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Tiger Photo Safaris in India

Canon – Nature Wanderers Photo Tours – Spring & Summer 2016

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Season 2015-2016 has started on a great note with multiple tiger parks showcasing a promising future. While Ranthambhore still leads the charts as Krishna and Noor clans are beginning to carve out their own path, Bandhavgarh, Tadoba and Pench have all reported tiger cubs which throws open a lot of photo opportunities in all the parks through the coming spring and summer. The evergreen Corbett National Park had ended on a high note last season and we at Nature Wanderers are all geared up for our winter Corbett schedules to be led by a photographer who has been breathing Corbett for 25 years… Mr. Jagdeep Rajput.

I am pleased to share with you the calendar for 2016 spring and summer schedules for various tiger reserves.

January 2016

Bandhavgarh Sunrise to Sunset Safaris – Jan 13-17 (5 seats… 2 seats left)
Unexplore Corbett with Jagdeep Rajput – Jan 23-26 (6 seats)

February 2016
Jagdeep Rajput Masterclass – Ranthambhore – Feb 11-14
Corbett with Shivang Mehta (Bijrani + Dhikala) – Feb 24-28

March 2016
Bandhavgarh (Good Friday weekend with Shivang Mehta) – Mar 23-27
Jagdeep Rajput Masterclass – Ranthambhore (Good Friday weekend) – Mar 24-27

April 2016
Jagdeep Rajput Masterclass – Pench edition – Apr 7-10

May 2016

Tiger Marathon with Shivang Mehta
Tiger Marathon – Batch 1 – Ranthambhore – May 5-8 
Tiger Marathon – Batch 2 – Ranthambhore – May 8-11
Tiger Marathon – Batch 3 – Corbett – May 12-15
Tiger Marathon – Batch 4 – Corbett – May 16-19


Ranthambhore… post 2015 monsoons

Climates change patterns are being witnessed globally and Ranthambhore has not been spared in the past few years. The park received scanty rains and though the forest looks lush green post monsoons, the water in the park should dry up soon. The first week of Ranthambhore post monsoons has witnessed some decent tiger sightings. While the dynamics around the lakes is changing with Krishna cubs moving towards the road of independence, Noor (T39) has managed to keep her cubs safe through the monsoons and both the families have given photographers some decent photo opportunities in week one. The tall grass has been a challenge for shooting though the greens do give a punch to the images. During the Canon – Nature Wanderers Ranthambhore Opener photo tour, our participants got some good photographic opportunities with T19 and cubs, T39, T28, T8 and T74. While the participants created some magical images, here are some which I could manage in the last week…

Incidentally all the images below are taken using the Canon 100-400mm IS2. I loved using this focal range after nearly 6 years and hardly used the Canon 400mm f2.8. It was fun playing around with compositions using a 100-400 focal length without worrying about the image quality.

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Best of 2014-2015

It is the end of season and as I look back at the hectic 9 months, some of those glorious wildlife moments keep flashing in my head. With more than 150 game drives in Ranthambhore, the focus of the season was on Krishna and cubs. My brief fortnight-long stints in Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Corbett and Sunderbans were rewarding as well. Escorting some of the best photographers in business, it was a great knowledge sharing experience on the field. Though in most of the game drives I wasn’t shooting much since I was escorting and mentoring photographers, I did squeeze in time for some personal drives in Ranthambhore and those were the times my camera was in action the most.

Presenting a compilation of my top 14 wildlife moments for 2014-2015.

1. Krishna & Cubs – October 2013

The season started with Ranthambhore and the first glimpse of Krishna and her cubs in the band of golden morning light at Rajbagh remains edged to my memory till date. The experience lasted for not more than 10 mins but our gang of photographers created some dream images that by far are the best images of T19 and cubs from that time from October 2013.

October 2013 - Lady of the lakes T19 (Krishna) along with one of her 3 cubs

October 2013 – Lady of the lakes T19 (Krishna) along with one of her 3 cubs

2. The King & The Fisher – Nov 2014

Amidst the hysteria around T39 (Noor) and her cubs one fine morning in November 2014, a tiny kingfisher caught my attention. The background was a typical Ranthambhore habitat and resulted in this image. One of my favorites from the season. Worked on similar concepts whenever the opportunity was right. Infact over the next many months after shooting this, I did a lot of birding around tigers – from Kingfishers, the stone curlews, drongos, peacocks, robins. The first creation is normally the best creation and rest are more of duplications in order to better this.

The King & The Fisher

November 2013 – The King & The Fisher

3. In His Kingdom – Kanha – Dec 2014

Kanha in winters has always been special for photography. Not for tigers but because of the mist and the meadows. During one such game drive in Kanha, we bumped into the majestic Munna. My experiments with Tilt Shift lenses on tigers have helped me in creating some unique wide angle perspectives. The saal forest backdrop offered the perfect opportunity to pull out the glass from the bag.

