Bheema: The Peaceful Warrior of Kanha National Park passes away

Bheema the peaceful warrior of Kanha National Park
Bheema in Kanha National Park

It was in September 2016 that I wrote of the The Big Four Tigers of Mukki in Kanha. These Tigers had attracted the attention of all the Tiger lovers worldwide in the last 3 years. The most commonly sighted Tiger amongst them was Bheema, the peaceful warrior of Kanha National Park.

Bheema the peaceful warrior of Kanha Nationa Park

Almost everyone was beginning to reconcile that the Tiger behavior was changing in Kanha. Their belief stemmed from the fact that the four big male Tigers had accepted each other in a small area of under 300 sq kms. There were skirmishes on and off in the last couple of years. They all got injured, and recovered too.  But deep down few knew that Kanha Tigers are fighters and not quitters. They live and die like Tigers in territorial fights. It was a matter of time before they would show their true colors. Come October 2016, and we saw departure of Rajaram in a fatal territorial encounter with Umarpani male. You may read the same in the below link:

Rajaram (Kingfisher) Tiger dies in a territorial fight in Kanha National Park

Umarpani male is a huge and a powerful Tiger in his prime with some extra-ordinary lineage. You might like to read about him here.

People were still coming to terms with the death of Rajaram when Bheema was found in a condition bordering death. The Mahouts found him gravely injured while patrolling on their elephants. Such was his condition that the department could not even think of tranquilizing him lest he succumb to his injuries. He was lifted and placed on a stretcher by the forest department while conscious. I do not recall any incident when a Tiger has been lifted without tranquilizing in the wild or even in a zoo.

He was taken to a natural enlarged enclosure where he was put under observation and treatment. Apparently the damage to him was considerable, and he was in no condition for a surgery. A team of expert vets were summoned from across the country.

Bheema was born in July/August of 2011.

His father was Kankata and mother was Budbudi. He was one in the litter of four. One of his siblings Bajrang is still doing well in another zone of Kanha. Bheema was frequently sighted in Mukki and Kisli zones. He was one Tiger who was not shy of tourists, and gave ample photo opportunities, sighted almost twice a week if not more in his peak days, i.e. until summer of 2016. Usually his sighting was not just a glimpse. He was often seen walking on the vehicle tracks for kms. After his sighting the tourists would go back satiated and delighted always.

My personal experience with Bheema; the Peaceful Warrior

It was 11th June 2015, an afternoon safari. I had just finished an amazing sighting / session with Umarpani male which lasted about 30 minutes when we decided to go and wait at the Babathenga waterhole. We had zero expectation of any sighting. The weather was a bit humid, and suddenly we hear a sambar alarm call. For a moment I did not believe my ears, I looked at Naren on the wheels and the second alarm call.

Now, when a Sambar deer calls it is most certain that he has sighted a Tiger. And if he calls twice in succession then it means that the Tiger is active. We started our vehicle and headed just 50 meters ahead from where the call came. As we reached the area, the sambar called again. We switched off the ignition and waited.

Anxious moments…

I always advise my guide, and whoever accompanying me in the jeep never to stand up, just stay seated. Reason being, that more often than not the Tiger would see the standing eager people before the people will see him. When everyone’s eyes are eagerly searching for the big cat, there is a lot of nervous energy around. The Tigers are highly sensitive and would usually change direction when they notice anxiety. Hence everyone was seated, calmly active and actively calm in my vehicle.

Then Raju our guide pointed in one direction and murmured the most anticipated word, “Sirji Tiger”. His face was seen  from the tall grass. As everyone was seated in the car, the Tiger found a conducive atmosphere to make an appearance. We waited for him to come completely out of the grass. Once he did we started our vehicle and turned right where we expected him to follow us. Sure he did like an obedient son.

Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema coming out of the grassland near Babathenga

Tete-a-Tete with Bheema

Then started my vigorous clicking. We maintained a safe distance. I kept giving him mental assurance that “i love you my handsome boy”. He followed us, and did everything that a Tiger on his territorial round would do. Scratching, marking, spraying, flehmen, sit, roll, everything. In about twenty minutes that he followed me i clicked close to 400 shots. He was not leaving our trail. Finally Naren said, “Sir, it is time to go, we have only 30 minutes left for park closure time and we must move”. With a heavy heart i confirmed and we changed course.

On our way back, i started to think of various safaris i had done in my last 27 years in India. Two memorable sightings are, my very first Tiger sighting in Ranthambhore in 1990. And, second would be this sighting. Though there are many memorable ones, but getting two different male Tigers, and both head on for a considerable time in less than one hour is unusual.

Why i called him the Peaceful Warrior;

I called him the Peaceful warrior because he peacefully carried many combat medals (injury marks) on his shoulders with pride of a warrior. If I was to compare him with Link 7 aka Chotta Munna, or Umarpani male, Bheema was the most peaceful Tiger. He never unnecessary challenged any other Tiger for territory.  Stayed mostly in his own territory, and defended it pretty well till almost the last 3-4 months of his reign. His skirmishes with Chotta Munna in 2015 were quite one sided where he chided him away comfortably.

Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema carrying the trophies of many battles he fought and won.
Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema with many injury marks on his shoulders was a warrior who fought many battles.

But Chotta Munna has genes of Munna  (a legendary Tiger of Kanha). At 15 Munna is still fighting, and surviving. Chotta Munna started to give Bheema some tough time toward middle of 2016. On 1st October 2016 when the park reopened for tourism Bheema was sighted with a limp, and it seemed he had lost considerable amount of weight. He looked a much smaller version of his former self. Subsequently his sightings reduced.

Was he unable to hunt? Was he carrying some injury? Or, was he ill? There was nothing of consequence visible on him. There is no protocol to interfere in the lives of wild Tigers in India. The department only intervenes when they feel that the injury is serious and can disable the Tiger.

The passing of the Peaceful Warrior

On 4th December he was found by the patrolling forest staff. He was frail, his forelimb badly eaten by maggots. And he was found in the territory of Umarpani male. It is possible due to the constant disturbance by Chotta Munna he left his area and ventured into Umarpani male’s territory. I have always maintained that Umarpani male is the biggest surviving Tiger of central India right now. Not only in size, but in strength, and confidence also he is unmatched. The fact that he has dominated Mukki practically since 2011 speaks volumes about his demeanor.

Bheema was also not a diminutive Tiger by any yard of imagination Afterall he was given his name Bheema for a reason. He would have been a dominating Tiger in any other landscape besides Mukki. It was unfortunate that he got stuck between the two sons of Munna (Umarpani and Chotta Munna), else he would never have gone in his prime.

His fans including me were praying that he survives. But when i heard that the chances of survival are minimal i prayed for his ordeal to end.

Having seen Tigers for some decades now, i think, Tigers are born to fight. They survive because they fight. Choice is either they fight or they die. The end is mostly they fight and they die. Such is the life of a Tiger.

Sharad Vats

 

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Thirty Three (33) different Tigers sighted in Kanha since park reopened in October 2016

Different Tigers sighted in Kanha
Tigers of Kanha

Is it true? Yes, it is true, and speaks volumes about the efforts by the forest department in conserving Tigers and wildlife in Kanha. While many talk about the number of Tigers poached this year, very few discuss the number of different Tigers being sighted. Thirty Three different Tigers, including 11 cubs, is a healthy number, and that too just in the tourism zone. Please remember that these are not the numbers given by the forest department. But these are the Tigers sighted by the tourists. There is a documental evidence of the same. Significantly, this has been recorded in just 45 days. Besides, it is also reported that there are two pregnant Tigresses in this list, hence this number of 33 Tigers is bound to go up further soon. These many different Tigers sighted in Kanha is indeed good news for Kanha.

