Words by David Waterhouse
I had not been back from India long when a friend of my sister asked what I saw there.
“A lot of wild animals”, I replied. She looked puzzled and said “I wouldn’t have thought there’d be much wildlife to see in India; the place is so crowded with people”
A lot of people, even in parts of India, think the same. Now it’s certainly true that a burgeoning human population, now well over a billion, has had a huge impact on India’s dazzling array of impressive wildlife. Even so there is still plenty of variety to see in the network of national parks and sanctuaries across the country.
In well protected places, it is still possible to see a range of large wild animals, which at one time would have been commonplace over much of the country. India is also rich in small and medium-sized mammals, reptiles and birds in bewildering variety. If you know where to go it is still a naturalist’s paradise, second only to Africa, for its array of iconic animals from elephants to rhinos, panthers to pythons.
Perhaps the most iconic wild animal and certainly one of the most impressive in India is the Bengal Tiger.
I went to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan because this is one of the best places (possibly the best) to have a reasonable chance of being able to spot one. When I was there in the cool of January I was told that the odds of seeing a tiger were about 50:50. (In the heat of Summer in June, the chances are 90% because some come down to cool in the big deep pools of the river close to the track).
I was taken out in a ‘Gypsy’, the standard jeep-like vehicle used in some Indian national parks for visitors. On my first day at Ranthambore I saw several wild boar, a sloth bear, jackals, lots of grey langur, monkeys and mongoose, as well as herds of the beautiful ‘chital’ or spotted deer and a few sambar deer, but no tiger. Then on the second day, on a late afternoon safari, we drove up to a high ridge and ‘glassed” the hillside opposite. We spotted a large sambar stag giving vent to its loud, bell-like call. Further up the rocky slope was a large animal which looked all orange at a distance. As it ventured out onto an open patch of ground, it revealed itself as a huge tiger. The deer bolted as it spotted the bit cat.
I was elated to have seen my first tiger in the wild and pleased the 50:50 chance had gone my way.
In the late afternoon, as we were making our way out of the park, the guide spotted another tiger lying in cover, close to the track. We stopped to see it, hoping to take pictures.
After a while, it got to its feed and ambled leisurely along through the trees parallel to the track. We inched forward keeping close to the animal as it made its way down to the river to drink.
As it crossed a clearing, I managed to take several shots of it, completely uninterrupted by our presence. It was a lucky last day and I couldn’t have asked for a better sighting of a splendid beast.