On World Tiger Day naturalist Ratna Singh narrates the true gentleness of the tiger
I have seen and been in fairly close proximity to tigers practically all my life. Contrary to popular belief that these are ferocious beasts who kill at a whim, tigers will actually hunt only when there is a need. I have in the past decade had scores of tiger sightings, whereby the animal snoozed or walked by grassland filled with grazing deer and did not make a beeline for them. Rather they carried on with a barely a glance at the feast spread before them, they were not hungry, yet. On this International Tiger day, I would like to recount a tale or two of the gentleness and dignity of these animals wearing their strength so lightly. The tiger to me is the perfect Gentleman or woman!
The first most incredible experience was by a friend who was a tiger researcher. This was in Ranthambore National Park. The afternoon summer heat was stifling, and a group of people waited around the water hole. This was a tiger’s territory and he would come here for a drink as evening drew close. There was a small herd of sambar which were in the water, drinking and feeding on the lush grass around the waterhole. Unseen from all eyes, a big tiger actually lay in ambush behind some rocks. He launched an attack and the sambar scattered in all directions. The Tiger however managed to bring down a sambar doe. The tiger then started to rip the sambar apart. He should ideally have started to feed at this time, but something was holding the tiger back. On a closer look at the dead sambar, it was revealed, that the doe was actually carrying a fawn in her womb which was ready to drop. For, the fawn was alive and kicking its legs.
And then, the researcher saw the most incredible behaviour of gentleness he’d seen in his two decades of being with tigers. This big male, did not touch the sambar. He went and plucked some large leaves in his mouth and gently picked the fawn taking it a few metres away from its dead mother. He sat with the fawn in a shady patch and watched it kicking feebly. However, the fawn did not live long, and about 15 mins later it stopped all movement. The tiger continued to sit for over an hour at the spot without having eaten the dead fawn or its mother. This incident luckily has been recorded in a series of photographs, and I am lucky to have one to share on this platform.
One of my other amusing memories of tigers is from an early morning safari that I was taking with a few of my colleagues. I was driving through a rough rocky patch in Pench National park. We heard the alarm calls of spotted deer and langur and I stopped the car to see if there was a predator around. Sure enough, in a few minutes a tigress appeared on my right over some rocks. Her head loomed over me, and she was barely a foot away. I knew than the tigress wanted to cross over to the other side. Adrenalin pumping due to the excitement, I started the vehicle to reverse, but stalled it. Not once but twice! I then decided to sit still, and see if the tigress would go round. But ever the well-mannered lady, she stood and simply gazed at me as if to say, “after you”. I tried restarting and managed to reverse the vehicle. The tigress then crossed the road.