Well known for its tigers Kanha National Park is World renowned. It is home to hundred Bengal tigers and many leopards amongst the tertiary carnivores. The prospects of tiger watching is a question that arises amonst the tourists visiting Kanha. Well this is the first question that people ask me.
Which is the best place to see tigers in India?
Well my answer is fair and square. "Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench and Ranthambhore."
Kanha is the best introduction to wildlife and ecosystems in India. It has many species of mammals which are easily sighted. Most of all it is the best managed conservation unit in the World. The extansive grasslands and dense forest offer sightings of the best of the big cats.
Since many years people have been visiting Kanha in MP. I am visiting the park since 1976 and have seen many tigers and the magnifcent wilderness in evolution. The protected area status has been a savior for this wildlife heaven. The tourism peaked in the nineties and augured change in the rules and regulations.
Unlike earlier times the tourism at Kanha is more regulated with lots of impediments. Free roaming in the park is a thing of past. The fixed route, shorter evening time and limited vehicle entry has hampered tiger sightings. This is the case with all tiger reserves in MP. Tiger Show which made it possible to see the big cat if you missed him on the road is banned.
The park management has created four tourism zones in the core area. These are as follows:
On jeep safari one has to drive on a prescribed route that falls within the zone. Though this is suffocating the resultant benefit is few vehicles in a particular area.
Tiger sightings in Kanha depend upon many factors besides the rules and regulations. The most important factor is the local conditions. These are elements that provide tiger with rest and ease. The animalmoves when stressed, they move much less whence at ease. You cannot see the carnivore till it approaches the road. The animal is easily camouflaged in its natural surroundings. It prefers to hide in dense thickets and rarley comes out in the open.
Hence during and after the rains water availability is in plenty, the prey base too spreads out making tigers keep to the dense forest canopies far away from the road. Hence immediately after the monsoon the big cat is hard to come by. Thus sightings in the reserves in early winters is less compared to that in the summers. Nevertheless major reserves have large population of tigers hence the sightings are never disappointing.
Other factors that hamper tiger movement are the disturbance caused by too many vehicles, labourers, roadside fires, construction work, excessive heat, strong sunlight and lack of prey. These factors can push the tiger deep into the confines of dense forests.
Sometimes the tigers are shy and avoid humans including their vehicles. This is more so the case with tigresses especially those with cubs. They not used to jeeps also stay away from the jungle roads.
The best opportunity to spot these animals is during territory marking, searching for mates, on hunt and during its search for water. Tigers prefer to tread on soft jungle road hence you can trace them from their pug marks.
Tracking skills also play a role in increasing your tiger sightings. Many luxury hotel accommodations in Kanha National Park employ trained naturalists. These naturalists are good at tracking tigers in the park. Hence you should hire one or ask for one since many hotels offer free services.
Lot of tiger sightings depend upon chance and luck. These big cats are capable of giving a surprise visit to the tourists. The probability of sightings are hence generalized. So plan your itinerary and count your luck. A holistic expereince of wild places pays rich dividend rather than a singular minded chase for Bengal Tiger.