Love of tigers is quite a common thing. So majestic, powerful and fierce but yet, so endangered and vulnerable. A symbol of strength that’s been part of many cultures for centuries, such is the pull that this iconic animal has on our imagination.
Yes, everybody loves the most special of the cats. But how many people can account to have a strong, personal bond with them ? And how many of them can actually claim the tigers to be an essential part of their lives ?
For this article I’ve asked six of my favourite photographers and storytellers to write about this magnificent animal.
For Love of Tigers is about the authors’ special connection with our favourite cat, the sparks and fire it never fails to trigger.
I believe, the result speaks by itself.
Big cats appear out of nowhere, but before that happens, it can be a frustratingly long wait. Desperate for a sighting, one might have to spend idle hours with a sinking feeling taking firmer hold by the minute as the sun traverses the sky.
And then, sitting exhausted and irked in your jeep, you hear a Langur’s shrill shout announcing the presence of the star. Binoculars in hand, you get to your feet with anticipation rushing in your veins. Nothing except the usual green, you see and hear nothing except the regular hum of the jungle. But the Langur keeps on. Perhaps, it’s responding to something else, you decide.
As the day comes to a close, such false alarms remain with you for their short-lived bouts of anticipatory joy, and so remains the lingering disappointment. It’s almost time to leave. You pass your hopes onto the next safari like a baton. The Langur’s boring calls are still on. You tune out.
End of another safari. The driver reaches for the ignition to make an exit, but stops dead. Through the leaves emerges the kingly beast, soundlessly, unannounced, stepping forward with the elegance of a ramp model. Only this one can kill. Not just metaphorically, not just by looks. It’s deadly, no matter how you slice it. The unmistakable coldness in the eyes, the visible ripples of the muscles under the vibrant, orange stripes leave you awestruck with surging joy and a freezing, vague dread. Always.
A wildlife photographer, Aarzoo’s images are all about playing with lights and shadows. Her idea is to make you fall in love with nature, respect the environment and soak in the visual richness of the wild;
A lone sambhar bellow heralded that blazing April afternoon, scorching the earth and everything within its reach.
Heat waves formed delusional mirages on the safari path and very soon our minds would fall into an abstract reverie, bodies into deception. The severe Indian summer had arrived & how!
A few hours earlier, we’d noticed fresh male paw marks go up the rugged mountain road originating from Singhdwar only to die a few paces later. Although I’d never seen it, the local legend talks of a perennial puddle of fresh groundwater along the cliff, where the pug marks had disappeared.
They hadn’t emerged for over six hours and our exhausted minds got to work, for aren’t illusions the prelude to reality! We took a gamble, skipped our lunch and entered the gigantic cauldron, where up on the ragged slopes the heat was even more harsh. We hadn’t even gone a quarter of a kilometer up the ramp when a distant shape emerged on the edge of the hill.
Shrugging it off as hallucination for a momentary passage of time, reality and magic struck us like lightning shortly after! The new ruler, who had taken over Ustad’s territory after his unfortunate departure from the park was, literally and figuratively speaking, rising from the ashes.
His journey since then, in this most sacred of tiger kingdoms, has been nothing short of an ode penned for the proverbial Phoenix!
T-57, Ranthambhore, exactly 3 years in the past.
Mihir Mahajan is an Engineering dropout since he always wanted to do wildlife. Having founded Beyond Wild at the age of 19 and seeing it grow as one of India’s leading wildlife tour operators, Mihir’s gamble, so to speak, has been to a good start. ‘A lot to do, a lot to achieve’, is what he always says though!
A keen wildlifer at heart specializing in big cat tracking, he has a very special corner for tigers and leopards. Being on a safari with him while he tracks these Big Cats with all skill and passion is an experience to be cherished!
Mihir also has the distinction of being one of the first few people on the planet to have seen and documented Snow Leopards mating in the wild! An experienced photographer, Mihir has won a few awards in the field too.
This young and dynamic man is the go-to person for all your wildlife journeys and dreams! They shall succeed !