December 2014 - In His Kingdom - Munna, Kanha National Park

December 2014 – In His Kingdom – Munna, Kanha National Park

4. A morning at Rajbagh – Jan 2015

There was something about that morning at Rajbagh. The soft morning light filtering through the mist was just enough for shooting this wonderful show put up by Krishna and her cubs at the edges of the lakes. Our gang of photographers were stunned in silence after this wonderful action packed sequence – probably the best action by this terrific family throughout the season. The soft light, the grand backdrops, the orange winter coats of the cubs… am sure the lensmen present that morning will vouch for this being probably the best tiger action of their lifetime.

Dancing to the tunes of Krishna cubs - Jan 2015

Dancing to the tunes of Krishna cubs – Jan 2015

5. The Winter Couple – Jan 2015 – Bharatpur

End of Jan, we took a small break from Ranthambhore and shot in Bharatpur for a few days. Despite of the low activity of birds in Bharatpur, I decided to focus on a subject I love to work with – the Sarus Cranes. Morning to evening sessions with Sarus led us to this beautiful pair of cranes that walked out in unison in the early morning mist of Keoladeo with the sun just popping out from behind deep in the horizon. As I looked through the view finder to shoot this image, I had goosebumps all over seeing this dramatic setting of the Keoladeo marshes.

The Winter Couple - Jan 2015

The Winter Couple – Jan 2015

6. Thunderbold Krishna – Feb 2015

The master hunter Krishna silently disappeared in the Rajbagh grasses one evening in Ranthambhore. Unaware of what is going to happen, my vehicle reached the spot and as I changed my equipments to focus on a group of cheetal grazing in a small patch of open grass, Krishna stormed out like lightning in the small patch of light dispersing the group in all directions.

Thunderbold Krishna - Feb 2015

Thunderbold Krishna – Feb 2015

7. Tiger Off-Springs – Ranthambhore – March 2015

It was a 30 mins sighting that morning at Rajbagh and not more than 5 mins of hardcore tiger action. Krishna cubs played like maniacs in that backlit set up. A storm of lenses surrounded them as the lake water splashed all around with the mother joining the play sequence.

Tiger Off-Springs - March 2015

Tiger Off-Springs – March 2015

8. Bears and Bears – April 2015

I remember this morning as one of my best game drives in the park. We were running after the mother T39 (Noor) while her cubs were already been seen by a flurry of vehicles in zone 1. In our pursuit we bumped into a different specie of a mother who walked on a forest floor bed full of palas (flame of the forest) flowers. Post this all the vehicles dispersed from the cubs location and we spent a nice peaceful exclusive time with T39 and her cubs.

Sloth Bear with cubs

Sloth Bear with cubs – April 2015

9. His First Catch – Ranthambhore – April 2015

A moment which will be engrained in my memory till my last breath. The inexperience male cub of Krishna (T19) attempted to bring down a cheetal. He struggled for more than 40 mins to kill the cheetal. A power-packed sequence but it was painful to see this through the view finder. Read the entire photo story on this blog – https://shivangmehtaphotography.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/the-first-catch/

The deer tries to escape the strong clutches

His First Catch – April 2015

10. Stripes – The Extreme Portrait – May 2015

Over the past few years, I have developed this taste of shooting extreme closeups of tigers. Scaling up the focal length to around 1000mm+, composition needs to be really precise. This summer, inspired by some frames and compositions from Tiger Dynasty (by Nalla Muthu) I wanted to go tighter than usual. I had a discussion with Nalla on his certain ultra tight compositions. God was kind to gift me with a calm and composed T24 sighting soon after those talks with Nalla where I made effective use of a 1000mm focal to create a series of super tiger compositions.

Shot just 20 hours before he killed a forest guard

T24 Ustaad – The extreme portrait – May 2015

11. The Ramganga Queen – May 2015

I normally don’t run after tigers in Corbett. However May 2015 was an exception. The Par tigress was obliging photographers with their dream Corbett images and I forced myself to join this race. A few misses and finally we caught her one morning in Dhikala.

The Corbett Queen - May 2015

The Corbett Queen – May 2015

12. The Cave Dwellers – Bandhavgarh – May 2015

The Patiha family has been controlling a major chunk of tiger sightings in Bandhavgarh throughout the season. We spent 1 morning with the 3 cubs in this cave set up which is one of the most unique habitat image series of tigers I have shot till date. The reddish rocks, the contours in the rocks, the gradients and patterns and the sparkling stripes made an interesting combo and the 10 odd images around this cave have been amongst the top backdrops for tiger photography for me.

Patiha cub in Bandhavgarh - May 2015

Patiha cub in Bandhavgarh – May 2015

13. Krishna Clan – Ranthambhore – May 2015

Over the months, it has been an experience the changing behavior of tiger cubs. The playful Krishna cubs were now displaying signs of independence by making their own odd kills and small fights showcasing dominance. But the attachment with the mother was seen time and again and during this morning in May 2015, 14 month old tiger cubs were caught suckling.

