Ours was the first vehicle to enter the Kanha National Park,Madhya Pradesh and , it wasa fantastic feeling, especially because it was also the first safari of the Season. We three naturalists were with our guest Ms.Mili Sham, jokingly telling her that taking more than one naturalist along could be a disaster and she just might end up seeing nothing.
Our safari began at six in the morning, the lush green jungle was so refreshing. We were welcomed by large herds of spotted deer, locally known as the Chital. Before we knew it we spotted a small bird trotting in the middle of the jungle - surprisingly it was the Forest wagtail which is a passage migrant. Interestingly this is only species of wagtail found in Central India, which wags its tail sideways, contrary to other wagtails which wag theirs up and down. We were lucky to click a few images of this bird and observed the details through our binoculars. The forest wagtail has a characteristic wing and breast pattern, and a prominent, long, whitish stripe that extends from each eye towards the back of the head.
The morning hours also gave us a chance to see a number of Gaurs, Sambars, Barking deer, Barasingha (also called the Swamp deer) and a variety of other species of birds.
Continuing with our safari, while driving along a small hilly road called the chotachattarpattar, at around 8am we were taken by surprise by a sudden encounter with a male tiger coming out of bushes. By now there were a few other vehicles around and they informed us that this particular male was running away from another dominant male. The Tiger could now be clearly spotted as it was out of the bushes and we began to click a few photographs, while also observing his behaviour through our binoculars. The tiger was regularly marking its territory by spray marking the trees, scrape marking the ground, sniffing the trees, and grazing or rubbing his cheek on the tree bark, usually what all tigers do.
But wait, suddenly to our surprise, the tiger started displaying some unusual and probably never seen before behaviour! This male tiger stood up on its hind legs, started hugging the tree, and licking the tree several times. He would glance around in between, looking for the rival male. Then again he would start hugging the tree and looking around like a curious cat .The Tiger then started walking along the road, sat in a nearby small stream to quench his thirst. We noticed that he soon repeated the same behaviour of hugging and licking the trees for a while. A few minutes later we saw the rival male tiger walking the same path and spray marking the very same trees, probably trying to re-establish his territory. What a treat the morning safari had been for us!!
After getting back to the lodge, and being still intrigued by this behaviour of the tiger, we shot off a few emails with relevant photographs to a few of our friends and experts, wanting to know more about this unique behaviour of the tiger. We were not very successful in getting information on this but got a lot of different opinions. We also spoke to Dr.Raghu Chundawat, a wildlife expert who has studied extensively the tigers of Panna National Park, Central India This is what he had to say and I quote “This may be an individual behaviour of this particular tiger and unless we get more solid data we cannot conclude about this behaviour “ Tigers are one of the most studied mammals, yet as more and more naturalists and biologists step in to work in the field, we keep getting newer and more fascinating details each day reminding us that the natural world is full of wonders and we have barely touched the tip of an iceberg! The safari trail not only left us full of excitement but also left us a little wiser.
There is no doubt that our Safari season had begun with a bang and we couldn’t have asked for more. We had great sightings of birds, mammals, and yes the unique tiger behaviour! David Raju