On the 23rd November morning we left for the morning safari from The Ranthambhore Bagh at 0630 hours. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the final gate, which opens at 0700 hours during November and December. When you go for the safari you have to go past two gates - one is at the main entrance to the park and the other one is where your safari starts from (about 6 or kilometers from the main entrance gate). The gate where your safari starts from opens at 0700 hours in the winters but the main entrance gate opens earlier, as it take some time to get to the second gate on bad roads.
Just as we crossed the main entrance gate we saw T 24 or the Sultanpur male walking on the main road. Look at the rapidly changing winter morning light in the four pictures below. It went from nearly pitch dark to magic light in under 20 minutes. The most rapid change was between 0650 and 0700 - in ten minutes the light went from being bad to brilliant.
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Nalla Muthu who owns and runs Grey Films has been filming tigers in Ranthambhore and around since 2008. He has completed two films - first one called "Tiger Queen" (broadcast by National Geographic) and the second one called "Tiger Dynasty" (broadcast by BBC). He is right now working on his third film in Ranthambhore. He was kind enough to give us a few clips for our website. Check them out - they may take some time to load.
Most of north west India, including Ranthambore, has been going through a cold wave for the last few days. The night temperatures have been going down to 2 or 3 degrees Centigrade and the only saving grace is that there is little or no fog, so the daytime sun is nice and warm. The safaris, especially the morning ones, can be freezing cold because of the wind chill.
The tigers and other wildlife of Ranthambhore seem to be oblivious to this cold wave.
Somewhere during early 2006 T 27 or the Gilai Sagar female gave birth to a litter of two male cubs, which were given the Identification code of T 28 and T 29. Their father was T 2 or X male (so called because very little was known about him), who at that time was the most dominant tiger of the entire national park. The area where these two brothers spent their early years (Gilai Sagar, Thumka and surrounding parts of the north east end of the national park) is out of bound for visitors and has few motor able tracks. As a result not much is known about their early years.
He was first seen in the tourism zone during early winters of 2008. He was first seen around Berda and soon extended his range till Lakkarda and then on to the three lakes, Jhalara and Nalghati. He is now one of the few dominant males of the national park and his present territory includes Nalghati, Jhalara, almost the entire Mandoop plateau, Lakkarda and the three lakes (Padam Talao, Raj Bagh and Malik Talao).
His territory overlaps those of T 16 (Machali) and her two daughters T 17 (Sundari) and T 19 (Unnis). In early 2009 T 28 and Machali had massive fights, which T 28 won every time. Slowly Machali made her peace with T 28 and now they give each other a wide berth. From 2009 onwards he has been mating with both of Machali’s daughters – T 17 and T 19. While T 17 has not had a litter as yet, T 19 has three cubs that were born in the end of winters of 2011 and sired by T 28.
His brother T 29 has established himself in the Berda – Lakkarda – Bandarwal ki Baori area of the park about the same time that Star male took over the area of the lakes. However about a year ago, T 29 was seen in Berda area with a bad led injury. The Forest Department managed to tranquilize and treat him but that probably did not help, as the injury was pretty severe. He has not been seen on the park since then. See picture below.
One of the most awesome sightings that I had of the Star male was on the 1st of April 2009, when Star male and Machali had a fight in Lakkarda – see the slide show of the event below. During the end of March 2009, Machali (or T16) killed a large male Sambar deer in a narrow valley (Bhoot Khurra) in the heart of Ranthambhore national park. Two days later Star male snatched her kill and a few hours after that the to of them had a fight. We were fortunate to be in the right place when the fight happened. The Star male was young and at his peak but Machali held her ground. What I liked most about this fight was the way Machali got out of it, when she realized that she could not beat Star male. She did this by going in a submissive mode and the more dominant Star male ended the confrontation.
The three sisters – “Satara”, “Athara” and “Unnis” (or 17, 18 and 19 in Hindi) were born during the monsoon months (July to September) of 2006. They were the three female cubs of Machali’s (T16) last litter and T 2, who was then the most dominant male of Ranthambhore, was the father. These three cubs (numbered T 17, T 18 and T 19) were first seen, fleetingly and from a distance, by a tourist vehicle in the end of October 2006, when the cubs were really small. However, it was only in December 2006 that we started seeing them regularly. I had my first great sighting of this family in early January 2007 and since then have been seeing them regularly. Right from the beginning T 17 was the dominant one of the three cubs.
When these three cubs were born, Bahadur and Sharmelee, Machali’s male and female cub from the last litter, were still living within Machali’s territory. In other words they were yet to separate from their mother. After these three cubs were born Machali became very intolerant of Sharmelee and would chase her away whenever she found her close to the younger cubs. At the same time she would tolerate Bahadur and would even let him stay in close proximity to the new cubs. Soon Sharmelee took over Lakkarda, which till them was part of Machali’s territory and would rarely cross over to the lakes, where Machali stayed with her younger cubs. Bahadur stayed with Machali and the new cubs for a few months and then drifted off to establish his territory in another part of the park.
During their initial months Machali mostly kept the cubs between the lakes and Nalghati and rarely ventured out of this area. This area has a high density of Sambar deer (India’s largest deer species) and Machali brought these cubs up largely on a diet of Sambar deer. These cubs were born about a year or two after Ranthambhore was badly hit by organized gangs of poachers and the overall tiger density had dropped in Ranthambhore. As a result this family did not have many aggressive neighbors to deal with. Soon after the cubs became slightly bigger she started taking them all over her large territory.
Right from the early days T 17 or Satara was the dominant cub of Machali’s last litter of three female cubs (T 17, T 18 and T 19). While T 17 started carving out her own territory by the end of 2007, T 18 and T 19 stayed on with their mother till the end of summers of 2008. By the end of summers of 2008, T 17 was firmly established around the lakes while T 18 had just about established a territory in the Nalghati - Phoota Banda – Phoota Kot area. T 19 had no choice but to take over the “leftovers” of Machali’s territory – the Mandoop plateau, which during the summers has very few permanent waterholes and a low prey density. Soon T 18 was relocated to Sariska and T 19 took over her territory.
T 19 was always the shyest of the three sisters and her sightings between 2008 and 2011 were few and far between. She spent most of her time in the dry streambeds in the Mandoop plateau and was rarely seen, at least compared to her sister T 17.
During the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 she was seen mating with T 28 (or Star male), who was the dominant male of her area. A few months after this she became very elusive though evidence of her presence (mainly pugmarks and droppings) were only found in and around Nalghati area – an indication that she was either with cubs or going to deliver them soon. Soon after she was seen with three cubs – two males and one female. By the end of 2011 she expanded her already large sized territory to include the Lahpur valley – a great tiger habitat. She now rules one of the largest territories in the Ranthambhore national park and is busy training her 10 month old cubs.