As a kid, I had always been fascinated by big cats. Everything about them would amaze me so much - their eyes, their body, their tail, their looks, their behaviour - everything!. While all the kids would play cricket / basketball/ tennis etc, I was busy watching channels such as Natgeo or Discovery.........chasing the wild ????
As I was growing up, my friends' parents would tell me a lot of stories about the forest and especially the ones in South India such as Bandipur, Masinagudi, Mudumalai etc. So when I finally moved to Bangalore, I decided to visit and explore these places which had always fascinated me. I decided to start with Bandipur forest- a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in South India which offers a lot of tiger sightings when compared to other wildlife sanctuaries in the South. This forest is rich in flora and fauna including different wild-life such as leopards, sloth bears, wild dogs, elephants, gaurs, barking deer etc. It was in September 2009 when I first visited this place and decided to take the evening safari - little did I know that I was going in for a big surprise!!
The Safari started and we were seated in an open bus. As we entered the forest, it got thicker and thicker. Tall trees and green bushes made it difficult for us to spot wildlife . The sounds of birds and insects filled the jungle. Excitement filled up inside me and my eyes refused to blink even for a second, as I was scared I will miss out on the slightest of sightings. It had been almost 30 minutes since the safari started and we had only been lucky with some deer sightings on the road. Soon we were driving through the muddy roads and suddenly the driver pushed the brake hard - " ITS A TIGER" - He whispered!
Me - WHAAATTT??
People: "It's Prince" It's Prince"
Me: Prince!! WHO'S HE??
Late Prince was one of the most majestic tigers who ruled the Bandipur forest until 2017 like no other tiger ever had. This guy was massive. He was strong, muscular, powerful, handsome, mighty and dominant. He was first spotted by a group of wildlife photographers in 2007 when he was just a few years old. It was believed that Prince originally belonged to the Mudumalai forest range, as he was spotted numerous times by the camera traps fitted in Mudumalai forest, capturing him crossing the forest and entering the Bandipur range.
He had also been very popular amongst the foresters and the visitors. Prince would often be seen gallivanting around the main streets of Bandipur forest. He was never scared of human beings and their presence. In fact, he would often come close to the safari vehicles and pose for the shutterbugs for a long time, due to which it became very easy for tourists to shoot his pictures.
He was believed to be the most photographed tiger in India till date, and many people would call him the "Celebrity Tiger". Many a times, he was also seen entering the nearby villages especially a village called Mallapura in Karnataka, to hunt for cattle, but never did he harm any human being nor scared them.
Few years back, while Prince was strolling through the main roads of Bandipur, he met with an accident as the driver of a private vehicle lost his balance on sighting Prince and hit him directly. An injured Prince struggled a lot. His fans thought he would not make it but Prince was a fighter and he soon made it back to normal life. The brutal accident left a deep cut on his tongue which ultimately became his identity. People could easily recognise him because of the cut. Another factor that differentiated Prince easily from the rest of the tigers were his arms, which were huge and muscular. Handsome Prince was also believed to have had a lot of girlfriends in the forest and almost all the cubs in the forest were his, however no one has ever been able to prove this.
On 4th April 2017, the 12 year old legendary Prince and the darling of every tourist was found dead. Although the exact cause of his death is still not known but people suspect that he died due to old age. Prince's death has come as a shock to his fans. Bandipur forest has lost one of its biggest charms and this has been a disturbing news for all his fans. Some forest officers have even decided to build a small memorial in his name. A shrine.
Although Prince is not with us anymore, we are sure that wherever he is, he is giving everyone a RUN FOR THEIR LIVES!!
Pic courtesy: @ Juz - https://www.instagram.com/juz__88/