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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Man eater Tigress of Corbett shot dead

It pains me to write this note. A man eater Tigress of Corbett who apparently killed two men in Ramnagar near Corbett National Park was finally tracked and shot by the forest department. Why shot? Was there no other alternative? Let me try and give both sides thought process to you, and you decide if it is right or wrong to have shot a man eater Tigress of Corbett.

There is a debate raging across the social media on this. Some feel that it is right that she is shot. These are people who are from the village of those killed. They live in constant fear specially when they know that a man eater Tiger is on the prowl. So it is a huge relief for them after 44 days of search that the Tigress is no more. It is not an easy task for the Forest department to convince the local community when something like this happens. More so, if it is in a densely populated area.

What would happen if the forest department decides not to shoot? The villagers could perhaps burn part of the forest, go on some kind of civil disobedience which can create law and order problem. So the forest department is forced to take an action to let go of one Tiger to protect the larger picture.

Also, there are people who feel it was wrong to shoot the Tigress. These are the people who are wildlife lovers. They love their Tigers, and want them do be protected in the wild at any cost. After all it is humans who have encroached on their land and due to this the Tigers tend to do what they are not meant to do.

Was it possible to avoid this situation? Yes, definitely, it was possible. I have always spoken earlier as well, that we need to use technology in monitoring Tigers. Our parks are not fenced, and there is plenty of population around every national park. So, if we use the Drones, or perhaps a mini satellite for each national park, and monitor the straying Tigers such situations could be best avoided. A bigger question now comes in mind, is the forest department equipped with such equipment? Not yet. But it is in the process of implementation. It is said that by December 2016 6 national parks will be monitored by Drones.

So what to do after the Tiger has been found to stray out of the park? I am not from the forest department, but i am sure they have a protocol for this. Things like informing the villagers nearby about the stayed Tiger. Increase patrolling in the area. If the Tiger is old, or hurt, then chances are that he will pick on cattle for food. But if it is a young Tiger then there must be a reason for it to stray. Was it lack of habitat? Being pushed out in a territorial battle by another upcoming Tiger, lack of prey, lack of water, or something else. For a young Tiger it becomes very important to monitor regularly round the clock. Does the forest department have so much of manpower? Not sure, in fact unlikely.

Once the strayed Tiger has been identified, located, and reason found on what could be the reason for straying, it is best to rehabilitate him. Either back into the same forest, or perhaps in another range of the forest, or in some other forest of the state.

In this case i think there was an option of sending her to another forest nearby. Corbett is a part of Terai Arc Landscape, and the total area of the Terai belt is around 30000 sqkms. This area is sparsely populated as far as Tigers are concerned. Hence relocating this Tigress was an option that could have been considered.

Why is it that a state like Madhya Pradesh is so proactive in taking such decisions

Not once, twice, but many a times Madhya Pradesh forest department has successfully relocated Tigers. In one of the most recent cases, a Tigress was relocated from Bandhavgarh to Sanjay Dubri National Par. Few years back Tigers from Badhavgarh, Kanha and Pench were sent to Panna (totally devoid of Tigers due to poaching), to rehabilitate Panna. Today there are close to 34 Tigers in Panna. I do not remember last when was it that a man eater Tigress was shot in Madhya Pradesh.

A very heart warming translocation happened of an orphaned Tigress from Bandhavgarh to Satpura. In 2010 a Tigress died in Bandhavgarh leaving behind her very young cubs. Forest department took it upon themselves to to put these cubs in an enlarged enclosures. They very discreetly introduced some small prey initially, and when the orphaned cub was about 3 years old, she was shifted to Satpura National Park. It is a known fact that in Satpura the Tiger density is fairly low. So they introduced her in the Churna range of Satpura. Today this Tigress has a litter of 3 cubs and is often seen by the tourists. Isn’t this a simply amazing thing.

Man eater Tigress of Corbett

It is about time we treat Tigers as our national heritage, a natural treasure in practical reality and not only in books.

I hope we don’t have to hear more such cases in future.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

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Bandhavgarh of bygone times.

