Ultimate Tigers 2019 Trip Report

By By Eric Rock on Jun 04, 2019

When you think about photographing one of the most charismatic animals on our planet, Bengal tigers rank far up there on the colorful and exciting megafauna scale. While tiger portraits may be easy to photograph in zoos and animal parks, capturing great action images of wild tigers in their natural habitat, is a different story. That was the quest for our group of seven enthusiastic “tiger hunters” on this Ultimate Tiger Photo Safari.
With fewer than 2,500 Bengal tigers in the wild, they are one of world’s rarest species of large apex predators. They are relatively secretive by nature, living in remote undeveloped forested regions and spending much of their time in the thickest areas of these dense jungle habitats. So  finding wild tigers to photograph—even in areas of high tiger density—can be a significant challenge.

Nearly seventy percent of the world’s Bengal tigers reside within India’s fifty widely scattered tiger reserves. These national parks and tiger reserves make India the place to go to greatly increase your odds of finding and photographing these amazing cats. Following our time-tested, tried-and-true formula, we focused our attention on just one of these tiger reserves—Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. We avoid wasting valuable time moving from one reserve to another, and instead operate our trips in a single park with has the highest densities of tigers. Then, our plan is simple—concentrate on photography in the early and later hours of the day when tigers tend to be more active.  Our trips feature a week of shooting and on three of those days we use special government-issued photo permits. The permits allow us to enter the park earlier—and move about more freely—than most park visitors. Though quite expensive, the permits all but guarantee a successful shoot during our stay—and we want to give our group every possible advantage to travel home with great tiger images!

Each morning our group of seven would load up and enter the park—two photographers per 4X4 vehicle—and head out into the jungle to pursue our quarry. The cool mornings we experienced may have helped us in our search for tigers as the cats often follow their nightly hunts with a morning visit to a water hole before seeking the cool cover of the dense forest to rest in the shade as temperatures rise throughout the day—often to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. That said, on some days it may have been the reverse, with warm weather bringing the tigers back to the water holes to drink and soak in an apparent attempt to cool off. This provided more tiger activity than usual at favored watering spots, and more photography opportunities for the members of our group.

Part of the secret for a successful tiger safari is having the best local guides who are knowledgeable about the lay of the park’s landscape, its secret lairs, as well as the day-to-day movements of the tigers within their territories. This year was no different. Our driver guides were spot on—or should I say stripe on? Our guides’ ability to locate and identify the different adult tigers and their cubs allowed us to observe and photograph a total of 27 Individual tigers during our safari! Adding up the group’s sightings gave us a whopping fifty-four different sightings over the course of our stay at Bandhavgarh.

When we weren’t photographing tigers, there plenty other enticing subjects including a variety of deer, birds and other wildlife. I believe everyone enjoyed the chance to capture images of comical langur monkeys, graceful groups of spotted (chital) deer, and colorful birds while exploring these beautiful forested surroundings.

I know that every photo safari I lead is usually a once in a lifetime opportunity for our trip participants.  But this one is special—so challenging and so rewarding. It’s a trip much like our Pantanal jaguar tours that some clients enjoy so much they return for a second—or third—trip!  We either operate this tour in Bandhavgarh or Kanha National Parks, depending on which park we believe (with the help of local knowledge) will have the most cubs.  It’s not an exact science—but usually yields the photographic results we’re aiming for. I am excitedly looking ahead to the 2020 Ultimate Tiger shoot in incredible Kanha National Park next year!