Tiger Yawn

Farewell B2

Much has changed since our last visit to Bandhavgarh last year.  Many of the tigers that we met and loved last year are gone.

One of Jhurjhura’s cubs died during the monsoon shortly after we left.  However, the remaining two are still alive and remain inaccessible to the public.

Chorbehra the Limping Tigress lost her life in a territorial battle against Kancutti Tigress.

Chorbehra Tigress emerging form the jungle

Her cubs have been driven out of the park and now reside in its outskirts.  Keen to protect them, the forest officials have set up a checkpoint in the area and the cubs can occasionally be seen sat on the side of the Highway Road.

Kallu, who we all thought was heir apparent to B2’s throne disappeared in October and to this day, no one knows what happened to him.

Kallu, son of B2

A new male has recently appeared in Zone 2 of Bandhavgarh and rumours are rife that it is Kallu but until facial recognition has been carried out, this cannot be confirmed.

Mirchani Tigress’s two sub adult male cubs have been taken from the park and imprisoned in Bhopal Zoo for the rest of their lives, having been accused of being man-eaters.

Mirchani tiger cubs crossing the road

But perhaps the biggest and saddest news is the death of B2, the King of Bandhavgarh, on 22nd November.

B2 Lord of Bandhavgarh deep in thought

B2 was gravely injured in a territorial fight against his son.  Severely weakened and unable to hunt, B2 killed cattle to survive but was shot during one of his raids.  When he was eventually found, there were maggots growing in his wounds and he was extremely weak.  The forest officials tried to save him by tranquillising him to take him to be treated, but sadly, B2 died en route.

The new Lord of Bandhavgarh is B2’s 6 year old son, Bhamera.  Just as B2 waited until his grandfather, Charger was too weak to defend himself before he struck, cunning Bhamera did the same.  Whilst he did not kill his father outright, the wounds that he dealt B2 were most certainly a contributory factor in his death.

When I left Bandhavgarh last year, I knew that there was a possibility that I would never see B2 again but it saddens me nonetheless.  Farewell B2, my friend.

B2, Lord of Bandhavgarh

Male Tiger of Bandhavgarh

Tigers of Bandhavgarh

After a rocky start to our trip thanks to the ineptitude of British Airways, we eventually arrived in Bandhavgarh, 24 hours later than scheduled.  Rather than take the overnight sleeper train from Delhi, this year, we opted to fly from Delhi to Jabalpur.  The travelling was still hardcore, but by opting to take an internal flight, we saved ourselves a second day of travel.

Macaque hugging tree

We arrived at our destination an hour before the afternoon game drives commenced.  After a quick freshen up, we went to meet our naturalist.  Much to our delight, we recognised Sanju from our previous trip.  Upon arriving at Tala Gate, we were also very happy to see that our friend Blind Dog, Rosie was still going strong.  It felt like we had never left.

Indian Deer

Our assigned route was B and D – one that we were very familiar with.  As we drove along the route, I was overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia tinged with much sadness.  There was the Meadow where we had witnessed Chorbera teaching her cubs how to hunt and the stream where she used to lay in whilst watching her cubs at play.  The crossroad where we had sat for over half an hour waiting for the Mirchani cubs to cross the road.  The plateau where we first met B2.

Monitor Lizard

We wondered what would be in store for us as we didn’t know the new tigers but were hopeful that we would catch a glimpse of the new lord of bandhavgarh. Sightings were more sporadic because the temperatures were much cooler in November which meant the tigers did not have to come to water.

One of the new tigers was Jhurjhura male, the son of Jhurjhura tigress who had tragically died of injuries sustained when hit by a car the day before we arrived in the park last year. Ironically, Jhurjhura male hated cars and had been known to charge them when he spotted to them so I was more than a little nervous when we came upon him by chance.

Jhurjhura Male Tiger in Bandhavgarh

I need not have worried as our guide was well aware of Jhurjhura’s temperament and gave this most beautiful tiger the space he needed to go about his business. Jhurjhura is rarely seen so the fact that we were lucky enough to have encountered him on our first day, I took as a good omen for our trip.

Our second day gave us the sighting we had hoped for. Bhamera, son of B2 and the new lord of Bandhavgarh. His beautiful face was ruined during his deadly combat with his father but forever made him instantly recognisable.

Bhamera son of B2

As ever, Sanju knew exactly the path that Bhamera would take so when he drove us away from the tiger, we trusted that he knew what he was doing. Sure enough, within minutes we could see the new dominant male heading in our direction.

