Rare big cat sighting in India's Manas National Park
While traveling to India, especially to its world-renowned national parks, one can never forget about the tigers. India's most charismatic and emblematic animal is the endangered Bengal tiger. While tourists can get a glimpse of this amazing feline in famous parks like Rathambore or Corbett, the truly wild tigers live in Assam in Northeast India. With very limited interaction with humans, Assam's population of tigers are known to be very elusive animals. Kaziranga National Park holds the densest population of Bengal tigers but residents and tourist rarely encounter them. Estimates of the exact population of these tigers are unknown as the only way to conduct a census is by recording pug marks left on the ground and by the occasional motion-activated photo traps.
In Manas National Park, there is an estimated 30 Bengal tigers left. With these numbers in mind, one tends to dismiss a possible encounter while riding the long and bumpy paths into the park. You can imagine how surreal the moment was when all of a sudden one of the forest officials driving with us starting yelling: "Tiger!, Tiger!"
Everybody in the jeep froze and the driver quickly stepped on the brakes. I anxiously turned the video camera on to try and videotape the feline walking on the path a long way ahead, maybe 100 meters in front of us. It was too far to get a good look at it, and as quickly as we had been warned, the big cat disappeared to a side.
In all likelihood, the big cat we encountered was a leopard. Although also a very rare sight, the number of leopards is considerably higher, if this was in fact a leopard it was most definitely a very big one.
Needless to say, the whole experience was exhilarating and a very good sign for Manas National Park. Almost denuded of its wildlife during social conflict in the 80s and 90s, Manas is struggling to recover. IFAW's Rhino and Elephant Rehab and Release projects are a big part of these conservation efforts. During our 3 hour excursion of Manas near the Bhutan border, we were lucky to spot wild elephants, Capped langurs, peacocks and, oh yes, a leopard, or was it a tiger? Watch the video, you be the judge.