My first safari of the season was on October 2nd. After roaming around for two hours we were having breakfast in Sondar camp. My guide heard a frantic sambar’s call from Baiga Nallah side and informed me, we packed up immediately and rushed towards the nallah, parked our vehicle on Moala road and within five minutes a huge male came on the road and started walking in front of us. Some guides said it was Umarpani and others said it was Link 7, but without delay I recognised, it’s none other than Kingfisher male with his signature hanging belly and bulky size. The first sighting of every season is always joyful. It’s very difficult to know tiger movements just after monsoon, as some tigers change their territory and some migrate to other areas. It takes time to know the cat movements after three months of restoration.
This season I did 356 drives, just like the last one, and it’s been another great year in terms of tiger sightings. I have experienced in the past 10 years that tiger sightings are improving year by year in Kanha national park. Mukki zone, in particular, has been the pick of the zones in Kanha, where four big males beautifully co-exist with five females in small areas. The good news for everyone was to see lots of females nursing small cubs in all zones.
Kanha zone, which faced a tough time last season, has improved a lot where the Link 7 female was frequently sighted with four cubs, all male. It’s unusual for a tigress to have an all-male or all-female litter, the ratio is normally 60-40 or 50-50. Neelam, the collared tigress, who was sighted with two cubs last season, lost one male cub at the start of this season, killed by a male. Later towards the end of the season, she lost the remaining female cub, killed by Link 8 female (half-sister of Neelam). A male called Bajirang (Bheema’s brother) has taken over Kanha meadow this season and he was in a fight with Bamnidadar male in early Jan 2016. He proved his supremacy and Bamnidadar male had to leave the meadow, returning to Bamni Dadar. The queen of Kanha meadow, Umarpani female, was never sighted this season, she had successfully raised so many cubs in Kanha and was too old to survive, by the end of the season it was officially known that she was no more. She had left her legacy behind in the form of a massive male with a huge head who is now dominating Mukki, known as Umarpani male. Another meadow male called Red Eyed was also not sighted this season, he used to visit the meadow frequently during the last season.
It’s always interesting to see new tigers in the park. This season a male was sighted between Nakti Ghati and District Line. After a few days he moved towards Kisli and was seen on Chimta Camp-Dhawajhandi road and then sighted in Raja Kachar area. As per forest officials, it was a transient male who came from Supkhar in early 2014 and was trying to settle down in the area. Mukki had already four males so he moved to Kisli zone and at season’s end he occupied some part of Kisli and was seen in a fight with Budbudi female who was nursing four cubs, sired by Kankata, in that area. Unfortunately he killed one cub in order to mate her, so the female had to leave that area to save the cubs. It’s nature’s course and there is no control over it.
Kisli zone slightly picked up in sightings as they were not happening at the season’s start but there was a dramatic change toward the end, and tigers were everywhere in that small zone. Bheema was a frequent flyer to Chimta Camp from Mukki just like last season. Budbudi female was sighted with her four tiny cubs in Kisli Talao regularly, until the Supkhar male killed one of her cubs, then she was never sighted with cubs in that area. The leading star of the zone was again Munna, most beloved tiger of the park who never disappointed any tourist. But he is aging now, one could see the broken canine and wrinkles on body, he is 14-15 years old, which is a big age for a wild tiger. He was sighted in Digdola, Silyari, Saunf, Ronda and Bandri Behra areas. Near the end of the season, he moved towards Kisli Talab area near Kisli gate as Bandribehra male (son of Budbudhi female and Kankata) started visiting Silyari area and Munna had to avoid any meeting with young tigers at his age. Karaighati male, another aggressive male of this zone, covers to Magar Nallah and Supkhar male was also sighted in Kisli Talab area, so it would be difficult for Munna to remain there as too much tiger pressure in a small area. This iconic male Munna has ruled every inch of the park (Mukki-Kanha-Sarhi-Kisli) and has been a celebrity in years past, one of the boldest tigers anyone has seen with CAT written on his forehead. He’s one magnificent male who has been living his life like a king and left his legacy behind, he will be remembered when it comes to Kanha’s tigers.
Kankatta, another warrior of Kanha was seen two three times this season but later, after February, he vanished from the park and was never sighted again. In his absence new tigers like Supkhar and Bandribehra males had a chance to take over his territory. Budbudi female’s previous litter dispersed and spread out, one of her male cubs was sighted in Kanha zone and then at Bandri Behra. He’s the one now known as Bandri Behra male, and happens to be the younger brother of Bheema and Bajirang.
Kingfisher male with Umarjhola female
Mukki zone, the most sensational zone of the park in terms of tiger sightings, picked up from day one. It’s quite surprising to see four males fitted in a small zone. After seeing some fights last season between these males everyone was afraid that monsoon would be the tough time for them but all of them were sighted fit and fat this season. Bheema looked more confident this season as he stared expanding his territory and Link 7 seemed wiser. There was a fight between Bheema and Umarpani in January, but the fight was even and both males held on to their respective territories afterward. When Bheema was mating with Dhawajhandi female (daughter of BT female) in Feb, Link 7 came and fought with him as she had already mated with him a few days back. Link 7 squeezed in between all three males since he was seen with some minor injuries most of the time. Kingfisher male gained quite a lot and looked more dominant but he knows his limits, as he never entered in other tigers’ territory. Mahaveer female was seen with four tiny cubs, no doubt they are sired by Kingfisher male. Choti has also three small cubs fathered by Umarpani male. Both males looked very protective, most of the time they were with their females and cubs. When Link 7 came to Umarjhola Talao, Kingfisher pushed him away and stayed there for three days, just to make sure that he had left. Umarjhola female (Mahaveer’s daughter) had mated with Link 7 earlier in October and towards the end of June she was with Kingfisher male. It was quite surprising to see Bheema in Minkur Anicut which is Umarpani’s main area, though Minkur was the place where all four males were sighted one after another but at different times. There was one more female sighted at District Line who was having cubs but no one saw the cubs so hard to say how many she had. Overall Mukki has been great this season as we expected.
Next season Kanha is going to rock again with so many lactating females currently seen in all zones. Mukki will be more striking as there are four males and three females with cubs and two other females already mated. Kanha zone won’t be any less as Link 7 female has four male cubs. Kisli will be the attraction of the park where new males are trying to take over and lead the way in the absence of big guys like Munna and Kankata.
Naturalist at Chitvan Jungle Lodge, Kanha