The Story Behind the Picture: Tiger Blur
I envisaged this picture ten years before I was able to take it. It remains one of my favourite tiger images.
Motion blur is a technique that divides photography: you either love it or hate it. The technique allows a moving subject to be rendered in an impressionistic way, while emphasising the movement and dynamism of the subject.
I waited ten years to achieve this image because it took that long and numerous visits to parks in India, before all the right elements came together.
The tiger is B2 or Sundar, one of three famous brothers that were born in Bandgavgarh in April 1996. B2 was the dominant force in the park from around 2002 to 2010. This photo was taken when he was in his prime in 2006.
I remember the sequence of events vividly. It was late afternoon and everywhere was already in shadow. I had seen B2 beforehand walking in a particular direction, so anticipated where he might next emerge and took up an appropriate position. It seemed perfect for a motion blur image. I selected a 70-200mm lens and I chose an aperture / shutter speed combination appropriate to his speed of movement (moderate slow walk) which was ¼ second, f9.
Once B2 emerged, he walked parallel to me just as I’d hoped. The secret to successful motion blur is to begin panning the camera before pressing the shutter and then pan at the same speed as the subject is moving. In this way there is negligible relative movement between the camera and the subject but lots of relative movement between the camera and the background and consequently the subject appears more or less in focus and the background very blurred, but the moving elements of subject also blur.
This technique remains very ‘hit and miss’ and the success rates are low. I took over 50 rapid-fire images in this sequence and I kept just four of them. This one is by far the best.
An award-winning photographer and critically acclaimed author, Nick has photographed wildlife all around the world and has been guiding wildlife and photographic tours for over 20 years.
He is very much an advocate of showing subjects to best effect in the context of their environment.
He is also passionate about wild cats and their conservation and is a partner photographer for Panthera, the world’s premier cat conservation organisation. Nick has photographed all seven big cats in the wild (with the tiger being the most emotive and awe-inspiring species) as well as numerous smaller species in various parts of the world.
He is also a regular contributor to international magazines such as National Geographic, Terra Mater, BBC Wildlife, Travel Africa and Geographical, and has also twice been a category winner in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition.
A Penchant for Tigers
There isn’t any human being who’s not bewitched by tigers. Humans used to shoot them with guns and now with cameras, just to keep the fascination going.
Like most of us, I’ve seen tigers in the zoos and even circuses, since childhood. If the size of the beast floors you, the very next minute, the glorious florid-orangish skin with painterly stripes leaves you dazzled.
But, many years ago, when I saw a tiger, in the wild, was when my perception of the animal totally changed. It lifted its paw and threw it forward, and when it landed on the ground, the Earth seemed to shake under its substance. The eyes glowed like burning embers, and its gaze pierced like an arrow. The muscles ripped as it strode unassumingly. I lost a consciousness of the surroundings and my own-self as I stood flabbergasted by its appearance and attitude. It was a moment of cognizance, a feeling that reverberated within my heart – this is a tiger.
There began a penchant for tigers; not just as a wildlife photographer but learning, documenting tiger behaviour, tiger lineage, human-tiger interaction and so on. Through my writings on these topics coupled with photography, I have created an insight into the secretive world of Tigers.
My first encounter with a tigress in the wild
It was my first time in the jungle to see tigers in their natural habitat. When we reached the main gate of Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve (RTR), the very thought of seeing a tiger in the wild made my heart pound with excitement.
As we reached Raj Bagh, I was struck with its beauty. In the middle of the man-made lake there is a mini palace of yesteryears, now in ruins. Looking around I thought that everyone who has visited RTR would I am sure, dream of seeing a tiger looking out from one of the windows. Those who have seen and photographed are envy of others. When we reached halfway around the lake, the driver pointing towards the edge of the lake and calmly said, “There she is, tigress T17, aka Sundari.” She was sitting in the water and was looking away from us. She yawned a few times and then got up. She looked towards us and I, a novice to the tiger reserve, thought that she would turn and go to the opposite direction, but no, she kept on coming towards us.
My excitement knew no bounds – first time in the jungle, first tiger sighting and she was not more than 10 feet away! That is when I decided not to click but watch her, and boy am I happy with that decision?! She kept on coming until she was right next to my vehicle, just beside me.
