A tiger cub lost – a male tiger found by Julian Matthews

Hosnara (T30) the residential tigress of the Jail kho area of the park and T71's mother - is one of the lesser known and photographed ones. (c) sriskandh
Hosnara (T30) the residential tigress of the Jail kho area of the park and T71’s mother – is one of the lesser known and photographed ones. (c) sriskandh

Keladevi Sanctuary, the northern portion of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is not known for its ideal wildlife habitat, because although it makes up almost half of the reserve’s official borders it is infact home to numerous villages and thousands of cattle, making it less than ideal for an elusive predator. In fact in 2012, it was officially credited with only one tigress living within its boundaries.

T71 as a youngster with mother and his siblings. (c) 2012
T71 as a youngster with mother and his siblings. (c) 2012

The fact that T71, the three year old male tiger, a cub from Hosnara’s (T30) third litter who lived in the little visited area of Lahpur in the eastern Khandar region of the park, has been photographed by camera trap proves the male squeeze that is happening in this part of the park, now full to bursting point with tigers, though the new census out this month will provide the real evidence.

Male tigers generally do have to move away from their original home ranges once they mature, and often spend years as nomads, trying to find suitable territory to oversee and live within. These male’s chances of survival are small, given that often they have to exist in and around human settlements and heavily cultivated farmlands, stealing they livestock because little natural prey now exists in these fragmented forest patches, carved up by roads and denuded of wood, and are very likely to be poisoned by angry or scared villagers or targeted by poaching gangs, who so often work in these unguarded landscapes, away from prying eyes.

T71’s existence mirrors the life of so many of India’s tigers today – with fewer and fewer forests capable of supporting the big cats.

Credits: Tiger Nation

Conservation Travel: Making Wildlife Worth More Alive than Dead

10423634_890502047638546_194122032229583249_nMaking Tigers more valuable alive than dead.

A fascinating 15 minute lecture on the ‘Tiger Economy’ and the extraordinary value of a single tigress to the Indian economy by the Chairman of TOFTigers, Julian Matthews at the ATTA World Summit.

Too Many Tigers?! Whose to blame? by Julian Matthews

Excited visitors follow one of India wild tigers in Ranthambhore, now completely habituated to the daily comings and goings of jeeps across their territory. (c) Aditya Singh
Excited visitors follow one of India wild tigers in Ranthambhore, now completely habituated to the daily comings and goings of jeeps across their territory. (c) Aditya Singh

NOW TOO MANY TIGERS ! 

by Julian Matthews

Too many tigers. Sorry did I hear that correctly? Once more ‘Toomany tigers in many tiger reserves now.’ says tiger expert, Dr Qamar Qureshi. This is the conclusion of the esteemed research scientists at the Wildlife Institute of India in late August.

Fantastic. Massive result; a beacon of light burns in the ashes of India’s dwindling jungles. Well done to all those involved and a massive pat on the back.

It was exactly two years ago that tourism was being accused of killing tigers and banned from operating by the high court for three months.  Yet here we are with burgeoning tiger numbers, and booming visitor number going to more and more parks than ever before, and it would seem that tigers are not suffering at all from the hordes of visitors to tiger reserves. Strange? Surely there is a correlation between the two?!

Let’s now look at why it has happened and what I believe are the underlying reasons for this. More government money is being thrown at the problem yes, and figures suggest its costing between US$900 and US$2000 per year, per square km, to support it. There is some excellent park management undoubtedly, better tracking and relocation; and the increasing numbers of villagers being removed from core areas, along with their livestock, which is allowing greater areas of the parks to become tiger friendly territory.

But it’s not only this, for I believe one major and hugely unappreciated, and a still institutionally unloved industry – nature tourism –  is also responsible and can take a lot of credit too and this is why.

Nature tourism creates the economic value that today’s forests need to survive the ravages of agriculture, the depletion of overgrazing, the exploiting of extractive industries and the chicanery of political machinations.

Nature tourism raises the voices of a few protagonists to a great crescendo of concerned stakeholders, turns the media spotlight and a visitors’ eyeballs onto once unloved forests, gets their guardians out of bed every morning, and makes civil servants accountable like no other force can. Importantly it is a massive behavioural change mechanism, turning many rural communities from wildlife antagonists to conservation advocates, creates jobs and enterprises where few were available and where no other prospect exists for these marginal farming communities, buffeted by wildlife conflict, to join the brave new modern India.

India’s nature tourism industry is already providing the very ‘glue’ that makes all the other critical parts of wilderness conservation sustainable in a modern world. It’s by no means perfect and it still needs minimum standard guarantees of sustainability from owners and operators, better land use planning, and a better understanding and partnership with many Forest officers, but it is providing the much needed bonding – the very sticky glue that makes long term forest conservation possible and viable, against a crescendo of calls for its destruction and development.

