Eye of the Tiger
As usual it was the highly-attuned and super-vigilant park guides who heard it first. The short, deep, guttural sounds of the alarm call of the grey langur which, for our group of highly expectant wildlife enthusiasts, promised one thing – a tiger in the vicinity!
We had been parked in our jeeps (a comfortable total of just three or four vehicles) just above the banks of a dry river bed close to a small watering hole – a remnant of the river that would be rushing again in a few months’ time during the wet season, on this, our fifth game drive in Bandhavgarh National Park. Bandhavgarh had already delivered handsomely with sightings of eleven different tigers so expectations were high, if not satiated as we waited, cameras at the ready, in the park’s less-visited Sector 3, in the warm late-afternoon sunshine.
Information is everything in the quest to see this largest of big cats and news of a sighting earlier in the day had led our drivers and guides to this spot. The minutes ticked by and optimism in the group, like the water of the dry river bed, began to ebb away as shrugs and ‘call-it-a-day’ expressions began to ripple around. Not so our expert drivers and guides who held firm.
At the first alarm calls of the ‘lookout-langur’, alerting his troop, the familiar air of hushed excitement descended upon us, the tension palpable. And then the longed-for urgent whisper: ‘Tiger!’ as sighting number 12 came into view, away to our left at the end of the valley. We were rewarded with a long approach, mostly fully visible, until the tiger, a female, stopped to drink from the water a mere 20 metres from our jeep.
The silence was only broken by the occasional awe-struck whispers of the group and the frenetic shutters of 15 cameras as the tigress, quenched, left the water to relax a short distance away. Breaths were hardly caught, however, before again the eagle-eyes of our guide picked out a second tiger on the approach, along the valley from the same direction!
The bulkier, stronger frame revealed a male and again, the uninterrupted view of his long approach to the waterhole was both mesmerising and unforgettable. We were undeniably in the presence of a magnificent and mighty animal. The sheer power and dimensions of his head, chest, paws were awe-inspiring. As he drank, feline similarities to domestic cats flashed into the mind and yet these animals exude an aura that is both majestic and other-worldly. The frenzy of camera clicking continued as the tiger lowered himself into the water for a late afternoon cool-off. His gaze turned directly towards us for a few seconds: what to read into those unblinking, steady, yellow-green eyes? Confidence, certainly, no question that he is at the pinnacle of this food chain – and was well aware of it! Dangerous, perhaps, to read much more than this.
Ironically, this very confidence may be a threat to this most-powerful of predators – the poacher’s gun is its most lethal adversary. To witness these most magnificent animals in their own habitat was an immense privilege and, although their future remains uncertain, the fight to secure their survival cannot be allowed to fail.
By Nicholas Errington, Aviation Manager, who travelled on our Land of the Tiger trip.