Saturday, 7 May 2011

An Audience with the Queen in Ranthambore

Tigress T17 looking straight at me as she walks towards our canter in Ranthambore

In February 2010 I went with a group of friends to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan and we were lucky enough to have an audience with the local Queen. Not a human queen of course, but a tigress known locally as the Queen of the Lakes or to the local park rangers and conservationists as T-17.

I visited Ranthambore once earlier in 2005 and at the end of our fourth and very last safari we saw two cubs and finally their mother: legendary tigress Machli who become world famous and was the first pronounced Queen of the Lakes.

As it so happens T-17 is the daughter of Machli and younger sister to the two cubs we saw in 2005. At some point she deposed her mother and took over her territory, making her the new Queen.

Natural born killer stalking her prey - less than an hour after this picture her hunt would prove succesful

My best close-up of the tigress. A truly royal creature.

Although we were not the first canter to spot T-17, we had an excellent guide and driver who managed to navigate the traffic and get us close to the tiger for three separate sightings as we followed her across the park stalking deer. As you can see in the pictures T17 is wearing a collar tracker, but this is only used for scientific and protective purposes. She is in every sense a completely wild animal, and the collar is not used by the tourist guides to track her. So managing to get so close to a wild tiger was a truly majestic experience, just as it was back in 2005. This time we only saw one tiger, but we got much closer and had much more time with her, so overall it may still have been a better sighting.

The tiger - being used to the crowds - takes hardly any notice of the crowds as she lies on the road silently observing a herd of deer not far away.
Our audience with the queen ended in with a bang: As we were parked on the lakeside we could hear T17 catching a sambar deer on the other side of the lake. She had not made a kill for a several days earlier so this was an important catch for her. According to the guide this was her first kill in several days, so she must have been very hungry.

Ranthambore is a fantastic park for watching tigers in the wild, although you should hurry up and go - there is talk of shutting down all tourist visits to the park. However, the park has more things to offer than just tigers. Apart from many other animal and bird species it is also home to some fantastic scenery and interesting ruins. I will return to these things in my next few posts.

Nervous deer drinking water by a lake deep inside T-17's territory
Myself and T17 (Picture by: Lone Aagaard Østerbøg)

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