Summer arrives but tragedy and change continues – By Kay Tiwari

Mahua Flowers - the flowers used for making central India's finest alcoholic nectar - Mahua (c) 2014
Mahua Flowers – the flowers used for making central India’s finest alcoholic nectar – Mahua (c) 2014

It’s now summer in Bandhavgarh. The Mahua is falling and the jungle in flower as the bamboo looses its green shroud and drying leaves litter the forest floor. Though the days remain hot and the night only just a little cooler it is unusually cloudy right now as the unseasonal threat of rain continues to hit central India.

It’s been a tough year so far with Tala unrecognizably quiet regarding its big cats and especially the tigers. Though it still offers all the history of this magical place and the beauty of it’s scenery few are interested in the animal treasures hidden deep away and pure chance to see. The prey base is certainly more settled than last season with little in the way of alarm calls ringing in the hills and the gaur too have calved again but for the visitor the tiger has become an elusive ghost.

Trya takes a long drink (c) Kay Tiwari
Trya takes a long drink (c) Kay Tiwari

It is said both Tulsi the Milchaini female and Jaya the Rajbehra female are about to litter, perhaps they already have. Sightings of these two tigresses have been few this season as they move alone their families either grown and moved out or sadly vanished. Jaya has been the lucky one with all her four surviving to separate and challenge for territory. Trya is seen frequently these days on the edge of her mother’s territory seemingly settling in between the Sukki Pattia tigress and her mother with Ondrila nestled close by too. She’s been seen in the company of several different males including O1 and her brother Johnno but these boys are wandering alone now avoiding conflict with older stronger males that search her out!

For Johnno, Murphy and Crumbie it’s a tough time as little is seen of these three now and it will be interesting where they might pop up next? We are all wondering which tigress has or will take Chakradhara, could it be one of these two sisters or perhaps Nalini has already claimed it? Some have seen a secretive tiger in Chakradhara claimed to be a tigress but Somanshu is also still around and being as elusive as any cat might be. He’s seen in Magdhi too but thought to make his way back to Chakradhara for a bit of peace and safety. Who ever this tiger is it will be a mystery revealed one day, the phantom of Chakradhara will one day be recognized!

As to the new male in Tala, Bamera’s nemesis, he’s hardly ever around let alone seen. It seems he’s done his business and gone home to Kalwah Range or has he? With Tulsi and Jaya pregnant and Wakeeta with cub in Banbehi there seems little reason to remain in Tala these days. Better to follow the young females in Magdhi! Certainly males are seen in Magdhi but neither this new boy known to some as Mangu or Chinkoo here or Jobhi  have been spotted in weeks if not months. At present it’s the two Mahaman brothers now three years old that have taken up the cause and are disturbing life in zone two. Both these boys are seen right up to Sukki Pattia and O2 has even been spotted disturbing the tigress Yoshila though she made short work of throwing him out. O2 is quite a character and has even thought to have tried his luck at mating with Y6 daughter of Yoshila, while O1 spends more time tracking Trya or following his mother Ondrila about around Mahaman.

Ondrila seen recently alone - Sighted evening after 5pm at Sukki Dam in Magdhi zone. Ondrila I9. (c) 2014
Ondrila seen recently alone – Sighted evening after 5pm at Sukki Dam in Magdhi zone. Ondrila I9. (c) 2014

As to Ondrila she’s been spending time with Bamera male, Shashi hidden away in the closed area. She seems content with his company though he still steals her kills and scraps take place. For poor Shashi times are tough but he’s still hanging on in there as seen on a video recently posted on TN facebook! Perhaps Ondrila is carrying his last ditched attempt at fathering cubs though the Khitauli male Tarun or Bheem is also seen crossing to Tala these days and may perhaps father her next litter? For sure Jobhi is not in the area recently and FD workers say the young male O1 was the last to be seen sharing a meal with Shashi, not literally but in the same area and in the knowledge of each other. Shashi is hardly old at approaching eleven so he’s in for more troubles no doubt if he can’t get rid of that terrible limp.