In October 2016 we heard about two Tigers getting poached and one Tiger dying in territorial fight. While nothing can be done about saving Tigers in a territorial fight, but in poaching it was done. The poachers of one Tiger were caught within 30 hours of the Tiger being found dead. Such a prompt action by the department is commendable, suggests dedication of the team towards the cause. Four people involved in the crime were arrested. On investigation it was revealed that they were local villagers who had laid a trap to get a wild boar or some large herbivore. But the Tiger walked in the area and was trapped. Unfortunate but true. The second poaching case is being investigated still. It is a matter of concern but i would still like to compliment the department for keeping these numbers to minimum.

With 22 adults, and 11 cubs the times ahead for Kanha look good. These are only the tourism zone figures, and the tourism zone is about 20% of the total area of Kanha. The latest camera trap census estimated that Kanha has over 110 Tigers as on date.  Of the total 22 adults sighted in the tourism zones of Mukki, Kanha, Kisli and Sarhi, there are 9 male Tigers. So the male to female ratio though not ideal, but it is close to being ideal. These are positive signs for the Tigers of Kanha.

Some experts had indicated that even if the Tigers disappear from rest of the protected areas, Kanha will still be amongst the last bastions of the Tiger besides Corbett. This forecast has been true so far, and i think it will remain true until something untoward happens.

List of Tigers sighted since October 2016 in Kanha include:

  1. Rajaram aka Kingfisher (died in a territorial fight in October 2016)
  2. Chotta Munna, aka Link 7
  3. Umarpani male
  4. Bheema
  5. Bajrang
  6. Jamun tola male
  7. Karai ghati male aka Dabang
  8. Junior Kankatta
  9. Supkhar male
  10. Munna
  11. Choti mada with two cubs
  12. Mahaveer feamle with 3 cubs
  13. Dhawajhandi female
  14. Umarjhola female
  15. Distt line female
  16. Neelam (pregnant)
  17. Link 8 female (pregnant)
  18. Link 7 female with 4 cubs aka Mundi Dadar female
  19. Unknown female with two cubs near Indri camp
  20. Female near Chimta camp
  21. Budbudi female, and
  22. Jamun Talab female

Conserving Tigers is not an easy task by any yard of imagination. Tigers roam free in large areas without boundaries, and with no technological surveillance yet. It is heard that soon there will be Drones to monitor them. With many villages around the parks, highways, inadequate forest guards, bio mass dependancy, forests and wildife are a soft target. But the forest department works relentlessly. They risk their lives from dangerous predators, stay away from families so that the forests can be preserved. Their sacrifice is hardly seen forget being appreciated.

I pray that you are able to sight many Tigers on your visits to Kanha. But a humble request to you all that please enjoy the park in it’s entirety. Yearning for Tigers alone can be a tad disappointing, hence appreciate the smell, sight, and sounds of Kanha. Trust me, it will leave you enthralled.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

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What to do when you encounter a Tiger on foot in the Tiger country?

At the onset let me warn everyone that a Tiger is a perfect killing machine. So the best way to fight him is, not to fight him. This is a note from some personal past experiences, and wisdom of locals who occasionally meet the Tiger on foot in their own backyard.  It is quite possible that on your safari holiday you might also encounter a Tiger on foot inadvertently and unintentionally.

Please do not be anxious on how this might happen. Quite simply, the national parks of India do not have any fence, or walls. The Tigers move in and around the national parks to mark their territory, and in search of food. So often they come out of the forest and visit the outskirts of the resorts and the villages.

What to do when you encounter a Tiger on foot?

It is important to know that generally a Tiger is not interested in human beings. It is often noticed that he will leave the trail if he hears or sees you on the same trail. Having said this, it does not mean that you throw the caution to the winds. Also there are times that a Tiger would do a mock charge, i.e. come half way fully charging, then stop, turn around, and run away. These are serious and life threatening situations, so you cannot take any charge lightly, hence it is best to be prepared, and remember the below points if you happen to remember, when you encounter a Tiger on foot.

