Having just returned from my first trip to India, I find myself still processing the whole experience. Our main focus on this trip was to see tigers in the wild and wow, did it deliver! We saw 24 different tigers on safari, which is probably double what I thought we would see before the trip.
I have always had a huge love for big cats, whether it be lions, cheetahs or leopards and when it comes to tigers, it is no different. I have always said that a leopard is my favorite of all the big cats, but having seen a tiger in the wild and looking at its behavior and body build, they are almost like a combination of all the big cats.
Apart from the tigers, there is a variety of different wildlife to be seen, which is equally exciting as all these animals were completely new for myself and my guests. Majority of the trips we host, we have hosted multiple times before and have seen certain wildlife before and along with that have a general feel of what a trip is like, what to expect and how the trip is going to run. Having had the experience of Johan van Zyl alongside me and having had him visit India before, I had a pretty good understanding of what we were in for and what to expect which was a huge plus.
India, as a whole, exceeded my expectation by far. I think the main reason is because it is so different to anywhere I have every been. It was such a strange feeling to be in a country that is so different to anything I have ever known, but at the same time, it was really exciting to see things for the first time.
Ok, so without straying off the topic at hand, let's talk about tigers in the wild in India.
There are about 47 different National Parks within India, which when you look at it on paper looks really good, especially considering the human population. Where the problem comes in, is that there is a massive issue with people encroaching into these buffer zones and the reserves themselves. What this does is it takes the natural habitat away from the tigers and puts the tiger population under pressure, meaning that tigers are disbursing into areas where they inevitably come into contact with humans (this is the biggest threat to the tiger).
Ever since the first time I saw the Jungle Book, I have wanted to visit India to see all the different wildlife, but most of all to see a tiger in the wild.
Now I have been fortunate enough to travel around a fair amount and see different parks and reserves, but nothing I have ever experienced compares to that of being in the middle of a forest in India. It is the first time in a VERY long time where I have felt completely out of my comfort zone(and I mean that in a good way).
Yes, there are plenty of different documentaries about India and about tigers and yes there are plenty of images and videos on social media showing off India, the culture and the wildlife, yet none of that truly does it justice. Nothing can describe what it is like to physically be there.
I was in absolute awe of the natural sounds I heard in the forest, from the different bird calls, to the spotted deers mating call, it was all so foreign to me, but so refreshing and it just felt so wild and I often found myself thinking how lucky and privileged I am to have experiences like this.
Let's touch on tiger behavior. Tigers are the largest of the big cats. In comparison to a male lion that gets up to roughly 240 kilograms a male tiger can get to easily 300 kilograms plus. Seeing a male tiger in person is definitely a humbling experience.
Typically tigers are solitary cats, much like leopards are. I would say their behavior is much like that of a leopard except they are not as elusive by nature. But just like lions, leopards, cheetahs and other cats, they are very territorial.
The males main focus is to have as large a territory as possible, this allows him to have multiple females within his territory so that he can mate with them and spread his genetics. Females are also territorial, but their territories are much smaller than a males. A male tiger depending on the area and reserve, can have anything from 3 to 5 different females in his territory.
The interesting part about female tigers and this is just my observation is their breeding. From my experience in Africa, when cats start reaching old age they start producing smaller litters of cubs. So for example a female leopard breeding for the first time may have 3 cubs(this is unusual but I have seen it a few times), where as older female leopards and lions tend to have smaller litters. Now, my thinking behind it, is that there is so much pressure on the tiger population that the females are having larger litters well into their old age to ensure that the population keeps on growing. In the 1980's there was roughly 2000 tigers left in India, now with the latest count done, there are roughly 4000 tigers. This count is conducted by only counting breeding adult tigers. So the growth is great and in some parks tigers are thriving, but there are also parks where their numbers are starting to dwindle with the main influence being humans.
So with adult females producing litters of 4 cubs, this is great, but the problem comes in the form of space. If she successfully raises those cubs, they are all pushed away by their mother from around 2 years of age. The males disperse and try and stay under the radar until they are about 5 or 6 years of age and able to seek out, take over and successfully defend a territory of their own.
When it comes to female cubs, similar to leopards, the mother will often give a small portion of her territory to them as a starting point, but with space being an issue, its causing females to spread far and wide in search of a territory of their own.
Both the above raise concerns, it is during this period of a tiger's life where they are most vulnerable to contact with humans.
Having chatted to the different naturalists(guides) at each of our destinations, there are plans to relocate tigers from the reserves that are thriving to the reserves where the numbers seem to be collapsing.
Having watched many documentaries and read about tigers my whole life, there is no better way to learn about tigers, their behaviour and the challenges that face than visiting this incredible country, adding to the conservation of these parks and experiencing a truly incredible safari experience.
Trust me when I say, seeing a tiger in the wild, will get your heart racing like no other!
Until next time,
Incredible India Safari
In central India lies 4 safari regions known for producing some of the best tiger sightings in India. In addition to this the wealth of wildlife that occur there such as leopard, sloth bear & wild dogs will fulfil all your needs and the diverse & scenic landscapes steeped in beauty & history will provide a fantastic backdrop to it all. Bandhavgarh, Pench, Tadoba and Kanha National Parks are all located in close proximity to one another. They offer a diverse & exciting safari experience.