Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


by Michael J Vickers

My interest in cats began when I was a young boy being part of a family that always had a ‘moggie’. From then on I became interested in wild cats and in particular tigers. In 2001 I travelled to India and can vividly remember my very first sighting of a wild tiger at Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve.  Travelling in a jeep searching for the elusive tiger we suddenly became aware of an overwhelming smell – a kill had been made just off the track we were on. Transferring to an elephant we were taken a short distance into the forest where we located a large male tiger known locally as B2 or Sundar.  He was resting in a nala (dried up river bed) with a very full tummy having fed on the carcass of the recent kill he had made. Seeing Sundar was the most amazing experience - one that has encouraged me to become involved in animal conservation and a keen photographer focusing especially on tigers.

Since my first tiger safari in 2001, I have travelled each year to India in search of the Bengal tiger and have visited a number of different tiger reserves.  I tend to concentrate my efforts in Bandhavgarh and Ranthambhore where I have enjoyed many excellent sightings and am now able to recognise some of the tigers by their individual markings. I have been fortunate indeed to track and find Sundar each time I have revisited Bandhavgarh and that makes each trip very special. Early one morning in 2006 when travelling by jeep we followed a bend in the track and walking towards us was a tigress together with her four sub-adult cubs; close behind was their father, Sundar.  It is the only time that I have seen six wild tigers as a family unit together – this is rare and I felt very privileged to witness the event. In the Spring of the following year and by elephant, I was following the same tigress together with three of her youngsters.  The female cub charged and killed a young Chital deer; she lost the kill to her larger brother who in turn was to relinquish it to their father, Sundar who seemed to appear from nowhere.  On elephant back later the same day, much higher up this time, we found the tigress again resting within some caves. We waited and eventually her two male cubs made an appearance. Our elephant was very patient and brave as, on a ledge above us, the two brothers decided to lay side by side so very close to one another – another great photographic opportunity!

My visits to Ranthambhore in Rajasthan have also held many memorable moments.  In 2004 after hours of searching, a young inexperienced male tiger charged through the reeds of the Rajbagh Lake into the water after a small herd of deer – what a spectacle – alarm calls, water splashing in every direction – the sheer power of his leaps and bounds!  He was eventually forced to give up the chase, the water rapidly slowing him down.  He sat in the lake totally exhausted! Also at Ranthambhore I have continued to follow the life of a tigress known as Machali who, arguably, is the most photographed wild tiger in India. She has successfully raised four litters of cubs and I am proud to say that over the years I have seen her with three of her litters all of whom as far as I am aware are still well and have found home ranges of their own.  In 2008 I have visited Ranthambhore on two separate occasions.  Each time I have been lucky enough to find Machali with her current three female sub-adult cubs. Due to the arrival of the monsoon rains, the tiger reserves are usually closed from the beginning of July to the end of September.  I hope that when I return to India later this year I will find that the tigers have safely survived the rains and its inherent danger from poachers. I have been a keen supporter of The Born Free Foundation for a number of years and applaud their efforts in helping save the tiger and other species from extinction.

Finally, photographs from journeys to India can be seen on my website:-

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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