Popular Tigers of ranthambore and their legacy
Once the pride of Ranthambore, Machli (T-16) alias “Lady of the Lake,” was the royal tigress who passed away on 18th August 2016. Labeled as the most photographed tigress in the world, Machli was not only beautiful but also a powerful entity who had a strong hold over her territory which mainly includes the Ranthambhore’s palace, lakes, and fort of Ranthambore. With domes, and chattris as a shelter, and lakes under her control, one can easily figure out Machli’s dominance over Ranthambore. This 350 square mile area of Machli’s territory was the largest area of the park and also the most beautiful one. Amongst the 62 tigers of Ranthambore, what made Machli so special was her comfort level with the humans, and how she held lensmen (and women) in awe of her grace. She was smart too. At times, she used to take the advantage of the tourist’s vehicles to stalk and hunt. Her genes have spread far and wide across the area; two of her female cubs were transferred to Sariska Tiger Reserve to repopulate it with big cats. Films books and even lifetime awards are such accolades that have lifted her name to a greater extent.
Machli, literal meaning fish – Isn’t this name quite weird to call a tigress? The reason behind her name machli was the fish-shaped mark on the left ear of her face. Also, she inherited this name from her mother. Since birth, which happened during the monsoon months of 1997, Machli had been a dominating cub. At the age of two, which was the year 1999, this ferocious tigress started hunting on her own; the first sign she was about to separate from her mother. Soon afterward, machli took away the part of her mother territory, and that’s where she’s spent the majority of her reign. After few years, she gave birth to three cubs – one female (Sundari – T-17) and two male (broken tail and “slant ear) by mating with a large male tiger called “Bamboo Ram”.
By the end of December 2001, both the cubs separated from Machali. And then she mated with a male tiger called “Nick Ear”. Bamboo Ram had died of old age when Broken Tail and Slant Ear were still with Machali and Nick ear had taken over his territory. By April 2002, Machali had given birth to her second litter, the two cubs named Jhumru (male) and Jhumri(female). By the end of 2004 Machali mated with another male tiger known as X-male and around March 2005 she again gave birth to two cubs namely Sharmeele (which means shy in Hindi) and Bahadur (Brave). Despite being a female tigress, she always had a dominating nature and a powerful personality that at times used to overpower even the male tigers. She had been always protective about her kids.
Since her birth, she has been a ferocious species, and one can see that from the series of incidents that has been documented about her. One of these tales was her fight with the 14-foot long crocodile that has even created the history. According to the spectators who were present there at the time of the time, it was something exceptional, and worth to be recorded in the history.
Machli has earned many applauds and laurels throughout her life but one tag that gained her a lot of popularity has to be the – most photographed tigress. Over the years, she has been the subject of many documentaries, short films, journals, books, and research papers on wildlife. In fact, many books based on Machli and Ranthambore National Park has received a TOFT Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to conservation and the wider Rajasthan economy.
However, around five years ago, age started taking a toll on Machli and she started losing territory gradually. She even lost her teeth too by the time of her death. Today, this fierce-eyed tigress not strolling like a queen in Ranthambore but her royalty still resounds in the jungle.
Mentioned below are some of the facts that one should know about this legendary tigress of Ranthambore National Park:
- Tigress Queen of Ranthambore’, ‘Lady of the Lakes’ and ‘Crocodile Killer’: are some of the titles she received during her life.
- Between 1998 and 2009, the extraordinary popularity of Machli helped the Indian government earn nearly US$100 million.
- She won the “Lifetime Achievement Award” due to her contribution to conservation and tourist attraction.
- Indian Government issued a commemorative postal cover and stamp to honor Machli for her ecological and economical contributions.
- Machli passed away at the age of 20, which made her the world’s oldest-surviving tigress in the wild. This age is higher than the average lifespan (10 to 15 years) of tigers in the wild.