14 month old Krishna cubs suckling - May 2015

14 month old Krishna cubs suckling – May 2015

14. Star walked the ramp – June 30, 2015

The lakes of Ranthambhore can surprise you anytime of the day. Rains had an impact of the sightings of the park in the last few days of the park closure. It was the morning of June 30th and everyone was hoping for 1 final glimpse before the park closes for monsoons. We decided to take a final lap of the lakes before leaving and caught Star (T28) walking in the pristine backdrop of the fort and on a carpet of green. It was long and silent walk with no vehicles around. A befitting end to a season!

Star (T28) - Last tiger sighting of the park on June 30

Star (T28) – Last tiger sighting of the park on June 30


Ranthambhore – End of season June update

June is always a tricky month for Ranthambhore. Pre monsoon showers and the western disturbances hamper tiger sightings but the forest sparkles green regaining its emerald flavor and this gives a boost to the images you end up creating during this month.

T19 (Krishna) and cubs were in prime action during the month of June. The interactions between the cubs are no longer playful and they lose no opportunity to showcase their dominance over each other. On the other edge of the forest, T39 (Noor) and her 2 male cubs controlled the sightings till early third week of June. Heavy rains in the last 10 days of the forest season did impact the tiger movements towards the end of June but the highlight of the month was the bold moves by Krishna cubs towards a huge crocodile on the edges of Rajbagh lake. While I was busy with some amphibian assignments in the Western Ghats, I am glad that Nature Wanderers photography mentor – Jagdeep Rajput along with our clients were there at the right time to shoot this epic sequence.

June 30th was a befitting end to a challenging, tiring yet rewarding season in Ranthambhore. T28 (Star) walked in pristine light at the edges of the lake with the majestic fort in the backdrop. For a change there were no vehicles around to hasten his slow and graceful walk before he disappeared in the Rajbagh palace.

Presenting a few glimpses of June 2015 from Ranthambhore. End of a memorable back-to-back 9 month run with the denizens of the lakes. Wishing the young brigade a happy and safe monsoons.

The last proper sighting of T19 (Krishna) on June 25th before the park closure

The last proper sighting of T19 (Krishna) on June 25th before the park closure

A leopard peeps out of the green foliage of Ranthambhore

A leopard peeps out of the green foliage of Ranthambhore

T74 male. The 3 full grown siblings have controlled the zone 5 sightings of the park for the season.

T74 male. The 3 full grown siblings have controlled the zone 5 sightings of the park for the season.

Sambhars in green foliage of Ranthambhore

Sambhars in green foliage of Ranthambhore

Star (T28) - Last tiger sighting of the park on June 30

Star (T28) – Last tiger sighting of the park on June 30

T28 (Star) observes a spoonbill on the last day of park closure

T28 (Star) observes a spoonbill on the last day of park closure

A tiger abstraction from zone 10

A tiger abstraction from zone 10

Krishna cubs stalk a crocodile in Rajbagh. Image copyright - Jagdeep Rajput

Krishna cubs stalk a crocodile in Rajbagh. Image copyright – Jagdeep Rajput


Bandhavgarh & Panna June 2015 – field report

My focus on T19 (Krishna) in Ranthambhore kept me away from one of my favorite hunting grounds in central India. I am very found of Bandhavgarh for its habitat, tiger photography potential and the people… working in this central Indian tiger heartland is always great fun. Made up for the entire season in the last 10 days as I was escorting my photographer guest from the UK. Our focus was the Patiha female and her three 8 month old cubs. Working on tiger cubs outside the Tala zone was a challenge and a different experience from my past Bandhavgarh endeavors. However we got 3 exclusive photo opportunities with the family over the 9 day period which were good enough for an excellent portfolio. More than the images tracking the family in the Patiha area and understanding some new areas of the park was a great learning experience.

Post Bandhavgarh, we spent a few days in Panna National Park and it was awesome to witness the success story of Panna. T1 – the queen of Panna – is in great shape with her 4th litter of 2 cubs. The park has some tremendous potential and is an excellent tiger habitat. Photographers should watch out for Panna – another excellent location with great photographic potential.

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Ranthambhore – May Diaries

Just wrapped up a 2 month schedule at Ranthambhore. Come May and a lot of drama unfolded in Ranthambhore post T24 (Ustaad) killing a forest guard on May 8th during the tourism hours on the fort road of the park. The tiger has now been shifted to a enclosure in Udaipur which has caused a massive uproar across the wildlife fraternity and social media platforms have gone viral with hate campaigns. As the legal bodies decide the fate of T24, here is a brief round up for May.

There has been a visible change in the family dynamics around the lakes as Krishna cubs started making a few independent kills while the mother wasn’t around. On multiple occasions I felt that the mother displayed her irritation towards the cubs and on a lot of days the family was scattered around the lake areas. However the moments of unity were touching as I caught the entire family chilling out one morning as the family united once again and moved towards Rajbagh.

