Inside the Jungle Book

I had read a lot about Kanha National Park. Extensive descriptions of its evocative landscapes. Of the calm conveyed by the huge sal trees (Shorea robusta) that line the paths. And of the magic of the dawn light filtering subtly through the jungle leaves.

No description did justice to the park.

As I stepped into the Kanha forest, just before sunrise, my guide began to tell me about the park’s history and the various types of vegetation. Though the information about the over 1,000 species of plants in the jungle was interesting, I couldn’t focus on it. I was too mesmerized by the breathtaking scenery before me.

I wasn’t expecting such a forest. Nor such a magical light. Within minutes of entering the national park, I knew it was one of the most impressive places I have seen. Seeing the tiger or not, it was no longer the most important thing.

When two jackals appeared in the middle of the path, distracted while chasing a wild boar, I came back to reality. It was the perfect welcome to the Kanha woods, the land of Mowgli.

“As the day progressed, the morning chill turned into a suffocating heat. The barasingha or swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii branderi) were also feeling the heat, so we headed to the swamp area to watch them as they cooled off and ate. Kanha is one of the few places where this highly endangered species can be observed.

With so much heat, the sounds of the jungle had been fading away. I didn’t expect to find any tiger anymore. But an alarm call from an axis deer, one of the most abundant deer in the area, put us on alert. Along winding paths that the gypsy driver and guide knew perfectly, we followed the alarm sounds. Some predator was moving around the area.

As we turned a bend on the road, we came across the source of the noise. A stunning tiger was lying in the middle of the path, grooming itself, seeming to be in a drowsy state. The guides were able to identify the animal by its unique black spots. It was Choti Mada, an 8-year-old adult female. One of the most breathtaking sights in Kanha.

Being able to witness this tiger, up close and for an extended period, was an incredible experience. It was the perfect ending to our first safari in the Kanha National Park.

The Bengal tiger: an endangered species

The number of tigers surviving in the wild currently is around 3,890 individuals. Alarming and worrying numbers, considering that at the beginning of the 20th century there were more than 100,000 tigers in the wild.

Illegal hunting is one of their major threats, especially for commercializing parts of their body, which have great value in “traditional medicine” in some areas of Asia. The loss of habitat is the other major problem that makes life difficult for wild tigers. The ecosystems where tigers live are becoming smaller and this creates big problems with the local population.

Despite this, there is still hope. In recent years, the population of wild tigers has increased: from 3,200 individuals in 2010 to 3,890 currently. A large number of initiatives, coordinated by WWF-India, have worked to protect tiger habitat and generate natural corridors to connect populations. A basic point for the survival of the species. It has also been possible to reduce much of the hunting and species trafficking, thanks to the tireless work of forest guards.

The forests of the Kanha National Park are one of the oases where Bengal tigers live without threats. Currently, throughout the entire extent of the park, there are around 83 adult tigers and 42 young (cubs and subadults) tigers.