February 5, 2016
Now I am back in Sydney I can’t quite believe I saw this tigress in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan a week or so ago! She has been nick-named Arrow head and is 2 years old. Apparently she recently fought with her mother and is the age when they go off and live on their own. Our attention was drawn to the several jeeps with tourists that had parked quite near her as she rested in rushes beside a lake. All of us were thrilled – to be fortunate enough to sight a tiger (we had been unsuccessful on our first safari in the morning), and to just stare at the beauty of her markings and her magnificence.
I am feeling very blessed by the animal world after this recent visit to India where I was fortunate enough to see several Bengal tigers – in the wild – at very close range, and two leopards. India’s wildlife is as exciting as Africa’s – it is just sometimes more secretive, mysterious or requiring more patience. This can lead to disappointments …or bliss. A few years ago I only saw a tiger paw mark in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, but the compensation was seeing many elephants and rhinos on beautiful plains.
There was great excitement as the tigress got up and moved closer towards us and settled in the rushes again, perfectly camouflaged. All their markings are distinctive – and we can see why she has been nick-named “Arrow head”. It was mid-afternoon and still quite hot.
I spoke at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations conference in 2014 in Jaipur, and at the Minding Animals Conference at Jawaharlal Nehru University last January – so I have an idea of how much work is being done on behalf of animals in India – from the front line work of animal shelters, to all the wildlife conservancy work and related issues such as habitat destruction, wildlife tourism, protecting wildlife corridors, animal-human co-existence etc. In India and elsewhere, the academic field of Animal Studies is generating essential, diverse and often fascinating research work.
I am on the Committee of Working for Animals which administers animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Founded by Christine and Jeremy Townend, I am full of admiration for what the shelters achieve – for animals, and for the local populations.
I was fortunate to have lunch with Vivek Menon, Founder and Executive Director of the Wildlife Trust of India, who was about to fly to London as he was nominated for The Economist’s Inspiring Innovator of the Year. He is the first wildlife conservator to be nominated – specifically for his work in securing, restoring and expanding corridors for elephants to prevent their accidental deaths and human-animal conflict. These corridors are traditional migration routes. Vivek also told me that as a result of the Minding Animals Conference last year that the WTI co-hosted, JNU is now offering an Animal Studies course.
After the first tiger sighting recently in Ranthambore National Park, we then drove to a lake where there were many animals and birds. This second tiger appeared unexpectedly. With the imminent danger of a tiger, animals and birds quietly disappeared, except for a few wild boars. This male tiger is also about 2 years old although he was bigger and heavier than the tigress we had seen earlier. He passed quite close to us and was striking looking. I felt quite vulnerable in our open jeep, although the tiger could not have been less interested in us. He was hunting. We watched him for half an hour, as he quietly moved closer and closer to an oblivious solitary wild boar knee-deep in the lake. As dusk was falling we had to leave the park and I’m glad I didn’t witness a grisly end to a magical afternoon.
I travelled with friend and wildlife photographer Avi Gupta who took these photographs on my new Sony A6000 and familiarised me with the camera. As these encounters with tigers are relatively rare – and often fleeting, I didn’t want to miss “the moment” of actually seeing a wild tiger – or mess up the photographs. I did take some photographs with my trusty Lumix and I’ll share these next blog.
Last year I visited the Asiatic lions in Gir, Gugarat and was lucky to see several handsome young ones. We also saw a stunningly beautiful leopard that suddenly crossed right in front of us. The lions have now spread out of their sanctuaries, and according to a May 2015 census, an estimated 1/3 are now living outside, establishing new territories. This obviously creates problems for villagers and their cattle. I saw one tribal village at Gir that had been relocated to a safer position within the sanctuary – with a solar panel for a light above a well. Fortunately, the numbers of lions continue to increase, and currently stand at 523 in the region.
We next visited Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh in central India where we were lucky enough to have another tiger spotting…this time more fleeting. The number of tigers in India is estimated to be 2266 – and I have seen 3 of them! Jeeps materialised from nowhere and the tigress aged about 4 years old strode quickly across the track. Later, in another location, this male leopard (above) also crossed the dirt track. Next day we saw a very similar leopard, or it may have been him again.
As tigers and leopards are solitary and elusive, the safari guides rely on hearing the warnings of danger from other animals to each other. Spotted deer screech in a birdlike way, Sambar deer stomp their hooves, and langur monkeys cry out clamorously.
We saw many other animals including blue bulls, crocodiles, a sloth bear, and many birds, especially peacocks.
As we stopped to photograph some vultures, I asked Avi why he loved birds especially? He said “because they are everywhere”. The Tree Pi bird actually acts as a tooth pick for tigers – a dangerous job! Over 300 species of birds have been identified in Ranthambore National Park alone.
We also visited Panna National Park and stayed at the beautiful Ken River Lodge – overlooking the mighty river. A proposed dam would flood this tiger reserve where 32 tigers have been introduced. As it was raining I didn’t go on safari at 5.30am! On the way back to Delhi we visited the famous and magnificent Hindu temples at Khajuraho some dating from AD 900. The often erotic carvings have miraculously mostly survived intact. Near Agra I glimpsed the shimmering Taj Mahal which I have visited several times before.
TONY THE TIGER: Tony the tiger was never far from my mind in India and I have a renewed commitment to Tony the tiger in 2016. The Animal League Defence Fund say “our advocacy for Tony remains positive and strong” but time is running out. Please spread the word and have friends and family sign the petition to save Tony. There are many more tigers in private hands in the USA than there are in the wild in India, and this in no way ensures – or benefits, the long term survival of these truly magnificent animals.
The tiger replaced the lion as the National Animal of India in 1973 as part of a national tiger protection programme.
VALE: David Bowie (1947-2016). His emergence in the early 1970s had a huge influence on many of us and we are shocked by his death. I saw him as Ziggy Stardust (above) in 1972. We arrived in London from Australia in 1969 and this was at the tail-end of the “Carnaby Street” and “Kings Road” eras. Bowie’s genius, originality and imagination helped change and set the tone for the next decade and beyond. See this tribute in the NY Times here, and I liked his Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie here.
I enjoyed The Australian Tennis Open (although shocked by the match fixing allegations – even in tennis!), mid-flight I finally saw Blue Jasmine with the riveting Kate Blanchett who I had seen in A Streetcar named Desire, and I read Island Home by Tim Winton where he beautifully describes his relationship and growing awareness of our unique environment in Australia, and how it has influenced his ideas, writing and life. We too grew up surrounded by bush and I was horrified to recently hear “children playing outside” referred to as “unregulated nature time”! Tim Winton concludes “Aboriginal wisdom is the most under-utilized intellectual and emotional resource this country has”.