The Day I Shot a Tiger
An ethereal calm was broken by the dulcet tone of clapper against brass and a whisper
“Wakey wakey, the Tigers are waiting”
All around the camp a sense of trepidation as the dawning sun ushered in a new day. A heavenly orange glow began to permeate our white canvas tents.
No time for a shower, we scrambled to into our designer khakis and waited for the Indian man in the crisp white Sherwani. A steaming pot of coffee requested the night before had already been delivered to the writing desk outside along with a much-welcomed basket of pastries.
We reflected on the last couple of days. It was hardly a disappointment. We came to hunt the elusive Royal Bengal tiger, but hope and optimism gave way to awe and wonderment as Ranthambore delighted us with a plethora of wildlife to shoot. No tigers, but Ranthambore offered so much more.
Through the white cotton drapes we could see the man approach us across dewy grass, bell in hand.
“Wakey Wakey, the Tigers are waiting”
At the camp entrance, two beefy open-top jeeps awaited. The familiar smiling face of our tracker brought a new level of optimism.
Machali, the tigress queen, had been spotted by another group near the Raj Bagh ruins down by the lake the day before. She would be a magnificent prize.
“Good morning Mr. Owen! Are you ready to shoot a tiger?”
We were ready. We’d been planning this for months. And he was the best tracker on the reserve. He could sniff a tiger trail with his eyes closed. When Bill Clinton visited the park, pressure was on for him to deliver a sighting, and he delivered in spades.
After a quick gear check we headed off. First stop would be the Padam Talao lake to pick up the scent of the mighty Machali. She would make a great trophy to hang above my office desk back home in Tokyo.
As we neared the lake edge, we could see Sambar deer grazing lazily amongst the marshes. On the far side, the majestic Raj Bagh ruins huddled in the jungle at water’s edge. Pictured in my mind, a hungry tiger emerges from the ruins, then as it splashes into the water giving chase, the Sambar disperse in chaotic panic leaving the mighty beast to take stock and wait for the next opportunity. Not today.
We waited silently, breathless at the serenity of the lake.
“Sambar alert!” whispered our tracker.
The deer were visibly tense, ears pricked up, tails cocked. A tiger was close by, it had to be…
Ranthambore is home to a large variety of animals including sloth bears, leopards, macaques and striped hyenas. Sambar deer live in fear here, and we were about to witness Sunday lunch, or not….
With no luck, about an hour later our tracker suggested we move on. As we headed into the jungle, his eyes scoured the ground for prints, excretions, broken branches. There was a lot of land to cover, and we knew our chances were slim. Tigers are solitary creatures — one tiger needs about 8 square miles of breathing space.
Then it happened.
Emerging from the jungle barely 10 meters ahead of us, she emerged. Calmly she lied on the track and stared right at us. Almost paralysed with excitement I managed to raise my arm and prepare to shoot. She was oblivious, relaxed, and unperturbed by the dark green mechanical monsters on the path before her.
My hands were calm, but I was shaking inside. I would never get an opportunity like this. It could all be over in less than a minute. I squeezed my finger and rattled of a quick burst of fire.
We gasped as she rose off the ground and walked toward us.
“Keep calm” said the tracker.
She gently rubbed her massive torso against our jeep like a cat at your feet, and then proceeded past us and off into the jungle. Making her mark by unleashing a spray of urine on a nearby tree, she stood on her hind legs with front claws on bark, she proceeded to pose on two feet as I rattled off shot after shot.
She was Marilyn Monroe, and I, a star struck Phil Stern.
We followed her for about 30 minutes and then parted ways, forever grateful and honoured to have been courted by her presence. I got my shots.
I think about her almost everyday as I look up from my computer and see her face on my wall. She constantly reminds me that our place as the dominant species is not a right, but a privilege that we must not abuse.
With the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day fast approaching, we will once again be made aware of the damage we, as a species, are causing. But we mustn’t just stop for Earth Day. Critically endangered species are really critically endangered.
To name a few:
Amur Leopard — 60+
Black Rhino — 5,000+
Javan Rhinos — 60
Cross River Gorilla — less than 300
Sumatran elephant — 2,400–2,800
Sumatran Orangutan — 7,300
Fortunately there is hope. Just last week, the World Wildlife Fund announced an increase in the number of wild tigers for the first time in 100 years. In the early 20th Century, there were estimated close to 100,000 tigers, but as of 2010 the number had shrunk to a critical 3,200. That number has recovered to nearly 4,000.
Thanks to conservation efforts sanctioned by the Indian government, sanctuaries like Ranthambore National Park in Eastern Rajasthan have proved vital to the effort. The park covers an area of over 1,300 sq km and currently is home to close to 60 tigers.
Dean Owen is a Co-Founder of Quimojo, a revolutionary new concept in Global Campus Recruitment.