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Ranathambhore National Park is the place of pure bliss which has never disappointed me. My 6th trip to this Tiger land and every time I come back with loads of memories and images to cherish to a lifetime. This is an attempt to share one such incidence of the lifetime to the best of my capabilities in the form of words and images.
After a fantastic first day, expectations were sky high for day two. Rain gods had already showered their blessings last evening – which we always consider as a “good omen”. With dawn, was relaxed to see no cloud cover. All gears packed, we headed for our morning safari. Excited to venture Zone 4. As it is said, never keep expectations from Mother Nature, just enjoy in whatever form she blesses you. But this human mind, always is hungry for more. I already had made a list of our expectations and were hallucinating the presence of the striped beauty behind every blade of the dried grass. No traces of the striped beauty, as we crossed Lakkad Da chawki. As we headed ahead crossing Baba ki Gufa, we remembered the Legendary Machali who had made this as her home for quite some time before she relocated to Zone 5. We waited for the alarm calls near one of the water body as there were fresh pug marks of a huge male. With few forest guards further examining the nearby areas, we eventually could conclude that this beast must have headed towards Bakola. With some birding here and there, we concluded the morning safari.
Afternoon safari was at Zone 5 and we really were expecting that this striped beauty which was assumed to move towards Bakola valley (Zone 5) could be spotted. One may call it a superstition but the group ensured that they wear and carry what was possibly the lucky charm for each individual – never mind if it was the same smelly t-shirt which was drenched in sweat for the past two days. With the humidity suddenly rising after the initial showers, Mumbai was not missed in terms of weather but the zeal to sight the tiger overpowered all the discomforts. We headed towards Zone 5 and was been told that the Legendary “Machali” has been sighted off late in that zone. It has indeed been one of my wish list to have a sight of this legendary and iconic tigress. The eyes were trying to scan every inch of the forest from the moving gypsy. We crossed “Kachida chawki” and with many water bodies till Bakola valley, we decided to check each and every water body to check if we could find traces of cubs of T17 (Sundari) or Cubs of T41 (Laila). All the eyes in the gypsy were scanning the forest thoroughly. One of the gypsy ahead of us returned back – “Sahab, Tiger aaje ki taraf chal kar aa raha hai” (Sir, the tiger has started walking ahead). The instinct of launching the bazooka and scanning the dense vegetation.
The adrenaline started pumping in fast and the finger was dying to click the shutter button. Soon we did see the striped walking through the dense vegetation. The driver positioned the gypsy on a cliff to get a better view. The sound of shutter was echoing in the atmosphere as the Royal Bengal Tiger royally sat in the shade in the midst of the boiling summer. Soon in the commotion, the stripy decided to leave his shady throne and take a stroll in the sun. The identification of the huge male tiger was done – he is T6 aka Romeo, a 500 pounder 9 feet tall muscular hunk.
ROMEO AKA T 6 RESTING
T6 aka Romeo – is a 9 year old handsome male. Son of Kachidah, Romeo has a mane which would put any lion to shame. He spends a lot of time romancing T41, Laila.
Normally tigers prefer resting in the shades instead of travelling distances in rising temperatures but Romeo has some other plans. He elegantly walked amongst the vegetation marking his territory by spraying almost every 50 odd yards. His size and length was gauged as he passed through our gypsy, truly a huge muscular male agile and active. It was as if the King was marching and the followers following him religiously. This continued for almost an hour, which was quite surprising with him venturing in the sun as generally we assumed any cat to sit in a shade after a walk for 10-15 minutes.
ROMEO - TERRITORY MARKING
He cooled himself in the water bodies nearby for few minutes and walked ahead. It seemed that he walked with a determination, with a goal to reach somewhere. By this time, there was a huge queue of gypsies trying to get the best angle of the beast. One should applaud the skill sets of the guide and the driver who can very well gauge the behaviour pattern of the jungle and position the vehicle as per the needs of the photographers. We were lucky to have such talented guys managing our gypsy. The sound of the shutter did not stop for almost an hour wherein all the possible poses at all the possible focal lengths were tried and tested. Sweat drenching from the body had gone unnoticed and was juggling with three cameras as if there is no tomorrow.
