A Tiger On The Rocks
S. Chandrasekaran, a Project Leader with the Sanctuary Nature Foundation’s Mud On Boots Project, recounts his experience of encountering a tiger at close quarters in the dry landscape of the Nilgiris.
It was the last day of our three-day vulture survey in the Nilgiris North Division for the month of March. The searing heat had sapped us of our energy, while the meridian sun only added to our misery. The rains had failed, and the landscape was dry and parched.
The previous day, we had spotted a tiger kill, a chital, in a dry stream bed some 10 km. away from our base camp. We had planned to visit the site in the morning and lie in wait for the vultures to come swooping down, as the carcass would have rotted sufficiently by then. But to our dismay, both the tiger and the scavengers remained elusive in spite of our four-hour-long wait. However, we observed that a big chunk from the rear of the deer had been eaten away, proving that the tiger had, at some point, paid a visit to his kill.
Stifling the day’s disappointment, we trudged forward on the last leg of our trek. We were following the course of a meandering stream bed (in monsoon!). Closer to the banks of this stream, a kilometer away from our base, lies a temple dedicated to Madeswara, the revered god of the region. We were some 1.5 km. short of this temple.
The stream bed, strewn with glimmering boulders of various sizes and long rock surfaces, was peppered with uneven depressions. While a wall of rocks flanked it on one side, the other side petered out into the dry forest. We were walking along the shoulder of the rock face when all of a sudden a series of growls and grunts shattered the afternoon stillness. It was electrifying! Shocked into silence, we looked around for the source of the sound. Slowly, exercising great leisure, the most illustrious of all cats, a vision of yellow and black stripes, sauntered out into the open, a mere 25 feet away from us.
Photo: S. Chandrasekaran.
“Sir, tiger!” cried the three Anti Poaching Watchers (APW) accompanying me in unison. But I was too overwhelmed to react. One of them shook me out of my reverie and asked incredulously, “Are you a mad man not take a photograph? Why then do you have a camera?” His reproval roused me into action and I captured two decent shots before the tiger disappeared into the maze of boulders.
We quietly looked around, trying to discern the reason for the big cat’s appearance there. Soon enough, we spotted a small puddle in one of the shallow depressions in the rocks. And lo! There was our tiger, cooling off in his personal pool. Right on cue, he demonstrated his displeasure at being disturbed during his siesta. Aware that we were rudely intruding into his home, we quickly moved away.
As we walked back towards our base, I silently thanked the tiger for his benignity and couldn't help but recollect the words of Jim Corbett, “When I see the expression ‘as cruel as a tiger’ or ‘as blood-thirsty as a tiger’ in print, I think of a small boy armed with an old muzzle-loading gun—the right barrel of which was split for six inches of its length, and the stock and barrels of which were kept from falling apart by lashings of brass wire—wandering through the jungles of Terai and Bhabar in the days when there were ten tigers to one ;.........knowing from his own short experience and from what others, who like himself had spent their days in the jungles, had told him, that a tiger, unless molested, would do no harm…..”.
S. Chandrasekaran is a Project Leader with the Sanctuary Nature Foundation’s Mud On Boots Project. He works on vulture conservation initiatives in the Moyar Valley, Tamil Nadu.
Author: S. Chandrasekaran