Shashi is not the only aging tiger being challenged for space right now either. Recently Indrani was spotted in Khitauli without cubs sadly (what has happened to them is a mystery?). She had made a cow kill, fully compensated thank goodness, but she is carrying a swollen fore paw which looks quite painful. I have a feeling this is a recurring old injury just as Shashi carries but she seems in control and at 13 years old it will be doubtful she will mother again so can feel content she just has herself to look after. Poor girl she has had a tough time since her partner Shaki/Bhoka’s departure I hope she can live out her old age safely somewhere. As a secretive tigress seeing her is a real treat one of the few old faces left, Tulsi being the next oldest tigress at 11 years of age. It’s sad to see the old faces disappear now this park changes its characters so often due to the sheer pressure for space!

While these old characters struggle it’s been heart warming to see both Yoshila in Magdhi and Haimi in Khitauli doing so well. For Haimi all her three cubs have survived the monsoon of last year and at around 16 months or more are doing really well. This tigress is a wonderful mother considering she has a territory greatly disturbed by villagers, a dream to spot though her cubs are really very shy even at this older age. This must be a product of living around human habitation no doubt. Yoshila has a new litter seen quite often now and growing fast. She has become Indian’s favourite tigress in Bandhavgarh for now as she in fact has the only litter of small cubs around in at present.

The reason for this is the sad news that Wakeeta in Banbehi lost one of her cubs in a snare set for meat poaching and a second has seemingly vanished! So Wakeeta has suffered losses yet again and is moving with just one small cub and though they are sometimes seen she is certainly keeping her diminished family close by her side and well hidden much of the time. If Tala and Bandhavgarh do have the patter of tiny feet echoing in the hills we all may have to wait till next season to glimpse new faces born to Tulsi and Jaya. Let’s hope Bandhavgarh is more settled now and that the continuing deaths are ended. Life goes on but in these beautiful hills it’s been too quiet for comfort and regeneration is greatly needed. It will come we just need to wait and keep our fingers crossed the wars of this big cat world are over, for a few years at least?

Credits: Tiger Nation 

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The Bandhavgarh update. New season – Old story by Kay Tiwari

Early morning misty over Chakradhara meadow - As the season starts Bandhavgarh is green and fresh after the nasty Hud Hud cyclone (c) 2014
Early morning misty over Chakradhara meadow – As the season starts Bandhavgarh is green and fresh after the nasty Hud Hud cyclone (c) 2014

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

Vijaya's 2nd litter before the monsoon and her untimely death (c) Shivang Mehta
Vijaya’s 2nd litter before the monsoon and her untimely death (c) Shivang Mehta

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.

Magdhi update

A misty Magdhi zone forest (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari
A misty Magdhi zone forest (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari

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

Haimi - The resident female of the Damdama area hasn't been seen recently(c) Sriskandh Subramanian
Haimi – The resident female of the Damdama area hasn’t been seen recently(c) Sriskandh Subramanian

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

Death of a youngster – Another Challenger? by Kay Tiwari

T8 on right with his mother Tulsi (c) 2014
T8 on right with his mother Tulsi (c) 2014

After the untimely death of Vijaya there are many who love Bandhavgarh, now spending hours mulling over concerns as to which tigress might take her space and the future of her one remaining cub. With little news forthcoming from the Forest Department these days it is very difficult to say anything concrete. It’s a game of wait and see as usual.

Tulsi with her three cubs in June 2013. One now missing and one dead. (c) Kay Tiwari
Tulsi with her three cubs in June 2013. One now missing and one dead. (c) Kay Tiwari

Also many are wondering which male tiger actually died back in July after a nasty fight. It was reported as a male cub of the Milchaini tigress, called Tulsi, but of the remaining two which is actually dead?  Is it T7 or T8?  T6 had already vanished earlier in the season, fate unknown, presumed killed in the continued male struggle that has hit Bandhavgarh.

