Sunday, 19 July 2009

Tiger Tracking in BR Hills, South India

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15th July 2009
Mandanna climbed out of the jeep sniffed the air along the side of the road, stopped and looked down. To me he had ceased his investigation above what could have been a tyre mark on the verge. To Mandanna however, one of South India's top Tiger trackers, this was a sure sign that Panthera tigris had passed this way. With a record of over 50 sightings in the past two years I wasn't going to question anything.


He picked a clump of grass and offered it to me for a whiff. 'Tiger pee' he said in his softly Spoken English. I couldn't smell anything but Mandy, as his friends call him, assured me that this was it. 'it must be about a week old' 'if it was fresh you could smell it from here' he said standing back several yards. The 'tyre' prints were, as Mandy explained, a sign of Tiger prowess - 'this was probably a male and this, it's paw mark'. I could now make out the deep sweeping motion of a disturbingly large paw and several gauges where it's claws had sliced through the surface.


The Tiger wasn't trying to be discrete or cover up his doings, he was unceremoniously flinging it as far as possible. He was marking his territory. We walked several metres down the track and there was another one, we walked a little further still and Mandy pointed out several deep pug marks leading down the side of the verge.


Then we stumbled upon a pile of scat, tiger faeces,'several weeks old - probably a Samba deer' he said. The Samba had been reduced to a fading clump of gray hair and the scat was a mere shadow of it's former hot and steamy self. I don't think I've ever found cat poo so interesting - certainly not interesting enough to photograph it from every possible angle. This was Tiger country and things were hotting up. This track was obviously a regular latrine, a tiger toilet. I looked out into the dense forest and wondered if some large cat was sitting looking back dying for the loo and wondering what on earth we found so fascinating.



Later that day we returned with our camera traps. Anything warm blooded passing by would be caught in the action, snapped for prosperity. Mandy has camera trapped hundreds of rare mammals. Helping scientists to estimate populations of some of the more elusive forest dwellers. Civets, the shy mouse deer, the tiny slender loris, the small clawed otter, the leopard cat, and the brown mongoose amongst others. He has snapped poachers sneaking through the forests and has helped local officials to identify the culprits. But it's the Tiger that excites him the most. The stripes on a Tiger are like a fingerprint, each unique to the individual. By photographing them Mandy has been able to estimate a population of more than 40 individuals in the BR Hills Reserve and with 50 sighting it's likely that he's seen most of them personally. His eyes light up when he tells me how opening a camera trap in the morning is like tearing open a present on Christmas day. 'I always hope for a Tiger inside but anything is a treat'. I hope Santa visits in the night.


16th July 2009
Excitedly we hurried to the camera trap. I really expected my luck to be in. Afterall here I was with one of the top tiger trackers but as we flicked through the images it was false call after false call.

Something had triggered the camera alright - maybe something moving too fast to actually be photographed. Whatever it was we had a dozen or so photographs of the other side of the path. And then, finally something... Pale with dark marks. It was a Civet, a real nocturnal dweller and a real privelidge to see. But not a tiger! And as we flicked forward the only other thing we had captured was a mouse. Sadly my dreams of seeing a tiger were over for now. Mandanna showed me the magnificent images he had captured at other times on that same track. Beautiful as they were it just didn't seem to excite me in the same way. At least I can go home happy that I smelt the pee of a Wild Tiger.

Images: Camera trap images of Civet Cat and Tiger by Mandanna Dilan.

Watch 'Tiger tracking - Poo, Pee & Pugmarks!'  posted March 2009

1 comment:

  1. Nice work Paul. sorry to hear u didnt c a tiger. Great adventure though. Thanks for sharing. Chris

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