While clouds of uncertainty surrounded T24, his offsprings have been literally controlling the sightings of the park in May as the mother T39 (Noor) was seen frequently along with the family. I also documented T24 a day before the tragedy and couple of times post the tragedy. It was quite emotional to shoot a tiger who was spending his last days in the wild.

Talking of some last images of a tiger, the exiled queen Machali (T16) made a surprise entry in the tourism area for just a few hours after a long gap. She has been suffering from cataract but still holds her charm. Probably the last we have seen of Machali … though she always comes up with surprises so you never know!

Here are some images to round up the month of May in Ranthambhore:

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The First Catch…

The days of innocence are finally coming to an end in Ranthambhore. It was a quite morning around the lakes in Ranthambhore. Krishna (T19) and her young battalion of 3 cubs were scattered all over the lake area and there were no signs of the tigers for the first few hours in the morning. Scenarios can however change within seconds and Krishna sprung out of a dry river bed with the 3 cubs and they marched towards the hunting palace in the middle of the lakes.

One of the cubs separated from the family suddenly got distracted because of a cheetal fawn and sprung up in action sprinting towards the prey in dense foliage. The cub caught hold of the cheetal fawn but catching hold of the prey is just step 1 of being an experienced tiger in the wild. Bringing the prey down with that lethal blow is the key for a successful hunt. The cub definitely lacked this experience as the canines are not yet effective to suffocate the prey.

The painful cries of the young fawn echoed in the forest as the young tiger cub failed to understand how to kill its first catch. The tiger then started ripping the fawn apart from its hinds and started consuming the morning meal alive.

Experience does matter to survive in the wild!

Krishna's cub catches hold of a deer fawn

Krishna’s cub catches hold of a deer fawn

Instead of the neck he goes for the back

Instead of the neck he goes for the back

The deer tries to escape the strong clutches

The deer tries to escape the strong clutches

The agony continues and the tiger decides to rip apart the hinds while the deer is alive

The agony continues and the tiger decides to rip apart the hinds while the deer is alive

Finally when the struggle ended the deer was put to a rest

Finally when the struggle ended the deer was put to a rest

A painful end for the deer but the tiger makes his first independent kill

A painful end for the deer but the tiger makes his first independent kill


Ranthambhore Diaries – April the onset of summers

It is the end of April out here in Ranthambhore and probably for the first time the forest is looking lush and green even as the temperatures soar up. The water table which had shot up because of the March rains is all getting dried up very fast and all this is giving us the unique opportunity to photograph tigers in a lush green semi-monsoon habitat.

While T19 (Krishna) and her cubs are keeping the shutters busy, T39 (Noor) and her 2 young cubs have also made an entry into the tourism zones. Even the other zones have seen some awesome tiger sightings in the form of T42 and T13 mating and T8 and her cub giving good photo opps in the Kundal area of Ranthambhore.

Here is a brief photographic journey through Ranthambhore through the month of April.

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A morning at Rajbagh…

January 25, 2015

It was a cold winter morning in Ranthambhore National Park. For 3 days Krishna (T19) and her young battalion of 3 cubs had concealed themselves in a patch of grass on the edges of the lake where they were feeding on a sambar kill. The sky was finally opening up after 3 days of cloud cover and the soft morning light was filtering through the Rajbagh mist. The stage was set for some fabulous tiger photography the cubs finally emerged out of the tall grasses to put up wonderful show in front of a bunch of lensmen who created some outstanding images that morning.

Check out this video that sums up a winter morning at Rajbagh:


Ranthambhore : March Diaries…

March was a month we all were looking forward to in Ranthambhore. The stage was set for some great tiger action to kickstart the long summer. Scanty monsoons had ensured that the water sources in the park were drying up fast which would have resulted in some easy pickings in terms of tiger sightings around the lakes. However unseasonal rains which last for a few days dampened the spirits in mid-March as the forest turned lush green again with water tables going up again for the first time in the past many months.

Despite of the overall tiger sighting dipping in the park, T19 (Krishna) and her clan made some appearances around the lakes. The cubs are growing fast and are at their active best when the mother is around. Here are some glimpses from Ranthambhore this March.

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Ranthambhore : 20 day round-up

It is February and Ranthambhore has already started loosing some of its charismatic winter colors. Days are warm and sunny consistently and the dense fog and gloomy weather conditions have given way to golden morning mist over the lakes. All these dramatic changes in the last 20 odd days have had an impact on the sightings of the 2 devoted mothers and their doting cubs. While T19 (Krishna) has been keeping photographers busy around the lakes, T39 (Noor) made a reappearance in the park after a 20 day disappearance and if the weather continues to warm during the days, the sighting trends would surely improve further in the coming days.

