Website by AQEEL FAROOQI  

 


 

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OTHER ARTICLES

Problems of identification of camera-trapped tigers
Indian Wildlife - challenges in the new millennium
The greying of India
On the road to extinction
A Tribute to Rumbha - the elephant  
State development project threatens state bird - Sarus
Shahtoosh ban gains momentum worldwide
The road to disaster
Killing nilgais in the name of crop protection
Warring NGO's may spell doom for the tiger
Where have all the sparrows gone?
Cuckoos that fly out of crows' nests
Corbett park woes continue to mount
A question on post mortem examinations in the wild
Is it time to 'cry wolf' again?
Lifting of US sanctions may boost wildlife conservation
Migratory waterfowl may be hit by war in Afghanistan
UP wetlands to provide improved habitat to waterfowl
Anthrax as a potent wildlife killer
Man-elephant conflict takes heavy toll
Demoiselle cranes fly to safety in India
How long lasting are conservation victories
Fake tiger skins : a knotty disguise
Who cares for the wild here anyway?
A tribute to Charger - the long living tiger
Draining of wetlands threatening wildlife
Wildlife management needs rapid response units
Dudhwa loses another tiger
Indian Wildlife Board meets after five years
 
 
A Tale of Three Tigers
by
Jan Jur Koksma
 a Dutchman’s first steps in the Indian jungle

Dr JJ Koksma

 

For over 20 years, ever since I was a small child, I had wanted to go to India for the prime reason of seeing wild tigers. My aim became all the more focused with the grim reality that the tiger is unfortunately on the road to extinction1. So if I waited for another 20 years to make this trip to India, there just might be no tigers left in the wild at all. Perish that thought!  

Even so, since the tigers have become so rare, spotting one in the wild has become very difficult. And more so for a person like me, who lives half way round the globe from India. You first have to go to India. Next, you have to select one of the few remaining tiger habitats like Corbett National Park, and embark on the final journey that takes you there. Added to that is the fact that the tiger is an elusive creature, so even in Corbett park, spotting a tiger is not easy. On the contrary, it is actually very hard work. Although Corbett park is credited with having a healthy tiger population - 140 odd according to latest census - the park itself is quite sizeable,  the 1318 square kilometers giving the tigers plenty of space to remain elusive.

Moreover, you are destined to be noisy because you can only enter the vast park by car or elephant, and you would better do it that way too. Otherwise you might unfortunately end up like David Hunt, the British birdwatcher who got out of his jeep to follow a forest eagle owl and became a tiger’s kill. The guilty tiger was known by the name of Dhitoo, or ‘stubborn one’, and the story of his gruesome encounter with David Hunt still sends shivers down the spine of anyone who ventures to put his foot out in the dense forests of Corbett park.  Thus, spotting tigers is not only hard work; it is not without risk either. 

Well, to come to the present. It was in the golden afternoon of 15th January 2005, when I was finally in Corbett, that we rode into the park on the back of our little riding elephant Mohini. Earlier that same morning, while on the morning drive, we had heard a langur call from a tree next to a bend in the road, and we knew for sure that a tiger was lying there somewhere, possibly having a siesta in the thick undergrowth. With bated breaths, we waited patiently in our jeep for the animal to appear. But to my deep regret, we had to return to camp for the noon break.  

Being disappointed at having to leave now that I was so close, I decided not to rest during the noon break and instead walk to the machaan or watchtower close to the Dhikala encampment. The machaan was just a five minute walk away, and the lonely path through the tall elephant grass leading to the machaan is the only place you were allowed to walk around in the jungle. Tigers regularly use that path to cross over between the adjoining forests, which provides this walk with a distinct thrill. My companion, Indian wildlife specialist Aqeel Farooqi, told me he preferred to talk out loud on that little path in the grasslands, just in case.  

When we had almost reached the machaan, and were silently enjoying the feeling of being in the jungle, we heard a loud sambhar alarm call. The sambhar is the biggest deer in the Indian jungle and it presumably calls only when it has seen a tiger. The call sounded awfully close by. We hurried towards the machaan, and from our vantage point, hoped to spot the tiger somewhere in the vast jungle stretching below us. In vain. The tiger does have its stripes for a reason, apparently.  

Just before we decided to walk back to camp for the afternoon elephant ride, we saw frenetic activity in the grassland near the river, when a herd of spotted deer dispersed into all directions, not unlike an explosion. This definitely indicated tiger. If you want to spot a tiger, you have to listen carefully to what the jungle tells you. The langur and sambhar call, and the panicking spotted deer clearly told us that a tiger - or even more tigers -  would be on the hunt at dusk in the part of the forest in between the road, the river bed and the machaan. 

