This week, at the four-day tiger summit hosted by Russia, premier Vladmir Putin drew attention to India’s tiger population. India has the world’s largest number of wild tigers. Putin even had at hand a Mahatma Gandhi quote — “A country that is good for the tiger is good for everybody.”
In India, the summit has renewed talk about protection policies. But how well do we know our ‘star’ tigers and their successors?
In the mid 90s, Machlli of Ranthambore and Raja of Sariska had top billing. In early 2000, it was Sita of Bandhavgarh. The Madhya Pradesh Tourism Corporation, in fact, highlighted the prominence of central India’s tigers by pointing to the fact that Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book had been inspired by the tigers of the Kanha reserve.
The star phenomenon is more common in wildlife hotspots of northern and central India than in the south
and northeast. Reasons: the former
get a large number of tourists. Open forests ensure better sighting of the
“The forests and grasslands are so dense in Kaziranga for instance that one may miss a tiger even if he is five metres away,” said Firoz Ahmed, chief wildlife biologist with NGO Aaranayak.
That could be one of the reasons why despite the bad news of tigers vanishing from Sariska in Rajasthan and Panna in Madhya Pradesh, new star tigers have emerged, as enigmatic as their predecessors.
Queen of jungle catwalks
Ranthambore’s Sundari is bold and beautiful. Code-named T-17, this tigress has acquired the tag of star cat at the Ranthambore tiger reserve in the Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan.
For the past two years, Sundari (the name was given to her by local villagers in Raj Bhag, her home base), has been a big ticket tourist attraction in the reserve.
“Her walk is like that of a model on the ramp,” says Dharmendra Kandal, a local wildlife conservationist.
Each time there is someone to click her photograph, she seems to stop and smile which could be the reason why she is being shown around the world through television channels. Wildlife enthusiasts say she strikes different poses and turns around to show off her body.
“The glitter in her eyes shows her confidence and it is no less than that of a top Bollywood actress,” said Aditya Singh, a Ranthambore-based wildlife watcher.
Sundari owes her beauty to her mother, Machlli, who had been the star tigress in Ranthambore.
Her boldness matches that of any male tiger found in the wild.
To many, she is a male tiger tapped in a woman’s body. She has a boyfriend code-named T-28 whose family members were recently relocated to Sariska. He was often seen in her company.
Sundari’s liking for T-28 and the courage to protect her partner prevents other tigers in the 890 sq km of Ranthambore from entering her territory.
A 10-year-old with a harem of girlfriends
The story of this tiger in Corbett resembles that of Dalip Singh Rana, popularly known as the Great Khali for his antics in WWE.
No one in Corbett, Uttarakhand, knows about the tiger Khali’s ancestry just like that of Rana, who hails from
a small underdeveloped village in
the Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh.
Like Rana, the tiger Khali rose to fame because of his physical strength. He dominated other tigers in the central part of the park and now holds the position of an undisputed leader.
“To us, the tiger Khali is no different from the real Khali,” said Anil Baluni, vice-chairperson of the Environment and Forest Advisory committee of the Uttarakhand government.
As the name suggests, Khali, is huge. He is 1.5 times bigger than the standard tiger. His pugmarks are like that of an elephant and his roar shakes the entire Corbett area. Other tigers maintain a safe distance from him.
The 10-year-old maintains a harem of 3-4 tigresses and no other tiger dares to eye any of his girlfriends. “He has injured many tigers who have tried to enter his territory,” said a local forest official.
Khali has, however, gone missing since the park opened in the first week of November.
“We are hopeful that he will be back,” Baluni said, quoting two sightings by villagers.
Camera friendly, protective of her cubs
Unlike most tiger reserves in central India, the Valmiki tiger reserve in Bihar does not get many tourists. Still, it has a star tigress, Triveni. She is not camera shy as most tigers are and seems to like the ‘click’ sound.
“If the camera trap is not working, she hovers around the camera to find out why it is not emitting the sound,” said Samir Sinha, a wildlife researcher working for Wildlife Trust of India. (WTI).
Triveni was born at the confluence (hence the name), of three rivers — Ganga and two river-lets in the northern part of 200 sq km tiger reserve in Bihar. Those who have spotted her say she looks cute and that she is like a typical female tigress. She attacks anyone who tries to harm her cubs but otherwise is very calm.
With her three cubs, she holds outthe hope of reviving tiger population in a reserve which hadn’t got much attention from conservationists.
It’s easy to get her darshan
Indiri, Kanha’s most popular big cat, is the locals’ tribute to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who envisaged Project Tiger in 1973 and declared Kanha as a tiger reserve.
Indiri, the queen of Kanha, is also called Route No-7. This is the road where she is often sighted. She has another nickname: manhar nala, after the water-body where she quenches her thirst. “She can be spotted with her 8-9 cubs which is rare in the wilds,” said Tarun Bhatti, a local wildlife watcher.
Getting the star tag in Kanha is an achievement. There are around 130 tigers in the reserve. Many believe that her liking for being photographed with her cubs like a star mother is the reason for her status. “All of us know where she can be found at what time,” said Umesh Kumar, a local guide. Not much though is known of her past. But she attained stardom once the tigers such as Konda and Agasthya got older. But Indiri is 14. Kanha is on the look-out for a new star.
A tiger who makes his size matter
Bandhavgarh is no less than Bollywood when it comes to promoting the child of a star couple. The most popular tiger in this central Indian tiger reserve, Kalua, is the son of Sita and Charger, who were the star attractions for more than five years in the late 90s. After a debut in the Indian television channels, Kalua (so named because of the black shade of his body fur) is an international star; he has featured in shows on Discovery and National Geographic channels.
After the death of his star parents, Kalua, code named B-2, took their place. He is considered more close to his mother than his father who was aggressive and would fight with other tigers.
“He is serious and slightly introvertish,” said Rishi Bhat, a local wildlife conservationist. Even though Kalua is timid and soft, his huge size, which he inherited from his father, helps him intimidate the other big cats, who want to become a star like him. He has been dormant in the core area of the reserve for over five years.
Unlike most tigers Kalua is not a loner. He is normally spotted with a companion in the park.
Till recently, he used to roam around with his brother Bhura, who is much fairer than him. And, as he has grown older he has found a girlfriend — the tigress Mirchani.
Meanwhile, Bhura has moved away from his brother and has gone over to the far end of the 105 sq km tiger reserve.