Two brothers of the original three. Tulsi's sub adults in June 2014 (c) Kay Tiwari
Two brothers of the original three. Tulsi’s sub adults in June 2014 (c) Kay Tiwari

Neither male had been seen regularly during the season due to Tulsi’s continued cleverness in keeping her tribe well concealed. However when sightings were made a little of their individual characters were becoming apparent. T7, being less shy than his brother T8, was more curious and interested in the tourism attention of which T8 basically tried to ignore – as his mother so often does. For T7 the attention seemed fascinating. Both boys clung to their mother often walking close by her side rubbing up against her enjoying the security she offered. Never before with a litter had Tulsi kept her growing cubs so close. Even at 18 months of age she was reluctant in leaving them alone for long, feeling it necessary to keep the two remaining boys within her sights and high in the hills away from marauding young males travelling long distances from kill sights and moving her family regularly to secret places away from danger.

 Of course as the cubs grew older demands on their mother would have grown. Food would have been for ever on her agenda and therefore the constant fear of an unknown and unwelcome intruder at the table. Not only was Tulsi dealing with her own family struggles supplying food for the father of the cubs, presumed to be Shashi, she was also dealing with several youngsters. Pushpraj and his brother Kanvar who had caused her stress the previous season were continually following her in the hope of food. Somanshu, Vijaya’s son from Chakradhara on occasions made an entrance and the very fiery visitor from Magdhi, an complete unknown has recently turned up to add to the trauma.

T7's right flank. May 2014 (c) Kay Tiwari
T7’s right flank. May 2014 (c) Kay Tiwari

In fact it was this unpredictable male that by the end of the summer was regularly seen in Milchaini and many believe that it is this male that is now causing the chaos while Pushpraj has vanished from sight having been accused of decimating his mother Wakeeta’s second litter, his own step brothers and sister. At the same time Somanshu has holed up in the slightly more peaceful area of Chakradhara/Barua Nallah and Banbehi/Ghorademon. It is therefore being presumed the aggressive Magdhi male killed the cub in July or at least injured it during a fierce fight. Another story however reports that actually the elephant Astam killed the injured cub after it attacked from behind by applying pressure to its trachea when forcing it down by his trunk? The truth is we at TN will probably never know the true facts or the reality of which tigers were involved.

The jungles keep their secrets from prying eyes.

 Anyone have any other news?

Credits: Tiger Nation 

 

Blue Eyes

1A very handsome but shy young male, a complete stranger, now stalking the Magdhi area, with brilliant blue/green eyes. Where has he come from? Who are his parents? The eyes must provide the clue.

Age:5 years old (adult)
Code:M8
First seen:November 2011
Gender:Male
Notable marks:Blue-green eyes

2Blue Eyes remains a mystery to us, having suddenly appeared this spring in the Magdhi area of Bandhavgrah. Could he be descended from another famous cub, B7, born to the tigressBachchi in 2001, who also had blue-green eyes? It’s quite probable.

It’s also possible that he is the brother of Mukunda, and therefore is already coded as C10, but the photographs of the cubs to support this are not with Tiger Nation. He could also be the cub of the Mahaman tigressIndrani, but again hard to corroborate without hard evidence. The father is almost certainly Shaki (also known as Bokha) as they both have very similar stripe patterns.

3Blue Eyes is believed to be about 3-years-old, so not yet in his prime and might therefore have a hard time trying to settle into the area he presently occupies, with an aggressive and more mature male, Jobhi, making a strong bid for this territory.

Follow young Blue eyes and see if he can keep his patch – and continue the blue eyes into another generation.

If you have photographs of cubs in the Magdhi and Khitouli range over the last three years, we would like to see them. Can you help? Contact us here

These Life stories have been brought to you by Kay and Satyendra Tiwari, and involved twenty five years of passion, note taking and intelligence while living on the borders of Bandhavgarh Reserve. Read their blogs and diaries here.

