Wildlife Tourism is very much in vogue now and in India a bulk of wildlife tourism is happening with the tiger at its core. Every year lakhs of tourists visit various tiger parks in India in search of the stripes. Tourists from both India and abroad, mesmerized by the beauty of the biggest cat in the world, spend millions for one glimpse of the tiger.
From the autumn of 2012, We have been visiting some of these parks trying to facilitate remarkable sighting opportunities for our guests. They chose us because they thought we would provide something more than going direct, some "Value Addition"; Our guests have trusted us, hoped for some remarkable moments that they would capture in their cameras and cherish for life!
Now the big question is: Have we been able to add any value? Bring anything that might not have been if one of us were not with our guests in the parks? Our guests have always maintained that we, many a times, have been the deciding factor in a tiger sighting happening from not happening!
By Almighty's grace we have never failed our guests in any of the major tiger parks (Parks which are famous for Tiger Sightings) or in other words all of our tours to Tadoba, Bandhavgarh, Ranthambore, Pench and Kanha have yielded tiger sightings and that too irrespective of season. So here we bring some secrets of our success!
Choice of ground support:
Yes, this is the first and probably THE MOST IMPORTANT factor when it comes to tiger sightings. Not everyone is a good naturalist, secondly not every destination gives us the freedom of having a great team together during safaris. Some place we can have good drivers with us and somewhere good guides, seldom do we get the magic combo. So it is of utmost importance to find the right partners at every location. Years of experience doesn't always translate to effectivity, at most places we have found the exuberance of youth taking the center stage! The person who is the brain behind your safari has to be fairly experienced and most of all, very quick witted. When sightings happen moments matter! A second's delay can mean you miss the best position for photography. When sightings are not happening then the senses need to be at its sharpest; every sound, every pugmark, every smell of an old kill...each and every thing matter! The driver or the guide who is our main man should always be at the top of his game and needless to mention he should know the game well!
We have found out some of the very best people at every location, people who don't depend on luck but on hard and smart work to get the job done. People who know the game and are actually the winners at the game. We don't settle for the cheapest option, No..Never... We settle for the best, may be expensive but the very best for our guests!
Mentor's knowledge of the park and overall knowledge about tiger behavior:
This is another important factor in making or breaking a sighting. As we have always maintained, we are your naturalists and we try to make sure that good sightings which are worthy of the lens and the camera happen during the tours. The extensive amount of time spent by us at every destination we organize tours have helped us in understanding the locations and its resident tigers to a large extent. Their behavior, their movement pattern, their habits are a few key factors that help us foretell sightings, even at one time a day before the sighting happened. It is the knowledge that help us keep confident as mentors during any of our tours. We do have a lot of dependency on our ground support but with knowledge we have learnt to contribute to their efforts rather than just depend on them.
Freedom for our naturalist/s (Driver and/or Guide as per destination):
Suppose you have a very good team, but the team leader is a coward, he doesn't want to take responsibility. He pushes his team members and wants to rejoice in the glory of their hard work! What are the odds of exemplary results for such a team? Well, most often we see such teams perform at a level that can be best described as mediocre. For it's the responsibility of the leader to be brave and not bask in the glory of his team members.
Seeing tigers in the forests is not easy, whether summer or winter, many a times people return empty handed even after 4-5 safaris in parks like Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh etc. Although summers boast of more sightings as water sources diminish and tigers visit the remaining few water sources making it easier to locate them, yet in a forest sighting is never guaranteed.
When good sightings are happening, all is good but when sightings don't happen then the pressure starts building. We, as tour mentors and leaders, always try to alleviate the pressure on our team. Guests at times start feeling restless which gets into the mind of the drivers and/or guides. We always try to keep our ground support free of the pressure, give them freedom to work with a cool head. We do all the talking with our guests who become restless or who become very quiet. Very often, with our drivers and guides having a happy and free head translate half chances into great sightings.
When our team members are free to work the way they like good things will always follow!
Respecting the tigers (for they give the best show when you respect their comfort zone):
Many, a times, to get a better shot or rather expecting to get a better shot tourist vehicles tend to rush closer to the tiger and very often this results in poor sightings as the tiger decides to move away. We however, at all times prefer to keep ourselves away from the tiger, give the animal space. Make him/her feel at ease. When multiple vehicles sight tigers then one is always dependent on the conduct of other vehicles but we have a fair share of single vehicle or 2 vehicle sightings and those in general result in fantastic images for our guests. We always keep a good distance between the tiger and our vehicle and if the tiger wishes he/she comes towards us giving amazing head-on/side-on images. Whenever the tiger moves we keep a critical watch on the distance between us and always move away when we feel the distance is becoming less.
We have seen tigers walk with us for Kilometers over many such grand sightings which have resulted in amazing images!
Following thy gut ( We have left on-going tiger sightings to find better sightings elsewhere):
A tiger sighting always doesn't mean it is the best that is happening in that zone at that time. Many times a better opportunity may be cropping up elsewhere. The knowledge of tiger movement helps us many times to take such risks of leaving an okay sighting where the tiger may just be lying under a bush or behind a thicket offering little in photographic opportunity to move to a more promising opportunity. During such times more often than not we have been rewarded for following our gut with amazing sightings. We have left such sightings where many vehicles are together vying for one image and moved on to get tigers who are offering amazing images and being seen by a few vehicles at the spot. Being brave in the forest can result in awesome tiger sightings, it is just that the heart should be ready to take the gamble.
As a wildlife photo tour operator, our primary lookout is to provide photo opportunities for our guests. Photo opportunities result from quality sightings. It is always in the interest of our guests that we take every decision inside a park. The above mentioned factors are the key value additions to a general package wildlife tour that have always helped us maintain a 100% sighting record and at most times create some of the best photo opportunities possible. In future we will continue to stick to our standard modus operandi and try to create more amazing photography opportunities for our guests!