Monday, March 4, 2013

The Tiger Diaries: 05-Ranthambore Safari Day 4

Tobin David
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Day 4: Predators (not the Arnold Schwarzenegger ones)

The morning safari was in Kundal zone (zone 6) in a gypsy. We reached the zone gates around 7 am and started the safari. First came the blue bulls (nil gai) followed by sambar deer, the favourite food of tigers. Tigers prefer Sambar deer, as these deer have plenty of meat, making them slower and their poor eyesight makes it easier for tigers to prey on them. 

Owl on the watch

A Blue-bull (Nilgai) looks around for it's partner

And then, Lo and behold!

On the jungle path were Mrs. and Mr. Jackal, still searching for that something. The couple trotted away after some time, sniffing on the ground occasionally. 

As we moved on, we saw a wise old owl and then an Indian Gazelle (Chinkara), considered to be Asia’s smallest antelope. (The Blue bull or Nil gai is considered Asia’s largest Antelope). It feels good to sight and photograph birds and animals you haven’t sighted earlier.

Owl on the watch

A wise owl on the watch

Owl on the watch

A wise owl on the watch

Indian Gazelle (Chinkara), Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

An Indian Gazelle (Chinkara),
Asia's smallest antelope

Kundal Zone, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

Kundal Zone

Continuing the safari we came across a family of Spotted deer (chital) grazing a short distance away, to the right of the gypsy. All of us including the driver and guide were focused on watching the deer. 

All of a sudden the lady to my left exclaimed ‘Look’!

As we looked to the left, we saw an amazing sight. It was a leopard, about 10 metres to the left of the gypsy. All of us looked at the leopard and the leopard stared back at us. What a beautiful animal!

A Leopard hurries away, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

'Spot' me if you can.
A Leopard hurries away.

A Leopard hurries away, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A Leopard hurries away.
For me, it was love at first sight. For the leopard, it was flight at first sight. There were too many prying eyes to the liking of this lovely but shy animal. It turned around and ran. By the time I got over my love-at-first-sight and tried to take some photographs, it was already some distance away. 

Love got in the way of photography.

We watched the leopard till it went out of sight. What puzzled me was, the leopard was less than 50 metres away from the deer family and yet the deer did not raise an alarm call. On discussing with the driver and guide, the realization dawned upon us. The leopard was stalking the deer and we had arrived at the most inopportune moment for the leopard. Uninvited guests had spoiled it’s breakfast. 

And we had missed a chance to see a kill in the wild!

A Spotted Owl, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A spotted owl poses for the camera
The safari continued with many more sightings of spotted deer including two young stags trying to head-butt each other. Presumably, trying to impress a doe. Proving, that adolescent males of all species, humans or otherwise, behave the same when a female’s attentions and affections are at stake.

Young Spotted Deer Males head-butting, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

Head-to-Head - Spotted Deer

Next we saw a spotted owl, some tree-pies and a few rose-ringed parakeets. As we came to the end of the safari, we enjoyed the beautiful landscape. 

It had been an excellent morning that we would remember for a long time.

After two tiger sightings and one leopard sighting in three days I was in serious danger of becoming a braggart. 

A watch-tower (Tekdi, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A watch-tower (tekdi) atop a hill
But, to put things into perspective, sighting the big cats in the wild is a matter of pure chance. There were many with more and better sightings than what I’ve had and then there were others who were unlucky not to catch even a single glimpse of the big cats. The real goal should be to enjoy the safari, the calm and serene forest and the diverse flora and fauna. 

Sighting the big cats is an added bonus.

Afternoon shift

The afternoon safari started about 3.30 pm in a canter and we saw peacocks, langur monkeys and Sambar deer. Even after one hour, having covered the entire zone, there were no signs of a tiger. Then we got news from a passing gypsy that a tigress with three young ones had been spotted on the common road (accessible by the public) within the park, that led to the Ranthambore fort.

Wild Boar, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A wild boar

The common road was out of our zone and once we exited the zone, we would not be able to re-enter. The driver and guide checked with each of the passengers if we were willing to leave the zone and try our luck on the common road. Finally everybody agreed and we made our way to the common road with renewed optimism.

When we reached the spot where the tigers had been last spotted, there were many canters and gypsies waiting. We came to know that the mother tigress had moved ahead while the three young ones were still in that same area. We parked the canter on one side of the road facing the area where the tigers had been last spotted. 

There was a lot of suppressed excitement and suspense in the air.

It's the Eye of the Tiger, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

Eyes of the Tiger!
After 10 minutes of waiting I detected a movement in the thick foliage. Did I actually see the orange coat with black stripes or Did my eyes play tricks with me or Did I mistake a deer for a tiger? I immediately called the guide over and pointed out the exact spot where I thought I had seen the tiger. The guide checked with a pair of binoculars but did not see anything.

And then, without any doubt whatsoever, there appeared the orange coat with black stripes!!! It had returned to the same spot where I had sighted it earlier. It was a beautiful and huge tiger! When I heard about the tigress along with her three young ones, I imagined three little cubs with their mother. But as we learnt later, the three young ones were actually two and a half year old tigers (sub-adults). 

Two of them, males, were even bigger than their mother!

Tigers or Humans, it’s very typical of young Indian adult males, to let Mom take care of them for as long as possible. Momma’s boys!!!

Royal Bengal Tiger, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

The king surveys his territory

Royal Bengal Tiger, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

The Stare
I kept clicking away for the next 10 minutes even though the tiger was some distance away. And, then entered the second tiger! It plonked itself next to the first tiger. This tiger was as big as the first one. A male no doubt. The second tiger’s face was partially hidden by a tree but that did not prevent me from clicking one and a half tigers. And then entered the third tiger!

Royal Bengal Tiger, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

Brothers in Arms

What a thrill it was for all of us, to see three huge tigers at once. The sheer thrill, delight and excitement were beyond words! The third tiger went out of our sight, as it settled behind some dense bushes.

It was hard to believe that these three tigers were siblings, because unlike human siblings, not only were they tolerant of each other but were very civil and affectionate as well towards each other!!!

We clicked away for some more time and soon it was time for the safari to come to an end. As we exited the park I was still trembling with excitement. I would surely remember this safari for a long time.

Ranthambore Landscape, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

Ranthambore landscape

I had sighted the big cats in 4 safaris out of a total of 7 safaris so far. I knew that was a good success rate and I was extremely happy and thankful. 

Dinner was a pleasant affair and I went to bed on a happy note wondering how the last day would turn out to be.

Tobin David
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