Credits: Tiger Nation 

Khitauli Zone update, winter news by Kay Tiwari

A watering hole in Khitauli. (c) Anand Madabhushi
A watering hole in Khitauli. (c) Anand Madabhushi

The Khitauli zone update of Bandhavgarh

Summer has finally begun in Bandhavgarh after months of weekly rains during a long cool winter. Though the temperatures really never dropped that low cloudy skies and moist air have disrupted much of the normal animal behaviour expected as the water pools dry up across the forest tracts. Khitauli itself is normally pretty quiet during the early part of the season as the few tigers that roam the tourist area criss cross within open and closed boundaries. However, much was expected in Khitauli this season with the Damdama female seen mating with Mukunda last summer and he himself generally quite visible and confident as a settled male tiger.

As it turned out this was not to be when the park opened. With water located in every nook and cranny and villagers still grazing their cattle on the edge of the zone, prey is scattered far and wide and disturbance a daily routine for the predators. Some visitors have been lucky and sightings lots when leopard, bear or tiger are spotted but several days have gone by with all but pugmarks and alarm calls to satisfy the eager viewers. Personally the tension and thrill knowing a predator is hardly yards away and has been roaming the very roads and tracks man is treading is magic enough and it is important everyone appreciates the secret nature of animals in their world and so wonder at the final glimpse when it indeed comes.

The tigresses

Haimi - The resident female of the Damdama area of Khitauli range quenches her thirst on a blistering hot summer afternoon. (c) Sriskandh Subramanian
Haimi – The resident female of the Damdama area of Khitauli range quenches her thirst on a blistering hot summer afternoon. (c) Sriskandh Subramanian

Haimi. the Damdama tigress is as wonderful as ever when she is seen and displays a calm nature. She’s pretty clever too as it is only recently she has been seen with three cubs at her side having kept the secret of their existence for at least three months!  In contrast, news did break in early February that on one occasion a tigress was seen with small cubs literally playing and sitting on the road! The question is now was this Haimi or Indrani as Indrani too has recently been confirmed moving with at least two cubs by her side. It is wonderful news that both visible Khitauli tigresses are supporting new families both most probably fathered by Mukunda.

At one point last month one of the tigresses was spotted with a swollen leg and limping and elephants were sent to investigate. Unable to locate the tigress no one knows which one this was and it is hoped any injury has been resolved. Certainly recent sightings have not indicated any further limp or injury. Cats have an amazing ability to recover and all await a further sighting of both tigresses as summer progresses in order to evaluate ID of all cubs in tow.

The male tigers

The unidentified male tiger of Khitauli (c) 2014
The unidentified male tiger of Khitauli (c) 2014

For the male tigers of the area information has also been mixed. All thought Mukunda would become the King of Khitauli and show his beautiful young face willingly and often, but he has not been positively identified even moving in the area he occupied last season. In fact it is a new male tiger that has been spotted here and there, a tiger of no clear lineage, an unknown though he is probably Khitauli born or even an Indrani lost boy! This tiger is shy and elusive often slipping away to hide at the sound of vehicles approaching. Even one single vehicle annoys him and it is vital all vehicles entering Khitauli wishing to see the handsome young boy allow him the space and patience to make the first move rather than crowding him and getting too close. If this tiger is to be the new ruler of the Khitauli tourism zone he must be allowed the freedom to settle with as little disturbance as possible.

This male tiger’s presence could be the reason Haimi and Indrani are keeping their cubs carefully hidden much of the time though there has been news that Haimi was indeed seen with her new cubs and a male present. Could this male but the father Mukunda I wonder? Hopefully summer will reveal the answer to this question and his status in Khitauli. Only last year Haimi lost her old mate Mangal and was getting to know Mukunda and now with him an uncertainly she would not want to deal with a third suitor in just twelve months! It seems all three zones in Bandhavgarh are dealing with male uncertainty right now with the presence of as many males as females across the park.

Things will settle but it will take some time; Khitauli does not want to see the death of another tiger family as has happened to Wakeeta this winter when she has lost all four cubs.

