Monday, February 1, 2010

Encounter With Tiger

Tiger possesses enigmatic charm that attracts thousands of visitors every year in Chitwan National Park for the rare glimpse of this elusive creature. Although, Chitwan National Park (932 sq. km) holds the viable population of tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), some 91 individuals (DNPWC-2008/09), seeing the tiger in its prime habitat is extremely difficult.

Barma Jit Mahato, a nature guide, said, "We used to see tiger every year till 2000 A.D., but now any chances to see tiger is rare". During his 23 years of experience as nature guide, he has seen tigers for some 15 times.

Tiger is the most fascinating animal of all. He has seen tigers very close during jeep drives, but following them in dense jungle and observing this magnificent animal while walking is really breathtaking and adventurous.

(Barma Jit Mahato)

He said that tigers prefer short and open grassland with plenty of water in the surrounding areas, which is now covered with tall grasses like Saccharum spontaneum and Saccharum munja that made tiger more elusive. In the closest encounter, Barma and his guests saw tiger in fireland inside the park at the distance of 60 m. Tiger gazed them for 3 minutes and hid behind the bush.

The most dangerous mammal in the park is rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis). Rhino has inflicted many casualties to guides, guests and villagers.

Rhino had seriously attacked Dharma Datta Paudel, while he was guiding 3 visitors in Bankatta area in the park in 1998. They saw a rhino with her baby resting near wallow. In the meantime other group also arrived to view rhino.

(Dharma Datta Paudel)

Sensing the danger, Dharma asked his guests to step back but instead they started taking photos. Click sound and flash light prompted the rhino to charge them. He struck his stick on the ground making threatening sound. With each blow rhino retreated little back but again came forward to charge. On the third time, he powerfully hit on the mouth of rhino with stick but rhino knocked him down with powerful blow.

Rhino has strange behavior that once it hits its target, it retreats back few yards and again come to charge its victim. Rhino came to attack Dharma and started biting his flesh. Luckily baby rhino ran away from the scene and mother followed her baby. Injured Dharma was hospitalized for 2 weeks.

(Dharma was attacked by rhino)
Another guide Tek Bahadur Gurung was also fatally injured by rhino in October 1996. He and other two guides Biru Lama and Tara Magar were guiding 20 Singaporean guests. At that time there was no provision to take sikaris (helper) with guides in the park. While returning from jungle walk, someone from other group told them that there was rhino near 2 no. bridge.

They followed the hati ko dadi (path used by domestic elephants). Suddenly rhino, which was already in aggressive mood, appeared from behind and attacked them. While he was giving instructions to his guests to run away, rhino hit him on groin and he was thrown few yards away.

(Tek Bahadur Gurung)

While rhino retreated, he tried to stand up but in vain. He blocked with his left hand when rhino came to bite. In this process his hand inserted inside the mouth of rhino and he grabbed its tongue and tried to stand up pulling the tongue. Rhino could not bite but it forced so that the hand came out. His hand got fractured and sustained injury by the teeth of rhino. Rhino again retreated few yards away. By that time he slowly crawled back to bush. Rhino returned back and searched its victim making two rounds and went away. There was a doctor (guest) from other group who examined him. He really wanted to drink water but doctor did not allow him to drink. He was taken to the Bharatpur Hospital where he was treated by surgical doctor instead of orthopedic. The bones were not joined after 18 months so he had to go to Kathmandu and he was treated by Dr. Baskota putting a plate on its fractured hand. It took him more than 6 months to recover completely.

(Tiger's foot print)
Tek Bahadur Gurung had once close encounter with tiger during 2002. His guest Dr. Susanne Kuhnel was willing to take photos of gaur (Bos gaurus). It was around 4.45 PM when they arrived tented camp (near Gaur Machan) returning from the whole day jungle walk. Suddenly tiger appeared with dead wild boar in its mouth from the nearby jungle. As tiger was about 10 m. away from them, they both became standstill for a while. As Susanne wanted to take photos of tiger, Tek Bahadur gave signal her to fix the tripod but she could not see the picture of tiger in camera. He asked her to slowly move back. She gave anxious look at Tek Bahadur before taking picture as it would make some sound. He gave nod and she took 3 snaps. Tiger was gazing them for 5, 6 minutes from the same spot. Tek Bahadur's instinct told him that tiger generally does not attack others with a kill in its mouth but at the same time he was scared of glaring look of tiger. They both slowly moved back. Tiger violently jerked its huge body and threw its kill upward and again grabbed it on air with its powerful jaw and hid behind the jungle.

Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) is considered the most unpredictable mammal in the park. Yamnath Giri shared his experience about the encounter with a sloth bear.

"I was guiding 2 foreign girls in 1993. First we went canoeing down the Rapti river and after that we entered into the park for jungle walk. Some 10 m. away, a sloth bear was digging old termite hole that had been already used by bears.

