Three Musketeers – August 2008

Shot of the Month – August 2008

While this may not be the best shot from my last trip to India it does capture a magical sight.  It is an amaaazing, air-gasping sight to see a tiger in the wild, but to see three at the same time? I must have died and gone to safari heaven.

This shot was taken in Ranthambore National Park, in the state of Rajasthan, India.  Each morning we made a special effort to be among the first to enter the park.  This would allow us to get as far into the park as possible before the sun got too high in the sky and maximize our chances of shooting in the “magical light” that takes place in the first 1 to 1.5 hours after sunrise.  It also allowed us to put as much distance as possible between us and other vehicles.  Ranthambore is a small park and the tracks are limited—once a tiger is spotted word spreads quickly and the scene can become chaotic in a hurry — less than ideal conditions when trying to photograph nature in an undisturbed state.

Within 20 minutes in the park we found these three tiger cubs.  Yes, cubs.  They were about one year old and about the size of a Rottweiler dog.  Tiger cubs will stay with their mother for up to two years before going off to live their solitary life.  We found them sitting in the grass by themselves.  Their mother left them here why she went off and hunted and patrolled her territory.

We spent about 15 minutes with the tigers undisturbed.  The light was still weak so shooting was very difficult but the light had a delicate, other-worldly quality about it.  The tigers were sitting on the edge of different zone of the park than what we were assigned to that morning so we could not get any closer.  Also there was no road where they were sitting so we could not have approached even if we wanted to.

Within 30 minutes at least 10 other vehicles had arrived.  Engines revving as jeeps jockeyed for the best position.   Over-excited people pointing, speaking too loudly.  General chaos ensued.  In spite of the mayhem, the tigers were relatively undisturbed given the distance between us and them.

I was one of the few, perhaps the only person to get any decent shots.  Having an 800 mm lens comes in ever so handy at times like this.

We spent at least an hour watching the cubs explore their terrain.  Play under a tree.  Hide in the tall grass.  It didn’t take long to see clear personalities between them.  One cub was the clear leader.  He was the bravest and always moved first.  Another was by far the shiest and would bring up the rear and moved haltingly after his/her siblings.  It was apparent that their mother had given clear instructions to not move far from a large tree that was nearby as their wandering always brought them back to the shade and cover of this spot.

I will never forget that beautiful, crisp, cool morning as the soft yellow light drained the gray from the surroundings.  And the absolute electricity that ran through us when we first spotted three young tigers exploring their world.