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Season Round Up Kanha

What an incredible season it had been! Tigers were sighted all over the park, especially females with cubs.

I did almost 300+ drives this season and again I would say this was by far a better season compared to the last few years in terms of sightings. All four zones and even the buffer had been fantastic and full of action. Mukki was the zone which attracted everyone this season. One can make out through the number of online safari bookings. From 1st Oct to 30th June, it was always pre-booked as it was the most happening zone this season. It will be difficult to digest that there were sightings of 23 individual tigers in the Mukki zone this season (including cubs and sub-adults). Mukki does not have a considerable area that can accommodate so many big cats, and as a result of that one of Dhawajhandi Female’s cubs got killed by Jamun Tola Male and what I believe is that all three cubs of Choti Mada were killed by a sub-adult male, who was from the previous litter of Mahaveer Female. Mv-1 moved to the Buffer Zone and MV-2 was translocated to Satkosia Tiger Reserve in Odisha in June 2018. Was it the right decision? The question remains unanswered ……. 

I started my first drive of the season on the 3rd of Oct with some butterflies in my stomach. Monsoon gives a new life to the jungle, it was lush green and the fragrance of the forest was remarkable, restored after a long gap of three months. We decided to have a look at Minkur Anicut (A place where we recall our happy memories with big cats), as we crossed Minkur Anicut we heard some chital alarm calls towards Duke Road meadow, energy sprung into our bodies. Without wasting time, we reached Duke Road where an anxious herd of spotted deer gave us the direction.” Tiger! Tiger”, everyone shouted in unison.

A big male was strolling on the road in front of us, who was marking his territory confidently. He then sat down in front of our vehicle. It took me no time to identify this winking fella, it was our own Chota Munna/T29. This was the second time I started my season with this boy, what we noticed that morning was, he had a nasty fresh scar above his pink nose; he must have met his brother (Uma Male) recently. Scars and wounds are his medals, no one expected that he would survive when there were the “Big Four” in Mukki. Previously he had gone through some brutal fights with all the other males of Mukki and proved himself as a true Warrior.

Mahaveer Female had left her previous litter which contained two male and two female cubs, all of them were roaming in the mother’s territory. Both females Mv-3 & Mv-4 had decided to stay separately, but Mv-1 and Mv-2 were seen together till April. Mv-1 then moved to the Buffer in search of his territory, but Mv-2 stayed back and started to explore more areas in the Mukki zone. He had become the Star of Mukki and his sightings were very frequent, a very shy cub had turned into a bold and handsome tiger. He had started intruding into other tigers’ territory, and so he had to face his fate…………..

Everyone was curious to know about Dhawajhandi’s cubs, how many had she given birth to? The big news came when she was sighted with four tiny cubs, this was some news for everyone. She kept rocking Babathenga and Singarpur area with her tiny tots. Unlike her mother, Choti Mada, she never took the cubs away from her home territory. A young male in search of new territory was seen in her area, an intruding male is always a big danger for a breeding female. It was expected, and it happened, he killed one of the male cubs of Dhawajhandi Female and there was no news of the other two as well, even the forest department couldn’t track them. Only one female cub was sighted with the mother for a week. Everyone whispered, that Jamuntola male/T24 had killed the remaining cubs, he disturbed a happy family.

The silence broke after nine days when Dhawajhandi Female was sighted with all three cubs on a rainy day, it was such pleasant news for every Kanha lover. Tiger is such a clever animal, when danger was around, she kept all three cubs in different directions until Chota Munna reached and pushed Jamuntola Male away. After this incident, CM (Chota Munna) kept guarding his family and spent most of his time with his cubs. Babathenga had been the hotspot in Mukki where Chota Munna was sighted with the cubs till the end of the season. Chota Munna had again grabbed the ‘The Most Sighted Tiger of Kanha’ award.

Choti Mada had also left the previous litter and was ready to mate, in November she was seen with Chota Munna. In April it was confirmed by the forest department that Choti Mada had given birth to three cubs, most probably sired by Chota Munna. She had started taking all three cubs to minkur anicut at a very young age even when they were hardly a month old and weren’t able to walk properly. It was a delight to see such small cubs with their mother, I’d never witnessed this before at Kanha.

Jr. Uma/Chota Uma was sighted in Choti Mada’s territory at intervals, he was one of the shy males who was sighted in every corner of Mukki.

The ‘‘Ghost of Mukki’’ Umarpani Male was never an easy catch this season, he played hide and seek till the summer came. His sightings were on fingertips till April, his first appearance was in mid-November and then he kept coming and going in Mukki zone. Seemed like he had extended his territory, now he owned a large territory and was seen mating with a female in an unknown area. He is considered to be the biggest male in Kanha with a huge head. Though he was not the father of Mahaveer Female’s last litter, he still never harmed the cubs. He did the same with Choti Mada, he had been sighted with Choti Mada’s tiny cubs who were fathered by Chota Munna, I believe.

On one occasion, we observed different behaviour of tigers when Umarpani, the dominant male was sighted with Choti Mada and cubs. MV-2 was sharing the same waterhole without showing any aggression. Later, when MV-2 intruded a little more than he should have, Umarpani took charge and pushed him away.

