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Tadoba tales! Maharashtra's reigning tigress teaches cubs to kill

Maya, the reserve’s reigning tiger, teaches cubs to kill. Saurabh Vaktania catches it all on camera

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Chilbuli PandeyIt’s 46ºC, informs Akshay Kumar, a naturalist and our guide, as we enter the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) through the Kolara Gate — one of the six gates through which you can enter the 625 sq km forested area. It takes us 30 minutes to drive in our 4x4 from the gate to Pandharpoani water hole 2.

Home to a wide variety of wild animals — 60 tigers, about 90 leopards, hyaenas, jackals, wild dogs, some deer species and sloth bears along with few reptile species — the reserve is located in the Chandrapur district of eastern Maharashtra and sees close to a lakh visitors during the tourist season of November to March. The hotter months of April and May are best for tiger spotting. This is the time when the heat forces the wild cats to frequent the local water holes.

Karan, Maya’s dominant cub, leaves the water hole
Karan, Maya’s dominant cub, leaves the water hole 

The noon of April 24 proved to be a lucky day.

At Pandharpoani, we spotted Karan, one of Maya's three cubs, a current favourite at Tadoba, cooling himself off in the waters. A few minutes after Karan left the pond, Maya — and all her six-and-a-half years old cubs — arrived. Maya is a fully grown tigress, a star in the eyes of wild life lovers, desperate to catch her every move. Kumar told us not be disappointed at her exit. "Wait here. Maya will return to her cubs or they will go to Maya. At any rate, you will sight more tigers," he assured.

Lioness Maya, six-and-a-half years old, exits from the other side
Lioness Maya, six-and-a-half years old, exits from the other side

At a distance, we spotted a barking deer who had arrived at the pond. Soon, three sambars also made an appearance. On hearing the bark of a deer, Kumar alerted us to action in the forest. The smaller animals, said Kumar, had warned of an oncoming danger. Maya too (who was no longer visible), he added, had been heard sending a signal to her cubs. "There will definitely be action now."

A barking deer (left) is spotted at the water hole but leaves when the sambars (above) raise an alarm
A barking deer (above) is spotted at the water hole but leaves when the sambars (below) raise an alarm

Alerted, the cubs were seen taking ready-to-pounce position.

Maya chased down the deer. But, Maya’s intention, we were told, was not to kill it herself.

In fact, she was holding a class in survival for her cubs. The younglings, ready after hearing their mother’s call, were waiting to kill the prey. Spotting the deer, all three pounced on it. It was eventually Karan, the dominant cub, who wrapped up the killing.

Maya drives the barking deer to her cubs and Karan kills it, refusing to share the spoils with siblings Arjun and Manka. PICS/SAURABH VAKTANIA
Maya drives the barking deer to her cubs and Karan kills it, refusing to share the spoils with siblings Arjun and Manka. PICS/SAURABH VAKTANIA

"Maya could have killed the deer within seconds. But she wanted to teach hunting to her three cubs, who will, within two years, be separated from their mother and move away to live on their own. It was well planned. It was nature at its best,” Kumar said.

Another naturalist, Pranad Patil added, "Maya's cubs are 11 months old. Tigresses keep their children with them for two years after which they never meet. Like her mother Madhuri, Maya too is ferocious. Of the three cubs, Karan is dominant and aggressive." Maya's other male cub is called — you guessed it right — Arjun. The daughter is called Manka.

Your place or mine?
Pranad Patil said some of the forest’s other tigers, Namdeo, Gabbar and Pandu, haven’t been sighted in a while. Chhoti Tara has receded to a secluded spot deep in the forest since she is expecting. Sonam, Madhuri’s other cub, is not regularly sighted. The only option for tiger spotting is Maya’s haunt. Had other routes been open, tourists could have dispersed in different directions to avoid overcrowding. “Presently, all vehicles from all six gates, come to Pandharpoani which has put Maya her cubs under a lot of stress.”

Tigers are particular about their territory and regularly mark their areas by spraying urine to warn other tigers against entering. They also scratch tree trunks to mark territory. Tadoba’s most famous tigress Madhuri’s territory was taken over by her own daughter Sonam in the Telia lake area.

Rules of the Jungle
A trip to the jungle is not a tourist visit, said Patil. There are rules to be followed. Here goes:
>> Don’t make a racket. It disturbs animals and birds.
>> Drinking alcohol or smoking is not allowed.
>> Don’t feed or tease the animals.
>> Never get off the vehicle.
>> Don’t wear flashy colours; it distracts animals.
>> In winters, carry a jacket and muffler.
>> During summer, carry a cap, sunglasses, sunscreen and a dust mask

While waiting at the C97 water hole, we spotted a collared leopard. While it was drinking water, a wild pig also entered the area
While waiting at the C97 water hole, we spotted a collared leopard. While it was drinking water, a wild pig also entered the area

Getting there
Air: Tadoba is 140km from the Nagpur International airport
Rail: The nearest railway station is Chandrapur from where taxis are available. You can also get off at Nagpur Railway Station
Road: Tadoba is 900km from Mumbai

Bamboo Forest Safari Lodge
Bamboo Forest Safari Lodge

Stay in a tree
We secured a stay at the Bamboo Forest Safari Lodge, a tree house resort. The eco-friendly hotel boasts antiques that are over a hundred years old. The green cover ensures that it is home to several species of birds. The hotel also affords a view of the scenic Maasal River. The restaurant, Macchan, serves wholesome meals. Lake-side dining and roof-top gazebos make for a luxury experience. Oh, and if spotting tigers and leopards was tiring, rest your body at the ayurveda spa. A two nights’ stay costs
Rs 40-Rs 60,000 (includes four safaris).
Contact: 9168666222
Visit: www.bambooforest.in


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