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How to Track Tigers in India

Updated on July 17, 2018
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Aman Wiilliams is a tiger safari naturalist and also works towards wildlife conservation. He writes on tigers, mammals and birds of India.

How to Track a Tiger in the Wild?

The First Tiger Sighting!

As they that you never forget your first love or the first time you took your baby in your arms. Some feelings are incomparable. Come to the land of tigers and you will never forget the first time you come across this enchanting creation of almighty.

The experience of a tiger in sight is unparalleled. A glimpse of the greatest predator on earth will leave you spellbound. A mere alarm call from nowhere will make assumptions running in everyone’s head. A tiger on prowl brings the jungle to a standstill. You just don’t see a tiger, you follow it.

The Royal Bengal Tiger
Tigers lead a solitary life except for couples during courtship or females with cubs. A male tiger can have a territory ranging about 60-90 square kilometers and has about three or four females sharing the range.
Territories are demarcated by the reigning king. There are several ways of doing this. Starting with a typical cat behavior of leaving it's scent by spraying urine and by scratching trees to show dominance in the area.
The scratch marks are an indication to the intruder about the size of the alpha male. Scent marking or a common term ‘spray marking’ serves as a demarcation of territory walls. It is quite often done by females to lure their mates.

How do I track a Tiger in the Wild?

It starts with looking for signs in the jungle. When on the move, the king leaves behind several clues. Some can be seen and some can be heard. Tiger trackers in India mostly look for pugmarks, scratch marks and alarm calls.
Tiger tracking is not a perfect science. There is no definite way of going about it. You just follow natures signals. Signs the jungle shows because every sign is a clear message.

Pugmarks - Pugmark of a tiger is the first sign you look for when you enter the jungle. Perhaps the only indicator of direction in which the predator moved. The road made for tourist vehicles is mostly used by tigers to patrol their territory. While doing so they leave behind footprints which are known as “pugmarks”.

Looking at these you can ascertain their number and also get an idea of the gender of the cat. Males tend to have a larger paw than females and cubs. A leopard pug is quite similar in size to that of a tigress. Female’s pug is rectangular and that of a male fits in a square shape. Variation in size and shape is noticed depending upon the speed at which the cat is moving.

Although code names are given but tigers being territorial are mostly named after the area they belong to. Once you see tiger pugmarks in a certain area, the first guess is the regular predator seen in that area.

Scratch Marks - Tigers are known to show dominance by scratch marking their territory. But this is not the best way to track tigers. Looking at scratches on large trees, you get an idea of the presence but you cannot guess the latest movement made by them.

Alarm Calls - Alarm Calls work as a communication system in the wild. Whenever prey species sense danger, they send a warning right away about the approaching danger, thereby helping the receiver to make an early escape.

A relaxed or a resting predator does not disturb the system. It is only when they see danger moving in any direction, they make these special sound.Tiger tracking in India is mostly dependent upon alarm calls.

It is for the tracker to decide the right direction and distance from where the call is coming from. A good naturalist with homework knows the area and the movement of the big cats. Once they get a hint, it becomes quite easy to guess the route of the tiger.

The tracking system in Central India's nature parks and reserves depend upon the calls of Chital (Spotted Deer), Sambar Deer, Barking Deer (Muntjac), Nilgai (BlueBull), Langur Monkey, Rhesus Macaque, Chinkara (Indian Gazzelle) and Barasingha (Swamp Deer).

The Experience

The greatest experience a visitor gets is when they get involved in the race for searching the real treasure - tiger!

It looks quite easy when we just talk about the methods of spotting a wild cat. Sometimes it may take hours to search. A lot of efforts and patience has to be put in while searching for one. But when you’re in the wild, the odds in your favor depend upon your tracking skills and luck. Sometimes you’re just lucky to come across a tiger.

You are not always lucky to witness the royal majesty in his kingdom. Sometimes you’re late and sometimes you miss by a fraction. You learn from your mistakes. You learn to think like a predator. You have to be ahead of time. You win some, you lose some. But the game goes on. Just wait for the alarm and start again!

A Few Things to Remember While on a Tiger Safari

Tiger safari drives can be tiring. I would suggest visitors to take a few precautions while going for a jungle ride.

1. Carry ample amount of water to keep you hydrated. It is a four hour activity and no facilities are available in the core wild.
2. A few munchies are advised for travelers with family and kids.
3. Wear clothes according to the weather and climate but prefer colors that blend with nature.
4. Carry a hat or a cap and a pair of sunglasses to avoid direct sunlight.
5. A camera to collect memories. Spare batteries and storage cards are also advised.
6. Field guide about wildlife and a pair of binoculars are optional, but come in handy in the forest.

Scratch Marking on a Tree

Picture taken at Bandhavgarh National Park, India
Picture taken at Bandhavgarh National Park, India | Source

Pugmark of a Male Tiger

Picture taken at Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, India
Picture taken at Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, India | Source

Scent Marking by Spraying Urine

A female in Kanha National Park leaving her scent to lure her mate.
A female in Kanha National Park leaving her scent to lure her mate. | Source

For a good tiger sighting you need patience and luck. But a great sighting depends upon the kings mood!

— Aman Williams

© 2018 Aman Williams

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    • amanwilliams profile imageAUTHOR

      Aman Williams 

      4 months ago from Jabalpur

      Thank you Liz!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      4 months ago from UK

      Great images and an interesting article.

    • Guckenberger profile image

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      4 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Beautiful animals

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