(Yamnath Giri)

I warned my guests to be careful as a bear was nearby. They thought I was kidding because the bear was not visible from the point where we had been. Suddenly sloth bear came to attack us. I had no other options except to counterattack the bear. While I was striking the stick on the ground, I asked my guests not to run away from the spot at any cost. In each strike, bear retreated a few yards back but again charged. Girls came behind me with fear and bear came to attack me from left side. Luckily there was huge fallen tree - old bhelor tree (Trewia nudiflora) - on that side. So, I hit that old tree with stick for some 10 times that made really big sound that scared the bear and it ran away."

Nature Guide Association has renewed 184 nature guides this year but they do not have formal data of total guides who received formal guide training that is jointly conducted by Chitwan National Park and National Trust for Nature Conservation. These guides are working in guide offices and hotels which offer various jungle activities to the visitors. Visitors can enjoy canoeing, jungle walk, bird watching, jungle drive (seasonal), night camping at the tower of community forests. Some other programs include Tharu village visit, Elephant Breeding Center visit, bird watching in Bis Hazari Tal (Ramsar Site), Tharu Stick Dance programs. Guides organize the programs according to the choice of their guests. Of all the activities, jungle walk is considered the most popular and exciting. Nature guides tailor the jungle walk program - short walk and long walk - according to need and time of their guests. They organize the jungle tour from few hours to 5 days. Visitors have their own specific choices. Some want to see tiger, some are interested in birds and others are willing to study the vegetation.

Ramgir Chaudhary said, "I generally take my guests who are specifically want to see tiger to Tented Camp Area, Dumariya, Tamor Tal (lake), Sukhibhar." So guides have to search for the wild beasts in their core habitats to make their guests happy and satisfied. According to Ramgir, there is more possibility to see tigers during March, April near lakes because they come to drink water in lakes as small streams and waterholes dry up in that season. Park authority allows local people to cut thatch grasses inside the park in January every year. During this time, some people illegally burn down the grasses. After the grass cutting season, grassland areas will be open and new shoots emerge from ground that is perfect ambiance to observe the wildlife. Sudhan Chaudhary said that some guests are reluctant to pay the guide fee when they see nothing after whole day of jungle walk. He said that, "There is no certainty to see animal, as it is not zoo." Barma Jit Mahato said that wildlife loving tourists appreciate their work even if they return from the jungle empty handed.

Jungle walk is not only exciting and adventurous, it is too risky as well. Guide's only weapon to defend from the animal is latthi (long wooden stick). They are not allowed to take any other weapon. They used to carry khukuri, but it was banned by park authority since 1994. "I usually carry two sticks, one long and other short. I use short stick to hit animal in extreme emergency." said Barma Jit Mahato. It is surprising how guides defend themselves and their guests with the stick from such dangerous wild animals. "Every time I enter the park, I am not sure if I will return back alive." Yamnath Giri conceded his feeling. He said that if they see animals from safe distant, they would have plenty of time to protect themselves before they attack. But danger lies when aggressive animal suddenly appears from grassland or bush and charged them. In such cases, guides will have no time for defense or counterattack.

Guides give instruction, precaution and general information about park and its rules and regulation to their guests before they enter into the park. They instruct them to be quiet while walking, walk in group, wear camouflage dress, carry enough water etc.

(Observing rhino in Baghmara Bufferzone Community Forest)
It is very crucial to know the general behavior of the animal and sense the mood or temperament of animal in such situation. Wild animals are generally aggressive: 1) during mating period 2) while they are with their babies 3) when two males are fighting 4) when their escape route is blocked and they feel unsecure. 5) when they are hassled or disturbed. Dharma said that when two male rhinos are fighting, losing rhino often comes towards people for refuge and safety.

With experience you can sense the smell of particular animal and same way animal also could sense human smell. So you have to be careful about the location of animal and air movement so that your smell does not reach to their nose first. Recognition of sound of these animals also help a lot. You have to be aware of the jungle, its path and the pocket area of specific animal. You have to manage your time according to the distance that you are going to cover on the particular day. Slight mismanagement of time could result you to spend overnight in dense jungle infested with wild beasts.

Guides employ different tactics to tackle with different animal depending upon the situation. There are no hard and fast rules but generally you have to hide behind the big trees or climb tree to be safe from rhino. In case rhino charges, you should throw something (stick, cap, bag) towards the running animal and it will spend some time to inquire that object so that you get extra valuable time to escape.

Though sloth bear is unpredictable animal, it is considered chicken hearted. Attacking is the best form of defense in the case of this creature. If they charge, you have to be ready to blow its nose with your sturdy stick. In a group nobody should be afraid and run away. Everyone should counterattack this animal collectively. Climbing tree does not help much in this situation.

Tiger generally does not attack human. But man-eating tiger is really dangerous as it gets the taste of salt from human flesh. When they gaze upon you, you also gaze directly upon them and move slowly backward without blinking your eyes. Many people lose their heart seeing this majestic and mesmeric mammal.

There are many guides who share their numerous horrible stories of their jungle life. Many guides escaped close death scenario. Many guides have suffered from minor to major injuries inflicted by wild animals. Umesh Chaudhary was attacked by rhino in Khorsor in 2008. His broken ribs received medical treatment. Fund was raised from guides, guests, Nature Guide Association and hotels for the treatment. Other guide Kedar Sapkota was also attacked by rhino near 1 no. bridge in 2009. He also sustained injury in ribs. His medical expenses were made by Rainbow Safari Camp where he had worked. Additional support was made from Nature Guide Association and individual guides.

