Friday, September 16, 2011

Shaki Amongst Flowers in Mahaman and The Two Milchaini Boys at Play

It is now mid September 2011 and another season will start by mid October. So just wanted to share last seasons report and add that Lakshmi's boy is still seen in Ranchcha hopping over the fencing and visiting various properties. In August the pair, he and his sister, were seen on our land in Ranchcha village. Awesome. I have always wanted to see a tiger on our land but not quite seen it yet. Maybe in 2011-2012 season, one never knows? Little other news to share right now but will not be long before we have a better idea of how the park is fairing after the monsoon, which by the way has been good and in fact it still continues to rain pretty well every day right now!

Am attaching my last photo of the season taken in mid June. Its one of the Milchaini family. Did actually have a later sighting of one of these three on 30th June the last afternoon of the season but was a bamboo tiger walking away amongst the chaos of vehicles. It was a free afternoon for locals after quite a few years and many lodges, guides and drivers took their workers and families including we who took Mun Mun, Mahi and all! Was just a pity our staff had gone walkabout that day.

2010-2011 Seasonal Report

At this very moment in Bandhavgarh it is pouring with rain! It is 20th June and it has not rained like this in June for many years. In fact 2010-2011 will be memorable not just for the tiger attics that have occurred but also for the unusual weather visited upon the park. It has certainly been an unusual season!

The 2010 monsoon was late and poor resulting in the finish of the rains by early October. This meant the best of the seasons weather occurred at the start of the season with a pleasant November and early December. However late December turned extremely cold and January 2011 was freezing literally! For the first time ever there were air frosts that left frost on roves in the village and stunned the sal trees in the park. For a week or more in early January temperatures at night were below zero and the trees and meadows suffered resulting in considerable damage to growth in the Ghorademon hills, Kanoji and all the meadow areas. After several years of dry summers and monsoons what more did the park have to suffer.

Summer came early resulting in a hot March and very hot April followed by weeks of 40 degree plus Celsius temperatures in May. Trees again suffered and the meadows had little growth or come back after the grubbing out of weeds, ferns and elephant grass by the forest department in favour of more palatable grasses. Then came early rains! Most welcome I would say but they totally destroyed sightings. The first rains hit late the first week of June and by mid June rains were heavy and continuous. And it continues to rain now, the ground is soaked and the lush green of the bamboo and grasses returning fast.

As to the season for the animals and specifically the tigers. This has been interesting too. No season is the same as the last or the next which is what creates the ongoing fascination. There have been many changes this season in the tiger population as old loved tigers fade and disappear and youngsters take over. All change for a new decade!

Firstly, the Chakradhara tigress Pyari left the park in early summer 2010 and never returned. She and her three cubs resided in the Ranchcha Doba area till monsoon closure while they were being monitored by elephants but nothing has been heard of her since. Satyendra and I were privileged to see the whole family on 6th June 2010 fit and well probably the last sighting by anyone other than villagers or forest staff. Let us hope one or more of these tigers survive somewhere but it is impossible to say for sure as to their fate?

The second sad loss this season occurred on 5th March when Lakshmi the Chorbehra tigress was found dead and partially eaten. For several months she had been in conflict with the new young tigress daughter of Durga called Vijaya. Vijaya had taken over Chakradhara and driven on by the offer of free cow meals left for the limping Lakshmi had decided Chorbehra and Dhobiakhol was true heaven. So since monsoon these two females were at war. Lakshmi desperately protecting her two cubs as best she could with her ongoing injury and Vijaya extending her territory. The two constantly fought and even Vijaya got injured in the process causing irretrievable damage to her left eye. However it was Vijaya who won in the end killing her rival and securing new ground. The two cubs being pushed across the main road to the Khitauli Range and Ranchcha.

So Bandhavgarh lost a beauty. Lakshmi at 8 years of age was dead. One of the most classically beautiful tigers I have ever seen and such a gentle serene tigress gone. Driving past the spot in Barua Nallah where she was found is still heart breaking and will probably always be. However I favour the fact she died in her home because after the event the Director informed Satyendra and I that it was the intention to remove her and treat her leg once the cubs were matured. I doubt after three or more years of damage she would have returned to a free life.

So what of the tigresses that remain in Bandhavgarh? The oldest survivor is Chameli now 11 and pushed far back into Magdhi by a new younger tigress probably a daughter? Chameli has been seen this season with three cubs of approximately 20 months in June 2011. In fact in June one was found dead in the Makunda area by tourism vehicles. The result of fighting but for what reason no one knows. She has two remaining male cubs and will probably be with new cubs in by New Year 2012. However Chameli is now rarely seen as her territory has shrunk and she is now known as the Makunda tigress settled between Sher Marg and Sukki Pattia way back on the periphery of the Magdhi Range tourist area.

Then there is Indrani. Now 9 and the soul surviving of the three sisters Lakshmi, Durga and she. This year she has been seen with four cubs but she remains difficult and as she crosses into three ranges, Magdhi, Khitauli and Tala is very difficult to track. This season she has however been shown on “tiger show” in all three ranges so as to encourage use of the same by tourism. I saw Indrani but twice and never by elephant. She hates the crowding of vehicles and tracking by elephants and the cubs are never easy. The cubs are now separated at over two years of age and it is thought Indrani will be with a new litter by the star of the 2011-2012 season.

