Once you've seen a tiger close up and personal you will never
forget him! His piercing eyes immediately draw you to him and
you become mesmerized by the beautiful markings that line his
face and body.
Curiously, he is gentile
and quiet, but at the same time his low growl warns you that
this encounter can be deadly as well. Powerful and charismatically
handsome, the tiger is a superb animal!
I have always been fascinated
with tigers. As a child, I remember going to the circus and I
can recall how captivated I was by the sight of the tigers entering
the arena to perform for the crowd. The ringmaster would always
make them snarl and growl with a swift crack of his whip as if
by exposing their enormous canines would somehow add to the drama
of the moment.
How differently I look
at tigers today. Having just returned from visiting two major
game parks in India, I've come back with a completely different
view of the legendary cats as well as having a special reverence
Ranthambhore, the first
of the two parks I visited, was a long way from my childhood
memories. Located near the town of Sawai Madhopur, Ranthambhore
encompases nearly 152 square miles of deciduous forest in southwestern
Rajasthan. It has become one of the most important tiger habitats
in the world, a place where tigers can be seen regularly and
in the daytime.
The park itself covers
some 400 sq km and its scenery is very beautiful. A system of
lakes and rivers are hemmed in by steep high crags and on top
of one of these is the extensive and well-preserved Ranthambhore
Fort, built in the 10th Century when it was a vital citadel for
the control of central India. -LE.
Once upon a time people
came to these forests to shoot tigers. But India in the 1990s
is a different place. The emphasis now is on conservation.There
is a growing concern in India for the conservation of their rich
heritage of wildlife and to preserve the environment from irreparable
Numbers of tigers have
dramatically decreased due to excessive hunts during the last
hundred years from an estimated 50,000 at the turn of the century
to a mere 1827 in 1972.
|But from 1973, Project Tiger has considerably restored
some of the lost numbers and the tiger population in India is
now estimated to be around 4500. With these figures in mind,
I felt the compelling need to see and photograph tigers in the
wild before they vanished completely from the landscape.
Leaving our lodge just
before daybreak, we arrived at the entrance to the park to pick
up our ranger and then set off in search of tigers! The landscape
is dotted with chital (spotted deer) which is the favorite prey
of tigers and large troups of langur monkeys sound the alarm
as we pass nearby interupting their morning feeding.
Following the advise of
our guide, we "listen to the sounds of the forest"
and hope that it will let us know when the tiger is near! From
our open-sided jeeps driven by park rangers our eyes search the
woods for any sign of the elusive cat. We watch for any movement,
Suddenly, the forest erupts
with alarm calls. A chital looks sharply toward the forest. It
is frozen in its tracks. The loud shrill of a peacock breaks
the silence and is joined by another and together their frequent
alarm calls now alert the entire forest. Although the tiger is
still invisible to me, I can sense that he is near. He is a master
of disguise and his striped coat blends beautifully into the
surrounding landscape. Walking effortlessly among the brush and
fallen leaves, the tiger is finally visible as our guide yells
out "tiger walking!" to alert anyone in the area.
Our first tiger sighting
is a magnificent male and as he emerges from the forest he continues
to walk parallel to our vehicle for several yards. I am flush
with excitment! To see a tiger in the wild is one of the most
thrilling experiences nature has to offer. It is the biggest
of the big cats and a symbol of strength.
Because of its elusive
nature, much of the Indian tiger's activity takes place behind
a veil of tall jungle grass or within dense foliage where it
is dangerous to be on foot. Bandhavgarh, our second national
park, would allow us the privilege of riding on elephant back
which would give us a much closer view of the tiger.
As our tiger crosses the
road in front of our vehicle, he continues his steady gate and
as silently as he appeared, disappears into the forest. It is
a humbling experience and I am thrilled to see my first tiger
in the wild!
Set among the Vindhya Hills
of Madhya Pradesh with an area of 168 square miles, Bandhavgarh
National Park contains a wide variety of habitats and high density
of game, including large numbers of tigers. Majastic Sal Forests
cover half the area and there are stretches of bamboo and grassland
Within the park is the ancient Bandhavgarh fort and caves and
dug into the sandstone of the fort one can still see the inscriptions
dating from the 1st Century B.C. In the recent past, the Maharaja
of Rewa last occupied the fort until it was designated as a National
Park in 1968.
In Bandhavgarh we were
fortunate to have the forest elephants available to us for our
morning safaris. Riding elephant back is the only way to safely
spot and follow a tiger in the wild. At our rendezvous point
we watched as our elephants suddenly appeared at the edge of
the forest with their mahouts mounted just above their ears.
Mounting these hugh elephants was no easy task but you soon learned
the technique. With one small step onto the top of the jeep and
one hugh step onto the narrow platform high up on the side of
the elephant, you pray that you are in the correct seating position
before the elephant takes off on his trek into the forest.
We are ready to go and our mahout guides our elephant deeper
and deeper into the bush. Elephants are brilliant in negotiating
the winding pathways that lead into the forest and equally fascinating
are their sure-footedness in clamboring over rocks and boulders
of all sizes! We had many good tiger sightings in Bandhavgarh
due in part to the availablity of these elephants.
tigers in the wild is a sight few will ever have the opportunity
to experience. Being a lover of animals, there is a sense of
joy in being able to watch these magnificent cats in their natural
habitat. The more closely one observes their world, the more
convinced we become that animals have a right to be here too.
We can only hope that with the efforts of many, the tiger will
not become extinct and will continue to thrive in the magical
forests of India.
Population World Wide
The Siberian Tiger, also called the Amur tiger, is the largest, most
powerful cat in the world. These tigers live mostly in eastern
Russia. Only about 400 Siberian tigers live in the wild.
The South China Tiger is the most endangered of all tigers. Fewer than
20 of these tigers now live in the wild, and only 50 live in
zoos. In China, the tiger is a symbol of power and is a favorite
subject of artists.
is the most common tiger. They live throughout India, although
some are found in neighboring countries to the north and east.
Today, most Bengel tigers live on game preserves and are thought
to number 5000.
The Indochinese Tiger lives in the hilly and mountainous forests of
Thailand and neighboring countries. They may weigh over 400 lbs.
About 1500 of these tigers now live in the wild.
The Sumatran Tiger is the smallest member of the tiger family. The
Sumatran tiger has many thin stripes, which help it hide in the
dense jungle forest. These tigers like water and are good swimmers.
Less than 400 said to be left in the wild.
Caspian Tiger EXTINCT
The following books make excellent tiger reading:
Of Tigers and Men by Richard Ives
The Secret Life of
Tigers by Valmick
Tigers in the Snow by Peter Matthiessen