Ranthambhore National Park (RNP) in India is a world renowned sanctuary for tigers, in their natural habitat. After the mysterious disappearance of the female tiger Sundari (also referred to as T17), at the prime age of 7 years in 2013, her sister Krishna (T19) inherited her territory, which falls within Zone 3 of the park. The two sisters belong to the last litter of the iconic tigress Machali, formerly known as the “Lady of the Lakes” since her territory in her heyday in Zone 3, covers three beautiful lakes. Today, Machali is 19 years old, surviving in RNP with the assistance of the wild life department. My last sighting of Machali was in June 2014, close to the entrance to Zone 4 of the park.
I have been visiting RNP since 2002 annually, but last year was exceptional when I made three trips in April, June and November, mainly to spot and photograph the four cubs of Krishna’s second litter, who were born in February 2014. Sadly one lived only two months, but the rest survived. I was fortunate to photograph all four cubs in April 2014.
I wanted to visit the park in June 2015 when the cubs were almost fully grown, before they separated from the mother. As planned, I arrived in Ranthambhore on the 2nd June by train from Delhi, for five nights along with my wife Lilani, my nephew Indu, and his wife Sanwada. We stayed at the Tiger Den Resort covering ten safaris to RNP starting from the morning of 2nd June. The park opens from 6 to 9.30 in the morning and 3.30 to 7 in the afternoon, during the summer months. The average temperature in Ranthambhore is above 40 degrees C in the month of June, but the sightings are better since the tigers tend to stay close to water holes and the lakes in the park.
Since my focus was on T19 and the cubs, our first safari was unsuccessful, but all the other trips in to park were favorable. In comparison to my many previous visits to RNP during the last 12 years, this is a remarkably high success rate. Most of the sightings were in and around the Raj Bagh Lake in Zone 3.
It was during this recent visit that I noticed that of the three surviving cubs who are now 14 months old, two are females. In most occasions one female was close to the male cub while the other was alone. We noticed that there was some animosity between the two female cubs. There were instances when they fought with each other. They may be preparing to compete for the territory of T19, their mother. One or both may have to leave the territory of T19 in the coming months. On one occasion, the mother tigress darted towards them to stop the fight. It was on our last safari that I was able to take clear shots of the two females brawl, when my camera was shooting at 12 frames per second.
Zone 3 provides the most favorable terrain in the park for tigers, since there is plenty of water in that territory even during the dry months, provided by the three lakes located there. Krishna raised her first litter of three cubs in the valley of Lahpur, since her sister T17 was occupying Zone 3 at the time. Lahpur is outside the area open to visitors, but I had the opportunity of going to Lahpur on four occasions in April 2012, with the permission of the Wildlife Department. Luck was with me on two of those safaris, when I was able to take pictures of the cubs from Krishna’s first litter – two males and a female. During my visits to Lahpur valley at that time, which usually took over 45 minutes of driving in an open jeep, it struck me that life was difficult for the big cats in that environment as water was scarce. In comparison, Zone 3 also has an abundant supply of samber and spotted deer, the tiger’s favorite prey.
The park is closed to visitors from July for three months, mainly due to the rainy season and re-opens on 1st October. It would be interesting to track the progress of the cubs from Krishna’s second litter after the rains, especially the whereabouts of the two females. Hence, I plan to visit RNP again in November this year. But, with my previous experience at RNP during the winter months, tiger sightings are likely to be less frequent when compared to summer. This is due to the fact that the winter months follow the rains and water is more freely available to the animals in the park and also because the felines stay away from water due to the cold weather.