An encounter with a Tiger in the Chitwan National Park, Nepal

A tigerís roar ripped the silence, horrifyingly loud and deep, otherworldly. A momentary blaze of orange flashed through the long grass below our feet. The elephant on which we sat trumpeted, its lumbering body suddenly rigid with tension. We held on in terrified silence.

Ours was one of a group of six elephants that had, minutes earlier, been plodding leisurely through the jungle. The mahout who steered the beast sat astride its neck, we took the front two corners of a rough wooden box on its back, our guide sitting on the rail at the rear in an Indiana Jones fashion. It seemed that the odd colourful bird would be the extent of our wildlife discovery until we happened upon a rhino chewing on the vegetation, the plates that formed its skin smooth and metallic looking, if I didnít know better I would have thought it a robot. The scene was eerily quiet other than the sound of the elephantís rough hide brushing against the grass. Moving to an open area, our group of six
animals fanned out in search of elusive tigers. I lackadaisically scanned the horizon expecting to see nothing.

I was looking in the wrong place. The elephant had trodden on a dozing tiger. Apparently elephants are scared of tigers and vice versa, hence the acoustic horror and commotion that was unfolding. The excited driver beat our elephant which then started to run. I did not know if it was running away, which would have been worrying, or chasing the tiger which would have been insane. The roar beneath our feet suggested the latter. Other elephants crashed through the grass to join the chase, some seemingly even more scared than us, trunks and ears raised and flailing. Chaos and terror rolled into one.

Thankfully the tiger seemed to have gone. The mahouts, drenched in sweat from their exertions, talked like excited schoolboys, each relating their version of events. Our guide told us how fortunate we had been as he had only seen a few tigers in his seven years and generally only distantly in the spring when the grass is low allowing better visibility.

Beer flowed as we all celebrated still being alive. I had left the video camera running during the drama and studied the footage carefully, the staff from the lodge gathered round to see the results, an excited silence descended. The tiny screen displayed a shaking blurred picture accompanied by muffled sound and though the guide would not confirm the streak of orange was the tiger, Iím sure it was. How fortunate indeed.

B Poynton

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