There is a lot of history hidden in the forests of Bandhavgarh. The Bandhavgarh Fort inside the national park is considered over 2000 years old. There is a mention of the Bandhavgarh Fort in Narad Panch Ratra, and Valmiki’s Ramayana. It is said that after killing the demon King Ravana, Lord Rama stopped here. He asked Nal and Neel, the two monkey architects to make this fort. It was these two who had also made the bridge to go to Lanka in the Indian ocean. The idea to make this fort was basically to keep an eye on Lanka from here, as this is one of the highest hills of central India. He made his younger brother Lakshman as resident deity of the fort. So the fort gifted to a brother (Bandhu in Hindi), came to be known as Bandhavgarh. Lakshman is also called as Bandhavdeesh after this.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort entrance
Bandhavgarh Fort
Inside the Bandhavgarh Fort

History of Bandhavgarh

Around the fort there are caves dug in sandstone which are over 2000 years old. One can see the Brahmi inscriptions on the walls of these caves. It is said that many saints and sages meditated in these caves. The Maghas, the Vakatakas, the Chandels inherited the seat of this fort. Finally in the 12th century the Baghels laid their claim on this fort, and until 1969 the Royal family of Rewa ruled this fort. The Royal family played a big role in conservation of Bandhavgarh. Though they did some hunting in this area, but they overall protected it as well. Once it was declared as a national park in 1969, they vacated the fort. Inside the fort one can still see the remains of the court, the treasury, the temple, the horse stable, and the school etc.

You can also see the statues of the Dashavatar (the ten incarnations) of Lord Vishnu here. There are two big lakes in the fort. The story goes that the water from these lakes seeps in, and then emerges from the foot of a 32 feet reclining Vishnu statue at Shesh Shaiya. Thereon this stream is known as Charan Ganga which flows through the Chakradhara meadow, alongside Siddbaba, and out of the park).

Bandhavgarh Fort
Brahmi inscriptions considered over 1000 years old
Bandhavgarh Fort
Caves where the saints meditated few centuries back
Bandhavgarah Fort
The Statues in the Fort

Kabir in Bandhavgarh

The famous mystic poet saint of 14th century, Kabir also spend quite a few years in the fort meditating, and writing his famous Dohas (the couplets famously known as the Kabir Vaani). There is a Kabir hermitage in the fort. On my visit here i was shown a secret escape from a room in this hermitage which apparently Kabir used often to move out from the fort. This escape used to take him to Kashi (Varanasi) to meet his Guru (Master). The Kabir panthis (followers of Kabir) gather here in the month of August every year for a two day celebration. This is the largest gathering of Kabir followers worldwide. They walk on foot till the Fort, stay put there, and come back after two days.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Kabir Ashram (hermitage) inside the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
Matsaya (Fish) Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
Varaha (Wild Boar) Avtar statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The Kurma (Tortoise) Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The Buddha Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The workmanship

It is indeed sad that after the Supreme Court decision in 2012 visit to this fort has been prohibited.  The reason is that this fort is right in the heart of the core zone of Bandhavgarh, and to go up to the fort one has to trek about 25 minutes from Shesh Shaiyya. Needless to mention that there are Tigers and other wildlife in and around the fort, hence it is not considered safe to walk up. Besides it does disturb the wildlife too. I have personally seen Sita with her cubs close to Shesh Shaiyya way back in 1996-97.

Meeting B2 enroute to Bandhavgarh Fort

For me a visit to Bandhavgarh was incomplete if i had not visited the Fort. Way back in 2004, once while trekking up, i encountered B2 in his early days on this route. There were four of us on foot, and at a bend, we see B2 come up from the valley on to the track of the fort. We froze right there, and so did B2. He paused for a moment, gave us a glimpse, and without bother left the track to go down the valley. What seemed like eternity was actually just 5 seconds.

This was my first encounter on foot with the Tiger in his own backyard. I breathed a sigh of relief. The trek is steep so the camera was around my neck. With B2 looking into my eyes from about 10 meters in front of me, i forgot that i had a camera, so clicking a picture was totally out of question. But the image imprinted on my mind of that moment is still fresh like it happened yesterday, thought it was almost 12 years ago.

