'Machali' - the world's most famous and photographed wild tiger
Machali was born during the Spring of 1997. Originally she was known as the Jhalara tigress named after the area of the park that she frequented. Subsequently a BBC documentary film named her Machali after the name previously given to her mother. The name Machali in Hindi is translated into the word 'fish' and was given to her mother as she had a mark on her right cheek resembling the outline of a fish. The Machali that we know today has a mark on her left cheek that resembles the outline of a table fork! Towards the end of 1998 Machali and her two sisters had disbursed from their mother's home range although Machali had carved out a small area of her mother's territory. As time passed by she gradually increased the size of her home range which encompassed the area of Ranthambhore's famous three lakes plus a large section of the Mandoop plateau and Lakarda. Before long she enjoyed the largest prime home range in the park.
In the year 2000 she mated with the park's largest and most dominant male tiger known as Bamba Ram and towards the end of the summer she gave birth to a litter of two male cubs called Slant Ear and Broken Tail. During 2001 both young males separated from their mother; Slant Ear was never seen again and Broken Tail survived until the summer of 2003 when sadly he was hit and killed by a passenger train almost 100 miles away from the park.
During 2003 after her previous two cubs had disbursed Machali mated with another male tiger known as Nick Ear and during the summer months gave birth to three cubs of which only two survived - a male known as Jhumaroo and a female, Jhumaree; I remember seeing them on one of my first visits to the park. A severe drought hit Ranthambhore in 2004 and 2005 while the two youngsters were maturing. Machali and her male offspring, Jhumaroo, spent much time around the lakes hunting and feeding on the Mugger crocodiles that struggled to survive with the shallow water levels in the lakes. This interaction with the crocodiles caused Machali to lose two of her four canine teeth. Also during 2005, Machali, pushed both her sub-adult cubs out of her home range, Jhumaree to the edge of her home range and the male to an area known as Lahpur where as far as I am aware he remains today.
In the Spring of 2005 Machali gave birth to her third litter - one male and one female cub. The father was thought to be a very elusive tiger known as T2 or the X male. As the cubs became of age the male remained in the park while the young female was relocated to Sariska in an effort to repopulate the reserve that had tragically lost all its tiger population to poachers.
During the monsoon of 2006 Machali gave birth to three female cubs named T17, T18 and T19 and as far as I am aware these cubs were again sired by the X male tiger. On a number of occasions at this time I watched Machali allow the male cub from her previous litter to sit with the new cubs but she would not permit the female from her last litter to go anywhere near her 'babies'! The youngsters remained with their mother for about 2 years and then in 2008 they started to disburse with T17 and T19 taking over the bulk of their mother's home range while Machali was left with a small area in Lakarda. T18 was soon to be relocated to Sariska in an effort to boost tiger numbers in the park.
Since 2008 Machali has survived at Lakarda Valley which contains an abundance of prey and some permanent water holes. Now at 17 years old, I wait to see if this magnificent tigress has survived the monsoon. Hopefully she will again be seen and enjoyed by the many thousands of tourists when the park reopens at the beginning of October. The photographs below are in chronological order; the last three were taken in May 2014 and I sincerely hope that I will be able to take more images of this wonderful old tigress when I return to Ranthambhore this October.
Now 19 years of age I personally have not had the privilege of seeing Machali since 2014-however I understand from local people that she was keeping well and although now with only one eye continues to live her life in the forests that she has known for the past 19 years.
With great sadness I learnt this morning that just a few hours ago Machali passed quietly away. She was an icon of her time and her spirit lives on in the many tigers that today populate Ranthambhore. Also at Sariska tiger reserve where one of her last litter was relocated a few years ago and now has cubs of her own. As can be seen from the last two photographs below she was held in high esteem by the local Forest department staff who ensured that she had a cremation fit for a queen, which indeed she was as 'Queen of Ranthambhore'. She will always be remembered in the hearts and minds of thousands of people from all over the world who came to Ranthambhore in an effort to see and photograph this magnificent tigress.
18th August 2016
© Hemraj Meena
© Hemraj Meena