Just Tigers

  • Night drives show this young cubs waiting for their mother, breeding tigers are the true indicators of any Tiger Reserve, BRT scores well on this front.
  • As temperatures soar during the mid-day, a cool stream bed is a preferred resting place for tigers.
  • Large bodied prey like Sambhar  is preferred by Tigers. Noted biologist A.J.T. Johnsingh put its succinctly ‘Sambhar conservation is Tiger conservation’.
  • High altitude grasslands of BRT abound in large bodies prey like Sambhar and Gaur.

    Image Courtesy : Philip Ross
  • 60 years on scientists confirm Alan Turing’s theory for why tigers have stripes. The stripes a fine adaptation for stealth and ambush help the tiger succeed inspite of all odds.
  • Young tigers practice early on the stealth and ambush over small animals, decoy prey and among cubs. This honed over time prove the bare essentials of a successful living.
  • Sholigas have great respect for the tiger, not withstanding ‘Doddanayi’  (Big dog) which they call the Tiger.
  • Marrying natural history to technology is the new trend in conservation, staff check up the results of camera trapping right in the field.
  • Effective foot patrols are the backbone of any successful Tiger conservation on the ground.
  • Nothing draws more satisfaction than, when tracked Tigers show up results like this, reinforcing the simple adage ‘Seeing is believing’.
  • Tigers are prolific breeders, this foetus was one among six cubs, which was found tragically in a dead tigress a few years ago in BRT Tiger Reserve.

    Image Courtesy : BRT Tiger Reserve / Vinay S.
  • Caves for good denning sites and young tigers have bluish eyes in the first few weeks. Mortality among young cubs is very high in the first few months.

    Image Courtesy : K.M.N.Narayanaswamy
  • As ecologists debate whether the invasive Lantana has helped the tiger or not, a tiger uses Lantana to prepare for an ambush.
  • Just as recruitment rate of Tigers is high, so also is mortality, natural death of tigers due to fights, old age and disease keep numbers in check.
  • Competing for the same food base is the stealth predator Leopard which uses trees to drag up kills to prevent take over by Tigers and Wild dogs.
  • Tiger tourism is a new avenue for the Reserve to augment funds for conservation. BRT Tiger Reserve has the right blend of responsible tourists and numbers to make it operational at sustainable limits.

    Image Courtesy : Sanjana Raj
  • A simple pugmark is the true signature that all is well with the Tiger Reserve.

1

Tigers estu ? (How many tigers ? in Kannada) is the common question, put regularly to me ever since I took charge as the first Director of the Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve (BRT TR). The newly created BRT Tiger Reserve was joining the more popular and well known list of Tiger Reserves like Bandipur and Nagarhole in the State of Karnataka in South India. In a time where Karnataka was moving towards the epithet of ‘Tiger State of India’ it was quite natural that everyone expected BRT TR to match up to its well-known counterparts.BRT TR located in the scenic Biligiri Rangan Hills is a popular pilgrim destination. Situated on top a white rock cliff is the popular temple of Bilgiri Ranganathaswamy (see legend/history of BRT), the Tiger Reserve takes its name after its popular deity.  With an entire range of forest types ranging from dry scrub to dry deciduous, moist deciduous, semi-evergreen, evergreen to shola grasslands, BRT has it all (see more on this in Forests section). What sets it apart is its most arduous terrain with over 70% of the landscape of the BRT TR having a slope over 35-70%. It is most scenic coupled with all the challenges, which a terrain like this offers.

Coming back to the tiger, recent scientific studies revealed a significant tiger numbers for the Tiger Reserve, this recent knowledge also confirmed that BRT TR was host to a good number of breeding tigers as well. Knowing a handle on prey species is, what is touted, as a  keystone in assessing the future potential for any Tiger Reserve. Surprisingly this is where BRT-TR scores very well. Tiger the apex predator, prefers large bodied mammals like Gaur and Sambhar. BRT TR is surprisingly well stocked with such large bodied prey. In net Prey Kilogrammes/sq km it is listed well above high tiger density parks like Kaziranga and Pench. This is very welcome news. Sustaining and improving prey density coupled with rigorous protection is the key to ensuring and consolidating Tiger numbers for BRT.

