tigers. Some have a way to go.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Laurie / Mar 31 2015 1:32 am

    Thank you so much for the wonderful photos and writing. I felt like I was there with you. How amazing these beautiful animals are.

    Like

  9. suchled / Mar 31 2015 5:51 am

    Yep. Magnificent.

    Like

  10. bmpermie / Mar 31 2015 11:38 am

    Wonderful pictures. Long may they remain there.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 31 2015 12:36 pm

      I still get goosebumps looking at them. 🙂

      Like

  11. skippersy / Mar 31 2015 11:44 am

    LeggyPeggy,

    Congratulations, you have now posted your best blog to date (second to the Libby and Daniel one). Amazing that you were able to get so many close up shots of two of the Tigers…. magnificent photography ! Also, shocking to read about the many Gypsy vehicles charging to an area to see a tiger and how loud and unruly many of the people are ????

    “Thumbs Up To You” LeggyPeggy,

    Sy S.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 31 2015 12:39 pm

      Thanks Sy! To be honest, I could have posted another 15–20 pics. We saw the tigers for long enough that I had the luxury of snapping lots of photos as well as just sitting and staring and staring and staring and SMILING! What a day it was.

      Like

  12. New / Amsterdam / Mar 31 2015 1:58 pm

    Great photos! And a question: why does she ware a collar? Couldn’t she get stuck? Thank you!!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 31 2015 2:16 pm

      She’s one of several tigers who wear tracking collars, and these have been effective in keeping tabs on tigers. No tiger has been hurt wearing them.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Curious to the Max / Apr 1 2015 5:17 am

    INCREDIBLE INCREDIBLE INCREDIBLE – your pictures, the tigers, your write-up, your experience.
    You just might have to go back in a few months to see the cubs.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Apr 1 2015 12:32 pm

      If only I could. I’ll send Anand and Deepti to have a look.

      Like

  14. Unconfirmed Bachelorette / Apr 1 2015 10:16 am

    Amazing experience for you! Just wow!

    Like

  15. neha(guddu) / Jul 28 2015 4:30 pm

    amazing…..
    whenever i enter your blog…i am always enriched……:)
    https://dreamlittlebig.wordpress.com/

    Like

  16. Ray / Mar 11 2016 4:17 pm

    Love the disapproving look on Collar Valley’s face as she’s approached by all the gawkers! She probably wouldn’t have been as upset if she weren’t pregnant. Maternal instincts probably kicked in at this point to protect her unborn cub. But, you are right. Some tourists need to display some respect and common sense when going on a safari.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 13 2016 4:31 pm

      Ah yes, some tourists can be very annoying—to animals and humans alike. 🙂

      Like

Trackbacks

  1. Loving and living with art—and lots of it | Where to next?
  2. Good news from Pench and sad news from Gir | Where to next?

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