Tigerwalah in Mowgli Land II
As promised in my previous blog on Pench, here I am with my blog on Pench Tigers. In a country obsessed with male superiority, the Pench landscape is clearly dominated by one grand family with Badi Maada – The Matriarch of the tiger clan and her two daughters Collarwali- the tigress with five cubs & Baaghin Naala- the elusive and shy tigress who is rumoured to have given birth to a litter recently. The entire tourism zone landscape is divided between these three females. Apart from this clan two males Joda Munara & Raiyakassa male are also sighted in the tourism zone of the park.
While planning a trip to Pench, we had factored in irregular tiger sightings & therefore planned a 10-day trip.
Badi Maada is disturbed by frantic alarms
Badi Maada aka Queen Mother– Pench’s star tigress, came into the limelight with the BBC film ‘Spy in the Jungle’. She is around 13 years old & is currently raising her third litter of 2cubs. Having ruled the entire tourism zone area once her territory is mainly confined to the Pyorethadi, Chhindimatta, and Bijamatta areas of the park. After tracking her for three days we were finally able to locate this family on a small hillock where they had recently made a kill. While we were busy clicking the cubs playing on a small rock with their back towards us, none of us did realize the presence of the tigress. Only while reviewing the photos, we realized the presence of another tiger in the picture, this was partly due to the excitement of seeing tigers after 3 days and partly due to the thick grass cover around the rock. She finally did come out & sat in the open for a few minutes as the cubs were busy playing nearby. Disturbed by frantic alarm calls of Chital & Langurs, she got up suddenly & started to descend towards us. These alarm calls were courtesy packs of 6-7 dholes approaching the same area. She came down on the forest track, giving us some wonderful photo opp. Probably concerned about the safety of the cubs, she inspected the entire area including the place where we saw dholes before returning to the cubs. Post this sighting we were unable to see her again though she was occasionally sighted by one or two safari vehicles.
Collarwali– Called so due to radio collar in her neck, only tigress in Pench to have one. Dominant cub from the second litter of Badi Maada she currently has a litter of 5 cubs, one male & four female cubs. She currently occupies central parts of the park including Alikatta, Jodamunara, Bison Camp, Baghdev Tiraha, Tiger Saucer etc. Our first sighting of her was courtesy ‘Tiger Show’ on elephants back in the Tiger Saucer area which is otherwise forbidden for jeeps. Thick lantana bushes for cover, vast grassland area, proximity to water bodies, an abundance of prey & less human activity make tiger saucer a perfect tiger habitat. Tigress and two cubs were enjoying an afternoon siesta after a heavy meal while one cub was busy eating the kill. The male cub is in the process of getting separated from family & spends most of his time away. Used to the presence of tracking elephants since childhood neither the tigress nor the cubs were disturbed. While this was not the frame I was looking for, not clicking a tiger in front of you is no lesser than SIN.
Collar Wali decided to oblige us once again & this time along with her male cub. As we were returning to Alikatta camp one morning, saw Gaurav Athalye a good friend standing at the fire line exit. He signalled us to wait there as he had followed two tigers since morning & they were likely to use this fire line. Within a few minutes, we saw we saw two tigers approaching us from a distance. Tigress stopped in between to spray mark on a bush as two male chitals at our end watched her every move carefully. As both tigers-mother & male cub approached our vehicle & were crossing the road in front of our vehicle memory card in my camera was full & I was left sulking. Sometimes you are both lucky & unlucky at the same time, this probably was one of those occasions.
Baaghin Naala– The other surviving cub from Badi Maada’s litter of four, she derives her name from an area controlled by her. She is very shy and her sightings are very rare and brief. She is currently rumoured of producing a litter, though the same has not been verified. We were unable to spot this tigress during our stay, her sighting could have completed documentation of the entire Badi Maada clan.