A Tale of a tiger named “Baras”

I still remember the day I spotted this tigress sleeping in a nullah unfazed by the crowd that she gathered, an evening siesta. From the place where I was only her white belly was visible through the blades of grass, sleeping blissfully on the white sand.

The crowd grew in number as more and more safari vehicles arrived; she was spotted in and around the same place in the morning which is why the guides knew where to locate her first. She had made a kill in the morning not far from the nullah, a pool of water and the soft sand made for a perfect resting place. After the vehicles in the front moved ahead and we drove a little bit to get a better view of her as she lay hidden. Now we could see her entire body from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail, so far she did not even look up once.

Our guests were thrilled to see a tiger and for one of them it was the first sighting of a wild tiger, seeing your first big cat in the wild is always special.

She raised her head a little and looked at the noisy crowd, managing the crowd that gathers in Pench, Maharashtra definitely needs to be a lot better compared to its counterpart in Madhya Pradesh. Though there are rules and regulations in reference to tourism it needs to be implemented in a much more effective way.

 

It is not difficult to understand why a crowd goes berserk when they see a wild big cat at such a close distance keeping in mind that everyone at that moment would like to have a glimpse. The other animals belonging to the hoofed family are commonly seen compared to the elusive big cat which avoids human interaction as much as possible thereby making it very difficult to see. So the excitement in seeing one is valid however having said that there should be absolutely no lax or flexibility in implementing the existing rules to better managing the crowd.

Seen in the photograph below, the tigress looks at the maddening crowd with ears facing forward which indicates it’s listening to the noise.

Few moments of staring at the crowd and then she goes back to sleep again. As with every individual tiger, Baras has an unmistakable “trishul” sign on her left cheek which makes it easy to identify her.

After spending some amazing moments with the tigress we headed left the park. This was the first of many interactions with this tigress named “Baras”; in my next blog I’ll share more interesting reads about her life.

One of many adventurers of working as a Naturalist in Vannraj Resorts, Pench Tiger Reserve,till then Auf Wiedersehen!

The game of cat and mouse

The cat and mouse story has been around for generations but this one is different, in this story we are the cat and the tiger is the mouse. One of the most interesting perks that come along with the job is a drive in the forest. A forest in the life of a Naturalist can be considered as an important tool to study the biodiversity of an ecosystem.

Out of all the drives so far, I particularly remember one where the odds of getting a glimpse of the elusive big cat was very bleak. This was a drive in the Deolapar Range of Pench, Maharashtra. We entered the Park after completing the formalities and by that time few vehicles have already gone inside. Hardly 10 mins into the drive and we came across pugmarks probably made in the wee hours of dawn but it was heading in the opposite direction. The look on our guest’s faces was priceless when they looked at the pugmarks, disappointment was written all over their face. A word of encouragement and they seemed slightly better, the struggle to keep the hope alive. We moved on slowly, scanning the grassland and the hills around for any sign of movement.

Our job of locating the big cat is made easy by the grass eaters, the herbivores have to be on alert all the time and any sense of threat they would call out in alarm. Unlike the Indian Muntjac commonly called the Barking Deer, their calls in trying to pin point the location of the big cats cannot always be relied on, they are very skittish by nature and will even call out in alarm if they see a two legged creature. However the Chital or the Sambar almost always calls out in alarm when they sense a big cat around, to pick up such calls we stop in places like near a nullah or a water hole or in other locations where they are known to frequently cross.

After spotting the first pugmarks we would’ve hardly driven for 15 mins when we came across pugmarks again, this time from a different tiger. This time the guests could not control their patience and expressed their disappointment at seeing their hopes of seeing a big cat fade away. This time too the pugmarks were heading in the opposite direction; there is a rule in the Park, which states that a vehicle cannot turn around. I tried to explain that all is not lost and there is much more to the forest than the Tiger, which one usually misses out observing in the quest to zero in on spotting the big cat.

