I have been to a thousand jungle expeditions and wildlife tours; I have escorted thousands of people to the safari. People have different objectives and expectations with a single similarity which I have found regardless of the duration of stay, nationality of the enthusiast or any other factor. That is to spot, observe and click the big 3 cats of the jungles. The other similarity I found through all these years is that in quest for the big 3, people sometimes overlook or ignore other things which might be equally interesting if not more. This obsession of people led me to think about writing on the most elusive group of animals found in national parks in India.
The Asiatic Lion – The largest cat known to the mankind. They are also called the Indian Lion and are similar to the African lion in built and structure. There was once a time when these cats are common to be found in jungles of West and Central India but unfortunately their number is decreasing rapidly (only 400 odd left as per the last census) and now Gir (Gir Forest National Park) in Gujrat is their only habitat. For all those poor souls who cannot think about going to Africa, Gir is their only chance to watch these mighty creatures in action. Females of this species are quite social and live in groups called prides while male likes to wander alone and would only come near a pride for mating purpose.
Royal Bengal Tiger – Another prominent member of the cat family, found in Indian sub continent. This is the most numerous Tiger subspecies and the paradox is that they are on the verge of extinction. You can now imagine the state of other species. Bengal tiger usually has black and white strips with a known mutant version, white tiger, which has been seen in near Asam. India has around 1700 tigers scattered around different Tiger reserves. There are more than 50 tiger reserves in the country and Sundarban in West Bengal is the biggest among them with a total tiger population of more than 250 so if you want to spot a tiger without much effort, your chances are always better in this park. Tiger is the least social species of the group with every adult hunting alone and leading a solitary life having only a minimal interaction with others.
Leopard – The third big cat found in India is Leopard. It is smaller than the other members of this group. The prominent place to spot an Indian leopard is Sariska National Park in Alwar, Rajasthan. Apart from the regular, normal leopard, India also has two other varieties of this cat: Snow leopard and Clouded leopard, both found in the Himalayan region. If you desire to watch these rare cats in action, you have to go to the Snow Leopard Conservancy in Laddakh.
These are the three main cats, watching whom is a dream of every wildlife lover and a must do thing in the itineraries of all wildlife tours in India.