ROMEO AS HE TOOK A DIP IN THE WATER BODY
ROMEO WALKING ALONGSIDE THE CLIFFS OF THE FORESTS
ROMEO AFTER A QUICK SWIM
At one point, Romeo sat in the bushes and we assumed that that’s it for the day from the big cat. Since we were the first few of the gypsies, we decided to head towards the nearby chawki (Anantpura Chawki) to check for any other movement in the forest. As the driver parked the gypsy near the chawki gate, the gang discussed how lucky we were to have such a sight of the majestic beauty as we started reviewing the images. With no movement nearby sounded by the forest guards in the chawki, we decided to explore the remainder of the zone in whatever time left.
Mother Nature had other plans stored for us. Few meters ahead as we headed towards the same route where we left Romeo, we could see the gypsies queued. Romeo was out of the bushes walking ahead and the riot of gypsies and canters following him. The talent of the driver and the guide was displayed here as we were perfectly positioned to get the approaching shots as he marched towards our gypsy. At one point, the driver mentioned “Sahab, yeh yaha paani pine aayega. Gaadi piche leta hu aap log beith jao.” (Sir, he shall come to the waterhole nearby. Everybody sit down and I shall take the car back).
ROMEO AS HE APPROACHED THE GYPSY
He marched towards the assumed path. Again the sound of the shutter again started. He was heading towards us. We were few yards away from the chawki. There was a lowland patch from where Romeo was heading and our gypsy was positioned at a higher ground as we waited for him to approach towards our direction.
ROMEO AS HE HEADS TOWARDS THE CHAWKI ROAD
All of a sudden, the walk stopped!!! The position of the ears changed. The body language changed completely – shoulders drooped, eyes focused. His eyes were pointing right towards the direction of our gypsy. The look in his eyes was dreadful and fearsome. “Sahab, yeh tiger aab chid gaya hai gypsies se. Gaadi piche lete hai. Aap loog beith jao” (Sir, this tiger has been agitated with the gypsies surrounding him for quite some time. You all sit down as I shall take the vehicle behind) said the driver and reversed the gypsy. But the glowing eyes were focused on the same direction as earlier. He patiently waited for few seconds behind the grass blades. The gang for a few seconds was clueless with this behaviour. What happened after that was a “Once in a life time sequence” for any naturalist or any wildlifer.
Anantpura Chawki has an upland adjutant to it. Few spotted deers and Blue bull antelopes (Nilgai) were busy grazing clueless about what was heading. By this time we could realize that Romeo’s eyes were focused on the deers and bluebulls and not our gypsy. The fearsome eyes were glued on the target. Mother Nature was going to display its raw beauty in its best form.
As per experts, on average 7 to 8 out of 10 attempts of a cat kill is a failure. Thus one needs to appreciate the perseverance, patience and the skill sets of the cat to earn their food. It has also been observed in the cat family that the females do the kill and the males just snatch their share from it.
For a wildlifer,
Sighting a tiger itself is a treat, photographing is an icing on the cake.
Being close to a tiger for almost more than an hour is just being in paradise.
Witnessing a tiger kill and photographing it is a wildlifer’s dream come true.
And if the entire chase and kill sequence is of a “male tiger”, you have blessed your camera with Midas effect and a handful few could witness it!!
Such a rare phenomenon is a successful male kill. There have been several successful kill sequences of a female tiger recorded and photographed, but we are been made aware that there is hardly any male kill sequence recorded on camera. I am sure reading this must have given you a fair idea of what was witnessed.
