04 May 2009

Tiger! Tiger! Burning Out!

There is alarming news from Panna Tiger Reserve. It too has gone the Sariska way. A central team sent there to verify the report of tiger extinction has come back and reported that the worst fears were true. There are no tigers in Panna.

Inexorably this magnificent animal is inching towards extinction. The thousands of crores of rupees spent in the name of Project Tiger have been to little avail.

It will be a shame if we were to lose this symbol of our wilderness. Our jungles would never be the same if they did not reverberate to the roars of the tiger. Only those who have seen the tiger in the wild can appreciate what a loss it would be to lose the tiger from our jungles.

I have been one of the few and luckier people in the world who have actually seen the tiger in the wild several times. My first glimpse of this lord of the jungle (actually it was a lady of the jungle, for it was a tigress) was in Bandhavgarh and under thrilling circumstances.

At that time we were developing an interpretation centre for the tiger reserve. I was part of the project team as a writer. We were camped in Bandhavgarh to reconnoiter the place and to develop ideas for the interpretation exhibits. One idea that had come up was to develop an exhibit on how the jungle looks at night. Since visitors were not allowed into the reserve after dark, we thought this would be an interesting exhibit for them.

So a colleague and myself were travelling inside the reserve after sunset in a Forest Department jeep, which was a converted Maruti Gypsy. My friend was in the front seat, and I was in the back along with a forest guard who was armed only with a lathi. It was was an open jeep.

For quite sometime we roamed the dusty roads noting down our observations, but what we were keen on was to see a tiger. Suddenly we saw clear pug impressions on the dust by the side of the road. They were fresh.

The driver was an experienced naturalist who it seemed could read the mind of the tiger. He unerringly took us to the place where the owner of the pug marks was hiding. Actually it belonged to a tigress named Lakshmi, who had been ambling along the very road we were travelling. But hearing the noise of the jeep she had side stepped into the bush to let us pass.

But we were not keen on passing along, but on getting a glimpse of her. So we stopped at the place where the pug marks had ended, switched off the engine and the headlights and waited with bated breath for her majesty to make an appearance.

Quite a while went by and the tigress exasperated that we were not going away, finally decided to resume her evening walk. The moment she emerged from the bush, we were all excitement. What a grand spectacle it was. It was half-moonlit, the jungle was silent, except for the chirping of nightly birds. And there before us on the road was the tigress, just a few feet ahead of us.

That was when my friend decided to shine his torch on the tigress to get a better glimpse of her. The reaction was immediate. The instant the torch beam hit her eyes the tigress charged our jeep -- tail held high, blood-curdling growls emanating from her throat, and her dagger-like canines glinting in the moonlight. We could see only part of her body as the rest was hidden in the undergrowth. But the violent agitation of the bushes as she brushed them aside to get at us clearly indicated her trajectory.

At that moment I was standing on the back of the jeep craning my neck forward to catch very pixel of the scene that was unfolding before me. I confess that I did not even realize the danger I was in. I never even gave a thought to it.

But the driver was keenly aware of the danger. Just when the tiger had almost reached the jeep,he switched on the engine and the sound of the engine and the flashing of the headlight, unnerved the tigress who gallopped ahead and disappeared into the bushes on the other side of the road.

It was thrilling experience. For several minutes we sat there in the jeep taking in the exhilaration silently. I asked the driver whether the tigress would have pressed her charge? He replied that it is difficult to say for these animals are completely unpredictable, but in all probability, it was a mock charge, and she would have stopped just before the jeep, demonstrated a bit and then went off on her way. This tigress was known to be very aggressive and she usually charged jeeps that came too close to her.

I have seen tigers in Bandhavgarh on several occasions after this first sighting. But my best sightings have been in Kanha. We were in Kanha for the same purpose, developing an interpretation centre there. The first time I saw tigers there was late in the evening. The visitors leave the park at sunset and the park becomes peaceful after that. Tigers mostly venture out then. So we parked our vehicle at a strategic place and waited.

Not before long a tiger emerged and what a spectacle it was. He came out roaring at every step and marking his territory by lifting his tail and spraying the bushes with his urine. He then walked up to a pool before us where he lapped up water thirstily and then crossed the road right before us to disappear into the jungles. There was still enough light to see every movement he made.

My most exhilarating encounter with a wild tiger happened in this trip to Kanha. In it the tiger and I came in contact with each other at a very deep level. This is how it happened.

The bamboo forests of Kanha which flower and die once every 40 years had flowered a couple of years ago and they were all dead in great clumps. A few days earlier there had been a thunder storm and many of these dead clumps had been blown down and lay strewn on the road before us. At one place there were so many of them that our jeep could not move forward. We had no alternative but to get down and move the bamboo stems to the side of the road. We finished that and I threw the last piece of bamboo to the side of the road. We then got into the jeep and would have moved just a few metres ahead when we noticed a movement to the right of the road. We at first thought it was sambar deer, but no it was a tiger. A large male, whose lower body was coated with black mud. He had probably been sitting in a mud pool to cool off.

We immediately stopped the jeep. The tiger then came on to the road and started walking along the way we had come. We slowly started the jeep and began following him in reverse gear.

When the tiger came to the place where we had moved the bamboo he started investigating a bit. As soon as his nose reached the bamboo I had handled, he suddenly became very interested and started sniffing it in great detail. I wonder what thoughts came into his mind when he recognized my body smell there!

This little incident is in contradiction with what Jim Corbett has said of the tiger. He has written that tigers have no or little sense of smell. But the tiger before us on that day was clearly sniffing with great interest the bamboo I had touched.

I have seen wild tigers on several occasions from elephant back, but the thrill is not the same as when you see them at ground-level from your vehicle.

It is a pity that our coming generations in all likelihood would be deprived of the excitement of seeing a wild tiger. I also wonder whether they would forgive us for cheating them out of this priceless pleasure. I am not sure that they would.


हरि जोशी said...

बाघ पर आपके रोचक संस्‍मरण रोमांच पैदा करते हैं। एक बार मैं पूर्व प्रधानमंत्री राजीव गांधी को कवर करने कारबेट नेशनल पार्क गया था। हम भी खुली जीप में थे। हमें कहीं भी बाघ के दीदार नहीं हुए। शाम को ढिकाला लौटते हुए बगल की एक छोटी पहाड़ी से बाघ ने छलांग लगाई और दो मिनट तक हमारी जीप के आगे-आगे लौटता रहा। वयस्‍क बाघ की शान देखने लायक थी। हमारी घिग्‍घी बंध गई। थोड़ी देर बाद बाघ आगे खाई में उतर गया।
सारिस्‍का और पन्‍ना की खबरों के बाद अब यही डर है कि बाघ की शान हम कब तक उसके प्राकृतिक आवास में देख पाएंगे।

Devilish Angel said...

WOW! I am speechless. I would've died of heart attack lol. I can't believe you really went into those places in search of tigers. I don't think I would ever dare to do that. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

हिन्दी ब्लॉग टिप्सः तीन कॉलम वाली टेम्पलेट