Another Heera of Panna

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(Panna Forest)

I have arrived at Panna Tiger Reserve with family and friends in the morning. We are accommodated at Hinouta Jungle Camp. The Complex is at the edge of the forest and just next to entry gate. It is almost staying the forest.

Summer is at its top. The temperature is souring past 45°C. Sun is shining white. We start for the forest in an open Zypsy. Even at 4 pm it feels like burning. We are driving on Hinouta Plateau.

Udaimani Singh Parihar, the forest guard of the area is in the front seat. I suggest to him that let us go to denser parts of jungle first and later in the open parts to avoid Sun and heat, as much as possible.

The sharp eyes of Udaimani notice a leopard at the edge of the forest at one place. This has been least expected or thought of. He whispers about it. My wife, Sunita, sitting just behind him gets the hint first and notices the animal for a flash as it is entering into the undergrowth. None of us, Suresh Pant, Mrs Sunita Pant and me see the animal. Mrs Pant is terribly disappointed and so are Suresh and me. Mrs Pant starts complaining, and like a child she starts thumping feet. “Why I could not see?”

Though the leopard is gone but we wait. We are praying, maybe, it appears once again. And it does! For mysterious reasons, the leopard takes U turn from left side where it has gone and crawls in bushes in front of us and goes towards the forest on the right. Sheer luck!

Lot of excitement. Mrs Pant is bubbly and says, “My luck. I have seen tiger number of times, but leopard only once.”

This has been a matter of seconds when whole drama happens though it may sound like a long event. Nevertheless, an event this has been. I notice that the leopard is full grown, black circle dominating yellowish base; length including tail may be 7-8 feet. It appears to be a male. I realise there has not been time or opportunity for taking a photo.

We all agree that this has been a great opportunity and amazing surprise. We have seen the animal clearly and that too in broad daylight. I notice, this is only 4.30 pm. I wonder, “How can a leopard operate in broad daylight in core tiger area? Is the leopard very bold? Is there greater tolerance of leopards by tigers in Panna? Is there no tiger operating in this area? Or, probably, it is sheer chance.”

There is jubilation. We decide to stop at the first chowki and have some tea, biscuit, and namkeen. I generally keep all the stuff in my bag.

There is quite a bit of brooding over the sighting. Suresh Pant says “My visit has become more than successful with the sighting.” My wife claims “I have seen the leopard most, twice!” I add “This has been a really big leopard. See, how it moved with stealth.”

Suresh raises a fundamental question, “We all have the desire to see a tiger whenever visiting a tiger reserve. Leopard does not appear even in thought. The paradox is, it is more difficult to spot a leopard than a tiger.”

“Indeed. Why we miss giving importance to our second largest cat?” I wonder and I say, “Sorry my dear leopard, we will be careful next time.”

 

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Blood Stained Hands

“There it is”, Shashi Malik points out. Shashi is forester with huge experience of wildlife management. He is the first to sight it. The jeep stops with a screech. A huge male tiger is cooling itself in water saucer deep inside the jungle near Raiya Kassa crossing. The management of the Pench Tiger Reserve, where we are in, has created drinking water facilities for wild animals by way circular, cemented, 10-15 m diameter saucers for animals to drink water from in case it is not naturally available in the region. These saucers are filled by tankers as and when required. There are smaller saucers in areas where tanker may not reach. These are filled manually with hand pumps on one end.

The light is good. The tiger is in no rush. We take score of photos. Generally, it’s difficult to get time to shoot a tiger properly. The light may be bad. It may be hidden in bushes. The distance may be too much. It may be walking ahead and you are watching its bum…

We now wait for some different action or movement by the tiger. While we watch, Shashi notices red strains on the fore limbs of the tiger. These limbs are stretched out of the saucer while most of its rear body is in water. We all look closely, some with binoculars.  It is suspected that the limbs maybe injured. Tiger appears to be making limbs moment cautiously, more so, the left foot, added to the doubt.

The deputy director, K K Gurwani is with us. He gets worried. He knows that a new big male has recently taken to using this area. It has already pushed out another big male, famous as ‘BMW’, from the region.

There is always a possibility of territorial fight between the new one out to grab prime territory from the old established male, who is growing old.

Nevertheless, Gurwani maintains cool. He opines, “Maybe these are minor injuries. Such injuries, tiger is easily able to heal itself by licking. We will keep a watch.”

The discussion continues. Foresters decide that ‘A conclusion can be drawn when the tiger walks. If it limps badly, it will be matter of concern.’

We have been watching the tiger for half an hour but it is in no mood to rise and walk. In the meanwhile, local Deputy Ranger, Gautam Soni, famous man with about three decades of service for the Reserve has arrives. He can notice red strains with naked eyes. Deputy Director directs him to keep a watch and monitor the tiger.

We go around in the nearby area to see why spotted deer are making continuous alarm calls. There has been another tiger, or may be tigress, in the area. But we miss it.

Soon a message is received from Soni about the movement of the tiger. We dash to the spot. When reach, the tiger has left the saucer and we get a mere glimpse of it disappearing deep inside the forest. Soni assures us that all is well. There has been no limp in the walk of the tiger. The smart man has even grabbed video shot. We all see this and are reassured that there is nothing to worry.

A reanalysis of the mystery is done. It is felt that tiger must have made a kill and while handling the animal during feeding has soiled its fore limbs with blood. It is also discussed about the possible that tiger may have got brushes or minor injuries while hunting and tackling a strong animal. In any case, it is not Shakespearean blood stained hands in literal sense.

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