2

Being in a tiger landscape, which is regarded as the most promising stronghold for the Tigers in the world (see National Geographic Decemeber 2011 issue) supported by intensive scientific research in the recent years makes BRT TR a Tiger Reserve with immense potential. BRT is also not an isolated Tiger Reserve, a large portion of the Tiger Reserve shares its boundaries across the adjoining state of Tamilnadu bordered by another newly created Tiger Reserve of Satyamangalam Tiger Reserve which is also connected to Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and which in turn is connected to Bandipur and Wynaad and further onto Nagarahole makes it a veritable storehouse of Tiger genepool of South India. With recent evidence of Tigers moving across long distances to occupy new landscapes, it is clear that Tigers are exploring new territories and consolidating in areas where abundance of prey and safety is ensured.Reverting back to the issue of Tigers in BRT. It is pertinent to know that in the 1990s and early 2000 BRT was not very much in the Tiger loop, to sum it up I would recollect a small discussion I had recently with one of the officers who served as DCF in the  early 90’s for over 3 years, who toured extensively in the Reserve. He goes onto  mention that during his entire tenure he could not sight a single tiger though many leopards were encountered and even indirect evidences were few and far between. Fast forward to 2012. Hardly a week passes by where the Walkies from different Anti-poaching camps do not report the sighting of Tigers. Much has clearly changed for the Tiger.

With a significant human presence be it either forest dwelling tribes, visiting piligrims or surrounding villages everyone is a stakeholder along with the Tiger and other wildlife. Protecting the Tiger from disturbing human activities is the main challenge. The thrust on protection coupled with rigorous scientific documentation is the way forward for the Tiger.

BRT TR is not just known for Tigers but also for the amazing array of landscape and wildlife be it mammals, birds or lesser fauna (See ICONS). Setting up of effective field units, which are equipped with state of the art firearms and capable of neutralizing threats before they emerge, is the primary requirement. Followed by systematic scientific approach towards data collection and compilation, aided with high-end data collecting gadgets like digital camera traps, laser rangefinders and night vision equipment.

3

Within a few weeks of joining I am surprised at the regular sightings of large bodied prey animals in the reserve. The tiger remains elusive but there are numerous indirect evidences. As the winter peaks, I intensify my patrols hoping to catch a glimpse of the Tiger. Many alarms calls and tense moments spent, to catch a glimpse, fade away without materializing into a tiger sighting. I leave it to fate. I recall a terse saying put up in a well-visited pilgrim town ‘It is not the Darshan you get but the Darshan He gives’ I remain philosophical. Finally my big moment arrives and I get a  total shock where I encounter a Tiger at 50ft when I am on foot late evening while birding with a colleague`. The Tiger and I run into each other on a ‘Z’ shaped bend on the main road. The Tiger in this instance behaved exactly like the way Jim Corbett describes when he ran into tigers in his neighbourhood of Kaladhungi forests. He simply melts away into the forests. Soon my jinx in broken and in a short time I run into the Tiger many times including waking up to tiger calls in forest rest houses, to enduring many minutes of road blocks on forest roads by Tiger cubs. Many days pass, sometimes the sightings are few and far between sometimes it is often.I rely on keeping up with the Tigers by equipping my staff with camera traps, I try various models and come with mixed results but surprisingly my staff is upto the task, the young recruits take to the technology akin to a child taking to a smartphone nowadays. The confidence is getting better. Guards start addressing as ‘Nanna huli’ (My tiger). For many of them who are barely out of their training schools this is a direct hands-on learning. We still have a long way forward.

Everyday, it is the culmination of various activities all trying to make BRT TR a safer home for the Tiger. As I wind up my day touring and as I near the Forest Rest house which doubles as my home for many months, I straighten up as my Walkie crackles to life “Tiger Sighting” comes the voice across, my control room asks for a repeat and quickly comes the reply “Tiger Sighting near Kadabanakatte, Thayi mathu mari (mother and cub)”.

 

In the world of tigers, one thing is assured, it is never short of surprises …

 

Author : Mr. Vijay Mohan Raj, CCF, Karnataka
Outgoing Director, BRT TIGER RESERVE

One comment on “Just Tigers
  1. Gurunath Desai says:

    Very nicely written text and good images makes page a must for all wildlife lovers.Gives a precise picture of BRT.My congratulations for beautiful images precise texting and a neatly designed website.

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