Yes, tigers cannot survive without their guardians, good management and large enough natural landscapes, but they will not thrive and expand without nature tourism’s invaluable economics, its visitors ‘hearts on their sleeve’ conscience, and its many stakeholders interest and activities.

Credits: Tiger Nation 

The ‘dancing star’ is with cubs again by Julian Matthews

The Fab Four. All female cubs (Lara, Geeta, Sonam & Mona) of Madhuri in summer 2012 (c) Atul Dhamanker
The Fab Four. All female cubs (Lara, Geeta, Sonam & Mona) of Madhuri in summer 2012 (c) Atul Dhamanker

Madhuri is one of the ‘faces’ of Tadoba. Together with the Panderpauni female called Bhala, helped to launch Tadoba upon an unsuspecting and uninterested world.

Madhuri, ever a star of the stage, actually means  ‘the dancer’ in Hindi, so named as she has perfected her own trademark, a short wiggle of the leg, and this was to keep her ever growing fan club happy.

Scarface & Madhuri together in summer 2011 besides Telia lake (c) Atul Dhamanker
Scarface & Madhuri together in summer 2011 besides Telia lake (c) Atul Dhamanker

The forests of Maharashtra had lain quite, unloved and overlooked till these two singular females took to the stage and began to feel comfortable with the few visitors who bothered to come to see their central Indian home. In 2010 Bhala had given birth to four pretty cubs in an open meadow covered area of the park, the Panderpauni meadows, and the flooding of Facebook of pictures of cute cubs ensured that the professional and amateur nature photographers of Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore suddenly took up their cameras and flooded Tadoba. A new ‘Tiger’ reserve was born in the public consciousness and a new vitality was given to the officers charged with protecting these forests.

Till last summer Madhuri kept the visitors entranced as her and her four gorgeous female cubs, Mona, Geeta, Lara and Sonam slept, shared, played, stalked and killed in and around the Telia lake and its ever changing shoreline. Chital deer and wild boar flirted death with their desire to eat the lush grasslands of the shoreline but most escaped the inexperienced ambushes of the young sisters.

Madhuri's four cubs, Lara, Sonam, Geeta & Mona drink from Telia dam. c) Atul Dhamanker
Madhuri’s four cubs, Lara, Sonam, Geeta & Mona drink from Telia dam. c) Atul Dhamanker

In the monsoon last year, while the park was closed, change was afoot. Madhuri’s cubs had all reached maturity, a feat of fine motherhood with powerful and loving support from their father Scarface.  Sonam one of more boisterous females has taken most of her mother’s territory, and Madhuri had decided to reside more in the dense mixed buffer zones of her forest territory, south west of her Telia dam region, an area now closed to visitors. Scarface had seemingly moved with her and still provides the security ever tigress seeks.

The good news is that Madhuri’s mothering days are not over by any means as a 8 year old, and recently Madhuri was spotted with four new cubs.

Could they all be female again?

Written by the editor with thanks for photos and updates to Atul Dhamanker

Credits: Tiger Nation

Madhuri (Telia Lake Tigress)

Left flank of Madhuri ID (c) Aditya Dhanwatey
Left flank of Madhuri ID (c) Aditya Dhanwatey
Right flank of Madhuri ID (c) Aditya Dhanwatey
Right flank of Madhuri ID (c) Aditya Dhanwatey

Born to be a star, she loves the attention it brings. Madhuri, meaning ‘the dancer’ in Hindi, has even perfected her own trademark, a short wiggle of the leg to keep her fans happy. This Diva is not going to be budged from her Telia dam area. She still feels at the top of her trade. Other tigresses are merely bit part players or simply tolerated visitors in her own ongoing drama.

Age: 8 years old (adult)
Name Meaning: Dancer – she waggles her back legs all the time
Code: L1 (Tad)
First seen: June 2006
Gender: Female
Notable marks: Falling leaves on her right flank
3Madhuri was born in 2006 and was always tolerant of visitors with her mother Laxmi in a prime area of the park, with her brother and sister.
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Madhuri and Laxmi, mother and daughter take turns in hunting a large sambar stag at Telia lake, the sambar being hard hooved would outrun the tigeress on the rocky soil and into Telia lake. (c) Aditya Dhanwatey

As her family grew up she spent a lot of time patiently teaching them the survival skills needed to carve their own kingdoms, and one perfect example of this was
well recorded, when her mother and Madhuri, spent 24 hours stalking and eventually killing a sambar deer besides Telia lake. It was battle of wit and nerve for both predator and prey and lasted right through the night, as the hemmed in deer got caught between Telia lake, a crocodile and the tigress and her daughter. The result was inevitable.