The thrilling experience of tracking a big cat, keeping in mind their elusive nature usually overshadows the inquisitiveness of spending time in observing the other commonly seen animals like the Deer and the Gaur. Our spirits were at a low ebb as we were running out of time and so far we could not pick up any alarm calls. I kept looking at the sun and the time every now and then, tigers usually prefer to walk in the wee hours of the morning or at dusk and I knew this time of the day was the best time to commence their walk after a day’s rest in the shade.

It was around 4:30 pm and we were slowly heading towards the exit when our Guide called out Tiger, Tiger!  There was no way none of us could’ve spotted the big cat as it was clearly visible sleeping on a slope right above the nullah. The big white belly in the middle of greens around was very prominent and did not take a long time to spot it.

The gloomy faces of our guests in no time turned into super happy faces, we too were feeling none the less. To top it all, we were the only ones around, not that we did not want others to see, but with too many people around it can become quite noisy. It did not move and kept sleeping till other vehicles arrived, that’s when it looked up to see the ones who dared to disturb the tiger’s evening siesta.

 

 

 

We spent a good 30 mins with the Tiger before bidding adieu to a drive to remember. All the while the pugmarks indicated that the big cat was moving in the opposite direction, but the forest still had this surprise waiting for us.

This was my third sighting of the big cat in this Range and in each one of them they were found sleeping until my luck changed miraculously in the next drive.

A forest of my own

Every night before I go to sleep I set the alarm at 6 in the morning before dreaming away. Right outside my room’s window, there is a bamboo grove and a paddy field where the birds perch on every day and feed on insects. To my amazement, though I set the alarm at 6 I’m always almost awakened by the natural alarm sounds of birds chirping minutes before the alarm sets off. A quick look at the window and the rays of sunlight shining through the gaps between the wooden planks of the window chases the sleep away. This is how my mornings kick start.

With a pair of binoculars, my bird book and my camera I step out in the cold winter morning in a quest to identify and photograph as many birds as possible. Vannraj is one of the few resorts in Pench which has a mini forest on the property and is home to more than 25 species of birds. Every morning I’m greeted by the calls of the Black Hooded Oriole, the Treepie and the Racket Tailed Drongo along with hordes of other bird sounds. It is truly a Naturalist’s dream residence, where else would he like to reside other than in a forest of his own.

As I walk through the grassland I see flowers of different colors flying in front of me and sometimes along with me, these are the beautiful butterflies. The Tawny Coster flies by followed by a Common Leopard and on a blade of grass sits pretty the beautiful Common Jezebel. Sometimes it really becomes difficult to choose what to observe or which one to photograph with so many varieties of winged beauties around.

After spending an hour within the property I cross the road and walk to a lake located very closeby, now it’s time to observe birds that frequent water bodies. I tiptoe my way through the forest making sure I do not end up disturbing the birds on the lake. As I get closer and closer I see two pairs of Ruddy Shelduck in two different locations and the Open Bill Storks on the banks. The mist slowly lifting off the sun-kissed water and the sights of the birds is truly mesmerizing and needs to be seen to believe. I choose a spot and sit quietly scanning the lake from one end to the other and then on the top branches of the trees to see if I can spot the Grey Headed Eagle or the Hornbills. There are few trees where I’ve seen a pair of Malabar Pied Hornbills resting and a Grey Headed Eagle once. Barely 50 feet from me there are two Little Ringed Plover’s looking for insects and absolutely ignores my presence. The Ruddy Shelduck or commonly called the Brahminy Duck is very sensitive and if disturbed will take to flight and keep flying around for sometime before deciding to settle down or will fly away to a different water body. A farmer trying to chase the Rose Ringed Parakeets from his field by bursting crackers scared the life out of the poor ducks as it took to the air in no time.

The Cotton Pygmy Goose and the Common Pochard both migratory birds are also known to frequent this lake in the winter and I can’t wait for their arrival. This is how I start off my day when I do not go for a safari early morning.