But some guides are not fortunate to escape from the deadly ordeal. Three brave guides have lost their precious life while executing their services. Badri Pandey was killed by rhino in Icharni Area in 1997. Basu Chaudhary lost his life while fighting with rhino in Khorsor (near Elephant Breeding Center) in 1995. Binod Adhikari was killed by rhino in the park (near 1 no. bridge) in 1996. A Hongkong guest was also killed by rhino in 1995.

Most of the guides risk their life going in the jungle without insurance. Ramji Chaudhary said, "Insurance companies provide life insurance only but not medical insurance. So, you have to be killed by wild animals to claim the insurance." Ganesh Dhanuk said that these companies provide insurance of particular part of the body. This is the reason why guides are indifferent towards insurance. "The hotel management has informed us that our insurance has been done, but we haven't received any document on this regard so far." said Fuleshwor Chaudhary who is working as nature guide in Royal Park Hotel. Nature guides have not much choices to do other job. "We have experience, knowledge and skill in this field. So, we have to do this profession." said Tek Bahadur Gurung. Ramgir Chaudary said, "Our livelihood depends on this profession, and this profession depends on well-being of the forest and its wildlife." Emphasizing the protection of wildlife he declared, "No rhino, no money."

Many people might have impression that guides have lavish life as they earn dollars dealing tourists. But the reality is different. "Our earning is just enough to live moderate life. In addition our profession is risky" said Dharma Datta Paudel.

As guides visit the park almost every day, they are well aware of forest, wildlife and ecological changes. They receive first hand information of any wrong-doing or incidences that occurred in the park. In such cases, they go straight to park office to inform their observation or findings. Some 5-6 years ago, KP Shrestha found a gun inside the park which was delivered to park authority. Yogesh Adhikari shared his experience, "While going for bird watching in Mulkhola (below the Churia Hill), we saw a small hut that was probably built by poachers for temporary refuge, that we informed the Bhimpur Checkpost. Next day, army personnel and we headed to the same place and they destroyed the hut." Madhu Sudhan Upadhya, nature guide of Royal Park Hotel, saw the injured rhino whose horn has been chopped off by poacher near Dumaria Ghol in 2009. He immediately despatched this information to the park warden. That rhino died after few days. Guides have informed park authority about the illegal activities in the park like overfishing in lakes, timber smuggling etc. They have formally requested park authority to maintain the habitats, lakes and machan (watch tower). But most of the time park does not pay attention to their suggestions and assistance.

Nature guides are not only doing their normal duties, but also helping park authority to safeguard the nature, environment and wildlife. Hem Subedi said, "It is the responsibility of all to protect the nature." When guides observe rare, uncommon and new bird species, they inform this to Bird Education Society (BES). BES is keeping the log book of bird data recorded in the park and in the Chitwan Valley.

Despite their active involvement in conservation, the guides are not given enough roles and responsibilities in conservation and research activities by concerned authorities. "With constant push from Nature Guide Association, the park has now agreed to involve 6 nature guides in its tiger monitoring program that will be done for 2 months." said Jit Bahadur Tamang, president of Nature Guide Association. He further elaborated, "We organize the conservation awareness programs and we invite park officials in such activities." Ramgir Chaudhary said that guides and members of BES are doing bird conservation awareness programs and bird monitoring in and around the park and its buffer zone areas through BES.
(Bird conservation awareness program for students conducted by nature guides and BES members)

Guides have to pay NPR 1000 every year to renew their guide license. In return they get nothing except permission to enter the park with their guests. Every year they must submit 2 copies of photos and renew fee to park office. Then a new identity card (license) will be issued. Obviously this is wastage of paper, energy and efforts. Nature Guide Association has submitted an application asking park authority to extend their license up to 5 years but the concerned authority has not paid any attention to this issue so far. Park should understand that reducing paper and saving energy is as important as saving tiger and rhino.

Nature guides have greater role in establishment and promotion of wildlife tourism in Sauraha. Without their efforts and commitment, tourism activities will not function smoothly. They also deserve sincere appreciation and support for their altruistic services in the field of wildlife conservation. Their genuine concern and demand should not be undermined or overlooked. The favorable environment should be created such that each guide should receive medical and life insurance. There must be allocation of emergency fund that can be used in case some mishap happens to nature guides. They should feel secure before entering into park.

(Photo courtesy: Photo 1st, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 14th: United Jungle Guide Service, Sauraha; Photo 4th: Dharma Datta Paudel; Photo 10th: Ram Prasad Parajuli. Author would like to thank all individuals and institutions who generously provided information, data and photos.)


  1. Dear rupendra ji you did good job to sharing this thing to every one it is nice subject too thank lot

  2. hi rupen ji very good picturs & story. keep going on.
    Sameer ALi

  3. Very good artical Rupen! Love the pictures!

  4. good article ''n'' very good pics too!!!!!!!!!

  5. Wow! Mind blowing article. Thanks for sharing.