By Shashi, written by Pietro P.J. Danby
Story by Pietro P.J. Danby, Tigers4Ever Ambassador, who is giving me, Shashi, a voice, and tigers need help writing for sure. Written for Global Tiger Day, July 29, 2019. With special thanks to Corinne Taylor-Smith and Tigers4Ever. All photos in this story are ©Tigers4Ever. Special thanks also to Lisa Raymond for helping with photo editing for this story. Tigers4Ever is a U.K. registered charity (No: 1160528) helping to save wild tigers in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, India. To learn more, please visit www.tigers4ever.org.
My name is Shashi. I am a Bengal Tiger born in the winter. I am three and a half years old. I am a young male and my name means Moon or Shining. I live in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve buffer zones in Madhya Pradesh in Central India. I weigh almost 500 pounds (240 kg) but when I am fully grown in another year I will hopefully be a full 660 pounds (300 kg) of pure muscle.
I am one of three brothers and a sister born to my mother Rajbehra, who was the Queen of Bandhavgarh, and my father, Bamera, who was the King. His own father, B2, was also a King and a very famous wild tiger. My father was killed by one of my half siblings, and my mother by another one, Solo, who is now the new Queen of Bandhavgarh. This is natural because of territorial challenges and survival of the fittest. Solo could try and kill me if I am not careful, because she has cubs of her own and will see me as a threat.
One of my brothers is in Sanjay-Dubrey now, and my other brother is still here, with me, and I am trying to establish myself as the Alpha and find my own turf that will not bring me into conflict with Solo, who is still bigger than I am right now. This need for my own turf means I must distance myself from my brother, so we fight. My brothers and I had driven our sister away when she was little because of competition for food, and that is natural for male cubs to dominate their sisters, although it made my mother sad that we made my sister go away. To make things worse, my sister was killed by another tiger who wanted to mate with our mother, I learned about this and it made me a little sad and afraid. I remember my sister liked to climb trees. It was a game that we used to play. She was better at it than me because she wasn’t as heavy, so the branches didn’t break so easily.
That was then this is now. A tiger lives in the now, they can’t dwell on the past because they must focus on staying alive and safe. Now, my half-brother, the Arharia male, knows I am here. He has mated with Solo and others, and has sixteen cubs. I know at least ten are still alive. He is very big, 660 pounds (300kg), which is what I would like to be, but if I fight him right now I will lose as I am still too small. I am not trying to challenge him yet, as I am looking for my own turf, not to take Solo’s, which Arharia helps to protect. He is helping to raise at least ten of his cubs. They can eat his hunt.
When I am five years old, I will be ready to mate also and I intend to be a good father to my cubs, like Arharia is to his cubs.
For now, I am trying to find territory to call my own and keep it. I am a loner but it does not mean I don’t want to be a father or anything. It is the way of the tiger. But tigers are always sought after. I was even on television as a cub in BBC Earth “Dynasties” they call it but I just remember eating and playing and nursing from my mother. I don’t drink her milk anymore and she and even my father sometimes taught me to hunt. I am a carnivore and an Apex predator, meaning number one, the top. Nothing hunts me in nature, but I hunt it. Sometimes, if I am very hungry, I could even hunt a leopard if I wanted, although I have not so far and it is not my top pick for prey. Leopards are smaller than me even now when I am not yet my full size. I have been bigger than a fully grown leopard since I was around ten months old. But leopards can climb trees easily and tigers only usually climb them as cubs, and I don’t really climb them much, actually I don’t climb them at all these days. I am too big and it feels funny to climb it like a spider although I can jump on a trunk like a Spider Tiger if I had to and grasp the trunk with my powerful claws. But right now I don’t care about the trees for I have rain on my mind.
It is July, and the Monsoon time. There is a lot of rain. I can lay in the grass to ambush my prey, even if it rains. But it is hard to hunt because when it rains this much the prey scatters. Also the two-legged ones (humans), but the ones known as poachers, come around even more because their footprints are easily washed away by the rain, making it harder for the patrollers to detect them. Tigers have footprints too, but ours are called pugmarks. It is bad when the poachers follow our pugmarks or trap us. The Poachers lay wire traps where we walk and near to our caves and waterholes, so they can cause us harm; we need to be careful of the sticks with smoke that shoot metal, called guns, and of metal machines in the dirt with teeth that bite called traps and snares, and of electrical wires that sting and burn inside if you touch them and can electrocute you. They want us for our fur, our body parts and for the human money, and no one should ever go hungry! To kill a tiger is sacrament: it damages the balance of the eco-system and the whole jungle and is not just the taking of the life of one tiger, although that is bad. Taking the life of one tiger harms everything. If I had cubs and the poachers killed me, up to twenty-five tigers could be lost from of my death, because another tiger would come along and kill all my cubs so he could mate with their mothers, and some mothers may also die defending their cubs. The poachers don’t think about the baby tigers that will die when they kill an adult! There used to be nine sub-species of tigers on earth but now we are six. It seems impossible I am still alive and I can do six impossible things before breakfast, like avoid the poacher’s guns, the snare’s teeth, the electrical wires, spot my prey in the rain, jump on it in these rains with slippery, muddy earth under my paws, and catch it in my teeth with full focus with rain pouring down.
