Settle in and grab yourselves a brew - this is a long one!
Here she is, Noor, giving me 'the look'! Whilst of course any adult tiger is an incredibly impressive sight, Noor was something else. She was clearly the biggest tigress we encountered and carried herself with an air of superiority, that you just knew she could back up. In some of the later photos you will see just how powerfully built she is but I felt this look just said it all about her, "I'm in charge, don't mess!"
Noor's cubs are about a year younger than Ghost's, which means they are a lot more playful. Whilst this 'play' seems much more good natured, in reality everything the cubs do is informing their later lives. Either way, it's really fun to watch!
Kinda like domestic kittens, this play fight sequence started over possession of a treasured stick (which they begrudgingly shared at the end!). However, being six month old tiger cubs, in water, just made the encounter so dramatic and, in danger of sounding like a broken record, you had to really pinch yourself that you were lucky enough to witness such captivating bevhaviour.
After spending such a great day in the privileged company of Noor and her cubs, the langurs put on a show for us, on our way out of the park, all bathed in beautiful, backlit, evening light. Another of the treats Ranthambhore regular throws you, throughout the days there!
Whilst with Noor's cubs earlier in the day, we'd heard deer alarm calls in the distance. As well as checking pug marks and waterholes for tigers, sustained alarm calls are the other, pretty sure fire, way of knowing a tiger or a leopard is around. On our way out of the park, we came across this distant male leopard, on a spotted deer kill. He was very wary and for good reason. Tigers are unquestionably the top cats in Ranthambhore and will not only steal leopard kills but will kill both adult leopards and their cubs, if they get the chance.
Whilst I'd hoped to see leopards in Ranthambhore, I hadn't held out much hope. The thick forest habitat along with their wariness of tigers, made the chances pretty slim. So we were all really surprised when we rounded the corner the next morning to see this male laid in the middle of the road! A brief but fantastic encounter which, quite unbelievably, was about to be well and truly bettered later that afternoon!
After our leopard encounter, we found Noor and her cubs, out of the water in a forest clearing. Well I say, 'clearing', in reality, as you can see from the images, it was full of foliage and really tricky to get any usable shots, without a huge twig cutting across a tiger's face! It made us all realise that even though you were stood next to someone, sometimes using the same lens and camera body, you were coming out with totally different shots!
Interestingly, the family was finishing off a spotted deer carcass; the same spotted deer we found the leopard with the previous night. Clearly Noor had remembered the alarm calls she'd heard that afternoon and when the weather cooled down, had headed across into that area and stolen the leopard's kill.
After sharing our lunch with a five striped palm squirrel, we stumbled across our third adult tigress of the trip, Arrowhead. In comparison to Noor's muscular bulk, Arrowhead is slim and lithe and a real beauty. A young tigress, Dicky & Salim told us that she tends to walk during the day, to avoid coming across other, more dominant tigers. The lakes and temple ruins of Zone 3 are her usual domain, so it was a treat to find her on her travels, on our way out of the park. We would see her again later in the trip, so keep your eyes peeled for that in later posts.
As usual we were first at the park gates for our afternoon drive. The heat was at its furnace-like peak and we were all focussed on catching up with Noor and family again, when we rounded a corner and had to slam on the brakes because, again, a male leopard was sat in the middle of the road. This time, he was clearly in full hunting mode - as the jeeps piled up behind us, not once, even for a glance, did he takes his eyes off the sambar deer in the thick bush to our left. We were literally a few metres away from him and were praying he was going to strike...
All of our camera's tracking systems failed as the leopard hit the really thick bush and, clearly there was no clear picture to be had, even if they had been able to lock on. Whilst my view was obscured, we were told the leopard managed to jump onto the back of sambar deer, who promptly kicked him off, sending him flying. Thankfully he wasn't injured and slinked off down the road.
More tomorrow, when we witnessed a battle of two titans!