Stay calm

If you happen to sight a Tiger first then stay mum. Be breathless if possible. It is not easy not to get nervous, but your stillness before he notices you is your major chance of escape. If he has not noticed you, then stay quiet, wait for him to move on, and you later move in the opposite direction. Escaping should be the only motive, and avoid being foolishly heroic. Your anxiety can force a Tiger to take a step which he is not inclined to, i.e. attack you.

Pray

Whether you are a believer or a atheist there is no better time than this to start praying.

Stand up tall when you encounter a Tiger on foot

If you happen to be sitting on the trail, please stand up gradually, and stand tall. The Tiger must see you as a human being and not any unsuspecting prey animal. Tigers usually attack their prey from behind, specially when they happen to be sitting. He will mistake you for a small prey animal and charge. Hence stand up. By doing so, you have cleared to him that you are a human, and not his natural prey.

Signs that a Tiger is upset with you

If the Tiger is upset with you, he will show it by a growl, or he might take a stalking position. Now, what is a stalking position? Basically before a Tiger attacks, he crouches, his ears roll back, he freezes, focus on his prey, snarls, and charge. If he is taking that position, then you need to start backing up. Do not show your back to him, rather slowly and steadily just back up. When you love a dog his ears roll back, but not so with a Tiger. So please do not mistake Tiger’s rolled back ears that he needs to be loved. It is a clearcut warning to you, that he does not like your presence. Hence keep backing off slowly until the Tiger is well out of sight.

encounter a tiger on foot
Ears rolled back of a Tiger.

Never run

When you encounter a Tiger on foot, never run. Tigers are trained to chase anything running, and kill.

Encounter a Tiger on foot
This image was taken in Dudhwa National Park, when i was in a Jeep, and the Tiger decided to mock charge.

You will need to excuse me for the shake in the above image. This was the best i could get when i had a Tiger growling and flying towards me. I somehow feel it could have been lot sharper had other people in my Jeep not got hassled, and decided to shout and jump at the same time. Perhaps that did the trick and he abandoned his pursuit and turned back, but i lost a sharp image. This image perhaps needs another blog post altogether, so i would restrain myself from digressing further.

Climb a Tree

If there is a tree nearby, and the Tiger is a bit far, and you know how to climb a tree quickly, then go ahead. But be sure to reach at-least 15 feet high before stopping, as Tigers can jump upto 15 feet comfortably to get you down. Imagine how much is 15 feet, close to one and a half floor. So do it quickly if you can, else do not attempt.

If you encounter a Sloth Bear or a Leopard then the option of climbing the tree is out as they are both expert climbers, more so the Leopard.

Encounter a Tiger on foot
Forest guard who fought a Sloth Bear while patrolling.

I met the above forest guard in Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary, have forgotten his name, but will never forget my encounter with him. He had a bare hand fight with a Sloth Bear while on his patrolling rounds. The Sloth Bear stood on his hind legs, and fought with him for good 10 minutes. He did not loose hope and kept fighting. The Sloth Bear inserted his claws in the skull of the guard, but he kept on fighting. Perseverance, self belief, and not giving in saved him, but left him badly injured.

Make noise

If you have some metal, or something in your hand which you can make noise with, do it now. But do this only if you see that the Tiger has made up his mind to charge. If you have nothing on your hand, and Tiger is charging, then shout as hard and as long as you can.

Fight if you must and have no choice

When push comes to shove and you are not left with any choice then it is best to use presence of mind, and when a Tiger charges and jumps at you do the following:

Get as close as possible to him when he attacks you.

Hug him tight. Do not give him any breathing space. Hugging a Tiger can surprise him. All carnivores prefer distance, the fact that even while mating Tigers growl at each other, and avoid any physical closeness suggests that they avoid physical contact. Even Tigers fighting with each other keep distance. Initially they would slap each other, and wait to take a bite at the jugular vein on the neck of the opponent. Hence keep your neck away.

