Friday, the 12th of July would be etched in our memories for long. This would be especially significant for my friends Suresh and Deepa, who probably have had their first such experience. For us (my wife, daughter and I) being frequent jungle goers and experiencing such incidents, we were quite used to this, though this was possibly one of the closest we came to a close encounter.
It was a cloudy evening as we set out for an evening safari. As we entered the Mysore – Kerala road stretch, we were greeted by Langurs, Cheetal and even a Crested Serpent Eagle. Turning into Zone A in front of the forest office, we ambled along past the first salt pit to the right, when we saw a jeep in front of us signaling a ‘T’ (the left hand horizontal to the ground and the right under it on a vertical position – similar to the timeout sign or the decision review sign used by cricket umpires) which meant TIGER!!!!
Rushing to the spot, we passed by a small herd of elephants which were far out in the bushes but visible from the road. We reached behind the jeep in front and saw a young Tigress casually stroll across the road and walk towards the bushes to the right. As the jeep came to a halt, all of us took up positions behind our long lenses and were scanning the bushes for the Tiger on the viewfinder. Spotting it for just a fleeting second, we went berserk and trigger happy with our dream moment.
It was then that it happened. A chilling shriek behind jolted us. Turning back, we saw an angry elephant charging straight for us! It turned out that there was a matriarch and her 2 calves behind us in the bushes. The Matriarch was apparently keeping a keen eye on the Tiger and was nervous with both her calves around. When we rushed in, our Jeep inadvertently had cut off her line of sight of the Tiger. This probably angered the calves and the mom.
The first charge was from the calf (at least 10 to 12 years old, weighing a few tonnes and standing nearly 6 feet tall). This was more of a mock charge. Its ankles were swinging to and fro, the calf was rocking from side to side, the tail up and the snout feeling around as it let loose a mock charge. Nearing the jeep, it veered off back in the bushes. I had quickly switched to HD Movie mode and was filming the whole sequence, and then the Matriarch charged.
This was surely not a mock charge for the ears were closed outward, the trunk curled in and she was actually sprinting and sprinting quickly at us. The driver in fact had to accelerate hard to beat the charge and yet she kept gunning for us for almost 200 meters with her calf stalking us on the side. By then, the rugged Jeep engine was churning out enough horse power to gain on them and we sped away to safety.