Drive through any agricultural landscape in Central India, as I have just done, particularly near a forest, and you will undoubtably see the only trees left in villages and fields are the Mahua trees (and mangoes). They’re beautiful, tall, broad canopied trees that offer shade and succour to a host of animals, both domestic and wild.
They are also the only trees left for a very particular reason. They have a distinct economic advantage, a very human one, over other trees that are seen as good only for firewood or building material.
Mahua’s are saved because they provide better quantifiable benefits as living and fruiting trees – in cash, and dare I say ‘alcoholic happiness’, to their human guardians, than they would do as chopped and burnt logs, their succulent flowers providing millions with a powerful liquor each year.
So too the tiger.
For most of the last two centuries the tiger was seen as a problem, hunted down as vermin, shot at every opportunity or simply killed for sport. He had little economic value as a living entity, much more as a trophy or carpet. Even his famed mythological and religious status failed to save him.
Today many of India’s tigers have enormous monetary value, just like the mahua tree – and the tables are finally turning in their favour.
In just a few places (still too few ) a tiger is worth far more alive than dead, to far more people than would realise, or even care, to admit it. Machali is reckoned to have generated US$110 million in good old cash, in her lifetime so far, in Ranthambhore alone, but her real value is five or ten times that, even without getting into Pavan Sukdev’s, ‘Economics of Biodiversity’.
The economic prosperity that he (or she) can now garner means that politicians fly across the land to see him, infrastructure is laid down to get near him, and tens of thousands of jobs are dependent on his continued reign in a few protected forests.
Finally, over the last few years in India, his huge and growing economic value can be weighted against other uses of his forest – for timber, for mining, for roads, for dams, for new building development and agriculture.
Almost overnight preserving his forests has begun to offer more of that grubby, yes cash, benefits to many more people, in our increasingly myopic short term world, than other detrimental industrial sectors would or could.
The weighing scales are tipping – and the maintenance of his life is now critical to the very stability and economic stimulus of some regions and their governments today – for the better.
To boil nature down to merely a ‘balance of trade’ hurts my very soul – but the pragmatist in me recognises it’s one of the key reasons tigers still live in India, and so few are left anywhere else.
Long live the mahua – if all else fails.
Credits: Tiger Nation
The Marthly Male leopard ascends a marula tree and steals a hoisted impala carcass from the Tutlwa female at Londolozi Game Reserve, bordering the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Filmed by: Andrea Campbell.
Tala Zone has never know such disruption and chaos as it has suffered this winter.
After our one eyed tigress Vijaya (Kankati) lost her two cubs last season it was thought quarrels would be settled after the monsoon but we were all were sadly mistaken.
As the season started all seems serene and calm but little did anyone know. Several males roaming Wakeeta’s and Tulsi’s (Banbehi & Milchani) territories would put pay to the tigresses quiet lives and that Chakradhara would be devoid of a resident male tiger resulting in Vijaya being without new cubs still!
Wakeeta’s sadness (Banbehi)
October and November started as normal as temperatures slowly dropped. Wakeeta was spotted with her new family of four small, but now six month old cubs. Sightings were short and infrequent and the cubs appeared a little thin but they were still with their mother and all seemed well. However, it was not long before the female cub of the litter was found dead and then the weaker of the three boys. Starvation was the official report but months later a third healthy fat cub was found dead mutilated by a male tiger and sadly the fourth cub has not been seen since. It would seem marauding and dangerous males were disrupting the peace of the Banbehi mother’s territory.
The blame for these cubs has been laid squarely on the big boy Pushpraj, the cub’s very own half-brother, a large three year old male that refuses to leave his mother and father’s territory. He was always the more forceful and aloof of the brothers, a loner that often snarled at his calmer brother Kanvar. His nickname has now become Pushy! Not only has he pushed his mother about and is constantly stealing her kills but he has also had a few rounds with his father Shashi. Shashi in these bouts seems to have come off the worst and though he has tried hard to push the boy out Pushy is holding his ground and simply offers a little space climbing the hills to seek refuge while Shashi heads towards the villages and indulges in a cow kill while licking his emotional and physical wounds.
However Pushpraj’s boldness does not end here. He has not forgotten the fact that he stole a huge sambar kill from Tulsi in Rampur last May and has persistently pestered her too. With her three young twelve month old boys in tow poor Tulsi has also had meals stolen and retreated to the depths of her territory to escape the anger of this young tiger. For Pushy it seems hunting for himself is too much like hard work when he can have free meals and gain a hold on prime territory and hassle two females too. One is his mother and the other his aunt, but staying to fight is more preferable than running the gauntlet beyond the fencing and the unguarded and unloved forest beyond. And besides as Pushy’s muscles and influence grows moving out into unknown territory beyond his Dad and Mom’s domain is not the right choice.
Shashi’s battleground with his son
Pushpraj’s brother, Kanvar, is nowhere to be seen. Has he disappeared or left?. No one is certain, and honestly would be welcomed back by his brother?? The ramifications of this for his father Shashi (Bamera male) are also tough. He has returned to his range of Banbehi and Sita Mandap recently after nursing the wounds from his son on the edge of his range. Can he hold on? This question will be answered soon for sure. Meanwhile as Wakeeta settles to life alone she can at least eat alone at times with no worries of finding enough for her cubs. Little is seen of her right now though she does make occasional appearances, she’s fine just bidding her time till the men get things sorted and sometimes sharing a table with her rather overbearing son.
