Monday, 9 March 2015

Raining cats

After heavy rain, such as we had last night, it becomes very difficult to see tigers, the more so on the shorter, hotter afternoon drives. Everyone knows this; except apparently the tigers.

In the first hour of this afternoon's drive, as this morning's, there was silence from the tigers. Then we met a jeep which had seen P1's two fourteen-month-old cubs. We moved quickly to the spot, where several jeeps had already gathered, and were richly privileged to see the male cub lapping water from an artificial pool right by the road. While he drank, some distance behind us his sister crossed the road to join him, though she was not seen again. Instead the male emerged from the forest ahead of us and crossed back, sleek, orange and handsome, like his lovely mother.

The mien of the cubs was quite different from that of the two adult females I have seen here this time, and many other adults I have seen here and elsewhere. Being a tiger cub is dangerous, a fact reflected in their secrecy and stealth. In a world full of unknown adult tigers, of wild dogs and leopards, of gaur mothers protecting their calves, of noisy jeeps and, sadly, of poachers, young tigers do well to blend with their forest home. Once they have reached adulthood it will be their prerogative to stroll along roads and hold up jeeps should they so choose.

Praise for his care around the cubs is due to Sanjay, our excellent park guide this afternoon. He knows the tiger closely and, though keen to share it with his guests, is respectful of the animals' need for space in which to behave naturally. To his credit he is also unafraid to berate colleagues who act less responsibly around the tigers, especially these precious cubs. It does no harm that Sanjay is also very funny, without the need for a common language with his guests.

While we watched, the cubs' father Gabbar was otherwise engaged. As we drove from the cubs we heard news that a tiger was sitting by the road ahead. It was our friend Maya, P2, relaxing in a fire-line (the clear strips maintained in the forest to prevent wildfires ripping through the whole park). Near her, though unseen by us, was Gabbar, intent no doubt on Maya bearing another litter of cubs for him. After a few minutes with us, Maya stood, looked nonchalantly in our direction, and crossed the fire-line into the forest. Her frame is squarer than P1's and she is most intensely orange across her shoulders, with a pale tawny covering her haunches; a quite different but also lovely tigress.

The time had come to leave the park but the forest had yet to surrender its final secret. As we rounded a corner I spotted a sloth bear right by the road. It stood its ground and peered at us, then, as other jeeps approached, turned and blundered into a stand of bamboo. To see one sloth bear on a trip is not guaranteed and is always a delight. To see two in a day is thrilling.

Not to mention three tigers.

Today, after a storm, with water in the hidden streams and all the odds against us, it rained cats and bears.

Excellent tiger guide Sanjay

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                          4
leopard Panthera pardus fusca                1

1 comment:

  1. Ahhh... The image just comes alive for me..

    Looks like P1 and Gabbar were just waiting for me to leave Tadoba, before they emerged in full public view..