Tiger, tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night… (Wildlife Travelog from 1982)
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Tiger, tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night… (Wildlife Travelog from 1982)

“Hairs on my body are on edge. Nothing I had read or seen before prepared me for this amazing experience.I know then that the power of this encounter will be with me all my life”

Tiger watching in India:

‘It is still dark when I walk from the forest rest house to the elephant loading platform and join the mahout who will be my driver. He speaks no English, and I no Hindi, but we greet each other, he with a welcoming smile and I with excited grin. I am in Kanha National Park in the heart of India and Dr M.K. Ranjitsinh, the Director of National Parks in Madhya Pradesh, has arranged for me to learn more about the tiger management program. This early morning start is to locate a suitable tiger for the daily tourist tiger-watching activity. Elephants were previously used in the logging industry but are now a cornerstone for park management, providing tiger monitoring duties and, critically, transport for tourists to see wildlife, especially tigers. Kanha National Park is India’s oldest and its 100 000 ha provide a home for up to 100 adult tigers and the game on which they feed (mainly Chital).

The tourism industry is predominantly national but provides income and work for the former forest workers and their elephants. The elephant negotiates trails throughout the Sal forest (Shorea robusta) leaving minimal impacts with its huge padded feet and from its back we have an excellent view. Each tiger is known to staff by its distinctive face pattern and pug mark and this morning it takes only an hour or so to find one at rest after a kill.

We approach cautiously and it seems to me that the closer we get to this large male tiger, the smaller the elephant we are riding. There is mutual respect between these two great animals here in their home ground. From long experience the mahout knows that he must keep the elephant at least 5 metres from the tiger. I consider 20 or 30 meters much more prudent and notice that all the hairs on my body are on edge. Nothing I had read or seen before prepared me for this amazing experience. The first thought was that the tiger is much, much bigger than I had imagined. The beauty of the tiger’s huge head frames a pair of wide-set almost glowing eyes that draw my attention. I sense intelligence and power and only the relaxed attitude of the tiger calms my fear. When the tiger rises and strolls a few metres through the undergrowth the striped patterns cause it to vanish from view and I appreciate the stalking value of these markings. I also further realize its size and again feel fear rising. I am grateful to be aloft on the back of an elephant and hope that the mahout is very experienced. I know then that the power of this encounter will be with me all my life. Tigers are indeed fearsome and magnificent creatures and

Blake’s immortal lines come back to me whenever I recall this experience.

‘Tiger, tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night…’

Later we returned to the village and loaded many more elephants with tourists for their own very special experience.’ PV.

This encounter occurred in 1982!!

 

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