It is your weapon vs his claws and canines

Pick whatever you can, stick, branch, rock, and use it to protect yourself by hitting him.

Remember his weapons are his claws and canines, so stay away from them. Your weapon is whatever you get or have in hand. With his canines and claws he can hurt fatally. Tigers avoid fights. But if they get into the fight they will go for the kill, until and unless they are surprised by you, and just want to escape.

Continue to shout, and be as close as possible to him. Avoid his fatal bite, as not only it can kill, but it can give you some serious infection as his canines have lot of bacteria.

His weak spots could be his eyes, and nose, so strike hard there if you can.

If there is a water body close by, or a river, do not get into it until you have won a gold in the Olympics. Tigers are great swimmers, and will outpace you much sooner that you suspect.

Last but not the least continue to pray, and give in your best. Your best chance of survival will be the swiftness and shrewdness.

Let me end by saying what i started with, that the best way to fight a Tiger is not to fight a Tiger.

With prayers from me that you never encounter a Tiger on foot in the Tiger country.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

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The Biggest Tiger of Central India; the Umarpani Male of Kanha National Park

Tigers of Kanha are known to be big in size. And, i am putting my neck on the block by making such a statement. But having observed Tigers for close to 28 years in many nationals parks (specially in the Central India highlands) i think this guy has it all going for him as far as size, strength, and stealth is concerned. Umarpani male, slightly premature to crown him as the future King of Kanha as there is some serious competition on the cards from Chotta Munna who is taking his father’s legacy very seriously.

A lot of this has to be dedicated to his genes. His forefathers have been dominating Tigers in Kanha for past generations. Let us see which lineage does he come from.

The lineage of Umarpani male:

Father is Munna, the legendary Tiger who has CAT spelt on his forehead. At 15 years of age, Munna is still controlling the main tourism zone of Kanha. The world knows him, and he needs o further introduction. Munna’s father also known as the Limping male was one of the dominating and a huge Tiger before Munna.

Tigers of Kanha
Limping male, father of Munna, and grand father of Umarpani male
Tigers of Kanha
Munna, father of Umarpani male, photo by Naren

Mother is Umarpani female, the daughter of Banda, the dominant male Tiger of Kanha before Munna, and Sonapani female, who in turn is the sister of legendary Laxmi (not same litter). This is the reason for her size. Her size confused people with a male Tiger quote often. So her genes come from dominating male and popular Tigresses of Kanha.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpnai female, daughter of Banda and mother of Umarpani male,. Photo by a past guest of ours.

Umarpani male:

He was born around Nov 2009, they were two brothers and sister in the litter. The other male cub was even bigger than him. He was shaping up well until about 2 years old when tragedy struck. When and where he disappeared alongwith his sister none know. Umarpani male is the smaller of the two brothers. At times i wonder if his brother was around what would have been his size.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpani male in 2014 (5 years old)

My first sighting of Umarpani male was in December 2014. I mostly followed him from behind, and only for few seconds i was able to take some of his side flanks. He was about 5 years at that age. His muscular build was very obvious.

Tiges of Kanha
Umarpani male in June 2015, 6 years old

Then i saw him in June 2015. Behold, I was in a state of shock when he turned to look at me. I skipped a heartbeat or two. Never before any Tiger seemed so big to me. From close quarters lot of Tigers look big. But this fellow’s largeness was evident even from a distance. It was not only his size that stole my heart, but his looks, and presence are of a killing machine. I am not sure how many people have had the opportunity of photographing Umarpani male for 30 minutes or more. But after that sighting i thought if i do not see Tigers for next 2 years i am fine, as i thought i had seen the best.

Who is bigger Munna or Umarpani male?

