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Tiger Safari India - Bandhavgarh National Park – Rock Star tigers and their groupies!

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Bandhavgarh National Park – Rock Star tigers and their groupies!

Let’s roll back the years a little to 1997 and I am busy enjoying my first tiger safari in Ranthambhore national park. Back at the hotel in the evening I engage with a lovely Indian gentleman and his nephew over dinner and I hear for the first time the exotic name of Bandhavgarh; which along with Kanha he felt were two superior locations for seeing tigers in the wild. Although my curiosity was picced, I had already committed to head west to Gujarat to see the Asiatic Lions and the conversation and possible visit to these famous tiger sanctuaries was put on hold.

National Geographic and the famous photographs of Bandhavgarh tigers

About the same time I was following my random 3 month wildlife sanctuary trail through India, Michael Nicholls from the National Geographic magazine was visiting Bandhavgarh national park to photograph tigers and boy did he get some killer photographs. In December that year the front cover of the National Geographic Magazine was devoted to a female tigress from Bandhavgarh called ‘Sita’ – it was at this point - in my opinion - that we truly entered the period of the Rock Star Tiger. That is not to diminish in anyway the contribution of Machli from Ranthambhore (who was just a cub at this time) or some of the famous tigers from Kanha National Park; who had also featured in films around this period. More to shed light on the fact that this combination of superb photos in the National Geographic magazine (some which were ground breaking images taken with remote cameras – remember the tigress ‘doing the splits’ while drinking water from a rock pool?) and the flood of interest it generated amongst other wildlife photographers and international film companies, shone a light so bright on this new ‘tiger dynasty’ in Bandhavgarh that even before the social media norms of today, the story of Sita, Charger and their illustrious offspring quickly spread around the world.

Bandhavgarh National Park – How can so many wild tigers exist in one place?

After the heartbreak of losing all the wild tigers in Sariska and Panna national parks and understanding that the old system of counting wild tigers was defunct and no longer fit for purpose, we started to use remote camera traps and more sophisticated counting methods for estimating tiger populations in India and some of the early information coming out of the parks was frankly still unbelievable. In this respect, Bandhavgarh national park and in particular the world famous Tala zone within the park was showing the most astonishing density of wild tigers. Despite (before recent changes in park regulations) Tala Zone having as many as 50 jeeps constantly searching for tigers, the density was twice as high as any other tiger sanctuary in India. Which begs the questions, is human noise as damaging to tigers as poachers? Given the fact that due to poor resources of the park guards in all of India’s wildlife sanctuaries, the thousands of monthly visitors to the park are incredibly important as ‘eyes on the forest’, as well as the income they bring is as part of their park fees.

To answer the main question of how can so many wild tigers survive in one of the smallest national parks in India, then we can say it comes down to three main factors; prey density, tolerance of related tigers; in particular female tigers and a huge dominant male tiger controlling a territory for many years. When times are good and the monsoon rain are strong; the meadows of Bandhavgarh provide incredible nutrients to huge herds of spotted deer, sambar and antelope such as Blue Bull and Chinkara. This allow tigresses with cubs to raise 2, 3 and sometimes 4 cubs to adulthood. The male cubs will need to disperse to new territories and sometimes even new parks or buffer forests, but it appears when plenty of food is available, the female tigers survive well in small territories, which often overlap with their sisters or mothers – without some tolerance amongst these tigers, you would not see such a high density continue.

Is it the right time to go back to Bandhavgarh National Park for your India tiger safari?

We have been visiting India’s tiger sanctuaries for nearly 20 years and one of the key factors we have observed in this time period, is the ups and downs of their fortunes; particularly if you judge a park by the number of tiger sightings. This happened for a variety of reasons which I am not going to touch on in this blog, but is also one of the reasons we often suggested visiting at least two tiger reserves.

So Bandhavgarh national park by its very high standards had a fairly poor 2014 and 2015 and the usual stories came out about poaching, other types of illegal activity within the park and poor management – probably true to say that all these were contributing factor. However the big central story to this lack of tiger sightings in Bandhavgarh was a ‘rogue’ male tiger causing carnage within the park. As you may well know a new male tiger will kill the cubs of female tigers so he can then mate with her and produce his own progeny. If the timing is bad and he arrives with multiple females with cubs, a particularly aggressive male tiger can end up killing multiple tigers and this is exactly what happened with 7 or more tigers/cubs killed. Although we often use the number of tigers in a particular national park as a guide to our chances of seeing tigers, it can often be the case that certain tigresses with cubs habituated to the jeeps and whose territory is within the tourist zones, are photographed a lot more than

The GOOD NEWS is that some regular clients of ours travelled to Bandhavgarh National Park this April as part of their tiger safari in India and had more than 10 excellent tiger sightings, so it seems that Bandhavgarh is very much on the up again. To book your India tiger safari to Bandhavgarh click on this link.

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