If it was sunny right now I would lay in the grass and sleep and digest my food. But in the rain I need to try and find shelter under a tree or maybe sometimes in the old stone temple if I chance it as it is in the core of the forest where Solo reigns, or under a rock. Mostly I sleep in the daytime and hunt and patrol at night and dusk when the sun goes darker or at dawn when the sun starts to brighten but is not yet fully bright.
Tigers are crepuscular hunters, meaning, we hunt by daylight or twilight by preference. That’s what I like. This way it is harder for the diurnal animals that are awake in the daytime to see me and so it is easier for me to hunt. But sometimes I might even patrol or hunt in the daylight. When I kill I can eat the kill for three days or even longer if I have to, and I can go a week or even two if I had to without meat if I ate enough, although this isn’t advisable because it would make me very weak. I should eat at least every two to three days while I am still growing. But I like to eat more than that and a tiger eats the equivalent of 400 human hamburgers a day in meat, that’s about fifty giant pizzas a day in pizza weight, just on the average, and sometimes we need to go without meat for some days. But I only eat meat. And so I just eat more meat on the days I have it in case I don’t have it for a few days. I would eat a hamburger too but we cannot hunt them and if I go to a human place that has meat it would be dangerous for me. As far as I am concerned a village is part of tiger territory and to watch over, but people get scared. I don’t like human meat myself and I am learning it is bad to eat a cow or a goat as they belong to the humans; and they might try to poison me if I go back to finish my meat.
What is the day in the life of a tiger? It is mostly sleeping with some eating and drinking of water, and some playing and then patrolling the perimeter of territory. But, only when I have it can I patrol it. Now I must try and find it and stake it out when I am not sleeping. I am finding some nice territory at the moment but I am not sure if I can claim it as mine yet. I think soon I will make it mine. I will spray the trees and grasses with my scent and scratch the bark with my claws so that other tigers know this territory is mine. Other tigers and animals will know this is my territory, from my scent they will know that I am male and how big and strong I am, so they will need to be careful not to disrespect me because they could die in a territorial battle with me. If a bigger tiger comes it would be dangerous for me too, he would spray his scent over mine so I would know that he was claiming my territory and I should move on unless I am big enough to fight. Right now I am a Prince but I will be a Tiger King when I am fully five years old and mate and have my young and I will patrol every sun and moon so nothing hurts my family.
The day in the life of the tiger is also the night. This day, in the moon time later, after I sleep, I will wander around looking after my home. I have a place right now I am trying to check out where I mark the trees and scent mark them so I can sleep. I sleep most of the daytime when my belly is full, and early this morning I hunted a Sambar deer after walking as a tiger often does all night, and it makes me very hungry to walk many miles, between about nine to nineteen or twenty miles a night. Sometimes male tigers can walk up to 160 miles in a single night! There are three kinds of deer we can eat here, and I lay in the grass and then leap out and grab the deer by the neck and take its throat in my teeth and crush its vertebrae and asphyxiate it, and then I bite the rump and disembowel the deer and I eat. I had my meal of deer hind and I hid the deer so I could return for more meat tomorrow. When I kill a stag (male deer), I like to lick the velvet from the antlers first because this is a good source of vitamins for me. If another tiger or animal tries to eat my meal I will kill them. I even have heard of humans poisoning the carcasses of our kill to kill us, and it is something called retaliatory poisoning, meaning if a tiger eats a cow, the tiger gets poisoned for revenge. But this is why I am learning to never eat a cow or goat even though it seems only natural they are our prey when they are in our territory and when they stand still and move slowly so it is natural to catch them. But I am eating a wild deer and no human can be mad at me when I do this. I prefer to eat Sambar deer when I can and these usually make up fifty-eight percent of my diet. They can fill me up when I am hungry.
Do you know how I learned to get away from the cows and goats? The humans came on elephants when I went to the village. The elephants kept finding me every time I killed a cow or goat in the field, it annoyed me and I saw there was a human on its back, so I wondered if it was on purpose! I had to move back into the forest to get away from the annoying elephants. Hunting or fighting an adult elephant is foolish for a young tiger like me, as they are so big and can hurt you with their swinging trunk, their tusks and their huge feet. Every time I was near the village trying to hunt a cow or goat they would come and make noise and mess up my hunt. It got so annoying it became easier to hunt a wild boar or a Gaur (wild Indian bison)! Although an adult wild Gaur would be really too big for me to kill right now. Tigers do hunt wild boar although they are harder to hunt than Sambar deer, because they are mean and wily, and we could hunt a crocodile, even, but there aren’t any crocodiles in my territory right now. Plus, they are very vicious and dogged! I have not tried to eat a crocodile yet, but I heard of a tigress called Machli who fought a crocodile for the whole day because it took the kill she had made for her cubs. The hardest thing is to avoid its deadly jaws but once you can get to its throat and rip open the underbelly, then you would be home free. Someday I will kill one if I am hungry, even if it takes four or five hours.
