Ranthambhore’s Tigers, Turtles And Life

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 43 No. 12, December 2023

Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia

Aditya Singh, this award-winning image, one among thousands submitted for the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2023, is dedicated to you and your continuing story.

Ranthambhore has always been beyond special to Sanctuary, which was born here. This is also where, in the mid-1980s, Sanctuary conceived and produced 30 documentaries based on Project Tiger and India’s magnificent wildlife, viewed on Doordarshan by 30 million Indians.

For decades, the likes of Valmik Thapar and I virtually had the run of the park because the legendary Fateh Singh Rathore had conscripted us to be a part of his life’s mission. By osmosis, we were put to work to support the work of his field staff, who daily risked their lives to turn the degraded, dry deciduous forest into the world’s most famous tiger jungle. For decades, Jogi Mahal, which lay in the shadow of India’s largest banyan tree, under the towering ramparts of Raja Hamir’s Ranthambhore Fort, became our virtual home. Here we would meet fine people. People who understood the draw of solitude. Of being one with the wild. People with heart. Predictably, lifetime friendships were forged around Fateh Singh’s campfires, including the one that Fateh, Valmik and I forged with Aditya ‘Dicky’ Singh, who tragically passed away far too soon. Like glue, the tiger held the three of us together through decades of tumultuous politics that continues to define India’s conservation movement.

Category: The Editor's and Valmik Thapar’s Choice Award to honour the late Aditya Singh of Ranthambhore.

As he did with Valmik and I, Fateh convinced Dicky, a world-class wildlife photographer, and his wife Poonam, to make the protection of tigers their life. Dicky ditched his secure IAS job with the government to set up a homestay with Poonam. The Ranthambhore Bagh was designed for the wildlifers who had begun to flock to Ranthambhore because its tigers had become magnets for photographers and cinematographers from across the world.

Valmik and I honed in on Sankhesh Dedhia’s very unusual image of the tigress Arrowhead, a softshell turtle Nilssonia gangetica in her jaws, from the thousands of entries submitted for the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2023. This was our small way of acknowledging our late friend Aditya Singh, who always looked for the spectacular, the fascinating. In four decades, neither Valu nor I had seen tigers kill a turtle, though we have seen them routinely charge into its lakes to hunt sambar.

Post Script: When Sanctuary’s judging is in progress, none of the judges know whose images are being judged. Not even Sanctuary’s Editor. Turn to page 16 to see how Aditya Singh’s work is being continued by a budding young wildlife photographer… Nyra, to our utter surprise turned out to be Aditya and Poonam’s daughter, a winner in the Young Wildlife Photographer category. Dicky and Poonam… life has chosen your daughter to continue telling stories you would have told if you were with us.

The Editor’s And Valmik Thapar's Choice Award To Honour The Late Aditya Singh Of Ranthambhore: Sankhesh Dedhia – The Unusual Hunt

Arrowhead, an iconic tigress of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, emerges from a lake with a freshly-made kill of a softshell turtle Nilssonia gangetica. Tigers are supreme hunters, with skills finely-honed over millennia of evolution. Stealth predators, they stalk their prey before bounding out with a burst of speed. The finale of this particular hunt was captured by Sankhesh Dedhia who waited patiently, with the predator making several previously unsuccessful attempts to win this atypical prize.


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