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Bamera’s Day Out

Bamera’s Day Out

Sighting one of the most photographed tigers of Bandhavgarh, now in his twilight years, was a long-standing dream that materialised, albeit in unfortunate circumstances, writes Kartikeya Sharma.

The large and dominant male, Bamera, has been one of the most photographed of Bandhavgarh’s tigers.
Photo: Kartik N. Shukul.

They say you are unlucky if you don’t get to see a tiger in Bandhavgarh. In February 2014, I had gone there with no intentions of even entering the core area of the national park, and so spotting a tiger seemed out of the question. All I knew about Bandhavgarh at that point was that its buffer area was an intense human-wildlife conflict zone. And that it was home to the legendary Bamera, a large male who is probably one of the most photographed tigers in India. He was also one of the few wild animals that I had dreamed of seeing.After a few days of interviewing villagers, we heard that somewhere in the buffer zone, a tiger had entered a village and killed a cow, and that the Forest Department elephants were on their way to handle the situation.

Villagers informed us that the tiger was holed up in a village called Kachoha, a 20-minute bike ride away. En route, we saw scores of people heading towards the village. Oddly enough, the ladies looked as if they were dressed for an occasion, perhaps a wedding. In brightly-coloured saris, often holding children with neatly combed hair, they certainly seemed in a celebratory mood. As it turned out, they were all headed exactly where we were– to see the tiger. By the time we reached Kachoha, a crowd of around 1,000 had gathered. Some had even taken prized seats atop trees. In attendance were a handful of greatly outnumbered forest officials. The two forest elephants had already made two unsuccessful attempts to drive the tiger back into the forest. We could see a dead bullock under a tree, but there was no tiger in sight.

The villagers quickly filled us in. It seems the tiger had entered the village late at night and had killed a young bull, which it dragged out of its enclosure, and partly consumed. It had then entered the house in the early hours of the morning, terrifying the occupants who ran into the fields where they hid until they felt safe enough to call for help. Meanwhile, the tiger, oblivious to the consternation it had caused, was taking a long nap, after partaking of a second serving of bull rump. At the sight of the gathered villagers it retreated into an adjoining field where it dozed off again.

Which is exactly how we spotted it, with the elephants acting as mere spectators! The forest guard who was first on the scene identified the tiger as Bamera. This was hardly the manner in which we expected to see the iconic animal, but we were not complaining. The Forest Department staff said it was imperative that the cat be coaxed back into the forest, and were using the two elephants to corral it along. Bamera did eventually move, but clearly he was not happy and he voiced his opinion with a low, disgruntled grunt that caused the crowd to scamper a short distance.

The Forest Department used two elephants to nudge Bamera back into the forest. If he tarried too long, the elephants would look around for a young sapling, uproot it and throw it close enough to force the great cat to keep moving back towards safety. Photo: Kartikeya Sharma.

Anyone who has ever tried to separate a wild tiger from humans in the periphery of our many tiger reserves will confirm that the first, and possibly the greatest problem, is crowd-control. Imagining that Bamera was slothful and lazy, which is what all tigers are after a heavy meal, a small group of villagers took it upon themselves to ‘drive’ him out. This they did by throwing stones, rocks, pieces of earth, and whatever else they could lay their hands on, in the general direction of where they assumed Bamera was resting. One of the stones must have hit him directly for it was then that he let out a thunderous roar and charged towards us. He even briefly appeared from behind the bushes, which was enough to scare even the elephants. The gathering ran for their collective lives, but no sooner had the commotion died down, than the stone pelting restarted.

The Forest Department wildlife veterinarian eventually arrived and strategies on how to tranquillise the great animal were discussed. The idea was wisely rejected on account of the close proximity of the huge crowd into which Bamera could easily have charged before the drug took effect. It was the crowd that had to be pushed back, behind a convoy of parked vehicles while the elephants drove the tiger out.

Bamera, it seemed, was not destined to enjoy his afternoon siesta after all.

Up to this point, the elephants had taken turns to encourage Bamera to head back to the forest, but now they tried to herd him back together. Each elephant approached the cat from a different direction as the forest officials in charge followed in their vehicles. I positioned myself in the front of a service vehicle following the elephants.

Bamera began to move. First towards a wheat field whose crop was still young and shone a brilliant green. Crouching low on the ground, only the tips of his ears were visible. An elephant uprooted a slender sapling and threw it toward Bamera. No response. Then the elephant threw a second sapling towards him, eliciting a distinct, unhappy growl and snarl.

Then, for the first time, we saw  his massive head rise up from the green backdrop. He was, to put it mildly, magnificent. His bright orange pelage, black stripes and all… against the luminescent green backdrop was breathtaking.

What followed next was a slow march back towards the forest, with Bamera flanked on either side by the two behemoths. Every now and then the great cat would stop to rest. And if he took longer than what the elephants regarded as appropriate, they would again look around for a young sapling, uproot it and throw it at him, careful never to land it close enough to be perceived as aggression. Only the best online friv games are presented on this mega portal.

The rough terrain and broken tracts of land meant the convoy of vehicles had to break formation, revealing a wide gap that was filled by a throng of villagers, still following the drama. Roughly 40 minutes and 10 trees later, we reached the edge of the core zone, where our vehicles stopped to allow Bamera to slake his thirst at a small pond.

Once the reigning king of Tala range, the old and wounded Bamera has now been shifted to the Baherha enclosure in Maghdi zone as he had been entering villages frequently to kill cattle. Photo: Shivaram Subramaniam.

Through my binoculars I observed a few scars on his right foreleg. A closer look revealed more cuts and wounds. The driver, who was with the Forest Department, told me that Bamera had been involved in a fight with a younger tiger a few days ago. Being driven away from his territory and slightly wounded, he probably had no option but to look for easy prey. He may well have returned to the forest on his own once he had consumed the bullock, but that was not a risk the authorities could take. A conflict involving humans would ignite a whole slew of consequences for both the tiger and the forest staff. Following rules, a goat had been acquired from the village as ‘incentive’ for Bamera to stay where he belonged, inside the core zone.

When I looked at this legend of a cat, I could see that he was not the same powerful tiger that he once was when all those photographs of him were printed in magazines and books across the world. He looked old. Tired. Past his prime.

With everyone busy on their wireless handsets, I was probably the only one looking fixedly at Bamera. From in between the legs of the elephant, I could see him gingerly sipping at the edge of the pond. The next moment I found him staring back at me. I assumed he was merely glancing at everyone around him, but it turns out the great cat had singled me out for more than a moment’s observation. Or at least that is what it felt like. I felt privileged. I remembered all that I had heard about this magnificent cat.

First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 12, December 2015.

 
 
 

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