When a tiger cub seeks your protection

When a tiger cub seeks your protection

Today I am going to relate an incredible experience that I had in 2006 in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. While looking back at my old images I came across this black and white image of a tigress and cub in water and the memories came flooding back.

It was an eventful day. In the morning I had a good sighting of a tigress and her cubs on kill and in water in the climbers point and suaribah area. In the afternoon we reached the spot again but the tigers were sleeping on the hill and were not visible.

Sabyasachi 20060505 3060I moved ahead and then later around 6 pm we could sight a tiger in the stream opposite climbers point. It was the Sukhipatiha male, neck deep in water. There were a few trees in front of us and the tiger was hardly visible. The guide deserves praise for spotting the tiger. The light was very poor. I used my flash to get his eyes shining so that people can locate the tiger. We then left the tiger at peace with itself and moved to the other side of climbers point, to the suaribah area. The tigress and her cub had come back to water and there were a few other tourist vehicles there.

My vehicle was not in the right position, and I didn’t click beyond a record images as I was not getting the right images. We waited for some time and the tourist jeeps started leaving the place around 6.10 or so as the forest department gate closes at 6.45 pm and the vehicles have to be out of the forest by that time. It was 6.19 pm when the tigress and the cub got up and went up the hill. All the vehicles immediately left the spot. My driver commented that the tiger is irritated with the vehicles and hence left. I told him that definitely, the tigress and cub will come back to water after we left the place. So we moved ahead slowly and no sooner had we reached the corner, the tigress and cub started coming back to water. They had a heavy meal as they had finished a Sambar within a day and definitely wanted to be in water to cool off as well as to drink.

We immediately reversed and came back to the waterfront. The tigress and cub watched us and didn’t react. So we realized that they were comfortable. I started creating a few images. My driver, resourceful that he is, suggested that I can click till 6.30 pm and then leave by the other gate. However that meant a drive of about 15 kilometers more. The light was very low and the shutter speed in my Canon EOS 10D digital SLR camera was pretty low. I hardly used to shoot beyond ISO 100 in that camera. So I slowly opened my tripod and placed it on the ground and started creating images.

Sabyasachi 20060505 3129There were a few deers (Axis axis) grazing in the meadows. Suddenly there was an alarm call from them. I was surprised as the alarm call was in the rajbehera grasslands direction. I was told that it might be Sukhipatiha male. It was likely, as we had sighted the Sukhipatiha male on the other side of the hill in the stream. This male tiger is yet to establish its territory. So it was staying in caves on the hills opposite the climber point area and used to surreptitiously hunt and fend for itself taking enough care to hide from other male tigers.

I could see different reactions in the tigress and the cub. We could not see the Sukhipatiha tiger, but the tigress got up and started moving in that direction as if to confront him. Fear was writ large over the face of the cub. It would be pertinent to mention that a wild tiger can cause harm to a tiger cub from another litter in cases where the intraspecific competition is immense. In such cases, it can even kill a cub.

The tiger cub immediately got up and started coming straight towards me. I was worried, because I had placed the tripod on the ground and had placed my camera and lens on it. Even at the tender age of 8-10 months an adolescent tiger has enough power to twist the tripod like a plastic wire. However, my driver remarked that the cub wants to hide near us. I then realized that the cub is seeking protection from the male tiger. I still couldn’t believe it. A wild tiger cub trusts a human being to hide from a male tiger! I felt as if a kid is coming close towards me for shelter. In a world where other fellow human beings don’t trust you, a tiger reposing faith was an emotional moment for me.

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