When Laxmi her mother left to have another family with Crooked tail, she saw space in the Yenbodi, Telia lake and Kosba dam area of the Moharli range. She bore a litter of two cubs in July 2010 with Crooked tail. Soon though Crooked Tail came under a challenge from Scarface, which he lost, and Scarface took over his territory. Scarface then killed her two cubs in March 2011, so that he could start his own family.

Further capture of Madhuri & her 4 cubs on the 5th Dec 2012 (c) Farooque Khan
Further capture of Madhuri & her 4 cubs on the 5th Dec 2012 (c) Farooque Khan

By September 2011 Madhuri had given birth to 4 female cubs in the Telia Pazar area. They grow up under her care and protect as a mother, yet she was, even when her cubs were young, comfortable showing them off to visitors. Often she would weave happily in and out of the admiring traffic on a dirt road, her cubs in tow, enjoying the feeling of a royal command performance as she strolled her way up the same road, a trail of fans in her wake.

Her second litter of cubs, now called Mona, Geeta, Lara and Sonam are now some of the best known and most often seen of the tigers in the park, in prime part of the Mohurli range, including the Telai Dam, Pazar, Kosba line, tar main road and Jamunzora areas.

Follow Madhuri here and she her on her nature’s stage.

These life stories have been brought to you thanks to the records, diaries and photographs of Atul Dhamanker and Aditya Dhanwatay over the last two decades. They have been written and edited by Julian Matthews.

Credits: Tiger Nation

What has the mahua tree got in common with the tiger? by Julian Matthews

normal_Homesteads_Pench_Kanha_corridorDrive 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 new Lady of the Lake

unnamedIn India’s most well-known tigerscape, with its backdrop of towering cliffs and fortress walls, ruined pleasure palaces, temples and chattris reflected in glistening lakes, a new generation of tigers has been born. Their mother, Unnis (T19), is the third tigress to occupy this breathtaking scenery in only four years. Unnis’s mother, Machali,  the grande dame of Ranthambhore lived here all her life, before her daughter Satra (T17) usurped her territory in 2011, only to disappear a couple of years later in May 2013  – in mysterious circumstances – leaving behind three young cubs.

Julian Matthews, Tiger-in-Chief

Credits: Tiger Nation

How to save the tiger – A vision for the future by Julian Matthews

Tiger Nation’s chief architect, Julian Matthews, has spent years travelling through India’s forests investigating the fate of its jungles and seeking dynamic solutions.

He believes India really can put the Royal Bengal Tiger back on the road to recovery. View here

Where has Machali gone?

by Julian Matthews

The last photo we have of Machali now moved to Phili Ghat. (c) Yadvendra Singh
The last photo we have of Machali now moved to Phili Ghat. (c) Yadvendra Singh

Machali, the legendary cover girl for her species and the ever present symbol of Ranthambhore’s place amongst the firmament of India’s finest tiger reserves, is missing. The authorities are in a mild panic.

Too famous to let die of anything other than old age, for over two years she has continued to live in and around a small part of her old stamping ground, the Lakarda plateau,on the borders of her once large and very royal hunting ground. Here she remained, while her last litter of daughters, Satra (T17) and Unnis (T19) remained close. She was fed so called ‘meals on wheels’, goats and buffaloes brought by jeep and tethered on a rope to eat, a sop to her age, but in truth she was, at the ripe old age of 17 years, still capable of killing her own food. She also kept her sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, grandsons and granddaughters – for she was grandmother or mother to most of Ranthambhores tiger’s – from evicting her from her retirement home.

Free food is very tempting, and many tigers could not resist dining at the same ‘meals of wheels’ banquets, including Unnis (T19) her daughter, her two grandsons Suraj and Akash (T64 & T65), and also Semli, the dominant male of these parts (T6). Like Machali herself they knew the sound of the Forest vehicle and the bleeting or bellowing of the next victim, and came to join the feeding party. Anger and fighting ensued, and recently Machali finally gave way and left her Lakarda home for another area around Pili Ghati.

This part of the park was relatively unoccupied by tigers, disturbed too often by illegal woodcutters. Though she is used to the comings and goings of a million pilgrims in her old home, and the thousands of vehicle bound tourists, she would be unused to the more random actions of woodcutters, and the noise they made. Yesterday the Forest department took action to evict the woodcutters and restore protection to the area and peace to her rest home.

She has though not been seen now since the 9th January by our teams, but hopefully peace will be restored to her new home, and she will come out of hiding. The search continues.

Credits: Tiger Nation