|At 5:45 a.m. we were the first jeep in a line of about twenty and once the gates to the park opened, the tires spun dust in the air and the race was on for the first tiger sighting. Because of the time of the year and the heat, we were told that it was very probable that we would spot tigers. Apparently, tigers are much more predictable when it is hot. They can be found by the few water sources in the park.
We were also armed with a secret weapon: "Eagle Eyed Ollie," a German photographer Tommy had met up with the day before in hopes of having him shoot some pictures for his upcoming story on Tiger poaching in India. Ollie was quick to spot B2, one of the male Tigers, trotting thru the trees. I was excited to see a tiger in the wild, but I didn't anticipate the amount of adrenaline that came with actually spotting a wild tiger and then moving in for a closer view. The tiger has a presence that demands respect. As he moves, the muscles in his back bulge and the sheer strength is more than apparent. Our jeep was one of three that was in the area before B2 took cover and was soon out of sight. Just driving through the trees watching the deer grazing, monkeys playing, and all of the different birds flying around was a much needed break from the India we had experienced up to that point. Everyone, even the driver and guide, was in awe of the nature around us. There was respect for all of the living creatures around us. It was refreshing. When Ingrid and Oliver told us they were going to go out again the next day, there was really no question as to whether or not we wanted to join them. Even if we didn't see any more tigers, just being in the park was a treat, and they were great company.
It was the second day in the park that we had our close encounter with one of the females and her cub - who did not seem like a cub anymore.
It was early in the morning and we had just entered the park. We were one of the lead jeeps, and once again, Eagle Eye Oliver spotted them. He was so calm about it and just pointed and said softly, "tigers." Our driver was not so stealthy. The jeep came to a sliding halt and he made such a commotion letting all of the jeeps around us know about our sighting, that the tigers got up in disarray and the mom crossed the road right in front of us, while the cub stayed behind. In an effort to distract our attention, the mom charged our open-air jeeps, halting five feet away us, swiping a thick paw and letting loose a bone-chilling growl. We got the message loud and clear, and backed up a bit to give more space, and soon the cub crossed the road in front of us. Our hearts were pounding, and I was happy to see the mom settle down in the grass with her cub
Even though these tigers live in the sanctity of a national park, they are still wild, beautiful animals. However, we left the park not feeling especially confident that any Tigers in India are safe from poaching and habitat encroachment. Will our grandchildren be able to see tigers in the wild? We're not sure. Tommy was able to speak to the head of India's WWF, as well as a few other great sources, all of which will be used for his story.