Goodbye Machali, Rest in Peace
It's with great sadness that I received the news today, August 18th 2016, that Machali passed away at 9:50 am (Indian time) as a result of extreme old age. She was born during the monsoon months of 1997 making her an incredible 19 years old. In her prime she occupied the beautiful lake area of Ranthambhore National Park for about 10 years, defeating all rivals including a few crocodiles! Many of the pivotal moments of her life were captured on film / video, making her the 'star' of four wildlife documentaries. The fame these films created for her and Ranthambhore attracted large numbers of visitors eager to see Machali, the lady of the lakes. She's widely accepted to be the most photographed wild tiger ever, and it's been estimated that Machali's fame directly contributed $10 million to the local economy surrounding Ranthambhore proving beyond doubt that tigers are worth more alive than dead.
When Machali was born Ranthambhore National Park was experiencing a poaching crisis with the tiger population desperately low. She survived this period and went on to successfully raise 4 litters of cubs, many of whom went on to produce cubs of their own. With the increased protection against poaching being provided by the forest department, Machali made a major contribution to repopulating the park with tigers. At the time of writing, Ranthambhore National Park has about as many tigers as it's capable of supporting, which is an incredible turn around. Today her daughter (T19) and granddaughter (Arrowhead) occupy the lake area and continue to enthral visitors. Her legacy in Ranthambhore is huge and so is the well of love and affection for her amongst the park staff, the guides and drivers who saw her so frequently and of course the wildlife lovers and tourists who were immediately captivated by her beauty.
I was lucky to encounter Machali on several visits to Ranthambhore, but the first was the most incredible. We met her in the early evening walking along a dirt track toward our vehicle. She was establishing a new territory after being evicted from the lakes by her powerful daughter (Sundari, T17). Machali was scent marking and roaring loudly. As she passed our vehicle my chest was resonating due to the power of her roar - it was quite literally breathtaking. We were in complete awe of her and It was love at first sight.
In other encounters, I, like most other regular viewers of tigers, was struck by how calm she was in the presence of vehicles. If you excuse my anthropomorphism, she seemed to know that everyone was there to see her and would always look directly at each vehicle in turn providing everyone with intimate eye contact. She was the ultimate model.
Despite having become a recluse in her last couple of years, living on the fringes of the park away from younger more powerful tigers, her passing will be keenly felt by all those who have watched her life over the last 2 decades. The queen may be dead but her offspring and descendants continue to roam freely through Ranthambhore and are also a critical component in the re-population of Sariska National Park.
Our first sighting