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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Precautions to take while staying in a resort near a national park

First and foremost never go towards the forest on foot or in a vehicle if it is prohibited. There are gates from where all tourists vehicles enter. Use only the authorised gates to enter at the given time with a valid permit to enter the park. Do not even try entering from any other area in the protected areas. There are many precautions to take while staying near a national park. Some are listed below.

Caught in a national park without a valid permit will attract a jail term for you besides impounding of your vehicle. So please do not even think on these lines even if any local or a resort person tells you to.

Never leave the vicinity of the resort by yourself after sunset. Not even if you plan to just take a stroll around after your dinner. After sunset Leopards often tend to come close to the villages and resorts in search of food or the livestock. Tigers also move around in the night outside the protected areas. It is not worth the risk or adventure that you might want to experience.

If you must go out for some emergency work, and you must cross the buffer area of the forest, please do not go on a two wheeler. Ensure you are in a car and take someone along from the resort who knows the area, and do not forget to carry a torch for sure. Driving a two wheeler in a forested area is a huge risk more so in the night. If it breaks down, or a flat tyre, you can be in for a tough time. Four wheeler will at-least ensure your safety from the predators.

But if you happen to be in the Elephant country, then even a four wheeler is not a good idea to travel in the night. It is best that you postpone all your work for next day morning. Wild Elephants can treat your vehicle like a football. Hence it is in your best interest to stay in safe vicinity of your rooms.

Please do not even consider carrying any weapon even if you have one.  Caught with a firearm is a non bailable offense and attracts a term of up to 7 years in prison. But yes, it is a good idea to carry a wooden stick while on foot. No weapons whatsoever even in a safari vehicle.

While moving out of your room to go to the dining hall please carry a torch. Normally the electricity supply in the remote areas is erratic. Though most of the resorts have power back-up but it can take few seconds for the power supply to resume, hence carrying a torch is a good idea. These days there are wonderful caps which have a solar light, it is convenient to carry the same to as well. While doing the safari if the cap is on it keeps getting automatically charged, and in the night you can use it wherever you are going within the resort. Please click on this link below to see a good quality cap which i have been using for last 4 years.

Also be extremely careful not to go into bush, as there are many varieties of venomous snakes in the national parks.

http://www.ebay.in/itm/252642163895?aff_source=Sok-Goog

Precautions to take while staying near a national park
Solar cap, comfortable, and convenient

Stay safe and enjoy your safaris

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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Online safari bookings open on 22nd August 2016

Online safari bookings
Spotti in Bandhavgarh National Park

This is to inform all safari lovers of central India parks that online safari bookings for season starting 1st October are opening today. Bookings are available to be done for the next 120 days. For the first time there will be a quota of tickets for last minute bookings too. The details of the same will be out in the next couple of days.

In Bandhavgarh all the three zones, i.e. Tala, Magdhi, and Khitauli will be open for online safari bookings from 1st October. But in Kanha just Mukki and Kisli will be opening from 1st October. The other two zones, i.e. Kanha and Sarhi will open for tourism from 16th October. Reason for this partial delay is the black clayey soil of Kanha. Normally the monsoon gets over by mid or end of September, occasionally there are a couple of late showers in 1st week of October as well. This late rain hinders the track repairing process, and the black clayey soil being very slippery does not help matters either.

Similarly in Pench all the three zones, i.e. Touria, Karmajhiri, and Jhamtara will be opening from 1st October. Satpura will also see the opening of Madhai gate from 1st October, and Panna will also open the Madla and Hinouta gates from 1st October. Go ahead, plan your dates, and do your online safari bookings now.

General information for post monsoon opening.

Online safari bookings
Sambar Deer in Bandhavgarh National Park

Post monsoon is a great time for wildlife photography. Nature is at it’s best. The colors are deep, and thought provoking. There is lot of water in the forest, thus plenty of undergrowth, and lot of food for all the animals. October is also a busy time for birds, thus good for birding. Migration also tends to starts by end of October.

Only word of caution is that one must be careful with falciparum malaria. Certain areas of central India, in particular Kanha has this mosquito active in post monsoon time. Hence take precaution, carry anti-mosquito sprays and cream, wear full sleeve shirts and trousers, avoid T shirts and shorts.

In the first week of October there could be an odd shower or two, hence take precaution to keep your photography equipment safe. Carry some plastic covers to protect them.

This year has seen heavy rain in the state of Madhya Pradesh, so the road conditions in October might not be very good. The time taken from the Airport and railway stations could be a tad longer than usual.

As the national parks open after 3 months of closure, hence even the regular guides and drivers will not know the whereabouts of the predators. It takes a week of two for them to assess what is happening in which area of the park. So higher degree of patience will be good for you.

The days will be warm in central India in October. but mornings and evenings will be pleasant. If it rains, it can get a bit cold and misty in Kanha.

So what are you waiting for, book yourself now. Click on the link below to book direct.

https://forest.mponline.gov.in/Index.aspx

Have a great safari season.

Sharad Vats

 

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When is a good time to see Tigers in India?

A very important, and an often asked question to me by almost all guests wanting to do safaris in India. is “When is a good time to see Tigers in India. My answer is, “Depends on what is your motive?

Good time to see Tigers in India
Tiger in morning golden winter light in #Kanhanationalpark.

If you are a wildlife enthusiast, who really enjoys nature, and is wanting to see maximum wildlife, then anytime from October till June is good to see Tigers. All national parks in India are closed from July till about September for monsoon.

Good time to see Tigers in India
Misty winter evening #Tiger and an #Elephant in #Dudhwa National Park

If you are a nature photographer and wants good light to photograph Tigers, then December and January is perfect. As the morning golden winter light is perfect for Tiger and nature photography. The morning mist also adds to the beauty of the image.

Good time to see Tigers in India
Tiger in water in peak summer month in #Ranthambhore National Park

If you are a serious amateur or a professional photographer, then  April to June is fantastic. It gets hot in the these months, the mercury soars above 40 degrees celsius. So if you can personally handle such temperatures during the safaris then you will be rewarded by some amazing Tiger sightings. June is also onset of monsoons. Most of the national parks would get some pre-monsoon showers in early June.

Is monsoon a good time to see Tigers in India?

The national parks are closed from 1st July till Sept. Infact Corbett is closed from mid June until mid November for monsoon. Some parks open their buffer zones in the monsoon. The beauty of a national park in monsoon is pure magic. The colors in these months are intense. It is like the national park has just undergone some spa treatment. The green backdrop in the sal forest with Tiger in front is a dream image for many.

You can do safaris in the core zones even in June when the park is open. But if the pre-monsoon shower is heavy then the national park can be closed for the safari to avoid your vehicle getting stuck in a slush. Not all national parks close in showers. It all depends on the type of soil in the park. For example light showers in Bandhavagarh will do no harm to the tracks. But in Kanha due to black clayey soil, the tracks become slippery, thus making it risky to do safaris. Therefore the park authorities close down certain routes in the park. Hence it is important to know all this, or book with them who all this so that you get maximum returns for your resources and efforts.

So when you choose your safari operator be sure that they know when is a good time to see Tigers in India.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

www.naturesafariindia.com

 

 

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