The last 20 days, I was focussed on the lakes and had some memorable encounters with the lake denizens. The female cub of Krishna always surprised me with her antics. She is bold and independent and would climb on trees, induce the other siblings to indulge in play fights, stalk deer fawns and one fine afternoon she pulled off a stunner by swimming right across the Rajbagh lake like a Sunderbans tiger in the company of crocodiles who had literally surrounded her during a 50 meters lap. We had named her Machali junior because of a fork mark on her cheek which bears resemblance to her famed grandmom – Machali. She is certainly the dominant princess of the lakes.

News and rumors around new born cubs of T41 have also raised the hopes for summers and overall Ranthambhore is gearing up for some exciting tiger action starting March.

Here is a brief photo-diary of some Krishna and cubs moments in the last fortnight:

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Ranthambhore – November Stripes

Winter is setting in at Ranthambhore and the change in weather has impacted the sightings which were in full swing throughout the month of October. However the 2 star mothers – T19 and T39 still are making brief appearances along with their cubs. Here are some glimpses of Ranthambhore this November.

T39 cubs

Ranthambhore Playmates

Sultan

Common Kingfisher

Ranthambhore - winter habitat

Ranthambhore – winter habitat

T39 cub

T39 cub


Action Heats up in Ranthambhore

2 breeding females, cubs and a lot of photographic opportunities lie ahead in Ranthambhore this season. Have you planned your visit this season?

 


Vijaya – The Warrior Queen

(Obituary published in the November issue of Saevus Wildlife)

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4 year old Vijaya was a bold, buoyant and a beautiful tigress. Like all striped kings and queens of Bandhavgarh she was a favorite for lens-men who yearned for her 1 shot. It seemed all rosy till the summers of 2010 but as the monsoons approached Vijaya’s ambitions grew bigger and bigger. She wanted to own one of the most pristine areas of tiger estate of Bandhavgarh – the stretch ranging from Chorbehra, Chakradhara right up till the Bandhavgarh fort. She wanted to be crowned as the new queen of the Tala range of the forest.

The thought was good for this has been the dream territory of any tiger of Bandhavgarh. Legends like Charger, Seeta and B2 owned this piece of land because of its abundant prey base, yearlong presence of water, superb hunting ground and lots of shady comforts for rest after a tiring day in the forest.

Kankati in 2011

Competition understandably was quite tough for young Vijaya as 10-year-old Lakshmi (Langadi as she was locally called) was the limping tigress of this area and despite her physical limitations she was managing to rule Vijaya’s dreamlands. Lakshmi’s weakness apart from her sore leg were her young 10 month old cubs and since she relied on livestock kills her movement was restricted in the peripheral areas of the forest.

The rains of 2010 turned the fortunes of Chakradhara. Vijaya knew of the soft cords of Lakshmi and she advanced towards her in what seemed like a lost battle for Lakshmi. However the aging mother put up a fight and the beautiful looking Vijaya lost her eye in this fierce battle. Vijaya’s aggressive streak was evident from this battle as in her fury of anger she not only killed Lakshmi but consumed more than half of her body. It all happened in a dark night of Bandhavgarh and all the forest department could find the following morning were the mortal remains of Lakshmi. The orphaned cubs are still fighting to establish themselves in Bandhavgarh.

With just one eye and a huge territory that she won, survival for ambitious Vijaya seemed tough as tiger history across India has very few warriors who have been able to survive with such critical physical limitations. There was not a change in the attitude of lens-men too. The once beautiful female of Tala range was now being avoided because she wasn’t photogenic enough.

When love seems like war

Vijaya, however, had her strategy laid out. She knew that in order to survive and retain this estate she would need the company of a dominant male who could give her adequate protection. She hit the nail on its head by making the right choice as she eyed Shashi (Bamera male).

The dominant male of Bandhavgarh with genes of a legendary family in the form of Charger (his grandfather) and B2 (his father), Shashi (locally known as Bamera male) was expanding his territory at an astronomical rate. He cornered his dad in one area of the park and acquired his legacy and added more land which he acquired on his own to roam about freely in more than a 100 square kilometer area. His rule was unquestioned and he was already the king of Bandhavgarh National Park.

His frequent ventures in the Chakradhara and Chorbehra areas brought him close to Vijaya and in summer of April 2011 they were seen together for almost a week. Their 1 week honeymoon raised hopes for Vijaya’s legacy and she was set to be crowned as the next queen of Bandhavgarh.

The news of Vijaya’s pregnancy was eagerly awaited as the timing of mating was perfect and it seemed that she would deliver before the forest closes for monsoons. Surprisingly within a couple of months the couple was seen together again in first week of June 2011. Was the previous mating just a strategy by Vijaya to bide some more time with Shashi or did the April honeymoon end up into a failure? There are some mysteries in the mysterious world of tigers that are hard to solve.

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Post the mating in June the forest closed for monsoons and the forest season post the rains started with a lot of anticipation. As the days of October 2011 passed the search for Vijaya was on and it was a sheer delight to hear the news of Vijaya licking her small 2-month-old cub on the rocky area of Chorbehra. Rigorous elephant patrolling revealed that she was raising a family of 3.

