In Search of the Tiger

Ranthambhore 124 We spent three days in Ranthambhore National Park, in northeast India, home of 35 Bengal Tigers. Well, the old adage “If at first you don’t succeed . . .” comes to mind for our time here. There are a limited number of vehicles allowed each morning and afternoon into the park (hiking strictly not allowed), and each outing is a 3-4 hour exploration of a different part of the park. There are many, many spectacular sights in this park, but everyone’s focus is on just one thing — the Bengal Tiger. And, the estimated number of these beautiful animals (see Gibson’s photo above) still in the park is just twenty!

Agra 088 Our first afternoon in Ranthambhore was full of all sorts of new discoveries — Spotted and Sambur Deer, the Nilgai Antelope, the Ruddy Mongoose, the Wild Pig, and all sorts of great birds, including the endangered Red-headed (formerly King) Vulture. But, alas, no Bengal Tiger. We were thrilled with the day, though, and excited to explore the park further. The monkeys were particularly fun to watch, and so acrobatic. Watching them for even fifteen minutes makes it easy to be a believer in Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Agra 274 The next two outings into the park were geologically gorgeous, but the newness of things like the ubiquitous Spotted Deer had faded. We had a few close calls to tiger sightings, and learned a lot about how the guides key on the calls of Hanouman Black-faced Monkeys and Spotted Deer who alert other animals of an approaching tiger. And this Nilgai Antelope wouldn’t be quite so relaxed with a tiger in the area.

Agra 130 The birds we saw in Ranthambhore were spectacular. The Red-headed Vulture is nearly extinct, and we got good views of this magnificent bird. We also saw the Greater Painted Snipe (right) and the Brown Crake, both very elusive birds. Parakeets (Alexdrine, Plum-headed, and Rose-ringed) were everywhere. And we got some great looks at the Painted Stork, the Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, and Black-rumped Flameback and White-naped Woodpecker.

Ranthambhore 107 Just as we were preparing ourselves for the let down of not seeing the tiger, our efforts were rewarded our fourth time into the park (and second on that day), when we got good views of a 16 month old female Tiger cub. Even at that young age, this cub was impressive. It’s hard to describe why seeing an animal like this tiger was so much more exciting in the wild, but it was. We had seen the same type of animal in the Chongqing, China, zoo a couple of months ago, close-up, easily. Yet the challenge of tracking the tiger, and finally seeing her, was really fun. Our family is quite definitely not into hunting, so it was particularly great to see a magnificent animal, and then root for its long-term survival.

Pushkar 036 On our last morning in Ranthambhore, we joined a park ranger for a hike in a non-tiger area of the park, where you can actually walk around. After a lot of time in a jeep driving through the central area, we had a great time just being out and walking around. It’s really quite beautiful, and our preferred way (by far) of seeing a park. A highlight was seeing the Indian Gazelle.

If you’re looking for ideas for where to stay in the Ranthambhore area, we had a great experience at Aman-I-Khas. It’s very small, and you stay in tents. But the tents are exceptionally comfortable,, while still making you feel that you’re right in the Indian countryside. It’s a very well run facility, and was a great place to stay. The manager there, Gerhard Wiehahn, was particularly helpful to us. My other observation on Ranthambhore is that there is so much interest in the seeing the tigers, that they assign each vehicle a distinct zone (and there are five) and it has to stay in the assigned area. So if tigers have been sighted in zone 3, and your vehicle draws zone 1, it’s a much lower likelihood that you’ll see tigers that day. It’s supposed to be a lottery system, but somehow the better guides seem to be able to “work the system” and get the zone where the most recent sightings have occurred. So it’s worth doing all you can to get a top guide.

Feel free to check out our photos on Ranthambhore.

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