Today when i sit back and compare both these big Tigers, Umarpani male outshines Munna very comfortably in size, and semblance. And this i am comparing Munna in his prime. The skull of Munna is big, but Umarpani male’s skull is bigger, wider, and with a larger circumference. Though the height and length of both would be similar, but sheer compactness and crassitude of Umarpani puts him in a class of his own. His overall bone structure, bigger limb bones, and wider skeleton puts him on a pedestal where his huge father starts to look minor in size compared to him.

After all Umarpani male has the advantage of his mother’s genes as well. She was one of the largest Tigress of Kanha ever.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpani male; the sheer size of his skull is matchless

Umarpani vs Bheema

Bheema is thinner, infact much thinner compared to Umarpani male. They might seem to be of same height and length but girth wise Umarpani male outclasses him. Bheema’s bone structure is lean, smaller frame compared to Umarpani. And his skull lacks the monstrosity of Umarpani. Bheema weighed 225kgs when he was just 2.5yrs old  (vs Jai 220kgs full grown). Bheema with his winter coat would be 280kgs plus, and yet Umarpani male outmatches him in summer. Now again for a moment think about Umarpani’s brother who was even bigger than him. What a loss to Kanha by his mystifying disappearance.

Tigers of Kanha
Bheema, June 2015

Umarpani vs Rajaram (Kingfisher)

I have been a fan of Kingfisher too as he was a peaceful Tiger who in terms of size looked similar from a distance. He like Chotta Munna gave ample opportunities to tourists to see him from close quarters. But as one would look at him closely he seemed like a Tiger on steroids. He was shorter in height compared to Uma male. Maybe hence he lacked the core muscles and his belly literally touched the ground. Length-wise also he was smaller than Bheema and Uma male. When someone saw him with a full belly he looked like a big Tiger, while he was actually a big belly Tiger. Also from the Tiger point of view he did not have the cuts and contour of a competitive cat. He seemed to be lot of fat, and lacked muscular manifest.

The fatal fight, October 2016: Umarpani male vs Rajaram

Umarpani had a close skirmish with Rajaram in January 2015, wherein he got Rajaram to retreat. Though both seemed to have some injuries, but Rajaram left his area, and stayed away. So Uma male had a measure of him from the past fights while Chotta Munna did not. So had it been Chotta Munna in the territorial fight even he would have sustained injuries. But Uma male had the knowledge of the mass and might of Rajaram so it was most likely him, and only him who could have given the fateful bite.

Another point that would point towards this direction is that the fight most likely did not last long. Uma male nailed him fast and furious, cause had it lasted long even Umarpani male would have sustained injuries, which he did not. He was sighted a couple of days later moving quite briskly by the forest department.

Tigers of Kanha
Rajaram aka Kingfisher male
Tigers of Kanha
Rajaram and Umarpani male in a territorial fight. Photo by Naren Malik

Above fight between the two was in January 2015.

No one has any evidence of the fight of October 2016, as it was seen by none. But the past records, and strength of Umarpani male tilt indication towards him. He usually avoids limelight, and prefers giving the tourist vehicles a skip. Uma male is mostly sighted crossing the tracks, even if he follows a vehicle it is not for a great distance. But this behavior might undergo some change now and people might start seeing him more. As killing Rajaram has given him extra expanse in territory, and confidence for sure.

Umarpani vs Chotta Munna (Link 7)

This will be the comparison for the future, or fight for the No 1 slot. Chotta Munna has the attitude of his father. He has gained in size over last 4-5 months. But being younger to Umarpani male would most likely be a tad deficient in strength as on date. But Chotta Munna seems to be catching the eye balls of everyone as he is one tourist friendly Tiger. On the contrary Umarpani male is shy.