‘No wildlife lover would like to live these moments – A heart-wrenching moment’

On the 18th April morning drive as we reached minkur anicut we heard a tiger growling very close by, very soon we realized that two tigers were sitting in the bush and showing aggression towards each other, I grabbed my binoculars and checked, it was Choti Mada and Mv-2. Choti Mada did not look happy at all, she was charging at him and wanting him to leave the place. We thought this aggression was maybe over a kill. Once Mv-2 moved a bit away from her, she started going around a particular place. When I scanned the place, I was stunned. OMG!!! a dead cub was lying down on the ground between choti mada and Mv-2. She held the dead cub and came out and started walking on the road, we left her in peace. This was such a heartbreaking scene for me and my guests, we immediately rushed to the camp and informed the forest officials about this incident. Later we got to know that Mv-2 had killed two of her cubs that day. Nature plays its role whether you like it or not, I realised that day.

Good news came in the last month of the season when Mahaveer female was sighted with three small cubs, probably T-50 Male is the father of the current litter as he was seen mating with Mahaveer Female a couple of times. Mahaveer Female had left most of her area for her daughter Mv-3 and moved towards the non-tourism area.

Umarjhola female/T32 was also sighted sharing Mahaveer Females territory. Saw her in the last week of June, it looked like she was nursing cubs. Hopefully will see the Cubs in the coming season.

There was another male T-46 who was also sighted in T-50’s territory, it seems Mukki got its big four back.

Kanha Zone also had been very fruitful with three breeding females this season. Neelam/T65 kept rocking Kanha Meadow with her four cubs. One of the male cubs I assume didn’t like tourists, he was the aggressive one and was mostly sighted charging at the vehicles! Aptly called chota charger, his mother’s behaviour was just like his when she was young, so the aggression seemed inherited.

Link 8 female/Naina also had four cubs, there had always been a clash between Neelam and Naina over Kanha meadows. Neelam’s cubs might disperse this monsoon. Bajrang seemed in full command of the Kanha zone, though he is not a bold male his sightings were very frequent. He was sighted in mating with Nillah Nalla female towards the end of the season near Shravan Talao.

There was an entry of a new male recorded in Kanha Zone near Shravan Talao, he was later identified as Bhuindabara Male. A very handsome young lad who seemed very shy.

Another old female of meadow, link 7 /Mundidadar female also was sighted with three young cubs after successfully raising a litter of four male cubs. There was news that she lost all cubs in a territory fight but later she was sighted with all three cubs.

11th April AM DriveThere was so much happening already in all the zones, what made this year more special was, when HE appeared in Kanha Meadow after 5 years, out of the blue. When he traced all the roads which he had once ruled. I still wonder what he must be thinking, it was a dangerous game he was playing. He ruled the meadow almost for a decade, seems like he wanted to visit every corner of his Kingdom. A few days later he was sighted near nakti ghati and then on chimta camp road near Mukki. He was in his last stage or that’s what people think of his life but still wandering in the main tourism zone of Kanha. The world knows him, he doesn’t need further introduction. The legendary tiger, MUNNA ‘A tiger who lived the longest in Kanha’.

Kisli zone had been good but not like the last few years, an old female known as Budbudi got killed by Sangam Male. Fight between Budbudi and Sangam Male could be over a kill or for mating, a rare case of cannibalism in tigers. But it was a tragic event for everyone. Dhamangaon male who was the main attraction of Kiisli last season, was not seen this season, he was sighted on very few occasions in Sarhi Zone. Looked like Sangam Male pushed him further away towards Sarhi Zone, I believe.

Karai Ghati/T2 was sighted with some injuries most of the time, he was under the forest department’s supervision.

A new male, called Ganeri Dadar, had occupied Dhamangaon Males territory and showed up very well towards the end of the season.

Sarhi is a beautiful zone but still needs the attention of tourists, one needs to explore this zone then you realize the beauty of the pristine forest. It is difficult to catch elusive tigers of sarhi as they are not used to vehicles & tourists but still, there were good sightings of Matigahan Male/T-20 & a female. I would like to say if you want to explore  Sarhi Zone, you must do 4-5 drives entering from Sarhi Gate. Dhamangaon male had also moved to this zone from Kisli. Ronda male is also there.

Khapa Buffer – This zone opened just two years ago and attracted everyone. I have done 20-25 drives here this season. It’s a nice forest with less crowd, especially good for birding and the icing on the cake is when you see a tiger there. Balaghat T/72 is the resident male of this zone and now Ma-1 had also moved into this zone in search of territory. There is a breeding female with three cubs also sighted, probably Balaghat Male is the father of the cubs. It will be interesting to watch, how Mv-1 copes up with this big guy.

About Author: Naren Malik is a leading naturalist at Kanha National Park & has spent more than a decade tracking tigers at Kanha Tiger Reserve.

Image Sources: Naren Malik, visitors and guides at Kanha National Park & yours truly. Permission is obtained from the Author to publish these images.


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