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  • Writer's pictureFrancois Marmion

First tigers!

Tigers are not easy to see. Unlike lions, they are mostly solitary animals, roving around their territory searching for preys. No group hunting, no family life, no pack. Only when they are cubs - until approxmately the age of two - they live with their siblings and their mother. Then, around 2.5 years old, they go find a new territory on their own.

The quest for a tiger often start with some tracks in the mud or in the sand. This is pretty much inconclusive, just saying that we are on a tiger territory, which local guides know already. They know the tigers by their little names and know more or less their territories: here we are in Roma's territory (a fierce tigress), now we go to Savastik's territory (a big male). Very often it is only a couple paw prints, with no clear sense of direction. However, that is a start.

What is more significant is alarm calls. Frow a spotted deer, from langur (the most common local monkey) or even from a jackall. The forest is talking. These animals can't do much against a tiger, other that spotting it and warning others. If there are several calls, following a pattern, a direction, then you might try to position yourself on the potential way followed by the tiger, doing some sort of triangulation. Unfortunately, there is often only one alarm call, or two, far away, not enough to show a direction. It just says that a prey has seen a predator walking around, which could be a tiger, or a leopard. And when the predators is no longer on the move, alarm calls stop.

Then what matters is observation and luck. If you are roving the same territory as a specific tiger, then you might end up bumping into it. This is where luck comes into play, because these territories are huge: a female will need about 20 square kilometers where a big male might need 40 to 100 square kilometers. That is why tiger sightings are not guaranteed and a bit random.

When the land is a bit more open, observation is key. This is how my guide spoted my first tiger. We were alone in our jeep, silent, scrutinizing the grass and then he saw it. As you can tell, it was not obvious to spot the tiger's head (near the right tree, medium height of the picture), knowing that the open land was about ten times as wide as what you see on the picture, so you must be used to screening the forest and the grass.

Then the tigers got closer. They were actually three, never showing up really at the same time, the three cubs of tigress Bijametta. And then they started to play around a bit. Lying down, seating, walking a bit, coming back to the others, seating, lying invisible in the grass, standing up, going around the trees. We were able to observe them for about 20 or 30 minutes. An amazing encounter with the wildlife!

And then they vanished in the deep grass...

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