Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Felony and felines

16th to 18th March

It is a very contented naturalist who fights off sleep to write these words tonight; contented – to give the game away – because in the past two-and-a-half days my group and I have seen ten tigers, some of them up to three times, in addition to the beautiful dry forest they inhabit and the abundant other animals with whom they share it. Contented too because my laptop and everything else in my little rucksack – passport, insurance documents, money, tour notes, e-tickets and a dozen other essentials – have come back to me after a vagrant interlude.

My bag was filched by David and Maryanne Mills, Naturetrek’s owners, who were leaving Tadoba and India as we arrived at our lodge. To say they filched it is perhaps a little unfair. I put it down on a chair while I checked my clients into their rooms. While my back was turned an over-zealous member of staff loaded my bag into David and Maryanne’s car along with their luggage and the next thing I knew it was heading back to Nagpur without me. It has taken almost three days to return to me and I am feeling thoroughly chuffed to be reunited with its contents.

The real cause of my chuffedness, however, has stripes and claws and the most beautiful face in all animalkind. The tiger-watching in Tadoba these past few days has been surpassingly good, among the best I have ever known. I have no time at all to wax lyrical tonight so I shall summarise whom we have seen and where.

1)    A male known as M6 who was seen very poorly on our first afternoon as he lay in a dry stream in dense vegetation. All the identifiable tigers in Tadoba have rather unromantic codes and few have nicknames. M6 he will have to be.

2)    At least two of three six-month-old cubs belonging to the female known as F9, all of whom are frequenting the Katezari water-hole. I say at least two because, having seen two cubs in dense vegetation on the first day and one on the second, it’s possible we’ve seen all three.

3)    A briefly-seen male on a bamboo-covered slope. This was either M11 or M12, two fairly itinerant adult males who have an unusual truce and can often be seen close to one another.

4)    The wonderful female called F1 and her four eighteen-month-old cubs, all of whom currently wander brazenly around the Pandherpauni water-hole. F1 is the oldest known female in the park and was identified first at around two years of age in 2001. She has three exquisite female cubs and one terribly handsome male. On the first afternoon we saw two female cubs very well, while yesterday one female cub tried but failed to hunt chital in the road just in front of us before scratching her head on a tree and settling for a doze a short distance from our bonnet. This afternoon we saw the whole family of five doing just about everything a family of five tigers can do: resting in long grass, pretending to hunt chital, wallowing, play-fighting in the water, dallying across a road, and sitting down for a snooze in the middle of it. Utterly, utterly wonderful.

5)    This evening as we left the park the immense, badly scarred, twelve-year-old male M8, nicknamed Bokhra or Old Man, whose tracks we had seen early in the morning. He strode across the road just metres from my jeep and slipped into the bamboo forest which soon after exploded with the alarm calls of sambar. This has been a most remarkable spell of tiger-watching.

There have been many other delights too, though I have no time to list them all. Grey junglefowl cocks bustle by the sides of the roads; jungle bush-quail scurry through the stony verges; plum-headed parakeets (my favourite Indian parrot) whizz by giving their dippy, squeaky chweek; orange-headed thrushes hop through fallen leaves around shady water-holes; blue-grey male nilgai stride aristocratically through the scrub at the edge of fields; and a south Indian tree shrew bounces across the road ahead of us, waving its fluffy tawny tail. I wish I could say more but I’m exhausted and tomorrow we have a final safari in Tadoba and a long journey back to Nagpur and on to Pench.

Before we go, great thanks are due to Aditya and Amrut, the owners of our lovely lodge, Tiger Trails, and to all their helpful, kindly staff. Thanks too to their team of drivers, Lahu, Santosh, Javed, Raju and Dhoni, all of whom enter the forest with excitement each day, as though they had never seen the tiger. On one morning of our stay we chose to roam away from where tigers are constantly being seen, to gain a feel for the jungle and for the vastness of the tiger’s domain. On our return from this morning drive, Lahu, itching to get back to his beloved tigers and to share them again with our clients, looked to me with a worried frown and said in Hindi, ‘This afternoon we’ll go and see the tigers, no?’ And so we did, splendidly.

To bed. With an absurdly big smile and little chance of sleeping. In the words of my good friend Harish as we lay down to sleep, ‘Today was good day.’

New creatures from Tadoba and nearby


Cervus unicolor
southern plains grey langur
Semnopithecus dussumieri
Bos gaurus
Panthera tigris
barking deer
Muntiacus muntjak
Boselaphus tragocamelus
south Indian tree shrew
Anathana elliotti


brown rock chat
Cercomela fusca
bay-backed shrike
Lanius vittatus
rufous-tailed lark
Ammomanes phoenicurus
pied bushchat
Saxicola caprata
wire-tailed swallow
Hirundo smithii
large grey babbler
Turdoides malcolmi
chestnut-shouldered petronia
Petronia xanthocollis
red spurfowl
Galloperdix spadicea
tawny-bellied babbler
Dumetia hyperythra
white-eyed buzzard
Butastur teesa
plum-headed parakeet
Psittacula cyanocephala
black ibis
Pseudibis papillosa
orange-headed thrush
Zoothera citrina cyanotus

brown fish owl
Ketupa zeylonensis leschenault
Tickell’s blue flycatcher
Cyornis tickelliae
jungle owlet
Glaucidium radiatum
Indian bushlark
Mirafra erythroptera
short-toed eagle
Circaetus gallicus
jungle bush-quail
Perdicula asiatica
grey junglefowl
Gallus sonneratii
greater painted snipe
Rostratula benghalensis
white-rumped munia
Lonchura striata

2012 Totals
Mammals: 51
Birds: 417
Reptiles: 11
Amphibians: 3
Fish: 2

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