SPOT THE TIGER!
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