My companion for the ride, amateur wildlife photographer Tarun Kumar Singh arranged for me his favorite mahout (elephant driver) and provided him the information of the tiger activity that I had seen. The mahout needed just a few words, and we set off towards the machaan. Every now and then he would stop Mohini, and in total silence we listened to the voice of the jungle, hoping a deer would call in alarm. Our mahout was constantly interpreting the pug marks that were abundantly spread on the forest track. The pug marks led us to the border between the jungle and the grassland on the river banks. The jungle was completely silent, except for the occasional bulbul or other bird singing a song that needed to be sang… 

I cannot describe the majestic feeling of spotting your first real tiger. We had entered the dense forest covered with thick lantana bushes, everyone expectantly peering into the undergrowth. Suddenly I was the first to spot them. “There are the tigers”, I whispered, and continued, “one-two-three of them!”. The three had already noticed us, and gave me one beautiful glance over their shoulders before stealthily creeping off towards thick cover. Our young mahout sent Mohini after them right away, and at the same time whistled to attract the attention of two other mahouts. Now, driving an elephant through rough terrain is not easy, and keeping track of tigers under thick bushes also is a rather difficult task. But to our advantage, suddenly all three of them would stop and hide. The mahout told us it was the big resident male in Corbett, together with his spouse and daughter. And daddy tiger was not amused, we could tell from the dark threatening growl emanating from underneath the bushes. The other two elephants came, everybody was excited and a status quo was reached. Three tigers, three elephants, three mahouts and a bunch of wildlifers and tourists were waiting for things to happen.  

Our mahout, probably the youngest and most daring mahout of Corbett National Park, tried to convince the two older mahouts to go into the bushes with three elephants together, and drive the tiger triplet to the river bank, so that everybody could have a clear look. Every now and then I saw the face of the big male and it must have been almost up to three feet wide. So he was indeed huge.  I was thinking of the tiger’s claw marks that I had seen on a tree next to the road which reached up to 15 feet high, and estimated that our small Mohini was only about 10 feet high. Mr. Big was roaring constantly now, particularly when once again we stepped forward, and the young mahout was ordering Mohini to open up the tiger’s shelter by taking away the intervening branches with her trunk. The situation was becoming rather tense with the furious animal only 10 feet in front of us. The oldest mahout looked nervous, yet our mahout was trying to set an example by pushing his own small elephant even further into the bushes. I was sitting at the front seat on Mohini’s back, recording the tense scene with my camera, when a fat Indian tourist on the large elephant started whining that he didn’t even want to see a tiger anymore, and whether we could please back off now?  

The large male growled again. This was too much for the big elephant which couldn't hold back its fear, and let out a shrill trumpet, scaring the jungle and adding to the nervous excitement. Now, the fat Indian really seemed to be wetting his pants, and I was just thinking about the strange mixture of feelings inside myself. A strange combination of extreme happiness, excitement and somehow little fear, but now for the first time wandering whether we were not giving the tigers too much stress. Next was the impression that I was shaking all over my body - a result of abundant adrenaline in my veins? Then I realized it was not me, but little Mohini, who was shaking like a feather, actually vibrating like a generator, probably scared to death standing eye to eye with three tigers. I reached down and put my hand on her neck, and felt the tense muscles of the animal, ready to run off. In such an situation, if anyone of us were to fall from her back, I would not have bet a single rupee on his life.  

Again, the young mahout urged the other two to move in together with us. Finally, the older mahout brought his elephant next to us and moved in towards the big male. The tiger gave out a big roar which froze the jungle and mock charged, shaking the bushes. OK, he won. We sanely decided to back off and rode back to the road where people in jeeps were awaiting our stories. Later I heard that his name was Jeetoo, and that he was the grandson of the infamous man-eater Dhitoo, and that indeed he did honor to his name, which meant ‘Victorious one’.  

Full of emotions I sat on Mohini’s back, and back to camp we steered, a merry crew, beneath the setting sun. A sambar stag with beautiful large antlers walked next to us through the tall grass, the low light caressing his dark brown fur. It might have been the same fellow whose call in the morning helped to fulfill a childhood’s dream of the author of this little tiger tale.

1.         see Aqeel Farooqi: On the road to extinction, this website

 

Dr Jan Jur Koksma is a neuroscientist presently based in Amsterdam. He can be contacted at koksma@gmail.com