Finally, as usual Khitauli offers good deer and antelope spotting with groups of sambar and nilgai the norm and plenty of chital around the Damdama area and visiting the pools dotted on the village edges. Leopard are seen and so too sloth bears at times. Birding is good too with a scops owl nest on view and plenty of woodpeckers active right now. More good news echoes across the forest with a recent sighting of the large Dhole pack (wild dogs) seen moving in the area again as summer temperatures begin to rise and the forest drops its leaves!

Khitauli indeed is offering up its bounty again this summer.

Credits: Tiger Nation 

Pyari

1One of the Grande Dames of the last decade in Bandhavgarh, at age 15 Pyari, (also called the Chakradhara female) will see her legacy continue in the park’s future offspring. She has mothered five litters and a total of seventeen cubs, the majority of which reached maturity.

Although moody and unpredictable, Pyari was an amazing mother and her legacy will now live on in Panna Tiger reserve too – where her daughter Heera (P13) was recently relocated.

Age: 18 years old (adult)
Code: S1
First seen: Unknown
Gender: Female

2Born in 1996 to a litter of three cubs, Pyari was the daughter of famous tigress Sita and charismatic, aptly named male Charger.

Together with her sister Reshma, they were to fulfil their destiny as matriarchs, giving birth to a total of over 35 cubs between them.

For the majority of her life, Pyari has occupied one of the prime areas of the park, the Chakradhara meadows and forests near the fort and the fort plateau.

 By 2000 she had had her first litter of two cubs with the dominant male, Sundar (B2) – her constant companion, protector, and what we believe to be her only successful suitor over the next decade.

Her second litter in April 2002 was to prove very successful too, with three future breeding females, Lakshmi (P4), Indrani (P5), and Durga (P6).

 Her third litter of three cubs only survived a few months before they died from mysterious causes during the monsoon rains.

Soon after in 2004, Pyari had her fourth litter of which her daughter, Bhitri was eventually relocated to Panna Tiger reserve in 2009 to replenish numbers. This daughter now has cubs and her legacy will live on far away from her original home. Pyari’s son from this litter – the enormous Shashi (P10) – was to enjoy great success as well, becoming the dominant male of the Tala Range.

Few tigresses survive long enough to raise five litters or more but in December 2008, Pyari gave birth yet again, this time to three sons and one daughter.

 Of a total of 17 cubs, 13 lived to maturity, filling the park with their own progeny – proof that when tigers have access to water, prey, and protection, the population thrives.

 However Pyari’s popularity among visitors to the park was tarnished when in March 2010, she was accused of killing a young village girl who was collecting Mahua near her village, prompting the Forest Department to keep her young family under increased surveillance.

3She is thought to be now living out her dotage in a new and somewhat quieter area of the park – the Ranchcha area of the Khitauli range.

 We’re looking for more information on this tiger. Know more? Get in contact here.

Mother of mothers and grandchildren, Pyari, she must be gone now! (C) Kay Hassall Tiwari
Mother of mothers and grandchildren, Pyari, she must be gone now! (C) Kay Hassall Tiwari

These life stories have been brought to you by Kay and Satyendra Tiwari, and involved twenty five years of passion, note taking and intelligence while living on the borders of Bandhavgarh Reserve. Read their blogs and diaries here.

Credits: Tiger Nation

Shashi’s move into dangerous ground by Kay Tiwari

By Kay Tiwari

Shashi is hidden from view in the lentil field under the watchful eye of the elephant and mahavat (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari
Shashi is hidden from view in the lentil field under the watchful eye of the elephant and mahavat (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari

Shashi, the Bamera male, recovering from injury from recent fighting is in dangerous territory. He entered the Sarai village close to the park boundary and behind Damna village. He limped into a villager’s courtyard home where he has killed two tethered cows, not feet away from its brave inhabitants, who got up and harassed the brute with sticks, while Shashi dragged the cow into the cover of the villager’s lentil field where he settled down to fill his aching belly.

Out of sight Shashi, unhappy to have been so disturbed in his killing field, filled his belly, while the angry villagers began to gather and wait for the police and Forest Department to attend to this alarming situation.

