How to Track Tigers in the Wild

Friday 14, 2009
This one is for those of us who go to a forest reserve in India with the anticipation of seeing lots of wildlife! However, there would be only a fraction of people who would have come back satisfied!

While the primary endeavor for most of us, when we visit any park, is to have a good holiday, I have noticed that most people turn it into a life or death situation to have atleast one encounter with the King of the Jungle during their visit. My recommendation would be to not turn it into a prestige issue. Kings are, after all, supposed to be elusive!

Slow Down! Notice the flight of the birds, the colors of the insects, the incense of the flowers, the behavior of the animals, and watch the delicate balance of nature unfold itself in front of you.

Tiger sighting is so much better when seen in conjunction with the complete eco-system! Because it tells you how the web of inter-dependence is so delicately woven around the lives of all the inhabitants of a jungle.

So how should one go about tracking tigers in the wild ! Well, I would like to break this up into a few pointers. These are exactly in the order in which they should be implemented. You need to employ all your senses to be able to successfully track down a Tiger.

  1. TALK – Talk to the Guides or the locals. Try to understand roughly the areas in which various different tigers have been sighted. Tigers are highly territorial and usually stick to their territories. Also ask if they frequent any particular track or have been sighted around any particular patch within their territory at any particular time in a day.
  2. FEEL – Once an area is roughly estimated, ask yourself this “Where would you be this time of the day if you were a Tiger?” Would you be near a water source? Would you be sitting in the shade? Tigers are likely to be near the water and sitting in the shade particularly in the afternoons of a hot summer day. Or would you rather be in the grasslands? Grasslands are home to a lot of the Tiger’s prey base like Deer, Monkeys, Boars etc. And Tigers usually like to hunt with the element of surprise on their side. Hence, they usually come out to hunt in the late evenings or the wee hours of the morning. They may also laze around in open grasslands on a sunny winter afternoon !
  3. SEE – Look around! Can you see the pug marks of the Tiger on the dusty track? Did you notice any Tiger Faeces along the way? Tiger faeces is distinctly different from other animals as it contains undigested hair and bones. Did you see any tiger scratch marks on the bark of the lower part of a tree? Tigers scratch a tree to mark their territory as well as sharpen their claws. Can you notice any vultures hovering over a particular part of a forest? It might be a tiger kill ! Did you notice any deer running in alarm or standing and concentrating towards one direction while pounding one of their front feet hard on the ground? That’s a surefire sign of a Tiger or a Leopard!
  4. HEAR – In all my hundreds of travels to the forests, this has been by far the most important sense of all to successfully trace the position of a Tiger as it can be used to see the tiger using the eyes of all the other animals of the forest. Try to listen to the sounds of the jungle. Most animals make a distinguishable alarm call as soon as they sense a tiger in the vicinity. There’s the piercing “Paoo-paoo” of a Spotted deer. Or the deeply throated "Khar-takaao-khaar” of a Langur monkey. Sambars, Barking Deer, Elephants and even some varieties of birds, all have their own way to warn others in the forest of the impending danger. Just like trumpets marking the movement of a Royal Caravan!
  5. SMELL – Can you smell the stench of rotting flesh in any particular area? It may just be a kill made by the Tiger. If you do manage to get a glimpse of the kill and find it disemboweled, it’s surely either a tiger or a leopard kill! And it will come back to finish its meal later!!

So these are the techniques (in brief) that are used by all Wildlifers across the world to track down Tigers. But the most important knowledge that you need to be on your side is that Tigers are extremely reclusive creatures and the number of tigers in the wild is certainly not conducive to frequent sighting anymore!! So proper knowledge, good luck and patience, are the only ways to book an appointment with the King !