ATR - Day 36: The incredible tale of Maasi Maa (T-28) of Sanjay Dubri Tiger Reserve; no luck at Sanjay Dubri; now at Bandhavgarh
We did not find much at Sanjay Dubri except the incredible story of T-28. We came to Bandhavgarh in evening today and are set for safari at Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, beginning tomorrow morning.
November 5, 2023
Sunday, 11:30 PM
We did our morning safari in Sanjay Dubri Tiger Reserve, which was my first safari ever in Sanjay Dubri, and we almost instantly ran into the pugmarks of a tiger with what seemed like drops of water over and around them, which meant the tiger had freshly walked on the patch of the land, having walked through the dew-laden grass of the morning. That raised our hopes instantly, and we started looking for the tiger in earnest.
As we moved around, we noticed that the reserve was teeming with pugmarks. And they belonged to at least three different tigers. So both the movement of the tigers as well as the density seems quite high in Sanjay Dubri, which improves the chances of tiger sighting but there are not many safaris happening there, which complicates things when it comes to sightings. We were told that there are all of seven or eight safari gypsies going into the reserve due to the low footfall of wildlife tourists. This also means that the tracking of tigers is difficult because at any given point there are not enough safari gypsies moving around to report tiger movement. And that means one has to depend more upon chance than intelligent tracking to come across a tiger.
Now, it’s not that where there are more gypsies around, tiger sighting improves because if the tiger doesn’t want — or has no reason — to step out of the dense woods, there will be no sighting, no matter what; but with greater number of gypsies the news of sighting travels fast and the movement of a tiger can be better monitored when a tiger chooses to walk around or decides to rest in plain sight.
Furthermore, where there are more gypsies doing the rounds, the pugmarks get quickly overrun by the tyre tracks, which makes it easier to figure out if the pugmarks are fresh or from long before. On the other hand, where there are fewer gypsies, the pugmarks are no help, especially when the tiger movement is robust. In fact, even that gets difficult to figure out because the same tiger may have treaded the same path a couple of times in the span of several hours, and the pugmarks left behind might create the impression that the tiger movement has been big whereas it might just be usual.
So we followed the tiger tracks and tried making educated guesses about the whereabouts of the tiger. There were just two or three more gypsies in addition to ours, and they too couldn’t spot the tiger, just like us.
But we got to know the complete story of Maasi Maa (or T-28, formally), a well-known female tiger of Sanjay Dubri Tiger Reserve that has been doing the rounds for a while now. The renown of T-28 is such that it has been instrumental in giving wildlife tourism of Sanjay Dubri a good fillip of late with many wildlife tourist visiting Sanjay Dubri to see T-28 with her six cubs, all of which are not hers alone, which is what is interesting about this story.
The tale goes like this. There was another female tiger called T-18, who was the sister of T-28 and had given birth to four cubs at the same time as T-28 had birthed her three. Both female tigers had cubs fathered by the same tiger. However, T-18 was killed by a passing train when she happened to be on the rails when the train came in, as the train tracks run through the core zone of Dubri Tiger Reserve, which has been a longstanding problem. All four of her cubs were left parentless and their fate was pretty much sealed because tiger cubs cannot and do not survive without their mother.
But the Forest Department stepped in to protect the cubs from sad demise and built an enclosure within the jungle to protect the cubs for at least some time, and started feeding them until they were old enough to hunt, but the cubs had to learn how to fend for themselves, for they did not know how to hunt. So the department egged them towards T-28 using elephants. T-28 was bringing up three of her own cubs. Had she rejected the cubs, the department would have had no option but to send them so some zoo or some such facility. However, T-28 took in the four cubs of T-18 and started raising them alongside her own, which is how she got the nickname Maasi Maa for obvious reasons.
Unfortunately, a male tiger killed one of T-18’s cubs, who happened to be a male, but T-28 managed to protect all other cubs and all six of them grew up together and are still alive and well, and can hunt for themselves. That’s a remarkable story because tigresses do not ordinarily raise the cub of other tigresses simply because it is hard to raise cubs, as the mother tiger has to hunt much more frequently to feed herself as well as her cubs. And when four more cubs were added to T-28’s litter of three, it couldn’t be easy to hunt for all seven of them, to begin with, and then for all six, when one of them was killed.
Apart from that interesting story — told to us in great detail by Mr. Sonu Singh, our Naturalist on the safari today — we found nothing interesting in Sanjay Dubri Tiger Reserve even though we heard a few urgent calls of the spotted deer, which in all probability were spurred by the movement of a tiger or maybe a leopard, but we did not come across either of them.
In the evening, we packed our bags quickly and left for Bandhavgarh. We reached at about 5:00 PM, and have been working on today’s video for upload since. Again, the internet here is just as much of a headache as anywhere else. So the upload is most likely to be delayed again. Yesterday’s Vlog went up only today in the afternoon after our safari at Sanjay Dubri even though we had been trying to make it live since yesterday night.