Under the shadow of a father like Shashi the cubs had minimal risk of being killed by another male of the region. However tigers were not the only threat to these young siblings. Vijaya’s area had good movement of leopards and now the question was if Vijaya could see off the crucial period of the first few months when tiger cubs start exploring the world of tigers in the wild.

The cubs were mostly in the bamboo thickets around Chorbehra and their sighting was infrequent. Vijaya was again gaining popularity amongst lens-men who knew that she was another legend in the making. Summers of 2012 was a season everyone was looking forward to as by March 2012 the cubs were growing up well. Mom Vijaya was now the supreme ruler of Chakradhara and her efficiency of hunting was at par with any other fully fit tiger. From large sambhar stags to wild boars she was hunting every prey though with some amount of difficulty but her perseverance was unmatched.

My mommy is the strongest!

Through the month of April the cubs were seen more regularly. One of the cubs was already showing signs of less dependency and always used to be away from the siblings. At times all 3 were seen together but most of these times mom Vijaya was out for her hunting expeditions as satiating hunger of ever growing tiger cubs is a tough ask.

Finally in the first week of May 2012, Vijaya did something that is not a regular sight in Bandhavgarh. Early in the morning as the cubs were playing in Chakradhara grasslands, Vijaya made a deep throated growl and her entire family followed her. For the first time since they were born, Vijaya boldly displays all her cubs together as she marched alongside them. They marched like an army right up to the Vishnu statue and after seeking the divine intervention she climbed the hills of Bandhavgarh fort.

The cubs survived through the monsoons of 2012 but with the springs of 2013 some new challenges unfolded for Vijaya for her protector – Shashi – the king of Bandhavgarh started loosing his battles with males intruding in his territory and was gradually pushed out of Chakradhara. During the months of March-April 2013, Vijaya boldly stood her ground with her battalion of 3 beautiful looking sub-adult cubs and even tried to deceive this mysterious new male by mating with him and making an attempt to draw him out of the reach of the cubs. However this futile attempts to shield her family went in vain as in May 2013 one of Vijaya’s cubs was found dead in the fort area. This was followed by the death of another cub in the subsequent days.

Kankati cubs play sequence June 2012

A number of theories came into place post the death of the cubs. While the forest officials claimed that the cause of the death was the mystery male, another section of local naturalists believed that since the body of the cubs was partially consumed in the same fashion as Lakshmi a few years back, Vijaya – the brave mother – herself decided to sacrifice her family in order to retain her territory for she knew that survival would be tough outside this prime territory specially with her physical disability. The male cub from this litter who was also declared dead however separated from his mother and had set out on an independent journey in the adjoining areas of her mother’s territory.

The hysteria around Vijaya died down for a prolonged period post the monsoons of 2013. Her sighting statistics dropped drastically and the entire focus shifted towards Rajbehra where a female was raising a litter of 4 cubs across the hill.

As the saal bloom dried with the temperatures rising during the summers of 2014, Vijaya made a dramatic comeback by walking down the fort hills, with tiny little cubs. The scarcity of water in the upper areas of the fort forced her to come down to the low-lying areas with natural water bodies in order to beat the scorching heat of May 2014. The queen of Bandhavgarh had again fought her battles against all odds to come up with fresh blood for the park. The meadows of Chakradhara were looking forward to be the playground for yet another litter and Vijaya was all set to be etched as one of the legendary tigers of India at par with Machali because of her resilient spirit. As the park closed for monsoons in June 2014, she had a challenge to face a tough period of 3 months and feed the 3 little striped souls.

Kankati cubs 2nd litter May 2014

Tragedy struck again in Bandhavgarh when the forest department reported that a decomposed body of a tigress was found and a post mortem report revealed that Vijaya was declared dead. Post search operations by the forest department, 2 cubs were declared dead as well. While the entire wildlife fraternity of India mourns the death of Vijaya, her journey and her life showcases some of the true characteristics of this creation of God called The Tiger. A specie which has braved against all odds and continues to strive and survive amidst dwindling forest covers and increasing human habitation. A specie that can adapt brilliantly to changing environmental scenarios and has the grit and willingness to survive. Vijaya’s contribution to Bandhavgarh will be remembered for the longest time and stories of this one eyed queen would echo in my memories whenever I will be traversing through the woods of this tiger heartland of India.

Could her death be averted?

Though Vijaya died in a territorial fight with an intruding male but could her death been averted. For a minute if we close our one eye and try to live that minute with that partial blackout, we would probably want that minute to pass at the earliest. The warrior queen of Bandhavgarh spent 4 long years with this handicap. Tigers are killing machines but their hunting capability goes down drastically in case of any physical ailment. Physical limitations are the main cause of deaths of tigers in old age but in Vijaya’s case it was something she was living with these limitations every day. With the birth of cubs, the hunting pressure on a tigress increases as she has to feed the cubs on the regular basis and take care of her own dietary requirements as well. Having closely observed this tigress for the past so many years, hunting was definitely a painful process for her and there were days when she went without food for days and weeks. The family was going through this stress in the summers of 2014. When a 18 year of tigress in Ranthambhore can be fed and kept alive because she qualifies as an iconic tiger of the park, could partial baiting of Vijaya (specially in the initial months post the birth of the cubs) averted her death? Food for thought for Saevus readers…

© SHIVANG MEHTA

Shivang Mehta is a nature photographer and has spent more than 150 field days in Bandhavgarh documenting Vijaya’s journey since 2010.