Tulsi’s motherhood (Mirchani female)
For Tulsi things are a little more stressed at present. Her first priority is the safety of her three large sub adult cubs. A kill can hardly feed the family let alone this new addition to the household. She is keeping well away from Pushpraj if she can but having to give in if he turns up on her turf. And he’s not the only male that is pestering Tulsi. Somanshu has risen from the dead (originally declared dead last year) and has been seen annoying her and the family as recently as January and since then a third wandering young male has entered the fray out of Magdhi. For Tulsi the fight has only just begun and the heat of summer races in now. Soon she has to bring her family off the hills as water dries up in the heights so this tigress will have to beware or she too could lose a family to male and food conflict, just as Vijaya did this time last season.
Vijaya’s (Kankati) waiting game
Meanwhile back in Chakradhara Vijaya’s territory is quiet and still. A young male has been spotted but ID has not been possible. However it is thought this male is Somanshu. He has descended from the Fort plateau as a two year old, possibly thrown out by his mother. He is seldom spotted but has turned up as far afield as Hardia and Bhitri and is thought to be the male moving behind Tala village. For Vijaya life is easy. Rahasy has simply vanished, and her lover and guardian Shashi never returned to claim here and her territory, so all she has to do is look after herself nowadays. It is not thought to have fallen pregnant – but rumours abound? The once highly visible Vijaya is today seldom seen, content instead to wander her territory and enjoy a singleton life – there is plenty of food on her rich table.
Finally, there is Jaya (rajbehra female) in Rajbehra though she is as often in Magdhi these days. Her cubs are almost two years old now and mostly independent of their mother. They have grown fit and strong with their mother’s care and attention. Johnno is huge and so too the independent female Crumbie. The four are often seen together on kills provided by mom though all will soon be seeking pastures new. Summer could bring plenty of activity in the meadows and at the waterholes that dot this tigress’s territory now the trees and bamboo drops their leaves and cover thins the dense Sal forest. Jaya is a beautiful calm tigress and we await news of a second pregnancy with baited breathe but will also hope at least some of her first litter youngsters will succeed in their last path to adulthood?
Bandhavgarh’s other life
There have been few leopard sightings though their presence is known and so too sloth bears. Plenty of pugmarks littered the road in December but by New Year all had vanished. Hopefully summer will bring them out to forage and drink.
As to the prey base of Tala zone and in fact the whole park, that seems in question right now with all tigers on occasions feeding on cows but that’s a complicated issue and perhaps one for others to debate.
Bringing 50 wild gaur to the park may not have helped provide extra prey as hoped but it has certainly given another species to view in the one small herd that remained in Tala zone as the bulk of 40 cattle headed into the quickly fenced Kulwah range. This season I have had many more gaur sightings than I have had of tigers and that can only be the result of young testosterone fuelled conflict that still rages across the beautiful jungles of the Tala Range of Bandhavgarh.
Credits: Tiger Nation
The waiting game is over. For two whole months Ranthambhore’s tiger royalty kept the world on tenterhooks. The big question on everyone’s mind was just how many cubs had Unnis had?
Her last litter was three. Would she have more or less this time? He bulging udders and tired demeanour over the last month suggested the tiny brood was keeping her busy, but today we know just how busy. Four mouths busy!
At about 7 weeks old, now able to trot behind their mother, Unnis decided it was time to move her brood to a new home, and so she set off with her litter in tow, always watching, always wary, but leading the way, while her cubs tired visibly behind her.
Unnis, often called Krishna now, is an experienced mother who has been down the motherhood route before. She brought up her last three cubs to adulthood (Chanda T63, Aakash T64 and Suraj T65) in a less visited part of the park, while her sister Satra (T17)played the fairy princess in and around the lotus covered lakes and ruined palaces of her well visited kingdom. Sadly Satra’s love tryst’s with her two jealous guardians, the mighty Satara (T28 or Star male) and neighbouring Dollar (T24) sadly ended in her leg injury and eventual disappearance, and it was into this empty realm, now bereft of her sister, which Unnis boldly stepped and claimed as her own in the early summer of 2013.
Exactly who the cubs’ father is, it is impossible to tell without DNA analysis, as she flirted outrageously with both Dollar and his rival Satara, but given she now lives in the realm of Satara, he must believe they are his progeny. Her survival and that of her young family depend on this dodgy conviction.
This morning, as the summer sun’s rays began to cast their warmth upon the ever drying ground, her young family reached the Rajbagh water’s edge. Without hesitation she transported each one-by-one with her soft mouth by their loose neck fur across the shallow lake to the other side, where they watched patiently under the eye of her oldest son Aakash (T64) , while the whole family were so gently whisked across the waters and could continue to where their mother was so keen to resettle her family.
Unnis feels that her birthing den’s security had been compromised by a leopard nearby, and was no longer suitable protection for her now adventurous brood, but a new home was soon occupied and made fit for purpose. It’s upon a mother’s keen instincts that a cub’s survival depends.
Written by the editor with Hemraj Meena providing photos and story
Credits: Tiger Nation
Esse é o décimo sexto programa de 2014 de uma série especial, apresentado por César Augusto, Adriano Gambarini e Mario Haberfeld, que terá novidades nesse canal todas as quintas-feiras. Vamos falar de habituação, fotografia e conservação das onças pintadas e de outros animais ao redor do Mundo.
Produção: Mario Haberfeld, Mast
Fotos: Projeto Onçafari, Mario Haberfeld, Adriano Gambarini, Diogo Lucatelli
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