Navin Raheja


Stories on Wildlife

B2: A legend fades in the mist of time

B2..The mere mention of the name would be enough to rouse me from a deep slumber. And it's with misty eyes and heavy heart that I remember the passing away of the legendary tiger of Bandhavgarh recently.

B2..A mere image of him would be enough to open the flood-gate of memories and leave me enthralled for hours....He had that kind of magnetic pull. I am sure tens of thousands of wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world would be harboring similar fond memories of this large-hearted gentleman. So this piece is not just a tribute to B2. It's also my salute to all those animal lovers who made B2 the superstar of Indian forests.

To say that B2s death has saddened the animal lovers would be an understatement. That's my personal ¬ view, and I am sure there would be some who will take it with a pinch of salt. ¬ How can an individual tiger become so important to humans, one may ask?

Well, here are some undisputed facts: B2 remains the only tiger in the world to have been documented by photographs and videos throughout the stretch of his life. First photographed when he was barely 15 days old - being taken away to safety by his mother Mohini - he was also clicked 14 years later, just a week before his death in November 2011. During his lifetime, B2 was the focus of at least five television documentaries made by international channels. And his death was taken note of by the national media. Not many tigers- or for that matter, humans- enjoy this kind of attention.

I remember it was the start of the new millennium when I first laid my eyes on B2. The encounter lasted a few minutes, but remains etched in my memory to his day.

It was early January, and the golden grasslands of Tala were enveloped in thick fog when a sharp Sambhar call on my right brought my Gypsy to a halt. The visibility was less than six feet; no chance of a sighting in that miserable weather, the Gypsy driver muttered to himself in despair. But he was dead wrong. Seconds after the sambhar gave its second alarm call, there emerged out of the fog on my left the handsome face of a tiger. It was a sighting which still haunts me. He was barely four feet from me, stared at me with inquisitive eyes, and time stool still. I watched in disbelief as the tiger came out on the road and circled our Gypsy. We were startled. Giving us an indifferent look, however, it disappeared into the fog.

"This was B2," the driver hushed into my ears after the tiger disappeared. The whole encounter would not have lasted more than two minutes. Of course I didn't realize then that the chance meeting would turn into a full-fledged, one-sided love affair for the next 11 years and provide me with some of the happiest memories of Bandhavgarh.

A huge and handsome male, B2 was also one of the gentlest tigers one could come across. There wasn't a hint of mean-streak in him.

By 2007, I found that B2's reputation had spread far and wide. Among his countless fans, there was this lawyer from London who would visit Bandhavgarh once a year only to photograph B2! I realized B2's gentle disposition made him photographers' favourite. There is no record of B2 having ever charged at a tourist or shown his anger to anybody. "Here is one happy-go-lucky tiger, minding his own business and not really bothered about tens of thousands of people, his fans actually, who have made Bandhavgarh their pilgrimage because of B2,'' I told myself one evening during B2's typical "modeling session" in front of¬ dozen odd tourist Gypsies.

The area near "Badi Gufa" of Bandhavgarh was where I found B2 during most of my visits. For 10 long years, he was the king of Bandhavgarh- with not a challenger in sight.

But I knew happier times would not last forever for B2. Age was beginning to catch up with him, although his rightful heir had still not arrived on the scene. I knew, however, it was only a matter of time‚ĶAnd I arrive he did, finally, in the form of Bamera male. The formidable looking male, named after Bamera, the stretch of forest about 15 kilometres from Tala, had just begun to flex his muscles. By January 2010, Bamera male- or naya male, as some jungle guides would call him- started passing through Tala once a fortnight.¬
The conclusive fight between B2 and Bamera male, however, was still a few months away. In-between, there came a sudden twist in the tale. It was February 2011 when B2's son Kalua decided to initiate his first battle for territory. Though smart as a whip, Kalua was still a green-horn in the ways of the world. He learnt his lesson a rather hard way when one afternoon he locked paws with B2 on a small plateau overlooking the 'Ghoda Damon' area, barely a kilometer from 'Badi Gufa'. The fight last only 3 minutes, and ended in Kalua bolting off with his tail between his legs! In fact, so humiliated did Kalua feel after the defeat that he left Bandhavgarh altogether (I am told Kalua is at present living peacefully in a forest stretch near Shahdol, some 70 kilometres from Bandhavgarh. But I am sure he is biding his time and will return in due course to challenge Bamera, the new king of Bandhavgarh. But more about that later, when- and if- that widely anticipated fight takes place!)

Though he defeated Kalua swiftly, B2 was no longer at ease with himself. Suddenly, his sightings in the park became rare. And even when he did show up, he looked distinctly weak. Life force was clearly draining fast out of him. It was no coincidence that around the same time, Bamera male started asserting himself in the Tala range. Instead of passing through Tala- as he used to do for past 18 months or so- Bamera male would now stop here for two or more days. A clear-cut sign that he was eying the prime grass-land of Tala, as also its abundant prey base.

By¬ June 2011, there was no sign of B2 in Bandhavgarh. He was spotted once, and rather briefly, in October and then no more. What happened thereafter is known to all B2-lovers, but I would like to imagine it this way: instead of letting him killed by Bamera male, B2 left Bandhavgarh on his own. True, Bamera male was his own son and a tiger- no matter how old it is- would defend its territory till its last breath. But B2 being a thorough gentleman and a magnanimous father, decided not to come in his son's way. And therefore, he left Bandhavgarh.

On November 19, the forest authorities came across a tiger lying listlessly in a small stream in the Charwaha forest range, some 80 kilometres from Bandhavgarh. He was obviously dying, and dying fast. A rescue team, led by Bandhavgarh's Deputy Director Mr Mridul Pathak , quickly arrived on the scene. In no time, they realized it was their beloved B2 breathing his last. Swift attempts were made to revive him, and necessary medicines darted into his body. Tranquilised and put into a cage, he was rushed to Bandhavgarh in a truck. Sadly, but did not survive the journey.

An animal's behavior is often open to several interpretations, and a scientific verdict may not be the last word on a contentious issue. I would like to assume that B2 did not want to die in Bandhavgarh. Somewhere¬ between Charwaha and Bandhavgarh, he realized he was being taken to his erstwhile kingdom. That was the place he had bequeathed to Bamera male, his own son, wasn't it? And therefore, before the truck carrying him could reach Bandhavgarh, he decided to close his eyes forever.

B2, the star of Bandhavgarh, lived and died on his terms.