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  • Smayana Singh

A Tiger's Tale, Ranthambore National Park

When I visited Ranthambore National Park, I had the opportunity to photograph a number of tigers as well as the chance to experience wildlife in a way which is so different from any other national park. With the Ranthambore Fort looking down upon us as we were on the hunt for tigers, Ranthambore is one place I would never miss an opportunity to return to.

Ranthambore is home to around 81 tigers as of 2021 and all of these tigers, including the ones which have passed away, having an interesting story behind their lives. I loved listening to these stories from our naturalists while driving through the forests since not only were they interesting but they also taught me a lot about the behaviour of tigers in the forests and what make them the perfect hunters.

One of the first Tigers we encountered in Ranthambore was Sultana. Sultana is a bold tigress who dominates Zone 1 of Ranthambore National Park. She is the daughter of T-39, Noor. Noor is a strong tigress who is more famously known as ‘The Great Mother’, having 4 litters, each consisting of 3-4 cubs!

Gracefully sitting on her throne in Zone 1 of the National Park, Sultana truly lives up to her name!

Another one of the tigress' we saw in the forest was quite a popular one! Arrowhead is a very dominant tigress in Zone 3 of Ranthambore National Park, which was first roamed by her mother T-19, and now rules the well-known lake area of Ranthambore National Park.

Arrowhead has two subadult cubs commonly going by the names Riddhi and Siddhi. Just in the way Arrowhead was able to take control of her mother- Krishna (T19)’s territory, giving herself the largest territory of any tiger in Ranthambore, she has often been seen, fighting with her two sub-adult cubs for territory. As cubs grow older, they tend to forget parental relationships and soon everything becomes a fight for more territory, and we will be left to wonder whether Arrowhead’s large territory along the infamous Ranthambore lake will remain her own.

Photograph of Arrowhead

Arrowhead named after having arrow like shapes on her head, is the granddaughter of Machli, one of the most well-known tigers in history. Machli was a tigress who was always comfortable in the presence of humans, distinguished by the clear shape of fish on her head, giving her the name Machli, which means fish in hindi.

Even though I have never seen Machli during my countless trips to the forests of Ranthambore, talking about her is second nature to all the guides and naturalists of the park. Even though Machli passed away in 2016 at the age of 20, her fierce personality and distinct face makes her the world's most famous tigress. Machli was known for her personality around humans, often seen sunbathing in the prime territory of the National Park, The Ranthambore Lakes. This made her ideal for documentaries and photographs, making many people come to Ranthambore just for her. One of her most remarkable stories during her time as a tigress was when she managed to kill a 14 foot crocodile. An example of her strength and resilience, she also repeatedly saved her cubs from male tigers who wanted to kill them so that the female could breed once again.

The most famous photographs taken of Machli are of her sitting within this small fortress at the banks of The Ranthambore Lakes in Zone 3 of the national park.

The next tigress we saw is also a descendant of Machli and one of Arrowhead's daughters. In fact, most of the tiger population in Ranthambore is Machli's descendant. She was even able to raise cubs when she was extremely old and had lost most of her canine teeth, making her a commendable mother.

These photographs of Tigress Siddhi, daughter to Arrowhead, is the perfect example of how a tiger can camouflage in the grass. Most often, tigers hide in the grass to hide from their prey, making it easier for them to catch them. The ability of their stripes to camouflage in the grass make the tigers one of the most powerful hunters of the area. Another key aspect of the tigers which make them powerful hunters is their ability to work out wind direction. Tigers always hunt in the direction of the wind so that their smell does not carry onto prey such as deer who have a strong sense of smell.

The next two Tigers we saw in Ranthambore were in Zone 10 of the National Park. While the Zone we had visited in the morning, Zone 3, was lush and green, Zone 10 was dry without any shade. Despite the dry and sunny conditions of the zone made it almost unbearable to be in for too long, this was by far one of the best safari experiences I had ever had. As soon as we entered the Zone, we saw, one of the biggest male tigers sleeping in the shade of a few trees just beside the path. Our naturalist told us that he would not be waking up for a while and that it would be smart to continue looking around the zone and come back to the sleeping tiger in the evening when the chances of him waking up were higher.

