Jan 18

Lions and Tigers, Who Rules the Jungle?

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.

African Lions, Mating Pair. Serengeti, Tanzania. 2018

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?

Tigress Kill. Ranthambore, India. 2018

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!

Male Tiger. Kanha, India. 2018

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.

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Dec 17

Tiger Safari Kanha India Part 3

Tiger Khan. Kanha, India. 2017

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.

Tiger Tongue. Kanha, India. 2017

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.

Tiger Fun. Kanha, India. 2017

We followed him for for an entire hour and he was so much fun to watch.

More Tiger Fun. Kahna, India. 2017

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.

Sher Khan. Kanha, India. 2017

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Dec 17

Tiger Safari Kanha India Part 2

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.

Chandra the Tiger. Kanha, India. 2017

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.

Chandra Poses. Kanha, India. 2017

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.

Chandra. Kanha, India. 2017

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.

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Dec 17

Tiger Safari Bandhavgarh India

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.

Sunrise. Bandhavgarh, India. 2017

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.

Leaping Tiger. Bandhavgarh, India. 2017

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.

Sisters. Bandhavgarh, India. 2017

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.

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Dec 16

The Tigress of Ranthambhore

We traveled half way around the world to photograph tigers at Ranthambhore National Park. This fantastic location in Northwest India offers some of the best tiger viewing in the wild. Even so they can be elusive, we had heard stories of photographers coming here and not having a single tiger sighting for several days. We were with one of the best guides in the park so we felt good about our chances. A good guide and a positive attitude make all the difference.

Spotted Deer. Ranthambhore, India. 2016

Spotted Deer. Ranthambhore, India. 2016

On our first outing it was really quite beautiful to see a large buck, standing up to it’s shoulders in a lake munching aquatic plants and herds of spotted deer. Beautiful but not why we were here. We also saw monkeys, wild pigs and the occasional crocodile. As the afternoon wore on, the light became magical. In combination with the animals and 10th century ruins that dotted the landscape, the light helped created a fairytale landscape. Darkness began to fall and we’d had no signs of the elusive tigers.

The next morning we were up before dawn. Our jeep was the first through the ancient stone gates and into the park. Almost immediately we were greeted with fresh tiger paw prints and the alarming howls of monkeys. Monkeys are the first to see these predators due to their high vantage points in the trees and excellent vision.  Our guide was very methodical in tracking the big cat. Judging by the prints, it was a female, a tigress. Stopping every few minutes to examine the ground and listen to sounds, he narrowed the search to a section of jungle that was inaccessible to our jeep. Maybe she’ll continue to move or maybe she had already had her morning kill and was bedding down for a nap. For the time being we set off in another direction to explore other known tiger territory and discussing our options.

Borrowing a little from William Blake and a little from Hindu religion, Christy came up with a mantra in an attempt to induce a tiger to reveal itself.

“Tiger Tiger Burning Bright, Carry Durga Day and Night”

Stalking Tigress. Ranthambhore, India. 2016

Stalking Tigress. Ranthambhore, India. 2016

We all joined in the chanting. Within a few minutes we came across another guide stopped in his jeep. A tiger had been spotted about a kilometer up the road. We kicked up a big cloud of dust as we took off toward the sighting. Slowing to a crawl we pulled along side two other jeeps. Their camera shutters were clicking away, lenses pointed across a gulley through the jungle undergrowth. I didn’t immediately see her but with some effort I spotted her head at least 50 yards away half hidden in the tall grass. She was intently watching a heard of spotted deer. Several minutes passed, then she stood and began to stalk, like lighting she was gone into the trees.

Christy, myself, the guides and the driver all looked at each other and chanted.

“Tiger Tiger Burning Bright, Carry Durga Day and Night”

Tigress with fresh Spotted Deer kill. Ranthambhore, India. 2016

Tigress with fresh Spotted Deer kill. Ranthambhore, India. 2016

A minute later she reappeared, carrying a small spotted deer in her mouth and she was walking right toward us!

“Tiger Tiger Burning Bright, Carry Durga Day and Night”

Tigress cleaning her kill. Ranthambhore, India. 2016

Tigress cleaning her kill. Ranthambhore, India. 2016

We all held our breath, pressed our shutter releases and marveled as she walked past our jeep and continued down the road. She settled under a tree a little further along and began licking her kill. She stayed there for about five minutes before moving further away into denser cover. It was the most marvelous experience we had ever had. Our guides agreed and told us this was only the second time in 10 years they had seen this happen. Jai Durga.

Tigress with fresh kill. Ranthambhore, India. 2016

Tigress with fresh kill. Ranthambhore, India. 2016

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