Then there is Tulsi nestled in Milchaini and beyond the boundary of the park. This tigress is of huge concern. Frequently beyond the fencing feeding on cows her situation is difficult. She and her family killed two more people this season taking her total to four. She lives in risky times. With her territory so small with few meadows and depleted prey she has no choice but to take cattle. She has always taken cattle. She chose her territory accordingly before the fence went up just as Lakshmi did. A tiger knows no boundaries and this season was highlighted with instances of tigers jumping the fencing. It was usually the cubs seen up and over the fence; Tulsi has three now two year olds and separated. But the best sightings this season were of these three. Playing, hunting or simply sitting watching tourists completely undisturbed but then again rather too unfearful of people? Tulsi is known to have mated with P10 Shashi in Khriki in March April so should be with a new litter this monsoon.

Apart from these established tigresses there are now four young females. Two, Vijaya in Chakradhara Chorbehra and Jaya in the Rajbehra area being sisters daughters of Durga killed May 2009, Wakeeta daughter of Reshma in Banbehi and a new tigress daughter of Chameli in Sukki Pattia Sehra. Two, Wakeeta and the yet unnamed Sehra tigress have cubs. Three each. Wakeeta’s born late May and the Sehra tigresses about four months of age now. It is believed P10 Shashi has fathered the cubs of Wakeeta and either Shaki or a new male brother of Vijaya and Jaya the Sehra tigresses litter. Vijaya was seen in mating with Shashi in Jumunia in March April and May but there are no cubs confirmed as yet. Jaya her sister mated with an unknown male in Rajbehra in March. Again there is no confirmation of cubs as yet. It is hoped both of these young tigresses will be moving with first litter cubs by the start of next season in mid October? A new generation of Bandhavgarh tigers in the making.

Of the resident males P10 Shashi is the main contender. Known as the Bamera male tiger because he spends time outside Tala in Khitauli Range and in Bamera, Panpatha Range. Now seven Shashi is at his prime age. He has pushed B2 Sundar out of Chakradhara and the hills and now covers a huge territory. When seen this large tiger is a joy to sight as he goes about his business but he spends a considerable amount of his time beyond Tala and one never knows where he will pop up next. Shashi means Moon and he is named because he walks between Tala and elsewhere under the moon! Son of B2 Shashi is an impressive tiger bigger and stronger than his father whom he has removed to Milchaini.

B2 survives. He has been seen regularly this season suffering losses of territory being chased by Shashi or in the company of his Milchaini family. He still looks as wonderful and handsome as ever but is ageing. At 13 his prime time is over and as a male he has lost all hold on his territory and females. Sundar spends much of his time outside the park feeding on village cows. He is now extremely vulnerable to simply disappearing. I wonder if he will be seen again next season or not. He was last seen approximately seven kilometers away from the park on a cow kill. He has survived this long because every local villager around Bandhavgarh knows B2 but if he wonders too far who knows what will become of him? Satyendra and I have watched B2 since his birth in April 1997. We both hope we will see him again if not I for one will miss him dearly.

The third male Shaki or Bhoka is also aging. Thought to be approximately twelve now he too is loosing ground to his son the final litter male of Durga. Shaki spent much of his time in Mahaman and Khitauli this season surviving on the kills of his mate Indrani. Little seen elsewhere his strength fades and he often appears limpy and arthritic slowly walking his shrinking territory. How much longer we will see this impressive boy is unsure. However the park does have a fourth male, the youngster, brother of Vijaya and Jaya. An up and coming tiger, very shy and aggressive and extremely difficult to see. He should take over from Shaki as P10 Shashi took over from B2 and go on to extend the lineage of tigers in Magdhi. This tiger I have yet to name and in fact I have never seen him!

As to other tigers in other ranges. Villagers say there is a tigress in Panpatha. There should be or what is the need for Shashi the Bamera boy to spend time there? The Forest Department also report a tigress and male moving with two cubs deep in Khitauli and similarly a tigress in Kulwah Range beyond Hardia. And of course there are Lakshmi’s two surviving cubs now 20 months old and living in Ranchcha side. After their mothers death it was thought they might struggle but they are extremely good killers of cows thanks to the Forest Departments feeding of their mother before her death. Finally I should mention those penned too. Three cubs one male and two females in Magdhi Sukki Pattia destined as far as the Director states for translocation to other parks in MP and the two cubs of Durga one male one female now just over one year old residing in Badhaini.

So on the whole Bandhavgarh seems well stocked with tigers. But the prey base does not fare so well and there are worries if more and more litters survive. What will they eat. Fencing is disrupting hunting and means those prey animals outside cannot escape to the protection of the park when required. It is interesting that this summer the Milchaini family spent more time out watching tourists behind a fence than in. The tigers were free and the tourists penned in! Fencing continues and can be nothing but bad for the park though interestingly that on the main Tala road has been removed. Meadows are being managed too with muck being spread, seeds being thrown and the grubbing out of undesirable and unpalatable fodder. Bad part of this has meant no cover for predators for hunting this season!

Finally I should mention the translocation of Gaur that occurred in end February 2011. 20 were brought from Kanha at great expense paid for by CCA. One died before it arrived and one calf was born soon after its mother arrived. Of the twenty, four have died. Two were killed by tigers and two succumbed in the heat and drought of the long summer. The remaining cattle have since moved some distance away towards Shahdol and into Khitauli. Let us see how many return next season? Some believe these gaur will disappear as the original herd here did in 1998. Many believe the habitat is no longer suitable for these huge cattle?

So this is the new Bandhavgarh. New tigers and cubs, gaur and even an addition of a wild elephant (penned in a tiny stockade). But that’s another story. This is purely meant to give all an idea of what the park might offer next season! If one can afford to visit?