We enter Ranthembore National park late afternoon, home to samba, antelope, crocodile, white spotted deer and 26 species of snake including many poisonous water snakes and the cobra. We scan eagerly around our open top jeep. We are here to catch a glimpse of one of the most feared and majestic animals in India…… the Bengal tiger. We learn from our guide that tigers are solitary animals, spending only a few hours together with their mating partner before returning to their own territory of around 20-30 square kilometres. There are 60 Bengal tigers in the park and 5-6 in the area of land that our jeep will be covering during this safari. Tiger numbers are stable in the park, but we learn that 5 were recently poisoned by poachers, despite long prison sentences. Tiger parts are actively sought after in the lucrative Chinese medicine market and can be sold for vast sums of money. There are 2 ways of locating a tiger in Rathembore park. You may be lucky enough to come across a tiger print on the trail, but the most likely is to follow an alarm call made by the animals it hunts. Our guide tells us that there is about a 10% chance that we might spot a tiger during our 90-minute safari. Suddenly we here an alarm call and the jeep races to a shallow river bed, where we spot him, a 4-year-old male, stretched out, cooling himself after dinner. The jeep stops around 30 meters away and we zoom in our camera lenses and binoculars. He is a regal animal indeed, his huge square nose is in the air, sniffing and he turns and looks straight at us…. we are transfixed. His amber eyes, meticulously groomed stripes and white jawline and neck emphasise his charming but deadly face. And then, he yawns, and he shows us his jawline and teeth…they are huge. He stretches first one giant paw and then the other before heaving himself out of the water and slowly wandering off towards the tree line.
We have seen a tiger, everyone is smiling and the word on our lips is ‘wow’!