Archive for March, 2015
The big cat makes a surprise appearance in India
In 2013, I visited Tadoba Tiger Reserve and national park in the State of Maharashtra, Central India, and spent nine days chasing after tigers with my good friend Luke Stokes from England but who also lives in Thailand like me. We saw seven tigers in nine days that was just awesome for our first trip to the ‘Land of the Tiger’. But the leopard stayed elusive and we did not even get a glimpse of the smaller big cat.
Female posing for me very close to the road – my favorite shot…!
Last year I decided to return to Tadoba once more in March 2015 but had to make bookings way in advance to guarantee a slot. Plans were drawn up, the lodge was selected, dates were locked in and fees were sent. Unfortunately Luke was not able to make this trip with me due to other commitments so I had to go it alone this time. But after a trip to two other Indian tiger reserves in November 2014, I have now become familiar with travel in India that is hectic but has now become almost second nature learning the ropes and system of chaotic India.
Jumping across the road in front of us…!
The flight from New Delhi to Nagpur (the closest city to Tadoba) further south takes about one and half hours and is pretty straightforward. The crowds and security at the airport are tight in Delhi with loads of flights leaving first thing in the morning. I arrived safe and sound to a waiting taxi for the three-hour drive southwest to the lodge just outside the park gate about noon. After some lunch, I rested up and got my cameras ready for the next morning’s safari first thing at 6am.
She is winking at us…!
After a quick coffee and some toast, I jumped into the jeep with a driver and a new acquired friend named Sundran Rajendra, an Indian guy born in Malaysia, brought up in Australia, and now from London. We become immediate friends so at least I had a companion. This was his first trip to India but he was a season traveler having been to Africa many times. We arrived at the gate in five minutes and after paying a small fee for our cameras, moved into the protected area in the dark with a forest guard in tow. The sun began to rise and light filled the forest as we spotted deer and peafowl and other birds just waking up. I was all pumped up but the morning dragged on a bit as we plugged along.
Got her eyes on us now…!
All of a sudden, a leopard was sighted disappearing into the bush. At first I thought that would be it but the driver has worked here for some 35 years and knew what to do. He skillfully moved along the road and stopped ahead of where the leopard might appear. And as sure as the day is long, she moved out of the forest in front of us, hesitated and then jumped across the road disappearing once again. I took a few shots and then we moved once more but this time near a deer kill the mature female had made earlier that morning. She had been chased off by the arrival of several jeeps.
Her final pose before slinking off into the bush – another favorite…!
Once again the driver moved forward and then we waited once again. And like magic, she appeared a third time right in front of us. I did not stop shooting until she left being spooked by too many jeeps arriving. The light became harsh and we had run out of time as the Forest Department has strict rules that must be followed to avoid being fined. Later that morning when the jeeps and everyone had gone, she came back and took the deer kill into the forest for a meal. Sundran and I cheered and jumped up and down celebrating our luck at a rare sighting of an elusive cat. It certainly made our day…! The next morning, we bumped into a female tiger up-close but that is another story to be posted at a later date…Enjoy…!
In 1975, a very famous Indian ‘Bollywood’ film was produced named ‘Sholay’, a Hindi action-adventure film that follows two criminals named Veeru and Jai who were hired by a local policeman to chase after a villain named ‘Gabbar’ in the southern state of Karnataka. This classic award winning film is ranked in the ‘Top 10 Indian Films’ of all time. I have not seen the film but will have a look one day soon..!
“Gabbar’ – male tiger with a ‘radio collar’ and severely injured in a small pond near the main road in the park…!
However, this story is not about a villain, but a beautiful mature male tiger named ‘Gabbar’ (also known as ‘Sherkhan’ or ‘T-7’) in Tadoba Tiger Reserve in the State of Maharashtra. In December 2014, he was tranquilized and then fitted with a radio collar to track his whereabouts and behavior by researchers from the ‘Wildlife Institute of India’.
Recently, ‘Gabber’ got into a fight with another male in the park that was witnessed by many on-lookers and severely injured. I have heard from a reliable source that he was in numerous fights with a bigger male and was swiped across the muzzle after the collar was fitted. It is without doubt that collars on male tigers or leopards hamper and prevent them from proper breeding, and they usually lose out to stronger cats without the heavy tightly fitted collar. It is quite possible that he is unable to hunt large animals now and may not survive into the near future…!
A close-up showing his injuries – what a sad looking sight…!
On my last safari during late afternoon in Tadoba on March 9th-2015, I bumped into ‘Gabbar’ lying in a pool sleeping not more than 100 meters from the main road. I stayed there observing him for more than an hour about 50 meters away. He eventually lifted his head very slowly and sadly looked up at me in the jeep. I was using my Nikon D3s and a 200-400mm VR II attached with a 2X tele-converter to get a close-up shot of him. I was devastated to see the extent of his wounds and it looks like he is very sick with fever probably from infection.
If any of those researchers who are responsible for this tiger read this; you must (should) get in there and re-capture him immediately, and remove the collar and treat his wounds if you have any compassion for wildlife. He looked very sick and may not survive this ordeal. Please do not hesitate, as his death would certainly be on your hands in the name of science. Data gathered by these people is not worth the demises of even one tiger; they are now too rare in the wild for this collaring practice to continue with any real outcome in the field of wildlife conservation, or protection and enforcement of the protected area.
‘Choti Tara’ female on the road in late morning…!
Furthermore, there is another female named ‘Choti Tara’ also fitted with a collar in Tadoba in December 2014. It was observed by some people at the lodge I was staying at that a researcher with an antenna following the female gave pertinent information to some drivers where she was going. A group of some 20 jeeps then rushed off in a cloud of dust to wait for her to reappear at the other side of the forest. This is total madness and certainly will give the researchers and park a bad name, and must be stopped now…!
I feel that the ‘Spirits of the Forest’ let me photograph ‘Gabbar’ to reveal the serious situation he is in. I’m hoping that a concerted effort will be undertaken to save this magnificent cat from bereavement, and maybe I played a small roll in his continued survival. He certainly deserves more respect than what he is getting at the moment, and the trauma he is going through needlessly. To the ‘Wildlife Institute of India’ and the Forest Department of Tadoba: PLEASE ACT NOW BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE..!
Check this tale out: https://www.facebook.com/notes/joydip-kundu/radio-collar-kills-sunderbans-tigress-toi/10153121234347207?pnref=story