Tigers of Kanha
Link 7 Tiger Photo by Naren Malik

With Rajaram out of the equation, it is but natural that Umarpani and Chotta Munna will expand their territory. It cannot now be ruled out that Kanha might witness another superiority sparring between these two males in the near future. It is unlikely that anyone will lose easily without giving the other some serious agony. I would pray that they both survive in case such a situation arises, as both are very strong contenders to be the next Legend of Kanha after Munna. May the strong genes of Tigers of Kanha prosper far and wide.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpani male

I would like to thank Minh Ha and Naren Malik for providing some crucial information on lineage, and Naren for some images as well. A special mention here for Minh Ha whose knowledge on Tigers of India is nothing short than encyclopedic. He is an inspiration to many.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

 

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Rajaram (Kingfisher) Tiger dies in a territorial fight in Kanha National Park

Rajaram in Kanha
Rajaram, not sleeping but territory marking.

Rajaram (Kingfisher) 2010-2016

The inevitable has happened, the unprecedented has ended. It was building up for a little over last 2 years. Rajaram, a.k.a Kingfisher’s body was found in Mukki zone on October 28th morning. Apparently, there were injury signs on his neck and shoulders. So it is concluded that it was a territorial fight. Well, there couldn’t have been anything else in this case. The area where his body was found is right in the heart of the tourism zone, which is monitored well by the forest guards and the tourists too. So, no untoward incident or accident could have happened here.

Since almost 30 months Mukki zone was prowled by 4 big male Tigers. Umarpani male, Bheema, Link 7 (Chotta Munna) and Rajaram aka Kingfisher. There were territorial tussles, devilish roaring, blood drops, naked claws, wounds and some scared to death tourists.

Rajaram in Kanha
Rajaram and Umarpani male in a territorial fight. Photo by Naren Malik

It was expected in 2014 itself that a fatal fight is round the corner. But all the male Tigers despite the differences had begun to give space to each other. Their intensity and frequency of fights had reduced over last one year. Many thought that these males had accepted each other. But how wrong was everyone in defining the behavior of these Tigers.

A very handsome male Tiger in his peak, Rajaram was 6 years old. He belonged to the Neela Nallah litter.

Sighting Rajaram during a Safari in Kanha

I can never forget the morning of December 13th 2015. We had just about crossed Andh Kuan, when we see this male Tiger walking briskly towards us. We started to retreat. His walk had a purpose. Naren said, this is Rajaram. I threw away (within the vehicle of course) all the winter layers, and was on the starting blocks like Usain Bolt. He walked behind us for over 2kms, and gave me plenty of opportunities to shoot him.

Rajaram in Kanha
Rajaram walked 2kms with us, and made eye contact several times

This particular sighting was possible due to my dear Naren Malik, and Preetam the forest guide. A brilliant team effort which saw us cross the line, and gave me immense pleasure.

Rajaram a family member to many

Sad part was that the news of his death was broken to me by Naren Malik, who sounded shattered on phone. He was unconsolable. For Naren, this is just not a loss of a Tiger. It is loss of a family member. People like Naren are bonded with their Tigers, as they track and see them often, and for years. Day in, and day out, weeks, months, and seasons go by, seeing, appreciating, and photographing these Tigers. It is a personal loss for Naren and other naturalists who love Kanha and it’s Tigers like family. And also for all those whom he showed Rajaram, me included.

I feel your pain Naren because of this loss. But my friend, it is a actually a gain. Tigers like Rajaram have left such an indelible mark on people’s mind that those people are today Kanha lovers.

Rajaram Tiger in Kanha
Rajaram aka Kingfisher in Kanha

Please don’t be distraught, the journey is far from over. Banat Banat Banjaye (keep on keeping on).

Who fought and overpowered Rajaram?

I am writing this when there is incomplete information on, with whom was the fight? Which Tiger? Hopefully in next few days the Tiger who killed Rajaram will show up with some injuries. For sure Rajaram would have gone down fighting till his last breath. Hence he would have wreaked some serious damage to his opponent. Is that opponent Chotta Munna (Link 7), unlikely, as he was sighted just today morning, absolutely fit. Was it Bheema? Maybe, but again unlikely as he was a bit frail over last 10-15 days, and also injured. Though Bheema had the power going for him, but in current situation it seems tough.