Ranthambhore Post Monsoons

A week in Ranthambhore post a 3 months monsoon break is rejuvenating as usual. The forest is like a green book full of mysteries unfolding in every nook and corner and every day is a new chapter in this book. This year was particularly interesting because of the presence of cubs all around the park. The progress of the few key tiger families like the celebrated lady of the lakes  -T19 and her cubs and charismatic T39 (Noor) was particularly in question as everyone wanted to know how the little striped wonders of the park were doing post the monsoon break. Though monsoons is a tricky period for tiger sightings, the entire park (zone 1-10) flourished with sightings announcing Ranthambhore to be the place to look out for in 2014-2015.

Here are some of the key tiger moments captured in this first week of season 2014-2015 in Ranthambhore National Park – the tigerland of India.

Lady of the lakes T19 (Krishna) along with one of her 3 cubs

Lady of the lakes T19 (Krishna) along with one of her 3 cubs

T39 (Noor) and cub

T39 (Noor) and cub

T24 (Ustaad) wading through the monsoon waters

T24 (Ustaad) wading through the monsoon waters

The future ruler of the lakes - T19 cub

The future ruler of the lakes – T19 cub

The handsome hunk Ustaad (T24)

The handsome hunk Ustaad (T24)

First Day... First Show (T39 in zone 2 on October 1st)

First Day… First Show (T39 in zone 2 on October 1st)


June Journeys : Corbett & Bandhavgarh

It’s the end of June and most parks of India are on the verge of closure for monsoons. I started this month with elephants as the focus of my photography in Corbett National Park and then headed off to escort a gang of 3 photographers who were keen to shoot Vijaya (Kankati – the one eyed warrior queen of Bandhavgarh and one of my favorite tigers across forests of India) and her newly born litter of 3 cubs. While the assignment was challenging since the cubs were too small (two and half months old), the patience and perseverance displayed by our team was exemplary and helped us to move closer to our goal day by day.

Am pleased to share some highlights from June before I head off to the high altitude terrains of Ladakh in July with another gang of young enthusiastic photographers.

Bandhavgarh National Park

Corbett National Park

Bandhavgarh National Park

Corbett National Park

Corbett National Park


Wild Jewels from Kanha & Pench

2 weeks with the wild denizens of Kanha and Pench in the company of some amazing shutterbugs. Presenting a brief gallery of images created during the fortnight.

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April Stripes

From Corbett to Bandhavgarh to Ranthambhore, April has been a marathon sprint with more than 25 days in these forests. As I take a pause for a day before embarking on another marathon journey through central Indian forests, here are just some of the images created and moments witnessed during the month.

Enjoy the tiger digest for April!

The exiled king makes rare visits to Tala nowadays

The exiled king makes rare visits to Tala nowadays

An evening nap

An evening nap

T34 relaxes in Ranthambhore

T34 relaxes in Ranthambhore

T34 in Ranthambhore

T34 in Ranthambhore

Mirchani family in Bandhavgarh

Mirchani family in Bandhavgarh

T19 Trio in Ranthambhore

T19 Trio in Ranthambhore

Mirchani female in saal forest of Bandhavgarh

Mirchani female in saal forest of Bandhavgarh

T6 in Ranthambhore

T6 in Ranthambhore

T6 in Ranthambhore

T6 in Ranthambhore

Tiger Abstraction from Ranthambhore

Tiger Abstraction from Ranthambhore

T6 marks his territory in Ranthambhore

T6 marks his territory in Ranthambhore


Ranthambhore post monsoons…

A forest rejuvenated post the monsoon showers is full of mysteries that unfold vehicles start patrolling the park after the 3 months rain break which makes Indian forests inaccessible. The first week post the park opening for a new season is exciting and thrilling not because of the wildlife that you may or may not see (because of the dense vegetation) but the mysticism that surround the woods.

The first 8 days of post monsoon action in Ranthambhore had a lot in store for me and my fellow photographers as we were the first ones to document 12 Sightings on 7 individual tigers, leopard, sloth bear. October 1st started with a bang with T19 – the reigning lady of the lakes – and T28 (Star Male) making appearances through the green gold of Ranthambhore. A leopard along with the mom-son duo of Noor (T39) and Sultan wrapped up the opening day. For the next few days the mother and son made a sambhar kill right on the fort road. Heavy rains though disrupted the sightings in between but not the spirits of photographers, as they still were able to capture some amazing landscapes. After a 3 day lull period, day 7 ended with 3 males in 1 drive in the form of T28, T19 male cub and T24.