After leaving Jai in the same spot, we went around in circles in the zone trying to look for Basanti, another tigress who shares the zone with Jai. She had recently given birth to cubs and at the time having never seen cubs before, I knew that was the first thing I wanted to see. However, we had around 30 minutes left in the park and with no luck of seeing Basanti, we decided to return to sleeping Jai, only to find him in the same spot and the same position again! By this time a number of vehicles had crowded around Jai and on arriving, we had to stand on the seats of our jeep to get a good view. Not being a fan of crowds, especially in the forest, our car reversed out and with less than 30 minutes to spare went on the search for Basanti once again. However, as soon as we got to the place where we had waited prior to seeing Jai for the second time, I saw the freshest tiger pug-marks I had ever seen and I knew Basanti had come out. We raced to follow the pug marks when we saw her. Basanti was just walking ahead of us on the road. It has to be the best tiger sighting I have ever had in my life. Just our jeep and the tigress, walking with big strides to a waterhole where she sat down to bathe.

Here are some photographs I took while we were following Basanti through the zone!

Additionally, while we were on the hunt for both the tigers, our guide told us some interesting stories about both of them!

Jai is a big male tiger who roams the tenth zone of Ranthambore National Park. Although, zone 10 has a completely different terrain from the other zones of the national park, being at the edge of the forest has its perks. We saw Jai asleep behind a rocky wall, enjoying the few shady spots in the scorching afternoon heat of Rajasthan. Jai is known to be a ferocious tiger. At a point, the largest tiger in Ranthambore, called Fateh, roamed the area of zone 10. Jai and his brother were cubs when Fateh roamed the territory however, when they grew older, the fight for territory began. Jai’s brother was the first to fight the big tiger. However, he did not win the battle and unfortunately, met his end during it. Jai, after the death of his brother, was afraid of facing the large tiger and so carefully planned his attack in order to gain more territory. One fine day, when Fateh was fast asleep, Jai quietly made his way through his territory and attacked the sleeping tiger. Jai was victorious in the fight and soon gained the territory he had been wanting since he was a child. Jai now roams his territory as one of the strongest males there.

Male Tigers are often harder to spot in several national parks for a number of reasons. While some may say that it is easier to spot male tigers due to them being more bold, having the confidence to lie down along roads and walk up and down them. It is often said that it is in fact harder to spot male tigers since male tigers often occupy larger territory of the forest than female tigers, giving the male tigers a larger land mass to trot over, thus making them harder for tourists to see.

Here is a photograph I took of the sleeping tiger, Jai.

Basanti is the female tigress who roams zone 10 of Ranthambore national Park. Her favourite place in the zone is a small man-made waterhole where she enjoys sitting to cool herself down from the heat. When we visited Ranthambore National Park in March 2021, Basanti had recently given birth to cubs. Due to being born very recently, Basanti, never really took her cubs out often and was only sighted alone. The father of these cubs was Jai, the big male who roamed the same territory. We saw Basanti walking ahead of us and then sitting down on the water hole to enjoy the sunset which descended upon the forests of Ranthambore. Being the mother of newly born cubs, there are many things that a mother tiger has to do in order to look after her cubs. When they are newly born, a mother tiger often leaves her cubs in a safe place, away from either tigers or people who may disturb them. These places could include lantana bushes or small caves. If a female tigress does need to navigate through the forest with her cubs, her cubs look at the back of her ears and use that to follow her around the forest. Tigress' need to be careful since male tigers often try to kill the baby cubs so that they can get the female to mate with them again, even if it is their own cubs.

Photographs of Basanti, in the man-made water hole where she commonly sits.

With the temperatures in India increasing to levels never seen before, it is important to understand the significance of these waterholes to the animals of the forest. The survival of a number of animals is becoming more and more difficult especially during the biting heat of India’s summers. Tigers resort to quenching their thirst at nearby watering holes or stepping inside them to cool down. However, with water scarcity and global warming becoming ever growing problems today, it is not often as easy said than done. Many tigers find it hard to cope with the hot Indian summers and without regular filling of these watering holes and lakes, their survival is threatened.

It is almost shocking that there is only less than 3000 of our national animals left all over India, and so, I am sharing these stories with you so that we can raise awareness about the wondrous characteristics which these animals have, making them so different from any of the other big cats in the world today! It is up to conserve the tiger and make a difference to the wildlife of India by ensuring their survival for without them, our country will not be the same.

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