Tiger T24 (Ustad)
Born in 2005 to the tiger, T20 (Jhumroo) and tigress, T22 (Gayatri), T24 (Ustad) is a mighty and attractive male tiger who ruled the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve for 9 years. He lived a happy life with his partner T39 (Noor) and thundered about in his zone without any major competition from other male tigers, except few minor tiffs with his sibling T25 (Zaalim). Once a rising star of the Ranthambore Reserve, T24 was named as ‘Ustad’ by the locals owing to his free spirit. He was always a bit different from other tigers and would drag his prey to highway to eat it in full public view; he would also not move away from the path seeing humans approaching as other normal tigers do. Despite of all his unconventional behaviours, he was the major draw to Ranthambore Reserve and was loved by wildlife freaks and photographers.
What brought Ustad in limelight?
Majestic and intrepid, Ustad came into limelight of entire nation when he killed a veteran forest guard, Rampal Saini on the doomed day of May 8, 2015. A very brave forest guard, Rampal lived fearlessly amidst tigers but, seeing the menacing ways and changing behaviour of T24 over past few years, even he felt nervous and scared sometimes, claims his family.
On May 8, sighting Ustad at a waterbody near the 4 km. Ranthambore fort road that is frequented by many devotees visiting the Ganesha Temple inside the reserve premises, when Rampal went to look for him, he was mauled to death by the ferocious tiger. This was not the first reported attack of Ustad; he had earlier also been charged of killing two villagers in July 2010 and March 2012 respectively and another forest guard in October 2012. Tigers are usually shy of humans and avoid confrontation with them unless harmed but, the case of T24 was a bit different. As per the villagers residing in the vicinity of the Tiger Reserve, Ustad had grown violent and aggressive over few years; his human fear had faded; chasing vehicles and catching humans as his prey had become like a routine for him.
What made Ustad a Man-Eater?
According to the well-known conservationists, Dharmendra Khandal and Raza Tehsin, the ever changing behaviour of Ustad has a lot to do with him being tranquilized and confined to cage for many continuous days, quite frequently all these years. Be it for his treatment of injured paw, curing constipation or for putting up a radio collar on him, frequent episodes of tranquilizations and injections took a toll on his natural behaviour. The transfer of eight tigers from his clan to other wildlife reserves, disturbing his family structure in early years of his life, also contributed to his wild behaviour towards humans. Tourism is another great factor that cannot be overlooked for being one of the main contributors to the man-eating behaviour of tigers; private leasing of core areas of forest reserves and invading the reserved territories of these wild animals to arrange for sight-seeing and night tours – a tiger will definitely go wild in such circumstances and repeated instances of human invasion will for sure, turn him into a man-eater.
What provoked relocation of Ustad from Ranthambore?
After the incident of March 2012, an advisory was raised to NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority), suggesting an immediate relocation of Ustad to a secluded location before he could make another human his prey. But, suddenly branding a tiger as a man-eater was against the regulations of NTCA and forest authorities. Therefore, Ustad was allowed to move about unrestricted in the forest reserve. May 2015 was the highpoint for villagers suffering from the rising terror of Ustad; witnessing another loss of human life by this aggressive beast, an outrage amongst villagers and forest guards was quite obvious this time. Bearing the protests from villagers and other forest guards patrolling the territory of T24, Ustad was moved to Sajjangarh Biological Park in Udaipur on May 16, 2015. Located at a distance of 400 km. from the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and away from human settlements, at the biological park, Ustad was confined to a natural enclosure spread over an area of less than a hectare in contrast to the 5000 hectare of Ranthambore where he spent his life as the ‘King of Jungle’.
