Unlike in a zoo, a tiger sighting in a jungle safari is never assured or guaranteed, as it all depends on where the tiger is at that point in time. And the movement of the tiger is dependent on numerous factors such as – low tiger density, the area the tiger has to roam around in is vast and only specific limited areas are open for public (the tiger has to be where you are), the weather (in rains they retreat deeper into the forests), the topography (can’t see them amidst dense forests), your luck (even during the same safari some see the tiger and some people don’t), etc etc.
But there are some interesting time-tested methods of tiger tracking that the locals and the guides use to make your sighting a successful one. Though I really tried employing all of these below mentioned methods, I truly sucked at it and unless someone specifically pointed the tiger out to me, I couldn’t see anything. Still it was super fun trying and I am listing the same as a guide for your next trip –
- Past Sightings – Before the safari itself the guides and locals speak and exchange notes on the areas in which a tiger has most recently been spotted. Tigers are territorial creatures, usually stick to their territories and some tigers are pretty predictable in their movements. The locals and guides know the behavior of these tigers and short list the zone to visit based on this. They also keep exchanging notes with other guides they meet during the safari.
- Think like a Tiger – Once you reach that particular zone, the guides think like a tiger and estimate what the tiger will be up to. If its sunny and hot, then tiger will be near a water source or enjoying somewhere in the shade of trees. If its early morning then he will most probably be out on a hunt or have hunted in the night and be somewhere enjoying the kill. And based on the answers to above you need to visit the relevant areas within that zone.
- Look for Signs – During the drive be on a look out for any signs of the tiger like fresh pug marks (the famous design), dung / faeces (tiger dung is quite distinct and contains undigested hair and bones), scratches on lower bark of trees (done to mark territory and sharpen claws), carcass of prey (if its unfinished the tiger will return to finish it), fleeing animals, etc. The freshness of these marks tells you when the tiger has passed by and then the guides estimate how far they would have traveled.
- Alarm Calls – This is the most important and used method by all guides to find the tiger. Listen to the sounds of the jungle and especially the loud, panicky or piercing calls of animals trying to warn other animals about the movement of the tiger. Each animal be it deer, langurs, elephants, birds etc gives its own distinguishable alarm call as soon as it senses a tiger in the vicinity.
- Tracking Equipment – In some parks, there are tracking devices such as collars, GPS, cameras etc that help determine the real-time location of the tigers and all the guides need to do is make a phone call and reach that area. But I feel this kills all the fun of the jungle experience.
However be mentally prepared that despite everything being in your favor, you might still not sight a tiger. And if you don’t see the tiger then its still not end of the world or the trip is not a failure. Instead, enjoy the other wonders that the jungle has to offer – the beautiful landscape, call of the birds, behaviour of the animals, variety of insects, colors of flowers, and the delicate balance and inter dependence of this entire ecosystem.