Environment

With gradually increasing numbers, tigers give wildlife enthusiasts reason to cheer

Eye on the tiger

In the middle of the interview, N Senthil Kumaran’s phone beeps a notification and his eyes light up. “Three tigers and 17 cubs have been spotted roaming near Kabini’s tourist area,” he tells me, barely able to contain his excitement. The information came from a WhatsApp group — Indian wildlife explorers — that has 300 plus IT professionals and animal lovers from all over the country as members. Now Senthil can’t wait to visit Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary, he has lost count of the number of times he has been there, his last visit was on Pongal when he took a gorgeous photo of three leopards sitting on a tree.

With gradually increasing numbers, tigers give wildlife enthusiasts reason to cheer

That he has just returned from Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh where he shot beautiful pictures of India’s super mom tigress, Collarwali, on January 4, does not satiate his thirst for more sightings. “After waiting for three hours, I identified the highly-fertile T-15 by her radio collar,” he says, showing the photos. “Around the same time, another tigress and her five cubs were spotted in the Terai region of Uttarakhand,” he continues.

“The big cats are increasing in number and I want to see as many of them as possible,” says Senthil who took to exclusively photographing them three years ago. One could spend the whole day browsing through his incredible frames and listening to an endless stream of stories about his collection of over 1,500 wildlife photographs taken in the last 10 years. “About 250 of them are classic images,” he admits and adds, “the best are the 35 that I have taken of tigers in various reserves.”

In the wild Senthil Kumaran and his works

In the wild Senthil Kumaran and his works   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The widely-followed photographer in the South periodically shares the stories behind every frame with his 5,000 plus followers on social media. His narratives give hope; they show why the odds of tiger sightings in India are good now. But Senthil worries about tourism activities in tiger reserves. “People need to understand and respect the beauty of wildlife to maintain ecological equilibrium,” he says.

His own transformation is a case in point. Just a decade ago, he was a plainspeak businessman focussed only on manufacturing underground storage tanks for petroleum products. Based in Dindigul, his work frequently took him on the Kozhikode-Mysore highway cutting through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, but he paid scant attention to the outdoors.

With gradually increasing numbers, tigers give wildlife enthusiasts reason to cheer

One particular ride in 2010, he says, changed the course of his life. “The Western ghats mesmerised me like never before and I spontaneously took a few pictures with an ordinary camera I happened to carry,” he says. When his friends appreciated the photos, he was inspired to buy a Canon DSLR. “Now that I had a better camera, the travel bug bit me,” he says and adds, “I realised how much I loved being immersed in National Parks, observing and photographing creatures that call it home.”

Among his best shots, Senthil considers an imposing shot of a tusker, a leopard on a roadside tree and a black panther — all taken in Mudumalai between 2012 and 2015. “I was fascinated to read about the panther’s journey spanning 150 kilometres from its birth place to Kabini backwaters in 2016 and it drove me to photograph it the second time last August in Kabini,” he says.

With gradually increasing numbers, tigers give wildlife enthusiasts reason to cheer

Prince, the legendary tiger of Bandipur whom Senthil photographed a year before its death in 2016, drew him to the flagship animal in the wild. “The bold and handsome tiger of Bandipur never shied from humans and would often be spotted taking a stroll on safari roads. I got plenty of shots of the most photographed tiger of the South and it made me realise that tigers will remain calm and will never attack unless disturbed.”

With gradually increasing numbers, tigers give wildlife enthusiasts reason to cheer

Whether you are an aspiring wildlife photographer, animal lover, or conservationist, the sheer excitement of tracking and identifying the endangered species and capturing their expressions and communication gives one unmatched joy, says the self-taught photographer, who now occasionally takes his teenage son along to initiate him into wildlife conservation.

“By observing, reading and exchanging information, I have realised that photography is one of the strongest tools in wildlife conservation,” he says. And he spends his time, money and resources in planning trips to national parks far and near. During summers, he goes for photo-shoots and his winter visits are aimed at better learning and understanding of animal corridors and natural habitats.

With gradually increasing numbers, tigers give wildlife enthusiasts reason to cheer

Armed with high-end Sony ILCE-9 camera now, Senthil has travelled multiple times to the premier tiger reserve in Nagarhole in Karnataka, Dudhwa in Uttar Pradesh, Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, and Maasai Mara in Kenya. “Learning what to look out for takes a lot of time and all these expeditions have taught me patience,” he says.

In the wild Senthil Kumaran and his works

In the wild Senthil Kumaran and his works   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Reason to cheer

The tiger population, according to the latest tiger census, has increased from 1411 in 2006 to 2,967 in 2018.

The number of tiger reserves has increased from nine to 50

India is home to 75% of world’s tiger population

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Printable version | Jun 7, 2020 5:18:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/with-their-numbers-gradually-increasing-tigers-give-wildlife-enthusiasts-like-dindigul-based-n-senthil-kumaran-reason-to-cheer/article30888345.ece

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