Protests against relocation of Ustad
The movement of Ustad to a different zone raised a lot of discontent and outrage amongst wildlife experts and photographers. One of the most beautiful male tigers of the Ranthambore Reserve, T24 was an eye-candy and a delight for wildlife enthusiasts who swamped to the reserve just to have a glimpse of him. With his unmatched appeal and swagger, Ustad had undoubtedly, raised a huge fan following for himself. The tag of ‘MANEATER’ for Ustad to his fans seemed to be indigestible. According to Ustad’s supporters, the killings attributed to Ustad, were mere accidents. They also supported their statements with the fact that tiger never himself ventured out of his territory seeking people to kill, neither had he ever attempted to kill any of the thousands of people frequenting the road to the temple and fort that falls in his zone. Even the former Environment Minister of Rajasthan, Bina Kak, stood firmly supporting the tiger with pictures of him walking calmly past a group of village women carrying water.
Promoting the return of Ustad to his original grounds, there were many protests and huge demonstrations, especially on social media channels. Candle marches and rallies in support of T24, also spread his story in international media. International broadcast networks like BBC and Al Jazeera covered the entire story and brought a global fame to Ustad.
Supporting the protests, a Pune resident and a tiger lover, Chandra Bhal Singh, even filed a petition against the state forest department and Ranthambore forest officials in Supreme Court for relocating Ustad discretely and abruptly to Udaipur Biological Park without even waiting for an approval from NTCA. Later, an RTI plea was also filed to the Ministry of Environment and Forests seeking answers from the state government for hastily translocating Ustad without formally informing the concerned authorities. While the case still ponders upon, a committee has been filed to look into rehabilitation of T24. Whether he remains in the captivity of Sajjangarh zoo or is released in Ranthambore with a close watch on him, the decision lies in the hands of state forest department and NTCA.
What tiger experts and wildlife conservationists say in support of Ustad’s relocation?
Contradicting the facts of Ustad’s supporters, neighbouring villagers claimed to have been chased by Ustad many times while returning from work in the evenings. The observation of Ustad licking the blood of Rampal Saini by Dharmendar Khandal, the expert wildlife biologist studying tigers and ecology of Ranthambore Reserve for past many years, had its own credibility. Even the renowned tiger expert, Valmik Thapar, could not held back claiming that he had always seen danger in the eyes of Ustad.
What’s the latest on Ustad?
Adjusting to his new confinement amidst sandalwood trees, a team of veterinarians is looking after the health and well-being of Ustad. His thunderous roar every morning and evening, even today, raises the pulse of forest officials. He still craves for a new love in his life – going and sitting at the corner of his cage listening to the roars of Damini, the tigress residing in the adjacent enclosure, makes it quite evident. On the other end, Noor and his cubs, a 4 years old Sultan and two 14 months old cubs, await their fate of either being killed or hurt by the new ruler of the territory. Praying for Ustad’s good health, we just hope he again gets a chance to move back in wild and enjoy his unprecedented authority.
Some thought provoking questions
While the state forest department and NTCA are still fighting over legal procedures and regulations that should have been followed in translocating T24 to a new zone, we are posed with many unanswered questions; whether the state government was right on its part of taking the decision to relocate a tiger that had become a threat to human life? Whether the decision of forest department influenced by the pressure of hoteliers for whom Ustad posed to be a threat to their business? Whether Ustad had really turned into a man eater? If yes, should we not, as tourists, be held responsible for invading the territories of these wild animals and turning them hostile? There are many more questions that remain unanswered. But, for us as humans, it’s high time now to realize the importance of maintaining a perfect balance in the eco-system. Whether Ustad was a man-eater or not, if we do not mend our ways of poaching and interrupting the territories of these wild creatures, it may not be long before another news of one more tiger killing a man hits the headlines.
Suggestions for wildlife authorities
The Indian wildlife reserve authorities should come forward with stringent plans of minimising human interference in the core forest areas. Providing shuttle bus services in areas like fort road of Ranthambore that is frequented by many humans, should be a responsibility of forest authorities. Physical support with proper defence equipment against attack of tigers to forest guards patrolling the areas on foot, should also be well taken care off. Wildlife regulatory authorities like NTCA should also work towards bringing in effective wildlife tourism policies for all wildlife reserves so that illegal activities can be effectively controlled.
