We have had the opportunity to spend time on safari in East Africa and Central India were we’ve had the rare pleasure to see and photograph African Lions and Bengal Tiger in their natural environments.
Both large cats are absolutely magnificent, they are in fact the two largest cat species alive today. An adult male African lion can weight as much as 550 pounds or 250 kg while an adult male Bengal Tiger can weigh as much as 700 pounds or 325 kg!
I asked our naturalists and guides while on safari in India who would win in a fight between an African Lion and a Bengal Tiger. Without hesitation the response was “tiger, hands down”. Why were they so sure?
A tiger is larger and heavier than a lion and tigers have the largest teeth of any cat species. Lions hunt in packs called prides and their prey typically weighs up to 1200 pounds. Tigers are solitary hunters and their average prey weighs around 900 pounds. Both are carnivores and a tiger will eat anything, even other tigers!
One of our tiger guides told us a story about a young male tiger that went into the territory of an older male tiger and they had a huge fight. The younger male killed the older male and ate every last bit of him. “it happened right over there” the guide said pointing to a small hill in the distance.
We had been having good luck. With the exception of our first day at Bandhavgarh, we had great tiger sightings every day. Curiously, all the tigers we had seen were female. A male tiger sighting was conspicuously missing. Thankfully that was remedied in the fading light of the last hour of our last day.
He was a large 8 year old male and he was quite the character. We noticed he had an injury on the front of his left shoulder.
We followed him for for an entire hour and he was so much fun to watch.
He had a long name and number so we started calling him Sher Khan after the tiger character in “The Jungle Book.” Truly he was the king of the Jungle.
There was a tiger who roamed the hill top and she was a ghost. Our naturalist Partha told us that this was the tallest hill in Kanha. He said that from time to time there were paw prints that would be seen on the roads and paths that crisscross the area, the hill was rather remote, and the roads were rarely used. This tiger was talked about among the rangers and naturalists but all that was known was that she was a solitary female.
We had been driving and tracking all morning and the day was warming up. The ranger traveling with us suggested going to the top of the hill not so much in hopes of spotting a tiger but precisely because it was remote, peaceful, had great views and maybe if we were lucky we would see something. The road was windy and steep and none of us were thinking we’d see any tigers. We were thinking about lunch and bush breaks.
We stopped for a moment and there was absolute quiet and stillness. Suddenly the ranger pointed “tiger!” and there she was, maybe 20 yards ahead. Christy and I reached for our cameras and watched as she lay down in some tall grass and began to roll around. She was about four years old and very beautiful. We followed her for a few minutes while she patrolled and marked a tree or two before retreating into the jungle.
The ranger knew the area well and speculated that she was headed to a water source further down the hill so we followed the road for a while and turned right at a fork. Continuing downhill we met a busload of local children being taken for a tour of the park, the were adorable in their smiling faces and matching hats.
Continuing to track, the ranger knew exactly where to stop. there was a small break in the foliage and he said this was where she would come out. A few minutes later she did.
We had a little more time with her before she again went into the jungle. I asked Partha what her name was and he told us she was very shy, rarely seen and didn’t have a name. Apparently in Kanha many of the big cats had numbers instead of names. We decided to give her a name and looking at her markings I suggested Luna for the moon shapes on the top of her head. The Hindi word for Luna or moon was Chandra, we all agreed this was a good name. From that time forward she became Chandra.
We arrived at the jungle in the heart of India in the dark, and we could hear and smell the sound of the insect and animals, grasses and vegetation all around us. We were warmly greeted at the Samode Safari Lodge by the wonderfulful Priyam and Naturalist Anshuman and taken to our room. There would be a 5AM wake up call and we needed to be on wheels at 5:30. The goal was to be in the Bandhavgahr Tiger Preserve by 6AM. The morning was not as cold as we expected even with the wind whipping at our faces in the open air jeep.
Bandhavgarh is a fairly large tiger preserve which lies in the heart of India and by all accounts, it offers the best tiger viewing in the wild in India. Tigers are native to India so I suppose that makes Bandhavgahr the finest place to view wild tigers in the world. We were informed by Anshu that there were over 60 tigers in the preserve and their population was growing, this was fantastic news. Tigers are beautiful animals and my favorite of the large cats. Last year we were very fortunate on our tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park in Northern India to see a spotted deer kill by a young female named Arrowhead. This was very rare and we were honored to experience it. We shared this information with Priam and Anshu as well as some of our photographs and this set the bar fairly high, but Anshu was confident we would have a great experience on our Bandhavgarh safari.
On our first full day we spent 13 hours in the field, drove over 200km and didn’t see any cats. The activity of the cats was unusual, there were very few signs of activity from any of them. The naturalists and local guides were discussing this and speculated that there had been a large animal kill up on a ridge and the tigers had congregated there and would stay put for the entire day. We did however see Giant Wood spiders, Golden Jackals, monkeys, bison, a hunting cat and a Kingfisher. All beautiful and wonderful to see.
Our second day began similarly with a 5AM wake up call. We were up and read to go in record time. We were positive and certain this was the day we would see tigers. It was a colder morning and I had to wrap my hands in a blanket to keep them from stiffening up and getting too chilled. When we entered the Preserve, Anshu saw that there were fresh tracks so the tigers had come down off their perch and things were looking up. Knowing this information, we decided to head over to a water source that a family of tigers was known to frequent. As we drove up there were a handful of safari vehicles full of people photographing like mad.
The tigers were here! Anshu spun our jeep around and backed into the group, we were slightly to the side and uphill of the tigers and we had great light. There were four tigers, a mother named Spotty and her three female cubs. It was an incredible sighting. We watched and took photographs as the tigers jumped and splashed and played for several minutes. When they were done playing, the tigers leisurely walked by us, sprayed a tree to mark their territory and disappeared into the jungle.
We didn’t see any more tigers which was a little disappointing but it was all right because we had had such an amazing experience. The day was beautiful and just being out in nature enjoying the jungle, fresh air and sunshine was wonderful.
Yesterday I was pining for the days of black and white photography. This is probably because I’ve been looking at all the new mirrorless cameras being released which got me thinking about monochrome rangefinder photography. While I don’t miss mixing chemicals or the smell of stop bath I do miss the emphasis monochrome places on tonality, line and shape. It’s a different aesthetic. So, I began going through my library of images to find one I could convert to monochrome. A little while ago I did a black and white conversion on one my landscape images from the high steppe in Central Asia using Silver Efex Pro and I think it came out pretty nicely. For this African elephant image I chose Agfa APX 100 film grain since this was an emulsion I had used quite a bit and was familiar with it’s qualities. In addition I used a glass plate emulator for the vignette and antique look.