The Temple priest

From 1997 till 2008 i trekked upto the fort atleast 4-5 times every season. Not only I loved the hike to the fort, but the view from the fort, the feel of the fort, and more than anything else it was meeting and talking with the resident priest of the fort that i always looked forward to. A very old man, tall, with a broad frame, deep voice, and an intense look in his eyes. How he stayed in this temple all alone in this national park always surprised me. No company, no radio, television i doubt if he ever knew it existed. He would give Charnamrit (tulsi water) pronouncing the sacred Sanskrit shloka:

अकालमृत्युहरणं सर्वव्याधिविनाशनम्।
विष्णुपदोदकं पीत्वा पुनर्जन्म न विद्यते।।

Meaning, “whosoever takes this sacred water is protected from any accidental death, deadly diseases, and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death”. This chant in his deep voice in the corridors of the temple would resonate in my ears for a long long time.

His story

He would walk down to the Tala village to secure his provisions and by late evening he would get back to Bandhavgarh. Once while going back he had an encounter with a Sloth bear. It is said that a Tiger emerged from the nearby grass, and fought the Sloth Bear away. Then the Tiger walked with the priest for some distance to ensure that he reached the temple.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Bandhavgarh Temple in the Fort

He once told me, “the Tigers are my family, and I know all the Tigers of the area around the fort”. We would sit in the corridors of the temple, and he would make tea for us. Then we would share our lunch with him. There were times we just slept off in the corridor of the temple. As he grew quite old, he became unwell, and was brought down from the Fort much against his wishes as there was no one to take care of him inside the Jungle.

What all is bygone, and will those days return?

Though Charger, Sita, B2, have all gone, and they have been replaced by many beautiful Tigers of today. But the enigma of the priest, the temple, and the fort cannot be replaced by any. For people who have seen the Bandhavgarh Fort miss it still. And those who have visited Bandhavgarh after 2012, know not what they have missed.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Yes, this is true. Just two Jeeps entering the Tala zone for a safari

The above photo is not photoshopped, yes there was a time when Bandhavgarh hardly had tourists. I recall sighting 10 different Tigers in 2005 in one morning safari of 4 hours. But the popularity of the Tigers and wildlife photography through social media has made wildlife tourism a big business everywhere.

Many resorts have sprung up in the area, Tala a small village now is a place where you will get everything you need, including a broadband, wi-fi, and a spa treatment. Do not expect the standard of the Spa to be anywhere close to a city hotel. To an extent if handled well, tourism can be a big conservation tool, but if gone awry, it can be a very disturbing factor for wildlife. So yes, those silent, peaceful days of less tourism are also bygone.

The rush of tourism has been regulated to quite an extent by opening of some more zones, and also buffer zones. Yet, one thing that has not reduced is the kind of Tiger sightings that are still taking place in Bandhavgarh. There was a lull year when there was a marginal drop in the Tala zone, but it seems the golden years of Bandhavgarh are almost back as far as Tiger sightings are concerned. The Tiger sightings of Bandhavgarh will never be bygone.

Sharad Vats

 

 

 

 

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Tigers vs Snow Leopards..is the duel on?

For the First time…Tiger and Snow Leopard at the same altitude in India..Is the Safari on?

Absolutely true…a Tiger camera trapped at the altitude of Snow Leopards. Is the duel inevitable now? Who will win the contest? The dark ghost of the Himalayas or the roaring beast of the plains? What if there are more Tiger and Snow Leopard in the area? This possibility cannot be ruled out as of now. Is it really a good news? Well, not bad either. Most noteworthy would be to go on a Tiger Safari in the area and see the Snow Leopard.

Having excelled in staying in the deltas, dry deciduous forest, almost desert like conditions, in rain forests, now the Tiger has been camera trapped in the regions of Askot in the upper reaches of Pithoragarh district in Uttrakhand at a height of 12000 feet. Sometime back Tigers were tracked at an altitude of 13000 feet in Bhutan. While the highest altitude the Tigers got in India was at 10000 feet in Sikkim. A male Tiger’s pug marks were also seen in snow near Jelepla in 2009. Occasionally Tigers are sighted at 6000-8000 feet in Sikkim. While in Nepal Tigers are found at an altitude of 12000 feet or above as well.

But why Tiger and Snow Leopard are moving to higher altitudes?

