THE UNLUCKY PRINCE OF RANTHAMBORE
The rugged Forests of Ranthambore, the last homeland of the tiger in Rajasthan, offers views and vistas that are starkly different from anywhere else in India. With its massive fort overlooking vast forest stretches, Ranthambore has always been a delight for wildlife lovers. It beckons them from all over the world. Its terrain – a mix of impregnable dry, deciduous forest and open bush – has become synonymous with the tiger. It's a saying that only the real unlucky return from Ranthambore without sighting the majestic animal. There is something rare and unusual about the big cats that inhabit this national park. They don't mind the cameras and to some extent even allow enthusiastic photographers to get up close and personal. This land of the tigers is replete with stories of the imposing animal. One such story is of Ustad, also called Tiger Number 24 – ferocious, handsome, dominant and, one of the most photographed male tiger of Ranthambore. His territory was Zone Number 1 of the park and he took great pride in ruling it. Born to the Tigress T-22 sometime in 2005 in Lahpur area of the park, T-24 grew up with his two brothers, T-23 and T-25.
Ustad was one of the most ferocious, handsome and most photographed male tiger of Ranthambore, who lost all fear of human beings and had developed the habit of venturing out of the forest quite regularly, those days, often seen on the Ranthambore road, on the outskirts of Sawai Madhopur town. For a predatory species that like to stay clear of humans, this was a rather unusual behavior. At times He would even go charging at Jeeps and would chase them away. Once, his paw got pricked by a thorn and became infected. So he had to be tranquilized and treated. But while the vets were bandaging his wound, the effect
of the anesthesia wore off and Ustad got up with such a great force that the doctors and attendants fled for their lives, leaving their kits behind.
Ustad got up and dashed into the forest. Some say that encounter with humans in such close proximity left him traumatized and suspicious building foundation for his troubled future relationships with humans. But those who have followed and filmed him closely have also seen his gentle side. They have seen him as a doting father and a loving, loyal mate. At times, I had spotted him with Noor (T-39), another magnificent tigress in the park.
Ustad shared his territory with fouryear-old Sultan from the first litter of Noor (T-39) and her two male cubs of fourteen months age. At times, all of them could be seen together too. I was always comfortable while filming and photographing him at a close distance from my gypsy, as I always believed him to be magnanimous and harmless One of my most memorable encounters with T-24 was on a monsoon evening while I was having my drinks on the lush green lawns of Jhumar Baodi – the RTDC run heritage Haveli situated within a short distance of the park. It was still two hours to midnight and silence had crept in unannounced, as it usually does in places situated near a forest. Suddenly, a spotted deer gave an alarm call some half a kilometer away. Nevertheless, a single deer call is enough to arouse a wild-lifer's interest and I was no exception. Ten minutes later, a sambhar made another alarm call and was joined by one more sambhar call. Then I heard that unmistakable sound which all wildlife lovers yearn for in a forest; the deep growl of a tiger. “Looks like T24 is around.” I immediately bolted to the firstfloor terrace of Jhoomar Baodi, to its very edge, from where it is possible to look at the ground outside the main entrance, right up to the wide parking lot situated some 70 meters away on a downward slope. Luckily, I was armed with my high-powered torch. My patience was finally rewarded. The third growl reached my ears after 10 minutes or so and almost instantaneously my thumb — as if acting on its own volition — pressed
Mr. Raheja with Tom Alter, Anchor of “Jungle ki Kahaniyan” by Raheja Productions