Today for me has been a very touching and moving day, we spent an hour in the company of Machali, the Queen of Ranthambhore. She is seventeen years old now maybe even more and hasn’t been seen for months presumed dead. Many people have been looking for her and a few weeks back she was spotted once more. After another early rise and out before first light heading to the national park of Ranthambhore we were once again given our zones and off we set on the search for wild Tigers.
As we traveled along the dirt track, dust everywhere, the light was beautiful. One of my jeeps was in another zone to us and we found ourselves alone. We looked over to our left and there was a Tiger sitting down. Instantly the word “Machali” was said. There she was, missing for months and now laying down on the ground. As we drove closer she became aware of us. That first contact with a wild animal is always special to me. We got within a safe distance of her and turned the engine off. She turned around to see us and I couldn’t believe she was there I truly couldn’t.
Not long after we’d arrived she got up, its then I first noticed how poorly she was. I had read that she was unwell and in her final days but it wasn’t until she stood up that the true extent of those rumours became very real. I took some photos but stopped if Im honest and she limped pass the jeep, her tongue almost at times falling out of her mouth as she no longer has any teeth in there to hold anything in.
I will not publish those few photos of her limping past my jeep or any other that show her in difficulty because I want to remember her in the best way I can as I feel she is on her last legs so to speak and may die very soon. She’s in a bad way, four years ago I had seen her and she looked well, last year I had a brief encounter but nothing special but here I was with my client tucked away, with no other person around watching the Queen Of Ranthambhore as she’s known.
For a number of years the forest department in Ranthambhore have put dead Buffalo out for her to eat as she can no longer hunt and kill her prey having had all her teeth over the years fall out or drop out. She is famous for killing crocodiles here and this is where is legionary status begun and her teeth started to come out. But a recent decision to stop putting food out and let nature take its toll has come into place I’m told. I would like her to dead her way and with some dignity so even though its hard I feel its the right thing to do and let her leave this world as she came in on her own terms.
It was very unsettling because there was life all around her yet her she was in real pain and slowly dyeing before my very eyes. She walked past the jeep and went into the water, backing herself in very slowly and carefully, limping so bad she was almost using three legs instead of four. No images were taken during this time as i watched wanted to get out and help her as I truly hate seeing animals in discomfort but this is a wild Tigress I am talking about and no teeth or not it pays not to get too close and I didn’t want to anyway really.
She settled in the water and stayed for for well over forty mintues, slight moving her position from time to time. While she was doing this the sun was still raising, bathing the whole area is some amazing light. The conditions were beautiful with little wind and no noise we just sat there and took photos of her and watched and it was amazing if I’m honest. This Tigress was written off a while back, presumed dead and here we where feet away from her.
Then without warning she very slowly got up and begun to walk away from our postion. We were able to follow her a bit before she vanished into the dense forests there. All the time her pace was slow and the pain and discomfort she was in was painful to see and watch for me.
She was gone then and that was most probably the final time I will see her alive as she’s really looking weak and very thin, some of the images I have of her walking you can see her pain in her face but those I will never publish but you have to take my word for it they show a Tigress in real trouble and almost at the point of giving in. I hope she goes asleep without pain and does not wake up and is remembered as the most amazing Tigress that even walked the planet if I’m honest.
My client and I had a chat about what we had just witnessed before heading back to our hotel and breakfast. What I had seen though troubled me all day, I took those images to bed with me as I had a few hours of sleep before a quick lunch and then out for our afternoon safari. I went in the other jeep because i rotate myself through both jeeps so all clients have time with me and learn from my experience there as I have had over a hundred plus safaris now in Ranthambhore and I’m still learning about this amazing place I feel.
We were in one of my favourite zones for that afternoons drive, zone Three with its impressive lake and old fort building that litter that part of the national park. It wasn’t long before we heard alarm calls and we saw a male Tiger just sleeping in the tall grass. We made a decision to stay there and just wait for our moment because sooner or later the Tiger will have to move. The without warning he stood up, had a bit of a stretch then disappeared into the tall grass and we didn’t see him again.
We played cat and mouse most of the afternoon really hearing alarm calls and waiting for signs there were Tigers around. It was nice though to sit in a shaded area and watch the place unfold before your eyes. The morning though and those images kept coming to mind as I thought about Machali and if she was ok. I just couldn’t get what i saw out of my mind. Then an alarm call, the place seemed to just got mad and there was news that T19 and her four cubs were around the lake.We waited as often nature can and does tell you whats going on as long as you just read the singals. At that time another big male in the distance headed over the small walkway crossing onto the small island the Tigers often use to sleep out the heat of the day.
Salim our guide then got word where the cubs were and so off we went hanging onto the jeep for dear life, dust flying everywhere intense heat raining down on us as we drove to where they were. Once we arrived there were many other jeeps, all watching a small little island in the distance. The cubs hadn’t been seen alot and here we were engine turned off watching a small peace of land to our front.
Then I heard cameras going off from the other jeeps and we all looked to our front, at this point both of my jeeps were together so all my clients would see these cubs should they show. Then in the far distance, one, two, three and four cubs left their mum- T19 and played a few feet away. They were so far away that the images were not great and this one is the best of a bad bunch as they were so far away.
You can just about see them but fingers crossed we head back tomorrow and they might still be there. Its been an incredible few days so far for all my clients in Ranthambhore. Amazing sightings of wild Bengal Tigers and some special moments already. We have lots of time and days left in front of us so fingers crossed we have more great luck and more great sightings. Im off to bed now as its late here in India and another early start beckons shorlty. I hope you have enjoyed my posts so far and the future ones, all the best from Ranthambhore, India.