Village crowd gathered when Shashi entered the village (c) Satyendra Tiwari
Village crowd gathered when Shashi entered the village (c) Satyendra Tiwari

Satyendra and I were informed of the tiger in the village by a guide whose sister lived there. We drove to the spot not knowing for sure which tiger was the antagoniser. By the time we arrived it was just after noon and the park’s elephants had arrived from Hardia as well as the Police Superintendent from nearby Manpur town. No one other than the mahavats and elephants had arrived from Bandhavgarh because technically the area is under the jurisdiction of Manpur town.

On arrival Satyendra talked to the police and SDO in charge. It was their thinking to leave Shashi to his meal and drive him back to the park with the elephants later in the afternoon on a full belly. (Nobody likes to harass an angry and hungry tiger after all) The considered option to tranquilize and move Shashi back to the park was dropped even though the park vet and suitable transport had already been called for.

Shashi visits a pool for a drink while being herded back to the park boundaries (c) Satyendra Tiwari
Shashi visits a pool for a drink while being herded back to the park boundaries (c) Satyendra Tiwari

An injured tiger, who gets used to the easy pickings of food far beyond the park boundaries is enough to give all protection staff sleepless nights.  They know that such tigers are likely to disappear without trace, as many do on the Eastern periphery of the park, if measures are not put in place to protect village communities and their livestock.

At three pm just after Satyendra had decided to leave the crime scene, Shashi re-entered the same house again. Exactly why no one really knows, but perhaps he was seeking some shade or water.  Satyendra sped back to the area again to find staff in a real quandary as to what to do.

In the end it was decided the tiger should indeed be driven back towards the park and the elephants where asked to get on with the process. Shashi, unused to the fuss and the imposition of the herding elephants, faced them off, but retreated at his own pace after some mock charges. With the perpetrator now out the way, the carcasses where rapidly buried and a tethered goat rapidly bought from villagers to tide Shashi over during the night within the park, so he would not think too wander back into the heart of the village again.

An elephants and his driver, together with a policeman stayed all night watching Shashi as he settled near a shallow watering spot. Other staff and attendees slept – more comfortably – close by at Hardia forest camp.

Sadly, with Shashi under intense pressure from his maturing son Pushpraj and perhaps other young males I would doubt this will be the last the villagers will see of him. For the park authorities these are worrying times; soon it will be the Mahua season when villagers pread far and wide across the buffer forests gathering the colourful flowers for the annual brewing of Mahua alcohol. Hopefully this recent disturbing event will not affect Shashi’s fear or antagonism to men and woman on foot. Very laid back in attitude he has never been a tiger to fear when out walking but if he now continues to spend much of his time outside the park he will certainly come into contact with more and more disturbance and increasing antagonism from his human neighbours and his very own protection force.

Shashi is on a dangerous and rocky road.

Credits: Tiger Nation

 

How we are counting tigers by Kay Tiwari

By Kay Tiwari

Mist across the Fort plateau during census week (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari
Mist across the Fort plateau during census week (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari

On 20th January the first phase of the census count of tigers began in Bandhavgarh, part of the biggest ever tiger census in India. Though it was not freely advertised anyone could request permission to take part in the transect walks through the forests of MP. I therefore requested permission to take part on the two mornings of 24th and 25th January 2014.

I was placed with the Beat Guard of Shesh Shaya Beat in the Chakradhara of Tala Zone, Gita, a female Forest guard in Bandhavgarh and she was accompanied by a young trainee presently at the Training School here, named Uma, plus three watchmen from various camps in the area including Khriki and Sita Mandap. We were required to gather information on two different transects across the Chakradhara area, each walked on differing mornings. The information gathered included species count seen, vegetation identification within various quadrants along the path, also tree species seen and their numbers and also work out percentages of the various vegetation, dead, dried growing etc. If scat was found it had to be collected as did pugmark traces and plaster casts if possible. Any sign of scratch marking or scent marking by tigers was also important to note with photograph of course and so too signs of other large predators or bears etc. It was going to be very interesting to do.