Today, the tigers have lost over 93% of their territory to human developments and concrete jungles. Conserving tigers today, is far more important than promoting wildlife tourism. It is only with the joint effort of people and wildlife authorities can we bring about an ecological balance and see the population of tigers grow in India.
On October 2006, this grandeur of Ranthambore was first observed; the Sundari (T-17) tigress is simply like her mother, Machali. Out of all the three sisters namely “Sundari or Satara”, “Athara” and “Unnis” (or 17, 18 and 19 in Hindi) who were born during the monsoon months (July to September) of 2006, Satara is the dominant litter from the very beginning. Majestically by December 2007, she started exploring her own territory while her other sisters stayed with their mother.
By the early 2008, Satra established her own perfect territory and that majestically was the base of Ranthambore Fort. Like humans, she occasionally used to visit her family despite being capable of hunting on her own. By summer 2008, Satra became totally independent but her two sisters taking another few months to separate from their mother.
Like her mother she too loves exploring territory and in the rage of such efforts she had expanded her territory to greater extent. Quite amazing but she even fought with her mother Machali to overtake her territory and finally won too. Machali had to leave her territory, the area of the lakes and eastablished her base in Lakkarda, which is her current territory.
Gradually, Satara overtook almost all the territories of Machali except Lakkarda region and some parts of Mandoop, which was overtook by her sister Unnis (19). Her other sister, Athara (18) had established her territory recently in the area of Phoot Kot.
Since then Satara is ruling the areas of the lakes for the last three years. The interesting part of this tigress is that she is not shy of vehicles coming to the reserve and makes the tourists comfortable while roaming around.
Satara is often been found to mate with other male tigers but ironically had not been able to bear any litter out of them. She always shared her territory with three different males (T12, T25 and Sitara earlier, and now Sultanpur, following T12’s move to Sariska).
Satara later expanded her area into the Kachida valley during summer 2011 after the dominant female there (T5) died and has one of the largest territories among the females in Ranthambore National Park – a territory rivaled in size only by that of her sister Unnis (T-19).
Finally after much speculation Satra bore three cubs in early May 2012 and it is assumed that Dollar (T-25) is their father.
Dollar, as the name given to this male tiger owing to the $ (Dollar) shape on his right flank stripe pattern has really amazed the tiger lovers. The story of Dollar is very interesting and is the most peculiar character in Ranthambore. First of all, his majestic appearance in front of the visitors; and once the reputation goes, he particularly does not enjoy the human presence and chases the vehicles out of rage if he is not in the mood to interact with them.
Preferably, T-25 has marked his territory far in the forest and due to the ferocity with which he tries to usurp the territory of other tigers; is also being called Zalim (in Hindi that means grievous). People have found him chasing the vehicles, growling and ready to attack.
Being typical of the nature of a male tiger, Dollar’s behavior and territorial aggression remained consistent but his recent behavior has really amazed everyone. From last year, Dollar has been found with two female cubs who were orphaned last February (2011) when their mother T-5 succumbed to intestinal illness and died in the hilly Kachida region at the northwest corner of the reserve. T-25 surprisingly is not only protecting these cubs but also playing the role of mother to these two. That’s quite amazing to the male tiger’s nature who otherwise commonly seen as a threat to the cubs. Over the last year, he has turned quite softer too and is hardly ‘Zalim’ any longer, the name that he acquired a couple of years ago by the observers.
Born in 2007 or 2008, Dollar was one of the three male cubs born to the Lahpur-Nagditigress T-22 and father Jhumroo (T-20) and is the direct descendent of Ranthambore’s matriarch- Machali. Initially, Dollar was thought to be a tigress and as a sub-adult hardly one or two of his pictures were available, when he separated from his mother. His two brothers Indala and Sultanpur flourished in the rich hunting grounds of Nagdi-Lahpur, which was the famous territory of Jhumroo, their father for many years.
