It was the pleasant afternoon of mid-December 2019, I was in my apartment having a siesta for a few hours. The crackling sound of the mobile phone startled me and I woke up to an over enthusiastic voice saying “ there are 4 tigers crossing the river”. When I asked for photographs, a video was sent to me on WhatsApp. Although the video quality was very poor with heavy pixelation, it took me a few seconds to understand that what I was watching wasn’t any less than gold. In the video, I saw two tigers jumping out of the water and then vanishing into the thickets but the caller was persistent that there were four tigers. Ultimately to my dismay, I wasn’t in Sundarban at that moment so reaching the spot in time to behold the entire episode of “watching the tigers glide into the forest” was a perfect miss for me. Days passed by, I just kept on hoping to behold the grand sight of the tigers, I just couldn’t wait to visit the Sundarbans. I made up my mind to wait till my next tour. In my subconscious, however, I was working out the possibilities and trying hard to identify the tigress!
It was 30th December, finally the day came when I visited the mangroves… life in the mangroves is splendid you see... waking up to the call of the wild, watching the phosphorescence of the water, breathing fresh air and soaking in the positive vibes of nature. Here you get to experience the enthralling part of mother nature which is absent in the cities. Anyway, during the stay, once I got the opportunity to have a conversation with the forest guide who was present during the first sighting when I received the call. He enthusiastically narrated the entire sighting and even showed me a much clearer video. The videos helped me to understand the exact location where the sighting happened which in turn facilitated a few deductions. I saw some tigresses in that area earlier. The one thing that surprised me was that this mother crossed a very wide river with three cubs. The cubs appeared to be nine or ten months old and the mother was bold enough to cross the vast river in the presence of two tourist boats. Let me tell you, the tigers of Sundarban are generally pretty shy and are extremely careful especially when they move with their cubs. This dauntless move of the tigress helped me to be sure that this one is the bold female who roamed around in that area, who we saw pregnant in December 2018.
Then came January 2020, my next tour began and by now I was determined to find her so I started to explore the area where this female is seen frequently. Gopal (our boatman who is an excellent tracker) and I decided to work on identifying the female. We tasted success on 19th January 2020, on my birthday we got her, sitting under a tree. After a short spell of relaxation she moved inside the forest and to our delight started calling her cubs, I can’t say how I felt at that very moment, I felt the entire forest was preparing for my grand Birthday surprise and I felt elated but the happiness was short-lived as the cubs didn’t come out.
For the next few days we continued to track them without any luck because they kept evading us probably, the fresh pugmarks were the only consolation for us. Time went by and during the next few tours, we continued to track them relentlessly, going up and down searching various areas in the same locale with the fire, to see the mother and the cubs, in our hearts. On many occasions, we got to see fresh pugmarks, one of the pugmarks suggested that the tigress jumped on a group of otters. By now, the word was out and many boatmen along with trackers were trying their luck just to, at least, get a glimpse of the fantastic four.
During my penultimate tour before the forest closed down due to COVID-19, on the very first day of the jungle cruise, I noticed some fresh set of footprints suggesting the movement of the four towards a particular direction. It was high tide and hardly the footprint was visible properly so, to tell you the truth, understanding the freshness of the pugmarks was quite a tedious task. But from what I have learned from field experience is that many a time the “gut-feeling” works out pretty perfectly. I was a little bothered about one more thing, since the time I started working on these four, I never got a chance to understand their pattern of movement due to the lack of continuous pugmarks. However, one thing was crystal clear, these four moved around a lot. Now one question that kept popping up in my mind was, how were they moving so much without leaving a proper trace? That very evening, I got the answer to my question… you will be amazed to know that this extremely intelligent mother moved her cubs during the high tides.
I analyzed her movement pattern and no it wasn’t easy, I had to move from this canal to that one but yes I was certain now because after I studied her pugmarks around one particular canal, I moved to the next one and as usual, there was nothing to be found. However, knowing this female’s movement pattern I decided to check out a particular spot and then the rest was history…. we got the mother and all her cubs. They had just crossed a canal in high tide and were walking along the river bank. This majestic sighting took place in the late afternoon and there were no boats around which was a saving grace because there was less commotion. We maintained a comfortable distance from them lest we scare them away into the depths of the forest. The mother kept on with her regular patrolling duty, sniffing and spray marking the trees while the cubs followed her.
To my surprise, I found a cub to be quite bold, like the mother, it was out there in the open for quite some time. One kept peeping out of the bushes and the third one revealed itself only when we went a little far away. Unfortunately, Gopal was on leave during that tour so, he couldn’t enjoy the grand sight of the mother and her little ones.
A tigress nursing three cubs that are almost one year old is a pretty rare occurrence in the Sundarban due to its hostile terrain and lesser prey base. A tigress needs to hunt much more frequently when she has cubs. And hunting in these mangrove forests is an extremely daunting task. This mother tells us the success story of Sundarban and how well this forest has been protected. I just hope with all my heart to see them once the forest reopens the post-COVID-19 crisis!
Very lucid and vivid description. Excellent photos. Brought out the whole experience
a glorious experience, and outstanding photos.
Beautiful narration, as I frequently visit sundarban, I could visualise everything you have penned down.Remember I left just evening before when we waved at eachother from a distance.God bless you