The 500 pound muscle mass slowly crouched towards the target. As he moved closer towards the target, he launched the attack. There are times wherein you have all the feelings rioting together – I experienced it that time as I was witnessing what could have been a dream sequence for me. Adrenaline rushed in the blood stream as I dare not remove the finger from the shutter button of my camera. Was I dreaming or was it real type of a feeling. I could give all the adjectives to describe that moment but may not justify the description. The body was shivering with joy to witness the dream sequence as Romeo took few leaps inside the dense shrubs. This incidence happened just near the chawki gate wherein we had halted few minutes before. The guides started shouting to close the gate of the chawki as the tiger charged towards the direction of the gate.
THE CROUCHING BEGINS
THE BIG LEAP
THE FINAL CHASE (Antelope in the right of the frame and Romeo in the centre of the frame behind the dried shrubs)
The view finder could not sight what happened behind the shrubs but I kept clicking. Within no time from the other side of the upland fell the predator and the prey.
THE BATTLE OF SURVIVAL
As I write, still get goose bumps as each and every frame of this sequence shall be fresh in my memory. Romeo had caught hold of the female bluebull antelope and was chocking the windpipe. The race for survival begun as the bluebull antelope tried several attempts to get out of the tight grip. It was a matter of race against time for the antelope as it was impossible to get out of those powerful canines and the sharp claws. The entire chase sequence took mere 32 seconds (5:22:48 pm till 5:23:20 pm).
THE BATTLE OF SURVIVAL
Immediately within no time, the breaking of the neck bone was sounded as the struggle of the 150 odd pound antelope ended.
It was a moment of emotions as the dead carcase lied in the paws of the beast. It was not the day for the poor antelope. It is the law of the jungle; you need to be one step ahead of your predator to survive. Failure shall lead to your downfall. Romeo won the race and there was 150 pounds of raw flesh to be feasted on.
This skilful predator cashed in all his energy in chasing, bringing the antelope down and chocking her to death. Now it was a time to release the canines which were embedded deep in the neck and take a breather. He licked the blood oozing out of the two holes in the neck and showed authority over his priced catch. After a few minutes, decided to get up and relax in the shade. The canines and the whiskers had blood on it as the fearsome predator was trying to catch his breath. He licked the paws which had blood and observed the mob of tourists busy photographing the event.
LICKING THE PRICED CATCH
Soon after he grabbed the priced catch from the hind thigh and dragged the carcass behind the shrubs. The breaking sound of the bones was heard as he tore apart the stomach portion and started feasting on it. With hands shivering with anxiety, was clueless whether what was captured on the sensors of the camera was as desired. With the entire chaos sounding behind, I happened to turn around and was zapped to see a mob of almost 15 odd gypsies and 2-3 canters queued to get the sight of the majestic. I guess we would consider the only few lucky who was ahead of the mob to witness this drama.
ROMEO TAKING A BREATHER AFTER THE HUNT
ROMEO DRAGGING THE KILL IN THE SHADES
The heart was still pumping fast; the eyes were still glued at the predator as we decided to leave the place. The fond memories of this kill sequence shall be cherished for a life time. The group still dreams of the series of events occurred. What was witnessed was nothing lesser than discovering a “gold mine”.
“Aaj aagar bhagwan se aur bhi kuch chij maang leta to who bhi mil jaya”
(If I would have asked almighty any wish, it would have been granted)
The immediate next day, it was been reported that the carcass was almost half eaten. The female bluebull antelope was pregnant. There is photographic evidence that Romeo picked the dead immature baby body and abandoned the kill. There are different explanations given by different tiger an expert about this behaviour but one thing is for sure – “Mother Nature is unpredictable, expect the unexpected anytime!!”
THE FANTASTIC 5
Sitting from left - Yogesh Rane, Nitin Joshi.
|RSS||Disclaimer : This photograph is taken in the natural habitat. Incase if anybody needs the copy of this picture, please contact me. All Rights Reserved by Yogesh Rane (www.junglebook.co.in / www.yogeshrane.com)|