We all dream of seeing a tiger at least once in the forest, than seeing it in the zoo. That quest of mine took me to explore the Ranthambore National Park where I went to learn more about tigers and their habitat. My first visit to Ranthambore specially for seeing tiger in their habitat was breathtaking and definitely something I had always dreamt of.
The Ranthambore National Park is in Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan State and is located at the junction of the Aravalli and Vindhya hill ranges. It is spread over an area of 1334 sq km, of which 392 sq km is described as core sector. Ranthambore was declared a tiger reserve in 1973 as part of the tiger conservation programme called ‘Project Tiger’ and later became a national park in 1980. In the 20th century, the forests of Ranthambore were the private and exclusive hunting reserves of the Rajasthan royal families.
Being one of the largest national parks across India, it is also one of the best places to see tigers in the day time hunting their prey, pampering their young cubs and the different moods they bring to the wild.
A guide helps
Now, to go for sightseeing in a wildlife sanctuary, you need to have a wildlife enthusiast along with you or someone who knows about wildlife. So Gaurav was my perfect choice from there for me who guided me from the tiger habitat to species of birds, to flora and fauna, surrounding areas of Ranthambore and each story was narrated to great advantage.
Gaurav said that the national park has more than 400 sq. km which has great flora and fauna as well to go with it. Tigers in this forest have their set zones which makes it easier to identify them and track them down.
When I arrived with a twinkle in my eyes to see at least one tiger as the forest started, I was surprised to see a big monitor lizard blocking our road to enter the zone, while it headed to a lake in the dry deciduous forests of Ranthambore. It was a boon to the wildlife lover like me. Immediately the thought came to my mind that the chances of sighting the wild king would be soon.
The park is divided into five zones and the sanctuary is divided into 10 zones. I moved ahead in the forest jeep, which made enough noise for the birds and other reptiles to hide away, but being regular with the jeep, they still waited, took a peep and hid to camouflage themselves. While I was accompanied by wildlife photographers, they all carried camera equipment which looked more or less like guns and bazooka, my thirsty eyes and camera didn’t give up the thrill to capture some glimpses of the big cat.
“The tiger population has declined due to poaching and various other reasons in this park. However, there are some of them who have overcome this horrifying business,” says Gaurav. If one doesn’t spot tiger in this forest, then they can definitely keep an eye to watch some species of birds from 320 species, over 40 species of mammals and over five species of reptiles. You might want to keep a great watch on the trees. You might spot leopards playing with cubs, caracals, jungle cats, sloth bear, etc.
Moving in the forest in a jeep
While the jeep kept moving away from the main entrance, I was about 20 mins into the forest, and I strangely heard various calls from the animals and birds, which was like alarming calls. Then I was told by another wildlife enthusiast that when a tiger or leopard is moving in an area closer to them, many animals like deer, monkey, etc., give calls to each other to warn them about the carnivores coming their way.
As we slowly moved ahead, we all kept quiet, and what do I see in front, “Sultan” is lying under a tree, covered with muck from bottom, in a cold area after having a heavy meal as could be judged from his stomach. Sultan is the male cub of mother Noor (T-39) which was found on a hot summer day in 2012 in the Sultanpur area.
Names and their zones
The tigers in this park are given the names to identify them in their zones, along with number as well like T-39 , T-41. From a young age Sultan was always ready to stare down jeeps and canters, as heard from Gaurav, and he still has a magnificent aura around him. The name was also associated with him in reference to kings and emperors, ones who signify authority. As I kept looking at Sultan who must have been only five feet away from me, as he rested in a hot afternoon where the temperature was 49 degree C, I was excited to see his mother who must be more magnificent.
Sultan’s father is T-24 Ustaad. Going further I saw Noor (T9) tigress who also has now given new litter for the season. The most famous and tourist friendly tigress who usually poses for wildlife photographers is Machali T-16 . She is veteran to the park, who is also now toothless and never goes back from introducing her cubs to the world. With the sightseeing of these kings and queens, I couldn’t stop myself to go for three more safaris and discover the habitat of each tiger and the zone.
The unique thing I realised is that tigers are territorial in behaviour and they identify their territory. The tiger marks the trees by spraying urine along with marking with their claws. While we were leaving the park, Noor was marking her territory. This helps other tigers to pick up information about sex, reproductive status and the powerful behaviour of each one.
Sharing some of the zones and the tigers found in Ranthambore National Park which will make it easy as reference if you are visiting soon:
Zone 1 Sultan ( T-72 ), Noor (T-39), Ustaad (T-24)
Zone 2 Krishna (T-19), Gayatri (T-22), Ustaad (T-24), Noor (T-39), Sultan (T-72), Jhumru (T-20)
Zone 3 Star Male (T-28), Krishna (T-19), Three cubs of Krishna (T-19)
Zone 4 Machli (T-16), Bhola/Dollar Male (T-25), Krishna (T-19) with three cubs, Star Male (T-28), Romeo (T-6), Bond (T-47)
Zone 5 Romeo (T-6), two cubs of Sunehari (T-17), Bhola/Dollar Male (T-25), Bhadur (T-3)
Zone 6 Ustaad (T-24), Kumbha (T-34), Sultan (T-72), Noor (T-39)
Zone 7 Ladli (T-8) with one cub, Kumbha (T-34)
Zone 8 Ladli (T-8) with one cub, Kumbha (T-34)
Zone 9 Fateh (T-42)
Zone 10- T-42 (Fateh, male tiger), T-13 (Old Sultanpur female) & her three 6 months old cubs
So now when you visit Ranthambore National Park, proudly identify the tigers with the zone you take.