It’s been 07 years now, seems like just a year back I came to venture into the National Parks in India. Working as a naturalist and driving a 04 by 04 open Jeep inside the National Parks looking for different animals. It is, I would say a paid holiday.
Tiger safari in India starts at sunrise and closes at around 1100 hours during the day. Again in the afternoon it opens at 1500 hours or 1600 hours depending upon a different season and closes at sunset. When we start our safari in the morning the jungle comes alive with numerous bird calls from all around the forest floor. First, what do we see? what do we look for? what do we listen for? What we see first are the pug marks, an early morning visit would give us an idea about the movement of a Tiger in a certain area.
One of the most sensitive parts of a Tiger is its Paws, soft and one of the key weapons for their survival. To avoid the resistance on the forest floor while walking, a Tiger prefers to walk through the safari tracks or a Pugdundee made by regular walking of other animals or the humans. Sometimes we do get to see Tigers walking right in front of our vehicle or behind our vehicle, there is a famous slang word as well among the naturalist and the guides of the National Parks for such sightings “Road hee Road”.
As the sun rises, the movement of a Tiger starts decreasing. The movement of the vehicles and the heat of the day have made this majestic animal nocturnal and crepuscular. As the day passes or the season passes when it gets hotter and hotter, Tigers stay close to a water body, sometime for a whole day a Tiger would sit half-dipped under the water. During a Tiger safari in India, especially in April-May month, when the heat is at maximum, the chances of seeing a Tiger is very high, as being water-dependent. The tigers are mostly close to a water body by the heat starts rising.
During a Tiger safari if we see two or more Tigers together then that would be a Bummer. Tigers are solitary animals, the time when we see a streak of Tigers is when, there is a family of Tigress with cub, Male with Female, Male fight with a male over a female or a territory or a mating pair. Tiger cubs after 18 to 30 months of young age itself have to leave the mother to find their territory. A male would travel very far if it is needed to find a suitable territory (Water and prey base are main).
Tigers mate throughout the year, however, the peak season of mating is winter. During these months on the Tiger Safari in India, you may see a couple, Tiger and Tigress together.
In a male’s territory there can be several females. All the tigers spray the scent to let the other know their presence, they do as a territory marking (spray a liquid or the scent from the anal gland), they also drop the scent of whether the females are in estrous or not, a message to the male. Once they find each other, the female has to accept the male as the mate
Tigress does try to resist mating, later, once the female accepts they sniff each other, lick each other, and circle each other as the courtship rituals of the Tiger world, then stay together for five to six days, mating several times a day.
To see a hunt during the safari is one of the rarest kinds of tiger sighting. I may have to experience the several hunts of Wild Dogs or the Indian Dhole but to see a Tiger hunt is still a dream. Having the best eyesight in the dark, Tigers mostly hunt during dawn and dusk. Having said that they hunt during dawn and dusk, they are also opportunistic, they do also hunt during the day if there is an opportunity.
Tigers are solo and ambush hunters. Tigers can go up to the highest speed of around 40 miles/hour (65 km/hr), but they are not able to keep such speed for long. They have to bring down the prey with the run of around 100 m or the speed of Tiger would start coming down.
I have known what the focus means when I saw a Tigress was in a hunting mode. A tiger would stand in one position for as long as it takes for prey to get distracted and so that it can move forward. Nothing a Tiger would see excepts for prey. Being the largest cat also the success rate of a Tiger hunt is just around 10 percent, it may succeed 1 hunt out of 10 tries.