Reading between the stripes
The tiger, also known as the striped lion, is a highly admired and sought-after animal around the world. Its name evokes an image of a fierce yet gentle creature with a yellow fur coat and black stripes running across its body. The fur colour changes with the seasons, providing natural camouflage that helps this elusive cat blend into its surroundings. The stripes on the yellow canvas are unique to each tiger, like human fingerprints, and no two tigers have the same pattern.
In recent years, with the decreasing number of tigers and an increase in conservation efforts, national parks have focused on identifying tigers individually. Camera traps were introduced to collect samples to distinguish tigers based on their stripe patterns. For the first time, researchers were able to confidently identify and distinguish between tigers based on their unique stripe patterns, which had been even numbered for easy identification.
I once wondered if anyone could easily identify all tigers at Ranthambhore based on their stripe patterns, even from any camera angle. My search for an answer led me to a gentleman who was active on Facebook and had an unmatched ability to reveal the identity of Ranthambhore tigers put by visitors and wildlife enthusiasts in almost no time. He could identify these tigers from any possible camera angle to perfection, even from their face, something impossible without adequate knowledge of these big cats. I reached out to him to learn more.
This gentleman is Dhirendra Godha, the managing editor of 'Samachar Jagat', a leading daily in Rajasthan. He is an avid wild lifer turned friend who is very actively involved in sharing information on the park through the Tigerwalah page. Dhirendra is an expert in tiger identification, a fact that is openly acknowledged even by park officials. He has helped the forest department in identifying tigers on various occasions. His knowledge is extensive, and he can identify a tiger from various identification marks across the body and more importantly by the face, which requires in-depth knowledge and a lot of research on these elusive big cats.
Apart from this, Dhirendra is actively involved in creating a family tree of Ranthambhore tigers, something that can help solve the problem of inbreeding among park tigers, a burning issue that the park is currently facing. He also spearheads the conservation effort in the state through his profession, printing news related to wildlife and tigers regularly in his newspaper. His expertise and knowledge are invaluable, and he has time and again raised relevant issues about wildlife on relevant forums.