Here at ARKive we thought we would celebrate Valentine’s Day by spreading the word about our favourite species with our Love Species campaign, and encouraging others to do the same. We are thrilled to see so many of you getting involved on Twitter, tweeting about the species you love and using the #LoveSpecies tag.
One of our favourite tweets came from scientist and TV presenter Liz Bonnin, and we were lucky enough to catch up with her to hear a little more about her love for her favourite species – the majestic tiger.
I have always been obsessed with tigers, not just because they are magnificent creatures but because to me they are the perfect embodiment of the power and serenity of nature. My first encounter with a wild tiger will stay with me forever and has shaped my life like no other single event.
The film crew and I had travelled to the “Tiger State” of Madhya Pradesh in central India and based ourselves in Baghvan Lodge, in the buffer zone of Pench National Park. Each cold, misty morning before sunrise we would set out in our deconstructed jeep in the hope of catching sight of one of the 50 remaining tigers on the reserve, but had been warned that this would not be an easy task. Past visitors had been known to spend weeks here without a single sighting. Driving through Pench, it was easy to see why Rudyard Kipling based his “Jungle Book” on this place. Langur monkeys, their strange black faces nestled in glittering white fur, littered the trees and kept a look out for crepuscular predators in the early morning light. The chital below returned the favour, barking out small alarm calls as two jackals stalked on a nearby open plain. A rare sambar hind (the tiger’s favourite prey) browsed as a solitary jungle cat meandered down a sandy track. The scene was nothing less than mesmerising.
And as luck would have it, on our second morning in Pench my dream of seeing a tiger in the wild came true. Chital alarm calls just a few hundred yards from the track we were driving on startled us in their intensity and suddenly a young chital broke out of the trees, stopping right in front of the jeep and staring at us, its pretty eyes as large as saucers, before bolting off into the forest again. And there in the distance, amongst the trees on a rocky incline I spotted a flash of orange and black, a tiger slowly climbing the hill and disappearing again all too soon.
With the help of our guide, we soon found ourselves on top of a beautiful 40-year-old male elephant, its mahout gently and expertly guiding him through the thick forest, in slow pursuit of the tiger. My heart was beating through my chest as our guide and the mahout exchanged a few words in Hindi and before I knew it we were gathered around a low-lying bush. Below it, the young tigress was resting, her eyes semi-closed, her massive paws stretched out in front of her. She yawned, bore her bright pink tongue and impressive teeth and rolled over on her back, legs akimbo. She was and still is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It was obvious that she was unphased by our elephant, but it was also very clear that he knew his place and that the Mahout was keeping us at a safe distance. A respect for boundaries was going on here, this was the tigress’ forest and we were merely being tolerated by her.
She rolled over, stretched, and for the next three hours led us on a ‘guided tour’ of her territory, walking majestically through tall grasses and rocky terrain, inadvertently showing off the strength of her limbs and agility of her step. I tried to soak in as much of her as I could – her form, her coat, those paws, her intense stare, as she stopped every now and then to observe us. And as we finally left her in peace, I knew that I would never forget this moment.
Liz Bonnin, Scientist and TV Presenter
Do you love tigers as much as Liz or is there another animal or plant that steals your heart? Get involved and help spread the love for species this Valentine’s Day by tweeting about your favourite using the #LoveSpecies hashtag!