It wasn’t until we left Bhamera as the sun went down and I looked at the back of my camera that I realised where we had left him. The image staring back at me left a lump in my throat – it was the very spot where we had first seen his father, B2. It seemed fitting that we should leave him there, resting where his father used to pose so graciously for his adoring audience.

Bhamera resting in Bandhavgarh park

I had hoped to meet fierce Kancutti, the new queen of the Meadow. I hadn’t realised that she had lost an eye to Chorbehra when they fought and I was intrigued by this sister of Jhurjhura male. Sadly, we never got the chance as she was nursing very small cubs and sightings of her were therefore rare. We did however, meet Bhamera’s new queen, Benbai.

Benbai tigress of Bandhavgarh

Benbai is a magnificent mother and a fierce protector of her cubs. Indeed, when one of the mahouts went into the brush where we knew she and Bhamera were resting with their cubs, it was Benbai who roared and charged the elephant whilst Bhamera led the cubs higher up the mountains.

Chorbehra’s cubs are thriving on the outskirts of the park. The rangers are keen to protect them so have created a special area where they can roam and hone their skills. There have been many sightings of them, mainly at dusk. We had hoped to see them but we were not lucky. Ironically, the cubs survival is largely due to their father, Bhamera, now taking a hand in their upbringing. It seems that B2’s bloodline runs strong.

We left the new tigers of bandhavgarh feeling that changes were coming to the park but probably for the better. Bhamera is busy securing his borders and spreading his seed everywhere. This will ultimately prove to be his undoing but such is the circle of life in Bandhavgarh. I look forward to coming back to India to see how the tale unfolds.

Pallas cat looking into the distance

Pallas Cats and Tigers at Port Lympne

Today was our first day back to Port Lympne since they introduced their Passport scheme.  It’s been 9 months since our last visit and to be honest, I’m amazed that we haven’t been back sooner, especially since there was the opportunity to watch the Amur tiger cubs growing up!  Still, we’re here now and armed with Passports, we can come back as often as we like.

There have been quite a few changes at Port Lympne since we were last here and I’ve yet to decide whether it is an improvement or not.  Many of the animals have been moved to different enclosures, some for the better, others, in my personal opinion are for the worse.  I was also extremely surprised to see that Port Lympne had Red Pandas again so soon.

Upon arrival, we were given a map and told to make our way to Base Camp.  From there, we would take one of the safari trucks to do a tour of the African Experience.  The truck would stop at certain points and we were free to hop on and off as we felt like it.  Whilst the ride was different and allowed us to see many of the resident animals, it didn’t really stop long enough for those of us looking for photographic opportunities. I can honestly say that having ridden on the safari truck once, I don’t personally feel the need to do that part of the experience again.  For me, it simply ate too much into my photographic opportunity time.

The final truck stop was by the entrance of the Carnivore Territory.  As we approached, I noticed that the Scottish Wildcat enclosure was now off show.  Fortunately, there was still access to the Lynx and Caracals who were situated across the road from the Wildcat enclosure. However, unless you have been to Port Lympne before, you would not necessarily know which path to take in order to see them as they are not signposted.

New to us in the Carnivore Territory was the Pallas Cat enclosure.  It is simply enormous and quite lovely for the resident Pallas Cats, of which there are two – both females.

Pallas cat stare

Regular readers of my blog will know how fond I am of Pamir Pallas Cat (location currently unknown) and how pretty I think she is; but I have to say that this little girl comes a close second.

Pallas cat running out of tunnel

She kept us amused for ages by doing a little circuit of the enclosure.  This started off with her disappearing into her log, scampering around the back to emerge into view again from the tunnel below. From there, she would run along a connecting log, have a little scratch and then disappear back into the little log.  Occasionally, she would mix things up a bit, just to keep it interesting for us.

Pallas cat emerging from tunnel at Port Lympne

Meet Delhi and Calcutta, Port Lympne’s resident Bengal tigers.

Male Bengal Tiger

The tigers were located quite close to one of the eating areas and as we were hungry, we decided to have a very late lunch before taking more pictures of them.  The timing of our eating couldn’t have been better.  No sooner had we sat down than the heavens opened up.  It rained heavily for quite some time and by the time it finally abated, the tigers had retired to their den.

Bengal Tiger of Port Lympne

We decided to go and see the Amur tigers but when we arrived, they were all asleep!  As it was getting close to closing time for the park we decided to call it a day and come back another time.  Now that we know the new locations of all the cats, our next visit should be more productive.

Port Lympne Big Cats family

Port Lympne big cats

The Port Lympne big cats have always been a huge attraction so when they announced the birth of 2 Amur tiger cubs on 27 June 2010, visitor figures rocketed.  We had hoped to visit when the cubs made their first public appearance, however, due to various other commitments, we didn’t actually make it down there until today.  The cubs, little sisters called Zaria and Roza were approximately 19 weeks old by this point but they were still small and incredibly cute.

