During the past two decades, I have been visiting Ranthambhore National Park (RNP) in India, mainly to photograph the most majestic big cat on the animal planet, the Bengal Tiger. It is classified as an endangered species by the IUCN. Number of Tigers in the world that were over 100,000 in the 1900’s reduced to less than 4,000 in the 1970’s mainly due to poaching, and habitat loss. Most of the surviving Tigers in the wild are found in India. The creation of India’s Tiger Reserves in the 1970’s helped to stabilize the Bengal Tiger population without reduction at around 2,500.
My last visit to RNP was in May 2018 from the 15th onwards. I booked 20 safaris and was able to photograph 18 different tigers. It was the first time I was able to spot that many of this big cat in a single tour during my past 18 years travel to this National park. My favorite was a female tiger known as Machali (T16), the icon of Ranthambhore. She lived for 20 years and when she died in 2016 was considered the Tigress that had lived the longest in the wild. She was given a state funeral in Sawai Madhopur, since she played a key role in the regeneration of the tiger population of the park. Most tourists, local as well as foreign who visit the park talk mainly of Machali and her descendants.
Numbers are given to the Tigers at RNP by the forest department for identification based on the land territories they occupy, supported by special marks or skin patterns on the head or other parts of the body. Some are given nick names too. Machali means “fish” in Hindi, since this tigress has a mark on the left side of her head that resembles a fish.
This summer in Ranthambhore temperatures were unusually high, going up to 45 deg C in the month of May. Most of the water holes had dried up. The animals in the park had to visit the few water holes that had water for their needs.
During my last visit to the park, I was mainly interested in T19 (daughter of Machali) and her third litter of three cubs, two males and a female, who were born in early 2017. Hence, on the first two days of my trip I concentrated on zone 4, the territory of T19 and her cubs. On the safari of the 17th May morning, I was able to photograph the whole family together in water. The Tigers stayed in water for at least 15 minutes before they moved away from sight. This rare sighting reminded me of Machali together with her fourth and last litter of three female cubs identified as T17, T18 and T19 in water, which I photographed back in April 2007 at Rajbagh Lake in Zone 3, when the cubs were 6 months old. Today T19 is 12 years old, and she has added nine cats to the Tiger population in the park. She is also known as “Krishna” named by former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot after the Olympic athlete Krishna Poonia.
Arrowhead (T84), a female tiger, presently occupying the territory of Zone 3 is from T19’s second litter. She gave birth to two cubs in February this year but they were short lived. We sighted her on the 16th morning in Zone 3. It was the first Tiger in wild that my brother Pala his wife Nilanthi saw as they joined me and my wife Lilani on this tour to RNP for 6 nights. Thereafter, my nephew Indu and his wife Sanwada joined us for the rest of the tour in Ranthambhore.
I was also able photograph T39 known as Noor, another famous Tigress of RNP, living in Zones 1 and 2, together with her three 20-month-old cubs in water. They are all females from her fourth litter. Apart from these sightings, I had the opportunity to photograph tigers identified as two males, offspring of T60 in Zone 2, an adult male T74 a son of T17 in Zone 5, adult female T41 and her male cub in Zone 5, two males of the tigress(T8) and a male (T34) in Zone 6 while another male (T86) in Zone 3. In total 18 different Tiger sightings which is quite remarkable. Apart from these cat sightings, we also saw five Sloth Bears and a Leopard.
Today, Tigers in India attract many tourists, nature lovers and wildlife photographers from all over the world resulting in substantial revenue to the country, and many say more than the income generated for the country by the national cricketers. We hope these “GREAT AMBASSADORS OF INDIA” are protected forever by the people of India.