After few months of close monitoring by the forest officials, it was thereby confirmed that the T-25 is indeed a male tiger. From that day he was always remembered for his snarls and roars and so he gained the name ‘Zalim’. But today when people observe him with his two adopted cubs, his movements revealed that he is not stalking them but patrolling his territory and amazingly training his cubs. As an obedient child, the cubs are also seen to follow him and sniffing the territorial markings of other tigers. This extraordinary family has always delighted the visitors with their regular affectionate and caring moves towards each other across the tourism zones.
The most surprising element of Dollar is that he is also being protecting and accompanying the female cubs as potential mates. Dollar once mated with Sundari (his sibling) in November last year who had her three cubs with T-28; since incest was common in territorial cats when male and female siblings are separated from their mother.
Today, Dollar still shows his hazy behavior whether due to his fatherly love or sexual instinct; his natural or unnatural motives have raised question when Bina 1 and Bina 2 (the two adopted cubs) showed different behavior towards him. Where Bina 2 showed her unwillingness towards Dollar’s authority, although she stays around; but on the contrary Bina 1 follows him like a shadow, stays close, plays, even sleeps near him. Bina 2 keeps to herself and is more dominating with having a mind of her own.
Ranthambore, the tigers’ paradise attracts tiger lovers to catch the glory of the most popular, the masculine Jhumroo.T-20 (Jhumroo)is the oldest male in the park that descended the dynasty of the great Machali, being her son. If Machali is the “Lady of the Lakes” than probably Jhumroo is called the “Lord of the Lakes ” since after Machali, it was Jhumroo who reigned her territorial areas including the lake and other water body areas.
From strapping young cub to gigantic male, the journey of Jhumroo in the Ranthambore vicinity is simply incredible. Today this 9 feet long male tiger is ruling the jungle by dominating the area around Padam Talao and Malik Talao and the entire summer is being spent at the cool confines of Rani Bagh. With such a great dynasty, Jhumrootoday is fatheringat least 18 descendants with four known tigresses. This majestic predator was being first observed by the tourists during July 2002 and is a very shy creature since he is being seldom observed by the officials.
His recent encounter with humans has really raised threats among the villagers and locals as this 11 year old tiger injured two villagers outside the park vicinity, when he was busy in enjoying his meal. The victims went much closer to him outside his comfort zone and on the contrary of his shy nature he attacked on them to express his rage.
A very majestic and giant creature of Ranthambore, the T-20 tiger is definitely the masculine hunk and interestingly quite opposite to his physique is a very shy tiger.
Born to the famous Machali tigress, the T-19 tigress is also known as the “Jhalra Female”, the classification given to this big cat as per her territory where she used to spend her days during her heyday.
Along with Satara (T-17) and Athara (T-18), the T-19 was born during the monsoon months (July to September) of 2006. They were the three female cubs of Machali. All the three cubs (when they were small) along with their mother were first located by a tourist vehicle during the end of October 2006. After December they were being frequently visited by the tourists.
The lineage of T-19 is very impressive and interesting and this is the reason for its popularity. Her mother Machali and one of her sisters, Satara were very majestic and popular at Ranthambore. She (T-17) left her lineage in search of her own territory at very earlier stage but T-19 and T-18 remained with their mother for quite a long time, till the end of summers 2008. T 17 was firmly established around the lakes which she overtook from Machali; while T 18 just established a territory in the Nalghati – Phoota Banda – Phoota Kot area. T 19 had no choice but to take over the “leftovers” of Machali’s territory – the Mandoop plateau, which during the summers has very few permanent waterholes and a low prey density. Soon when T 18 was relocated to Sariska, T 19 took over her territory.
Unlike T-17 and T-18; T-19 had always the shyest tigress in Ranthambore and her observances between 2008 and 2011 were very few, with greater gaps. She had confined herself to the alienated zones of the dry streambeds in the Mandoop plateau and thus was rarely visible to the tourists.