Amur tiger cub at Port Lympne

Their mother Ingrid Alexandra, was named after the Princess of Norway.

Port Lympne big cat - amur tiger

We spent a wonderful hour watching the cubs play and Ingrid delighted us when she decided to give one of her girls a bit of a wash. The interaction between mother and cub was just precious.

Tigress cleaning her cub's ear

The cubs eventually collapsed in a heap from exhaustion – have you ever seen a more sweeter sight than this?

exhausted tiger cubs

With the cubs fast asleep and their parents also settling down, we decided to go and visit Port Lympne’s pride of magnificent Barbary Lionesses.  The Barbary Lion is also known as the Atlas lion as they used to roam the Atlas Mountains.   Personally, I prefer to believe that they were named for the ancient Titan Atlas, doomed forever to hold up the sky as punishment for siding with his fellow Titans against the Olympian gods.

Barbary Lioness

We spent far too much time with the tiger cubs so by the time we got to the snow leopards, the light was starting to go.  I managed to grab a record shot before it was time to leave the park.

Snow Leopard Queen

I guess we will have to come back to see the rest of the Port Lympne big cats and also pay a visit to their smaller cousins, of which there are quite a few here.

Pug mark

Bandhavgarh Tiger Safari

Our tiger safari was full of amazing tiger sightings and their stories touched my heart. I thought it was fitting that our first tiger sighting was of B2, Lord of Bandhavgarh. He looked old (which he was) but you could feel the power and majesty emanating from this magnificent big cat.

B2 photographed during our tiger safari

Meeting Mirchani Tigress and her three cubs was also memorable but for different reasons. Little did we know that in just a few short years, her two male cubs would be captured and imprisoned in Bhopal Zoo, accused of being man-eaters.

Tiger cub crossing the road

Chorbehra, also known as “Langdi (limping) Tigress”, was a firm favourite. She ruled the meadow and could be frequently found sitting in the river, watching her cubs while they played. The brother and sister cubs have a tough time sustaining themselves as their mother’s limp means she was unable to make frequent enough kills.

Tiger cub in the bushes as photographed on our tiger safari

Kallu is a son of B2 and the heir apparent to all his father’s lands.  Though not as big or as strong as his father, this young male is cunning.  Our guide told us that in every challenge fight to date, Kallu had lost to his father, but somehow, he was still managing to take over parts of B2’s kingdom.

Kallu tiger stare

During one of our game drives our driver suggested a visit to the 35 foot long statue of Vishnu which is located halfway up to Bandhavgarh Fort. Carved out of a single piece of sandstone, this statue was a sight to behold.

The path leading to and the area where the statue is located looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie – there is water falling into a pool just below the statue and monkeys chasing each other across the statue.

statue of vishnu

Vishnu is the God of Preservation. The statue dates back to the 10th Century and shows Vishnu reclining on a bed of the coils of  the seven hooded serpent, called Sheshnag.

Whilst the tiger was our primary target species, the park is full of other fantastic wildlife such as the elusive sloth bear.

Sloth Bears in Bandhavgarh National Park, where you can also photograph Bengal Tigers

This sighting was an extremely lucky one as we almost drove past the black mound, which turned out to be a mother sloth bear standing on her back legs with her cub sitting on her shoulders. As soon as she realised that we had seen her she dropped to all fours and ran away with her cub clinging to her for dear life.

Sambar deer were in plentiful supply and proved to be our friend many a time by making alarm calls whenever a tiger was nearby.

sambar deer in water

The langurs and their babies provided us with hours of entertainment with their antics. The extremely young babies were instantly identifiable by the fact that their fur was dark rather than the trademark white.

Baby langur monkey

Just look at how wonderfully expressive their faces  are.

Langur Monkey

The park is also home to many different species of birds. However, since I am not a huge bird fan, I didn’t make much of an effort to photograph them, with the exception of this stork who simply looked evil!

Stork

After our last game drive was over, we headed back to the lodge for breakfast before heading out to Katni Junction to get our train. Upon arriving in Delhi, we transferred to our last hotel, the Bijaj Indian Home Stay. As our flight home wasn’t until the following morning, the day was ours to do whatever we liked. We planned to do a spot of shopping, but our trip was cut short because it was simply too hot to be wandering around the shops.

The flight home felt anti-climatic after the excitement of 6 days in Bandhavgarh and the trip turned out to be more expensive than I had anticipated. I came home wanting my own digital SLR and powerful zoom lens. The photographic beast had been unleashed!