You can read part 1 of the blog here: Tiger Safari in Sariska National Park – December 2021 – Part 1
Blog Podcast by Sharad Vats
The excitement of the previous evening safari had not even waned when the enthusiasm of the upcoming morning tiger safari in Sariska came rushing. At sharp 7 a.m., we entered the jungle and I told my guide to let us try and track the handsome T-21 once again. He mentioned that the previous night T-9 had crossed the highway, so now he (T-21) will most likely be in search of T-07, another tigress in the area.
Our search started from Kaala Kuan anicut trying to listen to alarm calls. Nothing, but silence ensued. We were greeted by a couple of spotted deer with a fawn who came cautiously to quench their thirst and lick some salt from the mud in the surrounding area. Other vehicles were coming and going, notes were being exchanged of alarm calls in almost all areas but no fresh pug marks were seen.
The sun shone brilliantly amidst a clear sky. Having spent almost two hours without any signs of T-21, I got into thinking from T-21’s umwelt. It wasn’t easy for me as I had seen him only once and had limited knowledge of his individuality. What was keeping us away from him? After all, a tiger is a born nomad, he can walk for days but has a low endurance at speed.
His ability to become virtually nonexistent is a huge hindrance to us lesser mortals. We know he is around, seeing and hearing us, but at will, he becomes effectively invisible like a ghost. I started to call out T-21 mentally, seeking his help for his audience, to no avail. But somehow deep down I was confident that he will be merciful towards us and show up at some point of his choice.
Was he now searching for T-07, as T-9 had moved away? Or was he now stalking some prey, maybe he killed something in the night and was enjoying a satiating meal? As John Valiant writes; “there is no rest for a tiger – no hibernation as there is for bears, no division of labor as with lions, and no migration to lush pastures as there is for many ungulates. Time for the tiger, especially the male is more like time is for the shark: a largely solitary experience of hunting and digesting followed by more hunting until he dies.”
Time was ticking, only 45 minutes left for the safari to end. Last evening, he was spotted rather easily. This time he was challenging me to find him. He wanted to test my love for him and Sariska tiger reserve. I am never one to quit, something only tigers have taught me.
Was he searching for food? His prey finds his food much easier, hence they are easy to track. They will eat leaves, grass, and fallen fruits from trees. Predator on the other hand has to constantly use his senses to track and successfully hunt down the prey. To say that the survival of a predator is totally dependent on his senses is not wrong, hence his senses are exceptionally developed.
He would starve if his senses and skills were not more advanced than his prey and improving continuously. The intelligence of an animal can be directly linked to the diversity of the food he eats. Tiger has a wide variety, all sizes of land mammals (barring humans, which he will take only in extraordinary circumstances) are known to become prey to his hunting skills.
So, to track down a predator which has polished his surviving skills over two million years is not an easy task. Tiger adapts brilliantly well hence has managed to survive for so long in such diverse terrain.
We then decided to change our course completely and go to the area where we had not ventured thus far. The vehicle in which we do tiger safari in India is a remarkably silent vehicle. We were cruising on second gear at a slow pace, and as the vehicle turned left on the bend, on the right my eyes noticed some stripes move behind bushes rather quickly. Tiger, I forcefully hushed. The guide, driver, and Yashwant literally looked 360 degrees in a split second. I pointed the movement towards the right about 20 yards in the bush.
The guide noticed and he stood up and told the driver to stop the vehicle. He was observing the direction of his movement. His walk was brisk and stride length. Often he was stopping and swaying his head in the air to get a smell. We were right, he was now tracking T-07. His sight disappeared into dense foliage, and the guide then told the driver to turn quickly as he will be coming out on a nearby track from a pugdundee (a jungle trail commonly used by prey and followed by predators).
The jungle knowledge of these guides is of immense significance when tracking a tiger. Yes, I was the first one to spot the tiger in the bush, but from where he will emerge next was the sheer intelligence of Mahipal Chaudhary our guide on that safari. The driver wanted to stop before the trail, but I insisted that we go through and stop a good 50 yards ahead of the trail, from where he was to appear. And so, he did.
We waited for about 30 long seconds. Everything was unfolding as per plan. As expected, he emerged smelling the shrubs, bushes, and movement of T-07. He got on the vehicle track. His walk behind our vehicle was as if he owns the jungle and he knows it. Only a tiger can walk like this, no other animal has the confidence, flair, and power of his walk.
I quickly shifted to the seat right behind and started to capture his demeanor in frames. He looked like an embodiment of lethal competence. His eyes were fiery, his body was huge for a 39-month-old, and his head was as massive as a boulder. The huge neck was supported by strong shoulders. His eyes were not concerned about my presence, but constantly scanning, smelling, and eager to get a lead on the whereabouts of his mate. He stopped suddenly in the center of the track and smelled the ground really hard. It seemed he had finally picked up a scent. I could clearly see the Chinese character WANG 王 meaning “Emperor” on his forehead.
Edison Marshall says about tigers, “Unless I can make you believe that there is something practically supernatural about tigers, that they are not just about common flesh and bone and striped hide, but a kind of symbol of the jungle, of the cunning, and of the ferocity and incredible strength and beauty of raw nature, there is no use of your going on with this tale”. How right was he?
T-21 now had a direction to follow, and finally, he gave me the spell-binding look. I clicked a few shots and unknowingly kept my camera aside as if he told me to. Photography did not matter anymore as his gaze met with mine. The distance of about 30 yards was well maintained by Naveen driving the vehicle. The winter sunlight filtering through the branches on his eyes made him look divine. He knew he had the power, will, and disposition to control the situation.
He also seemed to know that I loved and respected him, so I did not notice any aggression in him. It was now that I observed a missing bunch of hair on the left side of his mane. This probably was a result of a territorial fight with another male. Sub-adult male tigers are known to tease the dominant ones and get punished for their mistakes, or stupidity is more likely appropriate.
While I continued to look deep into his entrancing eyes, my peripheral vision noticed his muscular shoulders, his royal velvety fur, his sharp and solid canines which have close to a 1000 PSI biting impact, while both his ears focused toward me. For once the tiger was (I thought) awe-struck by me, but this self befooling was to last only a few seconds before he headed off the trail. Mahipal asked Praveen to stop, and we noticed the tiger walk confidently as he faded out of sight.
Completely at ease with his surroundings, and not losing focus on what he wanted was my takeaway from the brief interaction which had an eternal impression on me. The whole experience left my spine electrified, my head cool, my muscles as if I had a good spa session, and my eyes gratified.
It was now time to move out of the park. I knew T-21 had given me not only some classic images, but a conviction that tigers are back in Sariska, and this time for good. Yes, they have accepted and taken over what was rightfully theirs, though still unhappy with the fast-changing landscape.
I left Sariska with a rejoicing heart, and a commitment to be back soon.
Concluded for now, but more Tiger Safaris in Sariska sojourns to follow in 2022.