During my visit last year I received a big thrill when a tigress emerged from the jungle and nonchalantly walked head-on toward our jeep. The whiskers on her nose were clearly visible. Her giant paws padded silently on the dusty road as her massive shoulders swayed gracefully. She was no more than 30 feet away. Our driver backed up. For 35 minutes we watched the tigress amble toward us. The driver continued driving in reverse. Eventually, the big cat veered off the road, walked up a hill and positioned herself behind a rock. Only her striped tail and the white back of one ear was visible. It had been an excellent sighting.
The legendary cats have had a tough go of it. Excessive hunting in the early 20th century was devastating to the tiger population and it wasn't until the 1970s that serious conservation programs were enforced. Though India has stepped up its efforts to protect tigers, numbers continue to dwindle. Tiger counts are alarmingly low, numbering around 1,400 according to a February 2008 census.
Modern-day challenges to tiger populations include loss of habitat, encroachment of buffer zones, increased human population and poaching. Public awareness among residents and visitors aids in supporting the government's efforts. Today, Kanha is one of 28 tiger reserves in India dedicated to preserving natural resources, wildlife, and the tiger. In my opinion, there's no time like the present to see these amazing beasts in the wild.
Though tigers may be the star attraction at the 750-square mile park, the jungle itself is indeed beautiful. It has an earthy scent that's deep, fruity, and fermented. Towering sal trees with mottled trunks provide cover to tigers, leopards, jackal, wild boar, and monkeys. Termite "castles" made of reddish brown earth stand three and four feet high. Shaggy Indian bison graze near ponds, and steel-hued blue bulls graze in forested areas. Hundreds of bird species live or migrate through the park. Visitors can rent gypsies (jeeps) with drivers and a naturalist guide for morning and afternoon drives.
Copyright image used by permission.