Visits to Tigress infested National Parks are always exciting. Being a Naturalist, my job takes me to many such journeys in the wild and distinctly to my favourite one, which is the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand. One such exceptional experience was last year in 2019 when I travelled to the Corbett National Park. I am at a loss of words as I find no room for narration owing to the overwhelming and enthralling feeling. This was perhaps the most extended feline sighting I had in all these years ever since I enrolled myself in ‘Nature’s University’ and chose Corbett National Park as my classroom on the subject of ‘Tiger’ (Panthera Tigris).
Accompanied by a group, all novices, when it comes to wildlife and nature, but equally curious about my wildlife enthusiasm. We have had an eventful excursion the previous evening at Jhirna forest house spending a night there with Tigress and other wildlife which gave goosebumps to my first-timer companions.
The following day, post afternoon, we entered the Bijrani beat to proceed for the Malani forest house for yet another exciting night stay amid the wilderness. To my surprise, this was destined to be one of the most profuse tigress sightings of my life. Leaving behind the Bijrani check post and canteen which is about 7 km in the forest from the main gate, we drove deeper into the woods for about 15 minutes till we came across a bend that concealed a shallow flowing ‘nallah’ or a stream behind the high boulders.From this point onwards, next 25 minutes were no less than a theatrical performance on nature as our sights aligned a young tigress elegantly stepping out from waist-high grass outgrowth. On the left of the track in the cold & bright early November evening, she was there on the way beaten up by the forest vehicles in the picturesque sunlight that seemed to spread gold dust on the grass.Our driver Faheem, turned left to negotiate the bend and manoeuvred through the shallow nallah with rapid flowing spring water. He instantly pulled up the brakes to allow us to grab our cameras. Like soldiers pulling out swords from their sheaths on the battleground, we held our phones & cameras. The gallant young & beautiful tigress, who I reckon was around three years old, looked stunning in her bright and fresh coat. Ignoring us with her ‘I don’t care’ attitude, the elegant feline jumped across the nallah in a single bound and landed on the other side.
Walking a couple of paces, the young tigress stopped and gave us a chilled fishy look over her shoulders for a few seconds. Turning back the tigress stooped down on her forelegs and sipped water from a small puddle next to the nallah, then resting her haunches she again drank and finally stood up to resume her walk up the vehicle track. Fortunately for us, she resumed her majestic ‘gait’ in the direction that we were bound. Professional as he could be, the driver needed no instructions as he ignited the engine and began to follow the beauty at a slow pace maintaining the required distance.
Following her for about 200 meters through a couple of bends on the track, we watched her climb a steep 4 feet high uphill path with ease. This small uphill climb is located on a junction where our vehicle track divided itself into two different tracks, one going straight and other turning to the left. Unlike our flawless walking beauty, we faced some challenges in negotiating the climb in our mechanical tin box, and as the driver throttled hard to add some power to the engine to overcome the difficulty, the young feline beauty took offence to it, stopped, turned around, raised her tail and gave us a low agitated growl in a stance that warned us of a charge from her. In a reflex, I asked the driver to cut the engine off and stop the vehicle. For the next few seconds, she gazed at us motionlessly, chilling us down to the bone and then lowering her tail, she turned around to resume her walk straight up the track.
Cautiously reigniting the engine, we resumed following the tigress for further as she walked gracefully paying no heed to us. She presented us will all the shades of feline behaviour as time, and again she paused to check-in and over the grass, sniffed the air, crossed over from the right flank to the left and vice versa on the track, stopped to peep & check the tracks that left the main path, raised her tail to spray scent marks on a high thick grass stack and later lowering her tail to resume her graceful walk back in the direction she was bound. All the while, she ignored us and continued scribing poetry on elegance.As this aura continued, she twice stopped for a minute or so and stood motionless as if she was frozen. She had noticed something that stirred the high elephant grass to the left of the track running parallel to us beyond the bushes and this for sure was a potential prey, and for a minute or so, our beauty stood motionless deciding whether to break in the grass or not. She decided not to and resumed her walk for about 20 meters. Yet again, a stir of the tall, dry grass caught her attention as she stopped to inspect the bushes on the left. This time she committed herself to break into the grass outgrowth with a slow noiseless stalk that the cats are known for. She stepped into the bushes before the grass with immense stealth.We reignited the engine that we had cut out when we first saw her notice something in the bushes and slowly we drove to the point where she had entered the bushes. Reaching her access point, we stopped as she had gained about 20 meters beyond the bushes and into the grass where she stood motionless as if in a frozen frame with her back to us and her eyes locked on the potential prey deeper in the lush green thicket. Being quite a distance away and with her back to us, I seized the opportunity to step up onto the rear passenger seat of the Jeep and investigate through my binoculars. It was a solitary and healthy male chital deer stag. With the target locked she analyzed, calculated & and lowered her flawless muscular body to the ground, she began her ‘stalk’ slowly sinking deeper into the high grass, with her head held straight as a dart and eyes fixed.Her approach closer to the stag was a slow, noiseless and careful step at a time with regular pauses that froze her. Despite my efforts to keep my eyes on her, I lost her gradually in the thick, tall and dry grass. We stood there motionless for about 10 minutes not being able to see her, and suddenly pandemonium broke loose as we heard a dash through the outgrowth of breaking twigs and dry leaves which ended with an agonising unfinished call of the Chital deer. Our beauty had succeeded in finding her dinner.
The art of hunting down prey that the felines possess is far superior to the art of tracking the humans that have developed over centuries. Being aware of my 40-minute association with the young beauty had ended, I asked the driver not to proceed for a while. I knew it was an inevitable fact that she would now not venture out of the thicket, leaving her larder to the mercy of other carnivores in the area. It was a memorable day, though I had sighted countless tigers before, I had never seen any of them display the plethora of traits and natural behaviour that this young beauty had shown me on that beautiful and unforgettable day.
I had seen the feline take a long walk with us, ignore us, quench her thirst, give us a mock charge, sprayed out to mark her territory, stalk her prey with stealth and successfully gain a reward for all the patience she had shown and all this in a single unedited stretch.
What's Your Reaction?
Naturalists, tour leader, crocodile & snake rescuer, and a Muralist, Haseeb is working for the cause of conservation, both as a freelancer and a consultant.