10 different tigers from 11 drives in the park....
........ a new record for our group.
So ended our shortest visit to Ranthambhore. In a week when sightings across the park were hard to come by, we managed to see a tiger on 8 or the 11 game drives with ten individuals seen, three of them new to us. The stand out moment was the fantastic encounter with T39 which provided us with wonderful images, closely followed by the sighting of Machali who we simply adore. At almost 18 years of age Machali has been defying the odds since the first time we saw her. In recent months we've seen several images of her looking emaciated and at one stage it was thought she might have died as she'd not be seen for a few weeks. Thankfully her condition looks very good at the moment and if it's the last time we see her again we will have great memories of an old but healthy cat. However, one gets the feeling that she might still be there next year providing her grand children do not bother her too much.
Three of Machali's grand kids are living in close proximity to her in the Kachida valley and as these sub adults mature they may well push their gran out of the area. We saw two of these subadults, a male and a female, and both are incredibly nervous in the presence of vehicles. The fact these young tigers are here at all is a credit to the Forest Department of Ranthambhore who had to raise them from about the age of 9 months after their mother (T17) disappeared, presummed poached. Had T17 lived then no doubt she would have taught them not to fear the people in jeeps as she was incredibly confident around vehicles and even used them for cover when hunting deer.
The biggest disapointment of the trip was the Forest Department closing Zone 3 to all visitors, as T19 and her 3 cubs were there. While this is a laudable reason it strikes me as a failure of management. With a little bit of thought and minimal deployment of resources the zone could have been keep open with no risk to the young tiger family. Zone 3 is the heart of Ranthambhore, its lakes and stunning vistas with ancient ruins is the very essence of the park. No visit is complete without seeing this beautiful area. It also contains abundant wildlife and tiger sightings are often from distance across the lake, so at a safe distance from the cubs.
Far greater flexibility and common sense management was in place for T39 when her cubs were first sighted and today (June 1st), Dicky Singh posted the most exquisit, intimate images of T39 carrying one of her cubs. Sensible management of this situation has allowed stunning images to appear that will capture the imagination of people in India and across the globe. It will raise the profile of Ranthambhore as well as get the plight of the tiger into the international media again. Just wait for the inevitable picture story in the Uk's Daily Mail.
Anyway, rant over. As ever our visit to Ranthambhore was fantastic and huge thanks are given to our guide Mahesh who has the uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. Huge credit is also due to the men on the ground who's job it is to patrol the park and keep its tigers safe. See you all next year.