Apart from the obvious chance to walk in unknown areas it was also a good opportunity to see the work of the Forest staff in action and understand the procedures involved and the difficulties of working in the field. As the weather was dull, rainy and misty there was little opportunity to see much wildlife apart from chital deer, a few sambar and the odd wild boar and peafowl but it was interesting to talk to the staff and learn more about medicinal herbal plants and how the locals use the jungle vegetation for various purposes from inducing child birth to treating malaria. It was also interesting to hear that when the forest were thicker and less wheat grown in the area ancestors would collect the seeds of the bamboo flowers and grind them to a flour and make a kind of roti bread from this source.

As the transect was walked the staff noted tree species and noted down GPS readings at certain points where animals were spotted and what distance away they were located. Though on the walks undertaken, one behind Ghiriaya tank, a square water tank cut into the bedrock hundreds of years ago, past Ram Tulia pool under the Fort plateau and across Shesh Shaya Road to the Kila turn and a second across the ridge looking towards Khriki and down on Ghorademon there were no actual signs of tigers presence or any other big predator for that matter. No scat or pug marks, no claw markings or feeding points other than the presence of skeletonal remains of old bones of deer. In fact it was after finishing the transect of the first morning that we heard alarm calls below behind Gopalpur and were alerted to the presence of a tiger. Vijaya’s pugs of the morning were spotted on the road down towards Chakradhara from where we were heading towards the Vishnu statue and we headed to see if we might glimpse her.

Being quite an elusive tigress she is rarely spotted by the staff on their walks and though visitors might see her the forest workers actually get less chances of spotting tigers on their work day duties. Any chance excites any dedicated staff and Gita loves the tigers that live on her beat. As we slowly walked down and waited on the edge of the grasslands of Chakradhara there was little thought we as a team of seven on foot might see this tigress. Calls of sambar rung on the hillside and all thought her gone. As the vehicle headed to collect us and we walked down the road I spotted movement near the junction to the watchtower and there was Vijaya walking on the road. She had just crossed from behind a small hill and now stepped on the road for a second. All the girls of the party saw their tigress and Gita radioed the sighting in to headquarters as we watched her disappear on the hill behind the watch tower and vanish from sight.

Walking in the forest was indeed a rewarding experience. Not only does the thrill of seeing a tiger on foot carry something special in your memory but being 500 meters above the roads one normally ply in the jungle adds a unique perspective on the importance of the Bandhavgarh forests. For the staff who accompanied this small party of just two female volunteers this is an everyday job. The terrain can be difficult and the weather unforgiving at times but the joy of walking this special earth must be amazing. I will certainly volunteer to do this again. For me it offer insight into where the tigers of Tiger Nation roam, where there watering places are and caves are hidden and also the places where their prey are tracking. These factors are important when talking tigers to visitors to Bandhavgarh and the opportunity to know where secret springs are hidden and footpaths is essential to learn. However next time I will remember Bandhavgarh’s ticks, tiny pinhead like irritants are not fun to live with for days after. Does it matter that much?  I would say no because the chance to walk in Bandhavgarh is unforgettable.

Also it is important to appreciate from the staff’s perspective the hard life they lead and the work they do. It might appear idyllic but there are hazards too. One may never know if there is a tiger or bear around the corner and those tiny pests that we all forget, they are simply something else, itching as I am right now.

Credits: Tiger Nation

Vijaya. “Who deserves to be the father of my next litter?”

By Kay Tiwar

Jobhi? Could he be Vijaya's next protector? (c) Sandeep Dutta
Jobhi? Could he be Vijaya’s next protector? (c) Sandeep Dutta

Since the beginning of the new year the skies in Bandhavgarh has been slate grey with occasional rumbling storms or days of unrelenting drizzle, enough to keep tigresses like Vijaya indoors and out of sight.

There is little news of the one-eyed tigress. She continues to remain elusive. Rumours had suggested she would appear with a new family at the beginning of the New Year, but no hint of such happy provenance has been forthcoming.  Forest guards suggest that she is not even pregnant, yet her maternal-like behaviour in December suggested otherwise; that she had indeed given birth and was hiding both her den and her youngsters from prying eyes.