When I am a father I will let my cubs eat some of the meat I kill. But right now no one is allowed to except me. After I have eaten, I clean myself, much like the little tigers called cats that the humans have.
Tigers clean the same way actually only we are bigger so there is more to clean but then our tongues are bigger too. I lick my paws and clean all of myself. My saliva is antiseptic so it stops me from getting ill. Also tigers like to swim so much, we could swim eighteen miles a day if we had too, but I have never had to swim that much yet. The rivers move very quickly during the monsoon so I need to be a good swimmer when I want to cross them. If I found a river that long I would swim in it and play in it and eighteen miles would feel easy to swim. Also, water cleans us some when we swim in it, but our tongues clean us the best, so mostly we swim to cool down and play. I like to swim because it feels good. There are these watering holes in Bandhavgarh that are made for tigers, so we can drink in them, and swim a little, and lay in the water to help us digest our food. In the sunny part of the day, in summer and winter, if I am awake, I will look for the watering hole and lay in it. When I was little I played with my brothers and sister in the watering hole. Now that I am bigger I still like to lay and play in it. Other animals go there too and that is good because it means I can find food and also it means I don’t have to go in a human village to try and find water and I would just as soon not bother the village and have my own water here. I love water like any normal tiger. The watering holes have green signs that say Tigers4Ever and I understand that means Tigers forever, meaning infinity, and we tigers think this is a very good philosophy and very wise and just. And it is true, for we are the Apex predators of Bandhavgarh, and without us, the whole jungle would fall to pieces and the biodiversity would crumble, meaning the way everything goes together would fall apart and go akimbo and things would die.
Tigers love water and we love trees to lay under and hide amongst to hunt within jungle if we are not in grass, and because our prey needs trees too. So we are always sad if a tree is gone and it also means less prey and shelter. They say the green sign Tigers4Ever humans also help the human cubs learn why trees and tigers should be protected, and why humans and tigers need to co-exist in peace and tigers need to be saved. The green sign just looks like somewhere else to scent mark to me, but they say this is what it means in the jungle. I can see the green of the sign, because we tigers have round pupils and full vision for the color spectrum, although definition differs from that of humans I am told, due to the different arrangement of something called cones and rods in our eye. All I know is I see colors from my tiger eye parts like any normal tiger, and the Tigers4Ever sign for saving us looks green like grass, and I can scent mark it if I want to. The green sign Tigers4Ever humans have helped stop the poaching in the buffer zones, meaning the outer rim of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in the National Park, where I am, and my brother, and that they have nearly doubled how many of us there are. It is good and I do see other tigers and I believe it. There are about one hundred tigers including cubs, and we all need enough room to live and water to drink and food to eat. The great Nature has made sure our home can give us all of this if nothing takes it away, and we tigers will fight to keep our home.
My father, Bamera, taught me to avoid fights with humans and never ever kill a human for food. He said once a tiger killed a human and all of his fur was marked by the branches of trees and he was banished to the night. But I can go out in the day and night and my fur is not scratched and my color is orange like the sun with black stripes and white markings. And the black stripes are mine only, no other tiger has my exact stripes! And the stripes go all the way to my skin and are on my skin under my fur in the same pattern. I am unique. I don’t understand why man fears us. I never want to eat a human anyway. Some of my cousins in the Sundarbans of India and Bangladesh maybe eat a human sometimes because human corpses wash down in the river and maybe they have eaten one and gotten used to it and then the humans come into their territory or tigers go to a village if they are hungry or sometimes a tiger might get revenge if a human hurt one of their own. But a tiger would want to live in peace and I don’t like man meat. I told my father don’t worry.
Another time my father told me of a tiger who chased a motorcycle after humans came to bait a tiger with it, and how it curved about like a snake in s-curves on the road, and sometimes in straight lines, and on only two wheels of rubber, and made loud popping noises like a firecracker, and had two humans upon who were arrogant and yelling like fools. And the tiger chased the motorcycle to ward it off as it was bad. Once my father told me a tiger chased down a jeep thinking it was an animal. But I have never seen that. I know the jeeps are metal machines and you cannot bite them. The humans that come here to take pictures and look at us don’t try and hurt us and we just accept them. I don’t really see them too much as I am not usually in the core part of the forest, as that is Solo’s territory, but if I ever see them, I am a little curious and mostly kind of bored. The humans can make a lot of noise like flies and that is annoying. Some quieter humans made a little movie of me walking I know and I was with my brother and it was right after a fight with him, so I wanted to be alone. But I let them look. Tigers know how to be quiet and not make a sound when we hunt, but we can chuff and make other noises and I was making some sounds in the little movie because I was annoyed by my brother and letting him know I was the Alpha.