Ever promising Ranthambhore is geared up for a thrilling season this year.

Presenting a photo round up for the first week of Ranthambhore for 2013-2014

T19 sub adult male cub

T28 (star male)

T28 star male


Stripes Galore this Summer

The Nature Wanderers Tiger Marathon for 2013 focused on Ranthambhore and Bandhavgarh and the prolonged periods in these prime tiger territories ensured that I along with the team of NW photographers spent prolonged periods in these striped wonderlands.

The presence of tigress around the lakes makes Ranthambhore safaris very special for as a photographer this gives you the opportunity to create images which are different from the mundane images which you can probably get in any forest. The unique conglomeration of ancient monuments, blue waters of the Rajbagh lake and the silent stripes crossing these calm waters makes the lakes one of the most happening backdrops to shoot tigers in India.

The innocent looking Banbahi sub adult cubs who had made the Tala backyards of Bandhavgarh their playground last season are now sharing territories with their mother (Banbahi female) who is nursing a fresh litter of 4. The pristine Rajbehra area is back in action with the 4 cubs breathing life to the sparkling waters and grasslands of the once prime tiger habitat of Tala. The exiled king Bamera shares his meal with the Banbahi sub adult siblings in addition to being a responsible father for the new litter of 4 (Banbahi).

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Bandhavgarh Bloom

As winter bids farewell to Bandhavgarh, mild showers continue to breath a fresh life in a forest which is all set to face a tough summer ahead. The mahua bloom is on the swing and damp smell of the mahua along with the fresh budding on the saal tree tops adds a fresh flavor to the park just before the onset of the summer.

Having said this, Bandhavgarh springs are fascinating to shoot the striped wonders of this tiger country. The soft morning and evening light along with breathtaking backdrops of colorful saal, tesu and cotton silk flowers give the edge to images which are normally very bland during summers.

Here are some images from the 2013 Bandhavgarh spring:

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Golden Crossing

Living on the edge

Sky-Walker


Striped Settings of Corbett

Saal Cover in Corbett

One of the best wild habitats of India, there is something special about the striped wonder of Corbett National Park. The mystic aura around a Royal Bengal Tiger of Corbett coupled with the rarity and elusiveness of the cat because of the tough terrain makes a Corbett tiger sighting very special. Having worked in this park for close to a decade I have always dreamed about some studio settings in Corbett. Some of these dreams have been realized in the past and some are still carefully preserved as dreams that may realize if Mother Nature is kind enough…

Corbett is the only aspect of wild India wherein you can experience and feel the presence of a tiger against the majestic Himalayas that border this pristine forest. The towering saal structures come to a standstill when a Royal Bengal Tiger walks amidst the saal cathedral making the striped king look a mere part of the vast ecosystem.

As a photographer, I seldom start my Corbett drives with a tiger mindset as for me Corbett is special because of reasons other than the tiger. The dramatic light in addition to the overwhelming backdrops triggers your creativity continuously and your soul and shutter is continuously at work. Tigers have been incidental and the brief glimpses of the cat makes the tigers of this forest the supreme lord of wild Kumaon.

Earlier this week, it was an awesome feeling to witness a tiger in two dream settings of Corbett. Sharing some of the images that depict these feelings:

Tiger in Corbett Landscape

Tiger in Corbett

Tiger in Saal Cover


Vijaya brigade & their play…

Play time @ Bandhavgarh

Play time @ Bandhavgarh (II)

Vijaya’s young battalion of 3 cubs were very quite for the past few days. They were giving brief appearances in the Sidhbaba grassland and in the presence of Mom and Dad (Sashi) loitering around in the Jumuniah area the cubs were lethargic and did not indulge in any major play as the sun went down. However yesterday the scenario was different. Dad headed of to the badi gufa and Mom was out on a hunt. 5pm in the evening, the cubs made an appearance from the cool swamps under the jamun trees in front of Sidhbaba and for the next 45 minutes they displayed some extraordinary play which have not been witnessed in Bandhavgarh for ages.

Punches, chases, arial fights, bonding, love – it was a mix of emotions and the spectators were spell bound seeing the energy level of these cubs. The grassland had become a boxing ring for these young guns as they played merrily for the whole evening and continued to enjoy the session event after the tourist vehicles called it a day.


Pench Perspectives

It was a dark and gloomy evening in the Mowgli land and with the onset of monsoons, the weather was looking great for a drive in the forest but unfortunately pleasant driving weather doesn’t go too well with photographers because of our over-dependency on light sources which keep our trigger fingers happy. To the naked eye (because of the absence of light) Pench which I feel is one of the most picturesque parks of Madhya Pradesh when it comes to landscapes was looking pale and colorless. So I decided to experiment with some monotone perspectives and fortunately the denizens obliged making a supposedly dry drive very productive and interesting. Here are few of the images created during the last 2 days in Pench:

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