Memories of Pacman in action
They say a tiger’s hunt is an amazing thing to behold – an adrenalin rushed experience where you can feel the emotions of both the predator and the prey. Hemant Krishnani recalls the day when he saw the scene unfold in front of him for the first time.
I have been visiting jungles in India for over 20 years now and have been fortunate enough to have had some wonderful experiences in the wild. However, there are a few experiences that are etched in my memory so clearly, as though they have happened just yesterday. One such thrilling experience I had, was in Ranthambore National Park, on a regular morning safari in June of 2016.
I was with a group of photographers who I had met for the first time during this trip. Each one of us had our hopes up and was looking forward to enjoying the jungle of Ranthambore and all it had to offer. However, there was one person who was a little impatient and as luck would have it, we were sharing the gypsy that morning. We were allotted zone 3 and just as we were entering the ‘Jogi Mahal’ gate we were informed that a tiger had been spotted by a gypsy in the small patch of forest at the entrance of zone 2 and 3. Now, the tiger could choose to go in any direction and enter either of the zones. We were all anxiously waiting with our cameras ready, hoping that it would come towards zone 3!
It was 7 am and we were waiting for some movement when my impatient companion decided to speak up and demanded we start moving since there is ‘nothing to be seen here’. He was worried that we might miss out on some exciting sightings in the jungle if we kept waiting. I politely requested him that we wait till 7:15 am and if nothing happens till then, we will move. He joked about me having ‘spoken’ to the tiger and even though it annoyed me, I with a smile said “Yes, I have”!
It was 7:06 am when a beautiful male sub-adult tiger commonly known as ‘Pacman’ (T-85), peeked out of the bushes and as luck would have it, started walking towards zone 3. He was casually strolling on the road and put on quite a show. After walking on the road for some time, he decided to move off from the road, and here is where I got the opportunity to take some beautiful shots of this young male with a backdrop of the scenic lake and the fort. I was thoroughly enjoying watching this gorgeous animal roam freely in his beautiful home in the pristine jungle of Ranthambore National Park.
After walking for quite some time, Pacman decided to move off deeper into the jungle and towards a hillock. Our driver & guide had some idea where he is likely to come out from. We drove down to the other side of the hillock & joined a few more gypsy’s that were already waiting there for the Tiger! Even though we had seen him for quite a while, we still wanted more! Truly, Ye Dil Mange More!
Soon enough, the young male emerged. However, unlike before, this time his entire body language had changed. We could sense that he was onto something. Beyond the host of parked gypsy, on the other side of the dirt road, there was a pond and a herd of spotted deer was grazing peacefully. We assumed that the Pacman was deciding on a hunt as we noticed him intently looking beyond us and straight at the herd of deer. After a few minutes of standing completely still and intently gazing at the herd, he began to move stealthily. Then, we were sure. The way he moved, with intent in the typical stalking manner, we knew he had begun his hunt.
Once we realised what was happening, the energy of everyone in the gypsy shifted. We all were very excited and ready with our cameras to capture the sequence likely to unfold in front of us. I was extremely thrilled that I was finally for the first time in my life, going to witness a tiger hunt.
Pacman quickened his pace and quietly came down the hillock and waited for a moment near a gypsy right next to us. Only when he was so close to us was when I realized how majestic, beautiful, and huge this animal truly is! He then, in a very swift move, crisscrossed between the vehicles and before we, or the deer realized, had caught a male deer!
It all happened so quickly that there was absolutely no time for the deer to even realize what had hit them and couldn’t even warn the others via an alarm call. Pacman had succeeded! He had captured his meal and the other deer immediately scattered and ran for their lives! He went straight for the male deer’s neck and we could see the deer struggling and trying his best to find any way to get out of the tiger’s jaws. The tiger kept holding on to the deer and finally let go once the deer had succumbed. All of it was so thrilling and absorbing to view.
We thought it was all over when Pacman did a strange thing. There were a few sambar deer a little further on the other side of the pond, who were alert and had watched the whole sequence unfold. Pacman decided to sprint towards them only to take a swift U-turn and return to his kill quickly. Probably this was his adrenalin making him feel joyous on securing his own meal since he was still young and fine-tuning his hunting skills.
All this unfolded hardly within 2 minutes: from the moment Pacman started walking down the hillock till he had the deer in his jaws. It all happened so fast and yet it felt like an entire movie. It truly was an invigorating experience to see this young male learning and succeeding to hunt, which is crucial for any wild tiger’s survival. Although there were mixed emotions when I saw the deer struggling, however, this is the law of nature. This is how the balance in the jungle is maintained.
Unfortunately, a few years later in 2019, T85 of Ranthambore, aka Pacman, who was in his prime, was killed by another male tiger during a territorial fight. Pacman, called so due to the unique markings on his head, was born to Krishna and StarMale in February 2014, into a litter of three cubs. To this day, every time I think back to this experience, I feel it has been one of my most memorable and thrilling experiences in the Indian jungles.