“It is not just about the tigers though” he added, keen to point out that Tadoba Andhari National Park is no one trick pony. “We have leopard, sloth bear and Indian wild dog in Tadoba…the dogs were here only yesterday afternoon”. As we enjoyed a simple lunch of vegetable Thali, Tiger Trails’ owner A.D. exuded an unwavering confidence that we would see a tiger on our game drive, later that afternoon. “What, literally right there?” I asked incredulously. “Yes, let me show you the photos.” That’s the thing about Tiger Trails. Not content with offering game drives where tiger sightings are common place, they also have a series of camera traps set up around camp that continually monitor the comings and goings of the local wildlife. You can sit and eat delicious mattar paneer with freshly made chapattis and watch live links to what’s happening in the park. It’s like Spring Watch but with bigger animals and none of the inane banter.
Tiger Trails is a simple camp on the edge of Tadoba National Park, owned and run by a no-nonsense father and son team, who eat, sleep and breathe wildlife conservation. While their shared passion is palpable they are also pragmatic and wise to the nuances of state government bureaucracy and have worked closely with local authorities to ensure conservation is never far from their agenda. They are fortunate in that they have a forward thinking Director of Parks in the state of Maharashtra who has implemented radical policies in Tadoba that have reduced wildlife human conflict and have allowed tourism to flourish. And guess what? Tigers are thriving. Official numbers put the tiger population at 74 but this does not include the cubs and miscreants that inevitably dodge the census. A.D’s son, Aditya thinks the number is more like 105 and he puts the healthy population down to a progressive management and a high prey-base. “The park is bursting with tigers” he says with unadulterated happiness. On 4 drives in the park I enjoyed 2 excellent sightings of tigers – a female cooling herself down in a lake and a male whom we were told was in search of the 4 cubs he had recently sired.
Of course it isn’t just about the tigers; a leopard sighting and a fleeting glimpse of a sloth bear were also memorable encounters. However, the wild dogs made the biggest impression. Having called in on Tiger Trails the day before my arrival, the dogs then headed into the park and took down a chital deer. I caught up with the pack to find them feeding on the poor animal.
The Indian wild dog – or the dhole to give it its local name – is a slight creature, no bigger than a slender collie or dingo however the visceral power the pack displayed when feeding on their prey was both brutal and impressive. The dogs were vilified by the colonial British when hunting in India’s national parks, as they felt they were cruel animals who exhausted their prey and then ate it alive. As a result they went out of their way to cull the animal to extinction. They almost succeeded but were up against a tenacious opponent. While numbers were decimated the dhole survived so that a more enlightened generation can marvel at its hunting prowess today. “We love the dhole” said A.D over breakfast on our last morning “he is always welcome at Tiger Trails”.