It was almost as though the news had reached them. Just over a fortnight ago - February 2 to be exact - five tigers were sighted close to the tourism zone in the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala, which was declared the country’s 38th tiger reserve on Friday.
Forest watcher Srinivasan, who spotted the tigers, managed to capture all five together in a single frame with his small digital camera. The big cats seemed to be moving with a new confidence in the open, by a stream.
It is extremely rare, for even the most diligent watcher, to sight a tiger in the south Indian forests because the vegetation allows the animal to move under cover. Sighting five tigers together in the wild is rarer still because tigers are solitary animals. Each one moves within its own, well-demarcated range, which other tigers do not trespass. They are usually seen together only during the mating season or when the cubs are not grown-up enough to leave the mother.
On his way back to the camp, Mr. Srinivasan met wildlife photographer N.A. Naseer. The photographer had set his tripod high up on a branch of a tree to take photographs of a Great Indian Hornbill in its nest on another tree nearby. On being told about the sighting, Mr. Naseer decided to try his luck. With the watcher’s help, the photographer proceeded to the place where the tigers were seen last.
“We approached the stream carefully, taking care to move in absolute silence. The tigers were still there — all five of them. I cannot describe what it was like,” Mr. Naseer said.
At the very first click of the camera, he said, one tiger, who was lying by the stream began twirling its tail, sensing something. It got up and the rest too seemed to sense the intrusion. Two tigers were in the thickets and not within the camera’s range. The visible ones too slipped into the vegetation and disappeared, he said.
The photographer presented his pictures to Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh when the latter came to declare the sanctuary a tiger reserve on Friday.
“He [Mr. Ramesh] was pleasantly surprised when told that there were five tigers in a group,” said the photographer.
According to the last tiger census using the pug-mark identification technique, the Parambikulam forests (of which, 390.89 sq. km. has now been declared the core area of the new reserve and 252.772 sq. km. its buffer zone) is home to an estimated 15 tigers.