Madhya Pradesh’s wilderness areas inspired Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book – and it’s easy to see why Kanha National Park was a key influence. Its misted meadows and lush sal forests create the perfect setting for the real wildlife drama that unfolds here. And tigers have a starring role.
While there are several well-known tigers in the Kanha Tiger Reserve, Dr Sanjay Shukla, Chief Conservator of Forests and Field Director, says he doesn’t play favourites. “I love tigers as a species and they always fascinate me,” he says. “As a manager, I also have the responsibility to conserve all the tigers of this landscape, so I do care for each and every tiger.”
The park was founded in 1955 and today consists of two main conservation areas – the 917km core zone and a buffer zone of 1134km. It’s a huge area that’s currently home to 80 adult tigers and 28 cubs (according to the latest Phase IV monitoring exercise, which uses camera traps to count them).
Here, Dr Shukla reveals why you should pay them a visit…
Tell us about some of the tigers – who are the more famous ones?
Some of the more famous ones over the years are: Kankata, Konda, Bheema, Kingfisher and, of course, Munna. They are famous for their different attributes: fierce temper; gentle temper; special facial marks for handsomeness; longevity in the park; photogenic face and body; or various amusing, interesting and thrilling anecdotes related to them. Besides all these things, let us not forget that “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”.
Munna is, of course, one among these legends. Now this handsome feline has grown old, he’s around 15 years. Visitors used to be awestruck by his massive body and extremely attractive face, with the word “CAT” written on the forehead. He is now only a pale version of his younger self, though still popular.
Tell us about your most memorable encounter with a tiger?
There are many of them. But I would like to mention one encounter where a male cub of T33 suddenly appeared from nowhere when I was on foot patrol with the frontline field staff. By the time we were trying to move away without getting his attention, another huge male tiger, T30, appeared very close to us from the bushes. There were two huge male tigers close to us, but we maintained our calm without disturbing these animals. And, they finally moved away.
What other animals live in the park?
Kanha supports around 40 species of mammals, including carnivores like leopards, wild dogs; and ungulate species such as gaur, sambar, chital, barasingha, four-horned antelope, barking deer and wild pigs, etc. Besides those, there are also around 27 species of reptiles, and over 300 species of birds. There are also many species of lesser animals. I have a special love of snakes.
How is Kanha different to other national parks in Madhya Pradesh?
Kanha is located on the northern slopes of the Maikal hills of the Satpuras, the typical part of the physiography of the central Indian highlands, with rolling slopes, undulations and plains. It is forested with excellent sal and miscellaneous woodlands, along with densely foliaged large bamboo clumps as the understorey, and thick herbaceous and shrubby undergrowth. The woodlands are also interspersed with grassy plains and large clearings, with occasional tree groves. Kanha supports only sprinklings of teak in three or four places. Kanha has since long supported a viable population of tigers, and also harbours the endangered and endemic population of the hard ground barasingha.
Do you have a favourite area?
The entire protected area is my favourite. Each so-called zone, setting or habitat has something interesting to offer. We only need trained eyes to appreciate the floral or faunal uniqueness.
What’s the best advice you can offer a first-time visitor?
Do not allow yourself to be obsessed with or fixated on tigers only. Stay keen, curious and observant throughout the safari, and enjoy nature at its most pristine and denizens at their most behaviorally diverse. Appreciate the lush green sal forest and wonderful rolling meadows with hundreds of grazing ungulates. You will go back a changed person; it would hardly matter if you have or have not seen a tiger.