SPOT THE TIGER!

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - DYNASTIES PART TWO -

Tigers may be one of the big­gest preda­tors on the planet, but that does not make them easy to film. Un­like li­ons, which give chase on open plains, tigers live and hunt in dense for­est where it is hard to track and fol­low their move­ments.

So the team re­cruited ex­pert help in the shape of guide and tracker Dig­pal Kar­mawas. As with all wildlife film­ing, lo­cal knowl­edge was an es­sen­tial fac­tor in whether the team could suc­ceed in film­ing the tigers at all.

At dawn each day, Dig­pal would take the team into the park, not know­ing where Raj Bhera and her fam­ily would be. They would then split up to look for any signs of the tigers. This is as much an art as a sci­ence, as Dig­pal points out. ‘Tigers are crea­tures of habit, but they are not easy to find. They have favourite paths and wa­ter­holes but they al­ways re­tain the abil­ity to sur­prise, ap­pear­ing where and when you least ex­pect. Any­thing is pos­si­ble in the jun­gle!’

Be­ing am­bush preda­tors, tigers hide in or be­hind trees or scrubby veg­e­ta­tion, and of­ten the only ev­i­dence of a kill is the sound of the dy­ing vic­tim as it ex­pires. The best way to track them was to use a three-stage ap­proach.

The first step was to find their fresh tracks. Then, Dig­pal would lis­ten for alarm calls from deer and mon­keys, to pin­point the tiger’s where­abouts. Even then, they are easy to miss with­out sharp eyes to spot them in thick un­der­growth. ‘They were so well cam­ou­flaged,’ ex­plains di­rec­tor Theo Webb. ‘Their stripes blended in ex­actly with the bam­boo.’

Prin­ci­pal wildlife cam­era­man John Brown, who has spent hun­dreds of days in the field ob­serv­ing and film­ing tigers, was struck by their abil­ity to change shape, de­pend­ing on the an­gle from which they were seen. ‘I was al­ways amazed by how the tigers seemed al­most two-di­men­sional. Viewed from the side, they have a real mass and mus­cu­lar­ity, but they are in­cred­i­bly slim in the hips and shoul­ders so they al­most van­ish when they are walk­ing to­wards or away from you.

‘In over 20 years of wildlife film­mak­ing, I’d never spent more time look­ing for the sub­ject and so lit­tle time with it vis­i­ble through the viewfinder. We’d go for days with­out see­ing Raj Bhera. Even when we found her, the sit­u­a­tion was usu­ally un­filmable.’

So the team put out cam­era traps, trig­gered by move­ment, around Raj Bhera’s ter­ri­tory to cap­ture her as she pa­trolled. What they did not bar­gain for was that her cubs would take such an in­ter­est that they pushed one of the cam­eras over, into the wa­ter.

De­spite th­ese dif­fi­cul­ties, the team got won­der­ful ma­te­rial of Raj Bhera and her cubs bathing in a pond. They chased cormorants and other wa­ter­birds, and en­joyed play­ing in the wa­ter, just like chil­dren in a swim­ming pool.

For Theo, this made up for all the dis­ap­point­ments. ‘Cam­era traps are very hit-and-miss. But some­times they are the only way to ob­tain in­ti­mate, close-up views of nat­u­ral be­hav­iour. An in­sight into the se­cret world of our tigers.’

OVER­LEAF PAINTED WOLVES GO TO WAR

Biba and one of her broth­ers re­lax in a shady glade in the jun­gle Rangers on ele­phants could find the tigers even in long grass

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