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Ranthambhore March / April 2009-a tribute to a beautiful tigress

My Spring 2009 trip to the national park of Ranthambhore did not disappoint with tiger sightings most days during my two week stay.  However, this visit was tainted by tragedy and sadness.  A tigress I had seen on numerous occasions was killed on the night of the 3 April.  Conflict with a large male tiger proved fatal.  On the 2 April, during an early morning search, my guide and I discovered the tigress as Bakola; it was clear that she was in discomfort and limping badly from an injury to her nearside front paw, possibly caused by a thorn in her pad.  We watched as she limped to a nearby pool where she appeared to take comfort from resting her leg and paw in the cool water.  Due to these circumstances it was going to prove difficult for her to protect herself and attempt a kill to feed herself and her two seventeen months old cubs.  We left the reserve and immediately made a report to the Deputy Forest Officer who promptly made arrangements with his staff to take meat to the tigress and her two cubs and also assess the damage to the female's paw.  However, some time during the evening of the 3 April, it appears that a male tiger entered Bakola and a fight took place.  It is most unusual for a male tiger to kill a tigress although if the male is not the father of the cubs he will sometimes attempt to kill them in order to bring the tigress back into oestrus to mate with her himself.  Over the past three or four years, I can clearly remember regularly seeing the young Berda female. initially as a cub with her mother and two brothers and then maturing into a beautiful tigress.  I particularly remember two separate occasions once at a water hole at Berda Valley, with the young tigress together with her two male siblings and mother enjoying swimming in the cool water and, secondly, some months later and still with all her family, I photographed them resting on a track leading from Berda to Lahapur.  Sadly, about a year later, her mother and two brothers were poached and I understand that the criminals involved were subsequently apprehended.  The young Berda tigress prospered and took over the home range of her dead mother.  About seventeen months ago she gave birth to a male and female cub of her own that she has successfully raised, however, at this age tiger cubs are still very inexperienced with regards to hunting and fending for themselves.  Young tigers usually remain with their mother for about two and a half to three years in order to learn these skills.  My hope now is that the Berda tigress's youngsters survive and hopefully the female cub will inherit her mother's home range.  I am aware that the Forest Department are providing additional food for them and I feel confident that the tigress's dynasty will continue.

Always at Ranthambhore a priority for me is to find the tigress known as 'Machali' whose life I have been following for a number of years.  She is now approximately thirteen years old having successfully reared four litters of cubs.  Amazingly she now has only one canine tooth remaining!  However, what she lacks in teeth Machali more than makes up with experience and during my visit she managed to bring down and kill a large Sambar deer in the valley of Bhoot Khora.  On a later occasions I saw her having a confrontation with a large male tiger that two days earlier had clearly stumbled across the carcass of the deer and had decided to 'muscle in' to finish the remains.  Although Machali could see the male tiger while he gorged himself on his unexpected feast, she seemed unconcerned.  A little later he started to follow her to Kachida and would not leave her alone.  I watched as she lay flat by the side of the track with her ears back, aggressively looking at her pursuer, then suddenly she jumped at the tiger and they fought for several seconds with the male forcing Machali onto her back in submission before they parted.  A memorable sighting and I am pleased to report that neither tiger appeared damaged by the interaction.  Images from my visit to Ranthambhore can be found by following this "Link" to the picture gallery section of "tigersintheforest".