Then her next move is something that I will never, ever, forget. It changed my life. She raised her head and looked at me, which sent shivers down my whole body and I was in a trance.
To this day, I remember those hypnotic eyes, looking not at me but in me, as if those amber coloured eyes with few freckles in them reached and touched my soul. That eye contact made me leave everything and made me wander the jungles of India in search of other tigers.
Shovna Upadhyay grew up in the heart of Kathmandu, and it was in the huge wooded part of the property she watched in fascination at the plethora of wild denizens.
In 2011, she was in Delhi for a meeting and she had some spare time, so she went for her maiden trips to the tiger reserves of Ranthambhore and Bandhavgarh, where she found her calling in tigers. Since then, though she “settled down” in Delhi, she occasionally makes short stops at her home, while spending the rest of her time following her joy, her happiness, her pride – tigers.
Once she started to go to the tiger reserves she started to observe tiger behaviours. She often remembered her daughter while watching The Jungle Book, saying, “I hate Shere Khan!” and every time before going to the jungles her friends and family would invariable say, “Please be careful!” This made her write a book entitled “My Tigers My Stories” so that people would understand tigers more and not think of them as the ferocious blood thirsty animal they are projected to be.
As an Indian wildlife photographer, filmmaker and presenter, I often get asked why I work so much with big cats? Though, I work with a lot of species, big cats really hold a special place in my heart and also my message for conservation. Let’s take the tiger.
The tiger is a flagship species. This means that due to its charismatic appeal, it has become an ambassador for its habitat – the forests, grasslands, mangroves and every single species that live in it.
There are countless tales, legends and films about the might of a tiger. So it is very easy to deliver a strong conservation message with a post about an animal that is admired by people all across the world.
A large majority of people happen to connect more with an animal such as the tiger than, say a frog or a honeybee. Yet these two species are extremely important to the ecosystem, perhaps more than the tiger itself. In an ideal world every being would be considered equally charismatic, by every single person. But we do not live in that world, at least not yet. While I can spend several hours – watching in complete amazement – as dung beetles roll up soil & dung into tiny spheres, it is not necessary that others might like that as well. An insect is not able to grip someone’s imagination. Frogs are considered as pests by many. The presence of a bee sends people running the other direction. But that’s fine. I don’t want to force my hand on someone’s personal opinion.
A large majority of people connect with the tiger. We can use that to save the frog and the honeybee too. Flagship species such as the tiger are able to raise a lot of awareness/funds for conservation purposes which frogs and bees are not. Yet they share the same habitat so by saving one you are also conserving the other. The countless species of trees, frogs, bees, reptiles, mammals, insects, the soil and in the origin of 600+ rivers… Isn’t that fantastic?
I truly love the forest and its animals. So, if I can use the charisma of the tiger to influence someone’s view about the importance of conserving wild spaces, then I have done my small part in trying to conserve the frog and the honeybee too.
Suyash Keshari is a 24-year old wildlife filmmaker and presenter based in New Delhi, India. In the summer of 2019, Suyash quit his Political Advocacy job in Washington D.C., USA, to follow his passion to be a full-time wildlife presenter.
Suyash spent his childhood in Central India where his deep affection for wildlife was ignited. His first series is inspired by this very region, its people and its animals. Suyash is also an award- winning wildlife photographer.
At the age of 19, he became one of the youngest people to win the Nature’s Best Photography Asia Award, for a photograph of a six-month old tigress. This photo was exhibited for a year at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington D.C. Suyash’s goal is to tell stories that would evoke passion in hearts and minds across the world and urge them to play their part in conserving our beautiful natural heritage.
Most recently he produced his first series #SafariWithSuyash for WWF International which is a real-life web series about a young person’s life with tigers and conservation issues surrounding the species, centered in Bandhavgarh National Park. Suyash is currently filming Season 2 which will focus on Wildlife and Conservation issues in South Africa.
Suyash has released a series on tigers in collaboration with WWF International. You can watch it here.