T 7 Bounds Away to Freedom

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For anybody with some interest in nature, tiger is always an interesting subject. But, this is rather a different kind of tiger story.

This story is woven around loss of all tigers from Sariska Tiger Reserve (in Rajasthan State of India), relocation of tigers to the Reserve and the tiger ‘T 7’. It’s a long story but briefly, all the tigers in Sariska get poached in early 2000s, without Forest Department noticing the disappearance, which, though must have happened over a period of time and not overnight! The government remains in denial mode for quite some time saying ‘tigers may have gone out and will come back!’ But, the truth cannot be hidden for long.

In 2005, re-introducing tigers to Sariska is planned. This is first ever, ambitious tiger relocation plan in the world. Lot of debate and discussion goes into it. Finally, a male tiger is relocated from Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve (also in Rajasthan) on 28 June 2008. With more shiftings, Sariska has five – two male and three female  – tigers around November 2010.

This is another story that no litter is delivered, in spite of several signs and evidences of mating. This becomes an issue of concern and scientific debate but nothing convincing emerges. Wildlife biologists are out of wits. So the crisis continues. I have been aware of all these developments.

It is about 5 years ago. I am on a visit to Sariska. To be precise, it is 23 February 2011. A great drama is unfolding. The forest is pitch dark. It is almost midnight. There is a torch light flashing momentarily now and again. About a score of people are hanging around near the entrance of a huge enclosure. In normal situation, one will not be walking around at this time of the day or rather night, in a tiger reserve.  The crowd is largely forest officials and some media persons. There is anxiety and tension in the air.

The enclosure is about 15 feet high, made of very strong wire mesh fencing and iron angles.  The enclosure has about a hectare of dry deciduous natural forest along with some herbivores e.g. spotted deer and blue bull inside.

We notice beams of head lights of a caravan of about half a dozen vehicles on the main road approaching towards us.  Another 10 minutes, we can hear noise of trucks and jeeps taking the dust track linking the enclosure area with main road. There is whole lot of excitement and confusion – which position to take to be best able to see action. Officials are tense for the state (health) of the tiger after a long, rough road journey of several hours.

Just to ensure that the tiger is safe and also for the sake of excited crowd, one of the forest officials with the cage lifts a small slit door in the cage’s main door. And the crowd in unison shouts ‘tiger’. What is visible is the white of the chest of the tiger with few black stripes. There is some moment also visible. So, it seems o.k. I take few pictures for the sake of recording the unique event.

Soon the cage with tiger is downloaded from the truck and rolled up to the mouth of the double door entrance of the enclosure. The opening in the door is just enough to fit and aligned with the cage door which would be pulled up to open.

All people are now standing close to the fence to a get a glimpse of the tiger jumping out of the cage into the enclosure. I position myself at a place very close to the wire mesh of the enclosure and insert my camera lens through a gap and slant it in the direction of the possible leap of the tiger into the forest. It takes only split second, as soon as the door of the cage is pulled up, the tiger disappears into the darkness of the forest. I blindly click three times as soon as the door of the cage has been lifted. The action is over within seconds.

Tiger is left to itself and all disperse within about ten minutes in the available vehicles. The enclosure will allow the animal to settle into new environment and get acclimatised before it is released into the forest, few days later.

On the way back, I review the photos on camera’s screen and it is disappointing. The shots appear to be all blank and black. Later on, I download the photos on to the laptop. I take close look at the tiger release photos which appear to be blank. And Lo, I cannot believe myself that I have just about captured the tiger’s leap out the cage!! The photo is dark, but exciting and full of action.

This is a male tiger, called T 7. It is the one of the male offspring of the most famous wild tigress of the world in recent times, Machhali, in Ranthambhore. Ranthambhore is packed with tigers and T 7 is not able to carve out a territory for itself.

It is again a very long story, but T 7 has been wandering around for several months, homeless and a serious problem animal!  Last, it has taken refuse in Keoladeo National Park, a bird sanctuary, not really suitable for a tiger. It is picked up from here and shifted to Sariska.

T 7 has been renamed ST 6. It has settled into a tiger reserve without any untoward incidence happening. Furthermore, it is reported to have fathered first litter of two tiger cubs in August 2012. Breeding has been successful after more than four years of tiger reintroduction programme. Sariska is no more jinxed. The tigers are breeding here and there is hope of their survival…

 

Pushp

Wonders of Kipling Landscape

 

 

Barnawapara Final

 

The time is passing by as we are driving around in the forests of Barnawapara in Chhattisgarh. Soon the Sun is setting. I am getting anxious by every passing moment. We do see a bison. It is inside the forest and shows only its bum and heads deeper inside the forest! There are few spotted deer here and there. No prize sighting as such.

 

Another reason of anxiety is fading light – I will not be able to shoot an animal, though of course, I may enjoy watching, if encountered.

 

It is 6.15 pm. Already twilight. I notice a large black bundle like stuff on my left about 100 metre inside the forest. I think I have made it. It is not difficult to decide it is a sloth bear.

As a first reflex action, I fish out my SLR camera with a telephoto zoom. It shows terrible poor light.  I increase the film speed from 200 ASA to 1250 ASA but still no chance of a shot. I soon remember that I still carry a Sony Camcorder in my bag. It captures light somehow in late evening also. It is an old baby gifted by my daughter, Chandni, about 8 years ago and I continue to carry it along out of habit, though using very little.

 

Luckily, the bear is in no great rush. It is still in sight. When I focus my video camera on the animal, it has started moving in the forest from left to right. Soon it decides to increase pace into run and hop along. It soon crossed the road. We can still see it now and again for about 200 metres inside the forest until it is hidden behind the bushes.

 

It is a good sighting. I am very happy. We congratulate ourselves for the luck. I thank the driver from managing it i.e. the selection of route and timing. I am relaxed for being able to make it, though I did nothing much except asking the driver to stop for listening to animals calls, if any.

 

I am sure, wildlife watchers would agree, sloth bear is difficult to come across. It comes out of its lair much later in the evening, virtually when it is night and retires before dawn!

 

In my life long experience of wildlife watching, I recollect seeing sloth bears in Sariska and  Ranthambhore and Himalayan black bear in Corbett, but always in night and generally at long distance – few glimpses here and there – No chance of photos.

 

I am, thus, happy to share with you this quarter minute crude video which will give the real feel of wilderness though you may have seen many good photos of sloth bear done by professional photographers in controlled conditions or spending ages with some semi-wild animal.

 

Barnawapara story does not end here. It is raining luck today. The forest guard sitting behind me says ‘sir ek or bhaloo, ulte hath per’. Even before, I look to left, the driver says ‘sir ek or bhaloo, right may’. So there I am confused – to look at a sloth bear on left or the other one at right! The one on the right is relaxed and sitting comfortably across us and easily eyeing us straight. No chance of any photo now – still or video – because of low light. One on the left is full of action. It is jumping around and soon makes a dash to cross the road to be on the side of one on right. It appears to be a pair, though frankly it is difficult to say. Soon we see both are together and exploring for the food around.

And do you know where we find these bears?  The first one has been about a 800 metres and the pair about 300 metres from a water pool called Bhallu Pani (Bear Pond)!

 

 

 

In fact, this forest or jungle is no different, and falls in the same Central Indian landscape as that of ‘The Jungle Book’ of Rudyard Kipling where the Baloo, a sloth bear, is among the important characters, and who is mentor and friend of the main character, Mowgli.

 

Well, expecting to see Mowgli as well, will be asking for too much.

 

Pushp Jain