So was it Umarpani in that case? Most likely, as in the past they have both fought, and mostly Umarpani male has come out triumphant in all past fights. Besides, Umarpani male out-matches Rajaram in size, strength, and stealth.

Rajaram in Kanha
Hulk of a Tiger; Rajaram

While writing this piece I can see Rajaram’s eyes looking at me. Rajaram was one Tiger who looked you in the eye peacefully, plainly and assuredly. There were moments during my last sighting that we (me and him) were on same eye level, and not once i felt threatened.

Rajaram you will remain in my heart till it beats. You were not beaten my friend, you are liberated.

Have a peaceful onward journey.

Sharad Vats

P.S. He was aka Kingfisher for the sign of a flying Kingfisher just above his right eye.

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Night Safaris in Kanha

Kanha national park in central India is starting Night Safaris in the buffer zone. Only time will tell if this is a good, bad or an ugly decision. Let us not jump the gun in ridiculing the step, neither let us support it with closed eyes, let us try and understand the pros and cons of starting Night Safaris in Kanha. This has been tried in Satpura and Pench National Parks already, and now being brought to Kanha.

Night safaris in Kanha
Safari in Kanha National Park

It is always better to know the negative and flip side first, followed by the positive side too.

Negatives of promoting Night Safaris in Kanha

Having personally done a night safari of about 2 hours in Satpura i know for sure that it is not easy to sight Tigers, or any other wildlife with naked eyes in the pitch dark of a forest. Either one needs to go in with the night vision glasses, which are not easily or cheaply available, or one needs a search light to see the animals. Please note one needs a serious search light in the night of the forest. Now, what do you think will this powerful search light do; it will make tracking animals easy, and it will hurt the animal eyes for sure, resulting in temporary blindness. So, we need to ask this question, is it worth it, is it required?

What if poachers also book these safaris in the buffer zone, to try and pick on the animals? Hopefully the forest department has thought about the repercussion and has a solution for this.

Will the night safaris not change the behavioral aspects of the animals? It is a known fact that the herbivores usually come out in the grasslands, or in the fields of the villagers in the buffer to feed on the crops. So when the flashlights start running around in the night, will they be able to eat in peace? The counter to this is that herbivores eat during the day in the grasslands. But not so in the buffer zones. We see them eating in the grasslands in the core zones of the forest as they are usually not disturbed in the vast grasslands of the core zone. But in the buffer area, the grasslands are not as big, the fields near the villages are small. So my gut feel is that the night safaris might disturb the feeding habits of the herbivores.

Positives of Nights Safaris in Kanha

  1. I recently read news that some poaching has happened in the buffer areas of Kanha. So the night safari will deter the poachers to stay away from the buffer zones for sure. It is a noted fact that most of the poaching happens in the buffer. While there is regular patrolling happening by the forest department and also the tourist vehicles, there is no patrolling but the tourist vehicles in the buffer zones. Hence these zones are far more susceptible for poaching. Hence any movement of tourism in the buffer zones will be a deterrent to the poachers. If done and controlled well, this can be the trump card of the forest department to curtail poaching.
  2. It surely will be a revenue generator as well for the forest department and they can utilize this revenue towards conservation of the flora and fauna.
  3. There are plenty of buffer areas in Kanha, like the Baisan ghat area, Samnapur area, area between Banjar river and Bamni. There is presence of Tigers in these buffers, hence any safaris during the day or night here will be only beneficial.
NIght Safaris in Kanha
Sambar Deers in Kanha National Park

Suggested steps if taken by the forest department may optimally utilize the night safaris.

  1. The tourists will need to be briefed about the code of conduct in the night safaris in Kanha.
  2. There must be standardization of search lights that should be used.
  3. Ideally a forest guard must accompany the tourists to ensure discipline during the safari.

Hope this initiative of night safaris in Kanha is a huge success in conserving the flora and fauna of Kanha.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

 

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