It wasn’t just tigers, of course, at Nagarahole. One of the more charming moments was the Gaur Bull in love.
Gaur are Indian Bison, the largest species of wild cattle. They’re considered a vulnerable species, because of habitat loss and hunting. Nagarahole is one of the sanctuaries where they’re thriving.
So when we encountered this small herd of gaur, of course we stopped. There were calves asleep on one side of the dirt track, and this female gaur on the other, placidly flicking her tail. Then we heard lowing, and saw a bull emerging from a thicket.
He was clearly in love. He approached her, carefully, since he didn’t want to offend her.
But making his interest evident… coming closer…
… and closer…
Until her stood right behind her.
They stood there placidly; she chewed the cud and swished her tail some more, he tossed his head.
At that point it was getting late, so we had to leave. (All visitors are supposed to leave by sunset.)
But things looked promising. Perhaps there’ll be another little gaur calf in nine or so months.
The first time I went to Nagarahole (“Nah-gurra-ho-lay”) was decades ago. Back then, they allowed private cars to drive through the wildlife sanctuary between sunrise and sundown. I recall seeing deer and monkeys – and magically, a leopard. But no tigers, no surprise because tigers were very rare.
In fact, I’ve been visiting wildlife sanctuaries in north and south India for decades. Sarishka. Ranthambhor. Bandipur. Mudumalai. Many a time, we came that close to seeing a tiger. Pugmarks. The vehicle ahead saw one. A tigress usually hangs out on this rock, but she’s not here today. I’ve seen them in zoos, of course, and in “safari parks.” But never in the wild.
Then – in January 2020, I returned to Nagarahole. We spent the night at a Jungle Lodge near the Kabini entrance, and took two “safaris” into the reserve in the government-provided bus. It was on the chilly early morning ride, after bumping around the dirt roads for maybe 30 minutes – it happened. “Tigers,” said the naturalist-guide who was leading the expedition.
And sure enough, through the morning mist – there was a tiger. And another, and another. It was a mother tiger with her three grown cubs. (Otherwise, tigers don’t usually hang out in groups.)
I just had my cellphone for picture-taking. But a couple of people on the bus had serious equipment. Like this.
I don’t actually mind too much. No photographs actually do the big cats justice in terms of their presence. And these pictures have a painterly, impressionist quality that I rather like.