Is there some change happening in the territorial patterns of the Tigers? Maybe yes. But why, is the next logical question. Simply due to immense bio-mass pressure on their home in the plains. Tiger habitat is shrinking and they need to adapt to survive. Let us not forget the fact that the Tiger is a fast breeding and a highly territorial cat. When it doesn’t find enough space to share with other Tigers it wonders around in search of new home.

One must also realize that state of Uttrakhand is mostly hilly, with sparse population. Hence big cats find peace, prey, and parking space much easily here compared to lower altitudes.

Just few months back Snow Leopards were camera trapped in the upper reaches of Uttrakhand. This simply suggests that the Tiger and Snow Leopard are happy with their new found home in the upper reaches of Uttrakhand. After all, the forests of Corbett, and other areas below are crowded for them as far as Tigers, and tourists are concerned.

Though the Tigress has marked her new found home as taken, i pray there is no untoward incident with humans, but livestock with be in their radar now.

 

Tiger and Snow Leopard
Tigress marking her territory

Hope the Tigers and Snow Leopard thrive in their new found home.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

  • *P.S the above image is of the Tigress marking her territory in Kanha National Park. Image of the Tigress marking her territory at the high altitude are not available yet.
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Off days in some National Parks of India

When are the national parks closed
T64 in Ranthambhore National Park

While you are planning a safari in the National Parks of India it is important to know when the parks are closed? Which day of the week? Or any festivals when the national parks are closed?

First and foremost one must know that the core zones of all the Tiger reserves are closed for the monsoons in India. There are couple of reasons why this is done. One, due to rain the mud trails become slushy. Hence there is a possibility of the safari vehicles getting stuck in the slush. So the forest department prefers to close the national parks. Also the monsoon break provides an opportunity to the forest to rejuvenate itself.

when are the national parks closed
A Tiger in pre-monsoon shower

Closure of some popular national parks

All Madhya Pradesh National Parks i.e. Panna, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench, Satpura, Sanjay are closed every Wednesday afternoon for safaris.  These parks are also closed on Holi and Diwali festival days. No safaris on these two days. The monsoon break for the Madhya Pradesh parks is from 1st July till 30th Sept. But the buffer zones are open for safari in these parks.

In Maharashtra, Tadoba remains closed full day on Tuesday. But there are buffer zones in Tadoba which are open for safaris. So a guest need not feel that there is no Jungle safari or activity happening on this day.

Ranthamhore National Parks zones from 1 till 5 are closed from 1st July till 30th Sept for monsoon. But zones 6 to 10 are open for tourism during this time.

Jim Corbett National Park and Dudhwa National Park are also closed for monsoon from 16th June till 15th November. But the Jhirna range is open for tourism in the monsoons also.

Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary is open round the year for tourism. But, birding is at it’s peak during Dec till mid Feb as the the migratory birds make Bharatpur their home during these months.

Is it worth doing a safari in buffer zones during monsoon time?

Yes, by all means. If you are a nature lover then yes, the forest is at it’s beautiful best during monsoon. If you just wish to see the Tigers during this time, then this is not the ideal time. It is simple, because when it rains do you step out of your house for a stroll, not really, or rarely. Same is the case with Tigers. They prefer not to get wet. But it is not that the Tigers stop walking, and patrolling their territory, they do it, but slightly less. Hence the chances of Tiger sightings are less. But nature offers so much of love soaked in beauty that you don’t miss the Tigers.

Also, if it starts to rain during the safari it is tough to take images, as you rather protect your expensive camera equipment than risk it in the rains.

when are the national parks closed
Some Wild Flowers during monsoons

There is so much of growth all around, wild flowers, butterflies, birds nesting, bird songs, vibrant colors, cloudy skies, and a lot more. The whole landscape is decorated just for you. Complete eco-system is thriving.

So, if you are a nature lover, then you must visit during the monsoons. Find out in advance which resorts are open. Most of the resorts are closed during this time. But there are some resorts open, which take bookings. Find out, go, explore, and upgrade yourself to a nature lover from just a Tiger lover. It is like, you must love the home of the Tiger, because only if you do, will you understand the value of it’s home, and that is the only way to save the Tiger.

Honestly, the forest is not only about the Tigers. Let us see the big picture together rather than just one important element of nature.

Sharad Vats

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