She has been observed mating with T-28 (or Star Male) during the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, the Star Male tiger who was at that time the dominant male in that territory. After few months of their mating, she became elusive. Though some evidences of her presence can be observed through her pugmarks and droppings in and around the area of Nalghati. It was being estimated that she must have been going to bear her litter or probably will be spending time with her cubs. Soon after, she was being observed with three cubs- two males and one female and on the wage of expanding her territory she moved towards the Lahpur Valley with her cubs. By the end of 2011 she expanded herself with the largest sized territory.
Today, T-19 can be found ruling the whole regions of Ranthambore and is the proud owner of the largest territory. She is the typical heir of the whole territory of the leftovers of Machali when T-18 was being shifted to the Sariska Reserve. She can often be found busy in training her 10 months old cubs and has often been observed with her cubs for a walk in the sunlit woods of the Nal Ghati-Kamaldhar area in Zone 2 of the park.
Bina One Tigress- the Adopted Daughter of Dollar (T25)
Age: 2 years old (sub-adult)
Name Meaning: Bina one
Code: K1 (Ra)
First Sighting: December 2010
Notable Marks: Light coat and stripes very wide apart
The Bina One tigress along with her sister Bina Two has always remained in the limelight of Ranthambore news. The reason for such fame is their early orphanage and later their bringing up by their father, Dollar, the T25 tiger. This extraordinary pair has literally received lots of attentions by the tourists in response of their bringing up by Dollar, a male tiger. Surprised? Yes, it’s true, unlike their nature; the Dollar is the only male tiger in Ranthambore who has shown great love and tender care to their cubs that used to be the duty of the female tigers anywhere. More pleasurably, Dollar has proven itself as the best mother in Ranthambore and today these tigresses are growing well, quite healthily under his care.
Being born to the Kachida Female (T-5) and Dollar (T-25) in November 2010, the Binaek tigress along with her sister has a famous adoption story that really shook the research world and especially among the tiger lovers.
The story of this wonderful family starts with the mating of the Kachidha Female (T5) and Dollar (T25) in the late winters of 2011 and by the end of the monsoons the duo had their first litter-the Binaek followed by another female cub which was identified as Binado (Bina Two).
But unfortunately about four months later in February 2011, the Kachida Female was found dead near the chowki (Guard post) after yelling for all night, from the pain of internal hemorrhaging that she was suffering. This was the time when the forest officials were in an inevitable dilemma whether the cubs will survive or die along with their mother. But surprisingly, the matter came before the fact that Dollar (the father) was taking care of the cubs and was performing his duties of fatherhood in a very responsive and impressive manner.
A quiet observation in May 2011 proved that her father is actually looking after his cubs and since then their extra-ordinary story of love and his fatherhood prevailed all around the Ranthambore. Unlike his howling nature, Dollar was observed patrolling his territory and amazingly training his cubs the necessary skills for survival and occasionally admonishing them like any good mother.
Binaek, being quite responsive to her father always stay around him in her previous stage followed him like a shadow, played with him and even slept near him.Binaek and Binado are still together, attaining their adulthood every passing day and now gaining their full maturity. Sultanpur (T24), the dominant male is rather fond of these twin young ladies, who live close to some lodges and within the Sitara domain. Today, the family of Binaek has great affection for each other and regularly moves through the tourism zones, delighting visitors.
In November 2012, the forest department decided to relocate the duo sisters to the Sariska Reserve to re-establish the population of Sariska. The orders have been issued for the relocation of these two newly-matured tigresses to Sariska to continue the growing population of this recently poached out park, just 100 miles from Ranthambore.
And then, on 23rd of January this year, Binaek was being tranquilized and relocated to Sariska by road successfully. Sariska is now peppier with the introduction of these duo sisters Binaek and Binado to make the count reach up to nine in the Alwar area of Rajasthan.
Though, Sultanpur (T24) would be deeply depressed due to their re-location. The dominant male of the area (where they were rambling on the western fringes of the park, close to a number of lodges), Sultanpur was increasingly fond of these twins and spent many times courting them.
This much interesting family story is quite rare in any kind of reserve but is a must watch sight for the tiger lovers in the Ranthambore vicinity.