Bandhavgarh has awoken from one of its cruellest and most tragic seasons with continued losses of felines over the monsoon period. I cannot help but mourn the death of Vijaya and her three small cubs as I have traversed around Tala Zone. It is impossible to ignore the beauty of the forests and hope for a better future for this tiny enclave of scenic wonder where some of the very last surviving wild tigers still roam free.
After a virtually non-existent monsoon apart from a severe flooding back in early August, only the rains of devastating Cyclone Hud Hud, that swept through just days before the park opening on 16th October and laid a dampening hand to the vegetation that now flourishes here. For this season flowering is a little late and both the grasses and undergrowth appears thick and colourful against the dull leathery leaves that await fresh growth after the winter cold. It is many a year since I have seen the meadows of tall elephant grass looking so splendid dotted with pink cocks comb flowers and an abundance of different grasses in full bloom. Though this colour will not persist for too long as winter takes its inevitable hold , it brings much needed hope that all is well in the heart of Bandhavgarh.
Amongst the animals in view right now are all the deer species plus nilgai seen in both Magdhi and Khitauli and a fair number of wild boar with last summer babies trooping behind. The sambar are looking beautiful, the males crowned with new antlers and females either heavily pregnant or accompanied by youngsters. It is interesting that they are seen regularly down from the hills, a real sign of a poor monsoon where hill water is already scarce. Even a few Gaur have been spotted in Magdhi, one handsome looking lone male and an older female being just two of those sighted recently.
All quiet on the Tala front
The rather unfortunate news is that Tala zone remains eerily quiet. It’s still too soon for a young tigress to have come upon the prime territory of Chakradhara and taken it over. Besides Jaya’s four sub adults are moving in the opposite direction and are still seen together even at their mature 30 months of age. This is interesting as all females are now marking territory and obviously eager to find male company even though they have not yet secured territory.
Jaya however is seen alone in the heart of her territory in Rajbehra trying to keep her last litter at bay. Has she already delivered a new litter or is she pregnant? This news is eagerly awaiting and we must wait a little longer before we know for certain. Meanwhile in Milchaini, Tulsi has been seen alone, so what has happened to her third boy during the latter part of the monsoon? We know a second cub died due to conflict but where is the third boy? Of the third tigress in Tala the irrepressible Wakeeta there is little news. Though pugmarks are seen she remains elusive and it is suggested by the FD that she (or her sister who has entered the park – though I doubt) has cubs around Sita Mandap in an area out of bounds and now encroached after the death of Vijaya. For Wakeeta these could be good times ahead if she cuts deeper towards Chakradhara and creates new territory for herself. Time will tell and we must await confirmation of this news.
Male lie of the land
With the male tigers, actions are less certain, though two, possibly three males have been spotted so far.The first was seen in Ghorademon and there is definitely a very shy male moving in the Eastern section of the park that was also seen mating recently by the mahavats out patrolling. So is this Pushpraj or the mystery male of Magdhi? Yet another unsolved story. A second male has been seen in the Jhorjhora Rajbehra area as well as in Magdhi but no one is sure which? The feeling is it’s Jobhi – as elusive and clever as ever – but one needs pictures to help solve this puzzle because it seems there is a look alike in Khitauli Magdhi too? Could this huge young male be Jobhi’s son by Ondrila. If it is, he is massive and will certainly cause trouble if he remains about.
Up in Magdhi Yoshila has been spotted in the heart of her territory around Sukki Pattia and is reported to have cubs though no one has seen yet and interestingly one of her daughters is moving in the same area spray marking and generally moving across a considerable range. There have also been rare sightings of Ondrila recently too but moving alone with no signs of cubs in tow.
Khitauli – a human sadness
Finally, in Khitauli only one male tiger has been spotted plus several bears and leopards and even wild dogs but as yet no tigresses supporting cubs. So where are Indrani and Haimi and their litters? For Khitauli monsoon was tough and sadly after several human deaths and a nasty retaliation from the community, two more young male tigers are confined to the Magdhi enclosure. Hopefully these two tigresses will pop up soon or we may be mourning the loss of yet more tigers in Bandhavgarh.
So for now Bandhavgarh is calm perhaps even settled after the chaos and deaths of last season. We must remain optimistic that as the season progresses more magic will be revealed and our old friends will return.
For now though the leopards are prowling the tracks !
Credits: Tiger Nation