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The rise and rise of ‘Superstar’ tigers

Posted in: India, Posted in: India Tiger Safari

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A tiger safari in India these days is not just about finding and photographing one of those big stripy cats in one of the famous Indian tiger sanctuaries. Instead, we swoon over these tigers like pop stars; follow there every move on social media and make it our mission to get a selfie of our personal favourite. OK, I may be overstating the ground reality, but believe me, after just returning from a tiger safari in Tadoba national park in May 2017, I have seen the adoration for the magnificent 'Mya' at first hand and the superstar tiger is really taking over the show!

The queen of Tadoba national park - Mya and her many male admirers!

​We waited patiently in the 45 degres heat at waterhole 97; famous this summer for the meeting place of Mya and Matkasur - the King and Queen of Tadoba tiger sanctuary. They entered the 'frame' from the left and slowly walked across to the cooling waters of 97. A collective sigh of worship can be heard from the human audiance, as they fix their huge lenses onto this royal couple and shoot away to their hearts content. Mya is decisive and immediately sits down behind her favourite rocks; whereas Matkasur bumbles around like a clumsy teenager on his first date, looking with adoration towards his magnificent companion - or was that just how us humans imagined it? I have been visiting India's best tiger sanctuaries since 1997 and always enjoyed all the wildlife that can be seen in the Indian national parks. Although tigers and the very rare leopard encounters had a certain magic and left you itching for more, you were equally happy with Sloth Bear or Wild Dog sightings; or a view of a rare bird, such as an Indian Pitta or Coppersmith. Now it seems visitors to India's tiger sanctuaries are on a 'mission'; to follow the life of their favourite tiger and in Tadoba this was witnessing the mating of Mya and Matkasur and fast forwarding to 2018 and imagining Mya with small cubs playing with their doting mum.

There are so many stories about Mya and the excitement she generates amongst park guides and visitors alike is incredible – she really is like a popstar! Last year guides were mystified when they found her with a male tiger called Gabbar and no sign of the cubs, who were only 13/14 months old at that time. Then later that month she was seen with another dominant male tiger called Matkasur. She seemed to be showing willingness to mate with both these two tigers; but why when she had two cubs (male and female) to look after? Surely she was protecting the cubs by keeping the two male tigers in one area; whereas her cubs were found in the Navegaon range. Initially cubs were sighted looking rather thin and weak, but later sightings showed they had put on weight and the theory was that Mya was returning every few days to make a kill for the cubs. Also it is possible that the cubs were killing small prey like peacocks themselves, as they had been taught well by Mya; who is an expert hunter.

Another BIG QUESTION was who is the father of these young cubs and that was soon answered, as an old male tiger missing a canine, called Bobria (Hindi for toothless) was found next to a wild boar kill with the two cubs. The two cubs were licking his face and he was completely tolerant of them feeding on his kill. That of course will also help their survival. Why would Mya choose to mate with an old tiger past his prime? The simple answer is genetic vigour. Here we have a male tiger who lost a canine many years back, but has continued to make kills and survive to an age very few male tigers reach. This is the type of genetics that Mya instinctively chooses for her future offspring and that is why she allowed him to mate with her.

Another puzzle from early 2017 is many guides were sure that Mya was pregnant. She was showing all the ‘classic’ signs; such as glands were out, searching for a birthing place, after little walking, sleeping etc,,, However since then she has been mating with Matkasur for nearly 1 month. The mating starting initially and lasted the normal 8-9 days and then they separated for a few days and then this re-commenced and while we are in the park (May 18th), it has been around 26 days they have been together – this is highly unusual and almost abnormal behaviour; what is going on?

So next summer in Tadoba national park could be a very exciting time for tigers and I am sure we can expect many of Mya's 'groupies' to be there. However, as well as a chance to see the queen of Tadoba, you can also visit some of the other ranges within the park. If you are interested in visiting next year, click on our Tadoba tiger safari here.

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