It’s not unusual for tigresses to take ‘time off’ between mothering litters, but mostly it is to do with their own security concerns, for a dominant and stable protector is critical to their success in raising cubs to adulthood. It’s a problem that Vijaya is wrestling with at this very moment.

Shashi (Bamera) has stopped entering Vijaya's territory even though he was father of her last cubs (c) Anand Mudabhushi
Shashi (Bamera) has stopped entering Vijaya’s territory even though he was father of her last cubs (c) Anand Mudabhushi

Who can Vijaya now look to as the father of her next litter?

There has been no sign of the mysterious Rahasy for months and neither the broad chested Jobhi nor her previous lover Shashi have been spotted in her prime homeland of the Chakradhara meadow recently, though they are both moving on her territorial borders. Add the threat of Pushpraj, Wakeeta first son to the scene. This young man, could indeed father a litter himself and he is tracking everywhere right now, even being seen in Chakradhara on more than one occasion, but stable and secure he ain’t.

Pushpraj - a threat? Still too young to be a serious contender for Vijaya's affections. (c) Satyendra Tiwari
Pushpraj – a threat? Still too young to be a serious contender for Vijaya’s affections. (c) Satyendra Tiwari

Has Jobhi come to the conclusion that he has enough on his plate in his Maghdi kingdom  and decided he simply cannot cope with more wives in his harem. Besides he is having to deal daily with young intruders in Magdhi and Khitauli, ensuring he neglects his Tala borders.

Vijaya is playing the waiting game. The questions she needs answering is ‘Who deserves to be the father of my next litter?’.

Credits: Tiger Nation

Wakeeta (Banberi Female)

Wakeeta’s life has never been easy. After her mother died while Wakeera was still a teenager, she has survived to establish her own territory and is with her second litter after raising her first litter to adulthood. Can she do the same again?

0 Wakeeta, or “beautiful flower in Hindi was born in Banbehi along with her sister and two brothers. One of these male cubs died at a very young age due to illness. The family was the fifth litter of prolific mother Reshma’s (S2) who raised an incredible 16 cubs to adulthood. Under the protective eye of charismatic male Sundar (B2), Reshma gave birth to three litters of his cubs.

1Reshma raised the three cubs until they were about 17 – months -old when she tragically died in mysterious circumstances in early May 2009. Reshma left behind Wakeeta, her brother (R16) and her sister still only coded as R18 to fend for themselves many months before maturity.

2Wakeeta survived her mother’s death, and blossomed into a beautiful and petite female and establishing her territory in Banbehi and Amma Nallah as well as outside the reserve. Her siblings however vanished and we do not know what happened to them.

In 2011, Wakeeta was found in a distressed state by forestry workers. A Poisoned goat left outside the park was suspected as the cause of her illness and the Forest Department tranquillised her and administered antidote. Wakeeta recovered, dashed off back into the jungle, and lived to tell the tale.

Wakeeta's firts litter, big male cub W1 and her little girl W3 (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari
Wakeeta’s firts litter, big male cub W1 and her little girl W3 (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari

By the end of April, she had given birth to her first litter – two males and a female. It’s difficult terrain in which to spot her cubs, who she keeps close by, but she is well on the way to mothering them to adulthood and independence – even though her lazy male cubs (W1 and W2) keep hanging around for free meals!

Wakeeta heavy with milk for her second litter of four cubs, crossing near Lakhumar meadow (c) Shiv Kumar Tiwari
Wakeeta heavy with milk for her second litter of four cubs, crossing near Lakhumar meadow (c) Shiv Kumar Tiwari

In March 2013 after being seen with her suitor, Shashi, a second litter was born with four cubs. Soon one was noticed to be very weak, a runt of the litter and died in early November 2013, and then a further cub who was also not getting enough to eat was also found dead a week later. These life stories have been brought to you by Kay and Satyendra Tiwari, and involved twenty five years of passion, note taking and intelligence while living on the borders of Bandhavgarh Reserve.

Credits: Tiger Nation