There is nothing like the thrill of walking through the jungle looking for a tiger and knowing they could be watching you already. – Ashlan Gorse Cousteau
What to consider before going on a tiger safari?
Luck certainly plays an important part in successful tiger sightings. But, having jungle knowledge and updated information on tiger safaris in India is even more important. Yes, one cannot possibly know everything about the jungles that you are visiting for the first time, but a little bit of reading helps. More than that if you do some research and find the right people to do safaris with, i.e. the right company, guides, etc, who know the national parks like the back of their hand then you are increasing your chances of good sightings during the tiger safaris in India.
Entering the National Park/Tiger Reserve
Before entering, the national park one must ensure that they are sufficiently rested, as all senses are required to optimize and absorb the Jungle experience. The sweet smell of the flora, and the melodious songs of a great multitude of birds, will obviate the stresses and strains of the world.
It is interesting to note that though the birds and animals do not speak the same language, they still understand each other’s language fairly well. Else, how is it that an alarm call from a langur is well understood by the grazing Chital herd? On the other hand, a call from a racket-tailed-drongo alerts the big and small mammals in the vicinity. Therefore, it helps to know what is being conversed amongst the species in the Jungle. This is Jungle knowledge that is of extreme utility while on a tiger safari in India.
Be an observer
Certain aspects of a Jungle are learned if you are a keen observer, but one must enter a Jungle with immense humility, as the book of nature has no end or for that matter no beginning. In the jungle, all around there is sound, and each sound has a meaning. After doing a couple of tiger safaris in India, one can recognize the alarm calls of Chital, langurs, some birds, etc. However, it is not only about the recognition of the sound. One must try to find out the purpose behind the sound. Alarm calls are often repeated, Chital in a herd will call a few times, while a Sambar will bell usually a couple of times, while a barking deer goes hysterical with his calling.
Locating the Tiger and other species
It is the sounds that are heard once at times turn out to be the key sounds that can assist with good sightings during the tiger safaris in India. For e.g. the snapping of a twig, a low growl, or the single warning call of a bird or of animal that is difficult to locate, is of significant importance requiring instant action.
It is then that you need to understand the direction and distance of the sound, and then you can locate the area of action. Jungle sensitiveness is a key attribute of a good guide who accompanies you during a tiger safari in India. This is a sense that one is born with if he is born in and around the national park, or it can be acquired by living in the jungles in close association with wildlife. This will develop the subconscious awareness of flora, fauna, and signs of a Jungle.
Some signs in a Jungle are understood relatively easily, e.g. if the pugmark on the track is of a certain animal, and whether it is a male or a female. However, how old is the pug mark is something that only quality guides and drivers can make out. This art is refined by time and focussed observation. Factors that play a role in this are to know what time the dew started to drip on the pugmark from the nearby tree, which insect would have crossed over the pugmark, approx. what time and from which direction the wind blew and got the dust or leaves on the pugmark. Only once you know all this, can you make a more or less accurate guess at what time was the pugmark made by the animal. By seeing some fine lines on the pugmark one can also make out the age of the animal, the old animal will have some creases on the pad, while the young one will not.
One can make out the health of the animal by seeing the spacing of the pugmarks. If the animal is hurt in the leg there will be either a drag mark or an uneven/incomplete pugmark of a particular foot in question. One can also know which foot is hurt if at all.
I spoke about being sensitive in the jungle a while back. It is about not only being a keen listener but also being a keen observer. A human eye has a field of vision of 180 degrees, so it is important that one train one’s eye to notice all movements in that spectrum. There is a lot happening and hidden in the jungle. To pick up faint movements is the key behind successful tiger safaris in India. I have written in one of my previous blogs that tiger’s coat merges well with the shadows, branches, and leaf in our jungles. It is possible for tigers, like all cats to freeze and merge with the background completely. The joy when you sight a tiger before your guide is unbound. You will talk to everyone you meet over the next few weeks that it was you who saw the tiger first, hence be on the lookout. Hence do not get drifted in daily mundane conversation while on a tiger safari tour in India.
These are some elementary things that a good guide possesses, but for you to know if the guide with you is good is important after all, you are investing your precious resources and efforts in a tiger safari tour.
A tiger safari holiday is as much a learning experience as an adventure. Therefore, it is important that we remain focussed with minimal talk and maximum listening to the guides, and the jungle to get a full return on your investment.
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Born and brought up in New Delhi, it was Sharad’s childhood passion to play cricket for India. While on a holiday in 1990, he saw his first tiger. Little did he know that this one sighting would immerse him into a realm where forests and tigers were all that mattered.
Sharad’s experiences as a wildlife photographer have inspired him to observe the tiger’s behavior for over 30 years and motivated him on his own journey as an entrepreneur. He started Nature Safari India Pvt Ltd, with a focus on “Conservation through Tourism.” to align himself to the mission of saving the regal species and repopulating them in India’s forests. In 2006, he set up one of India’s premier jungle lodges in Kanha National Park.
Sharad believes that there are many lessons to be learned from a tiger that can be applied successfully to leadership—both in business and in life. Here’s a new book by Sharad Vats on management and leadership skills to learn from a Tiger.