Excerpts from the Welcome Home Letter written by our Expedition Leader for our February 2008 Wild India program.
From the urban chaos of our first afternoon in the narrow alleyways of old Delhi to the serenity of our time on the sacred Brahmaputra River… from the timeless elegance of the temples at Khajuraho to gaudy roadside markets, India boasts a cultural and scenic richness second to none. No single trip to India can hope to cover the rich spread of this immense country. But in our case, it was tigers we were after!
The global plight of tigers is among the most publicized of all wildlife conservation stories, for no other animal can match this largest of cats for sheer beauty and charisma. Ironically, the day before we commenced our expedition, the sobering news broke of the latest Bengal Tiger census figures: 1,411 remaining at the end of 2007, down from nearly 2,200 the year before. While this drop in numbers may partly be explained by more accurate census techniques (camera trapping versus the outdated pugmark method), it almost certainly also reflected the ongoing loss of Indian tigers to poaching, with demand for the Chinese traditional medicine market being augmented by a new demand for skins used in Tibetan traditional wedding ceremonies. As if to reinforce the critical status of tigers, on our drive to Bandhavgarh National Park from Khajuraho we were met on the road by forest rangers en route to the site of an attempted poaching. A short detour brought us to the scene where we witnessed a microcosm of Bengal tiger conservation: a tiger, wounded by a poacher’s bullet; the crowd of interested onlookers; and the valiant efforts of the state park service to dart the animal for later surgery by the state veterinarian.
Poignant as it was, this glimpse of a striped coat cowering in a thicket was no way to see one’s first tiger and this was rectified, for most, on our first afternoon in Bandhavgarh when the famous male, B2, strolled regally through the woods. A day would pass (somewhat stressfully for the leaders, I might add) before another tiger showed itself, this time the largest of all male tigers in Bandhavgarh—Bokha himself. And this time we were all satisfied, from the lucky jeep occupants who first spotted him drinking from a pond, to everyone who enjoyed him from elephant-back. A last morning drive at Bandhavgarh revealed another tiger, this time a young tigress, stalking across a meadow in the misty light of dawn.