Friday, 27 March 2015

Five tigers for breakfast

19th March

I love Kanha. If there were a self-help group for kanhaholics I would be its poster-boy. The park is a dreamily beautiful mix of tall, cool sal forest, grassland with drifts of deer, and plentiful waterholes. What's more, I know that my friends at Kanha Jungle Lodge - Dimple, Tarun, Vinod, Manoj, Dilip, Santosh and all their colleagues - will do everything in their power to ensure that Naturetrek's clients have a superb time here. Whenever we reach the Mukki gate of the park I'm greeted by guide friends from years back, all chiding me for not coming more often. I love Kanha.

In Kanha I can relax and do my job of sharing wildlife with people. And what wildlife there is here! Orange-headed thrushes turn the crisp sal leaves on the forest floor and brown-headed barbets purr from the tops of the trees. In the meadows the herds of chital and barasingha graze, twitching their big ears over the tall gold grasses. Wild boar scurry for cover and langurs chew contemplatively at the road's edge. This is a wondrous place.

Tigers though are on everyone's minds. Last night Vinod told me that the Mukki zone, where we stay, is enjoying the best tiger-watching in the park, the orange and black equivalent of a purple patch. Tigresses with well-grown cubs always make for the best tiger-watching and the eight-year-old Mahavir tigress has, at the moment, four cubs of ten months which have just this week begun to be seen. Our focus this morning was on them.

The park currently opens at six. By nine there had been no news of tigers so we called at Sondar camp for breakfast. As soon as our delicious food was laid before us there was frantic activity from the jeeps which had already eaten and were leaving the camp: the tigress was crossing Sondar meadow. We packed our hampers as fast as we could but reached the spot just too late. One of my jeeps was there and had seen the tigress well, the second was nowhere to be seen, while in my own jeep we had missed her by seconds.

We waited on the road, some distance from the patch of forest from which we could hear the cubs calling to their mother. Excitement pulsed through the few jeeps present as this solidly built, deep orange tigress, with a powerful chest and long white cheek tufts, emerged from the forest edge. She stood in the maidan and looked back to the trees, waiting for her cubs to follow. And this they did, tentatively and in stages. One cub, a perfect copy in miniature of its mother, was bold, joining her quickly. Two more arrived but soon scampered back to the safety of the trees. The fourth, a small, timid, tan-coloured cub, was slow to appear. Finally all the cubs joined their mother who marshalled them over the grass into a cordon of forest by the road. From here they crossed in front of us, into the forest, and were gone.

It's lunchtime at Kanha Jungle Lodge and I find I am very hungry. It doesn't do to go without breakfast.

Kanha Jungle Lodge in the sal forest

Cats seen in 2015
cheetah Acinonyx jubatus fearonii            3
serval Leptailurus serval serval                3
leopard Panthera pardus suahelicus        2
lion Panthera leo nubica                          78
snow leopard Panthera uncia                   3
jungle cat Felis chaus                               1
tiger Panthera tigris tigris                          12
leopard Panthera pardus fusca                2

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