Tigers can be stealth and invisible or bold and loud! If a tiger roars it can be heard two miles away! If we wanted to for real we could learn to make the sound of prey we hunt to try and fool them. It’s true. Tigers are smart. I am even trying to learn the sound of a monkey because when they try and mess up my hunt by making noise I am thinking I could make a monkey sound and they would get confused and then I could roar and scare them away! And they would stop annoying me. It is only natural I should hunt and they know a tiger needs to eat and they know because they are high in the trees I won’t climb up to eat them so they can be little bullies and chaos makers. But I tell them now with my warning tiger roar, “Silence! Or I will eat you!” And I make like I will jump and run up the tree and they are cocky but they don’t like that I am around and I jump on the trunk like a Spider Tiger and let them know who is boss. I could jump high in the air if I wanted and I can run fast so watch out if they are ever on a low branch. Sometimes they have messed up a hunt of mine so I have to wait and try again to make a kill because the prey runs away. Tigers hate monkey chatter. But my father said you never know a monkey might warn you if a poacher is coming but I still don’t like the monkeys they annoy me and mess with my hunting. And my father said as a King you have to accept the monkey chatter and the flies buzzing, for as a Tiger you are the Lord of all. But I said I hate it and my father looked stern so I put my head down and said I will try, father. I know that sometimes I will get the chance to sneak up on a monkey that is on the ground and it will make a nice snack for me between other meals.
Right now, in this moment, I hear no monkey noise. I am at the watering hole. It is one of my favorite places and a tiger needs water or a tiger will die. I look around to see what is to my left and right and front, and see nothing and no one, except a lizard, and I dip my face in the cool. I lap up the water with my tongue. The water is cool in my throat. I need less water than in the drought but I still need it. More rain is coming. I can smell and feel and hear it. I go to find my tree for the rainfall. I hear a noise; I smell it is nothing but only my brother. I turn to him and my ears go back and I crouch low and warn him and then I fight him with my paws like a boxer not to hurt him but to ask him to leave me alone. I go on my way searching for the grass with my trees I have found. I find the tree, which I crawl under to sleep in the rain. My belly is full and I am happy. I hear the grass blow and the birds sing a little even in the rain but then the rain gets harder and the thunder rumbles and booms. I get under the tree right against the trunk. A rock would be better but I don’t want to go out in the rain. Then I remember the Bandhavgarh Fort they say was here 2000 years. It is in the center of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and that is in another tiger’s territory so it is dangerous for me, but I am feeling cocky and the rain makes it feel safer as the tigers are staying out of the rain. I see the Fort. I climb up the slippery rocks to it. The rain doesn’t bother me as it is only water but I am sleepy and it is hard to sleep in beating rain. Someday maybe I can mate here at the Fort for it is a quiet place. And when I mate it will be many times a day for a week because that gives us the best chance of cubs. And so I want nothing to bother me and the female I pick and who picks me back when we are mating. The fort would be good. But that is still in my future. Right now I am just sleepy.
Even though I am sleepy and my belly is very full, I climb. I think how I will need a lot of space when I find my own turf. I like the feeling of space and air right now. It feels right. As my front paws grasp the dirt and stones and my pads help me not slip on the rocks wet in the rain, and my tail helps me balance like a rudder on a boat with sails, I find the old temple and Fort and climb through the vines and nestle inside against some carvings on the stone, and I am covered by a tree and some old vines. I am high on a hill. I have a rock in my foot between the pads so I bite and lick and spit it out. My tongue has barbs to lick meat off bones and to clean myself and all my fur. If I licked a man his skin would peel right off that is how strong my tongue is. But I want only to clean my foot and be able to sleep so my muscles grow from the food I have eaten so I can be big. The air is cool and tickles my nose. A Changeable Hawk Eagle cries all of a sudden and I look up. It is not happy I am here but I don’t care. I am the Apex predator on the Apex of the hill. I glare at it and it flies off. I crinkle up my face to smell all the smells and all is good, all is right and peaceful. It is good to be the Prince and feel the rain and hear the thunder and be under the shelter of a tree. My eyes feel heavy, I shut them. I feel my breathing and my tail relaxes on the grass. My eyes are closed and I start to see something and I think it is my father’s face. I dream of playing with my father, Bamera, and I know I will make him proud as the new Tiger King.
….But tomorrow is another day and I’ll still be Shashi the Tiger.