After a successful tour to Pench Tiger Reserve in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India, on 6th June 2016 I landed at the Jaipur airport to continue my safari in Ranthambhore National Park (RNP). This is the park I have visited the most in India for Tiger photography in the last decade. The manager of the Tiger Den Resort, Patrick, was at the airport to greet me. It is a 3-hour drive to the resort where I stayed for 5 nights that covered 10 safaris to the RNP. The park is divided into 5 zones, mainly to manage vehicle traffic. The Tigers that live inside the park were identified with numbers given by the park authorities.
My main interest during this visit to RNP was to see the Tigers in the water. I was focusing in particular on T19, a female cat that was with 3 grown cubs that were 2 years old, 2 females and a male. This was T19’s second litter. In the month of June, the average temperature at RNP is around 45 degrees Celsius and hence the tigers get into water during the daytime to cool their bodies. The jeep driver Susil, whose services I have engaged for the past few years, updated me with the recent sightings and activities of the Tigers in the park. He mentioned that there have been several sightings of a Tiger code named T60 with her 6 month old, three cubs in Zone 2. Although I was going after T19 and her fully grown cubs, we decided to take a few safaris to Zone 2 to try our luck to get a sighting of T60 and her cubs.
On the 7th morning, we were the first to enter Zone 2 in search of the T60 cubs and it took almost 30 minutes to get to the forest area where the Tiger cubs had been seen in the past few days. We generally get alerted when Tigers are on the move by the cry (alarm call) of the Spotted Deer, the Samber or the Monkey. We checked the water holes in the area. Our driver noticed fresh pugmarks of a Tiger on the road near one of the water bodies. Within minutes, we heard the alarm call of a Spotted Deer. At this time I was thrilled when the mother cat T60, came out of the bushes, crossed the road and moved towards a hilly area and disappeared from our sight. Later, the cubs emerged from the woods one by one and came towards the road, but went back to the bushes without following the mother. Subsequently, we came to know that another jeep has seen the mother ambushing a Spotted Deer. By the time we reached the location, T60 moved her kill deeper into the woods, possibly to share with the cubs.
Later the same evening, the famous Aero Head of the park, together with her brother who has been given the nickname Pacman, were spotted along the banks of the Raj Bagh Lake. Pacman has got his name due to the shapes of the black marks on the Tiger’s face which are similar to that of the images of the video game titled- Pacman. Most of these nick names are given by either by forest guards or the jeep drivers at RNP.
Once again, on the following morning we were on the same dusty gravel road leading towards the area where we sighted the Tiger mother and the cubs the previous day. To our delight T60 and her 3 cubs were resting on the road. I had plenty of time to photograph the Tiger family before another vehicle arrived at the site. We spent most of the morning with T60 and her family before returning to the lodge.
During the afternoon safari, we found the other female of T19’s second litter resting on water at a hole located in Manduk area, in Zone 3. She is known as “Lightning” due a mark on one of her legs, which is similar to a sign of an electrostatic discharge during an electrical storm. Later, she came out of the water and we followed her along the road for a few minutes before she moved in to the woods.
The 9th June afternoon drive was very productive. First I was able to capture images of T60 as well as a male Tiger T57 (father of the cubs), in water at a water hole in the Zone 2. Later, we came across Aero Head in water at the Raj Bagh Lake. The following morning, I had a chance to photograph the pregnant female Tiger T39 in water, once again in Zone 2 before returning to the lodge for breakfast.
My last safari was on the 10th morning and just before coming out of the park, the famous male Tiger in the park, the T28 known as the star male due a mark of the shape of a star on his face, came suddenly to the road in our direction. Later, the Tiger got into water at a water hole on the side of the road. It was a bonus sighting for me before my departure from RNP.
In all, I had photographed seven Tigers in water during this safari to RNP. The best period to see Tigers in water at RNP is undoubtedly the month of June. It must be noted that the Park remain closed for the public for three months, during the rainy months of July to September every year.