A story about the Queen of Pench – Collarwali
Tiger! Tiger! Burning Bright
In the forest of the night – William Wordsworth
Pench Tiger Reserve is known to be home to the much-loved character of ‘Mowgli’ from the legend of The Jungle Book. The man-cub saved by a black leopard, raised by wolves, tutored by a sloth bear and hunted by a Royal Bengal Tiger. With the Queen of Pench, Collarwali, taking over the jungle for a decade and raising the most number of Tiger cubs, Collarwali is the true legend, the Queen of Pench.
However, today we will talk about a different legend.
During my initial days at Pench National Park as a naturalist, I maneuvered a group of enthusiastic tourists through the dry deciduous forest in search of the elusive Tiger. While listening to the jungle and its denizens for clues, I chanced upon another legend.
The legend of a predator, who some local storytellers narrated, was an animal as large as an Asian elephant with fur a gleaming orange and markings like black lightning bolts crashed over its body. An animal carved to be the perfect killing machine.
A Safari through Pench National Park
Entertainment has conditioned us to think of animal legends within a very narrow perspective, so let us truly discover a legend today, The Queen of Pench National Park, one of the most loved Tigers there, “Collarwali” aka the collared one.
She was playing hard to get and was evading me during my initial stint at the park. The intrigue and wait was killing me. It is all about timing and luck in the deciduous forest, the Queen of Pench Collarwali, schedules her chores in accordance with nobody. There were days when she would just not come out of her forest abode and other days when I would miss her by the nick of time. And to make matters worse some of the other tourist flashing their big white grins would come and tell me ‘you just missed her’. Oh, man! It was so upsetting. But patience is the key to the jungle. A precious quality you develop at work in the forests every day.
However, with the onset of March, the forest department fills water holes . These are frequented by Tigers to beat the scorching heat of an Indian summer.
It was an evening safari and I was accompanying a family on their first-ever visit to a National Park. A Tiger’s glimpse is all one asks for.
However, the jungle is impartial and unforgiving and at times you eat the treat and at times you don’t.
So we had a bitter taste as we had just missed a tiger that the other cars had seen and clearly the morale was low in our vehicle.
Time was running out, the final decision needed to be made and we agreed upon the strategy of parking our vehicle by the waterhole which was recently filled. This was also the territory of the legendary Collarwali. Remember even I had not yet managed to get a glimpse of her highness.
A never ending game of hide and seek
Observing a red jungle fowl flashing its brilliant red, orange and metaling green plumage and wandering about the waterhole, I was glancing at my watch and realized that we did not have a lot of time left and will have to head towards the park gate soon.
We had almost given up hope and as I was about to start my vehicle we heard the alarm call of a Sambhar deer.
The sound resonated through the jungle and there was a surge of excitement in the jeeps.
Eyes and ears corked and strained to the origin of the sound.
And Behold out of the lantana bushes walked the Queen of Pench
The tourists were up with a spring to catch a glimpse of the queen. She came, we saw, she conquered the hearts of us all.
Her walk exuded an aura of confidence and killer instincts. Like a queen, proud she walked in front of all of us without acknowledging our existence. We were in her territory, this was her turf and she knew it.
About The Queen of Pench Collarwali
She got her name from a collar attached to her neck. Lost in 2016, it hasn’t been replaced ever since. (She looks prettier now without the accessory)
Born in 2005, Collarwali was part of the celebrated BBC documentary ‘Spy in the Jungle’ which documents her journey as a cub when she was part of a litter of four. A child star in her own right.
Larger than average females Collarwali one of the dominant tigers at Pench commands one of the prime territories in the heart of the park. She is what we would call death in the shadows. An excellent ambush hunter, possibly one of the best.
But I am sure you are wondering, what makes this Queen a legend?
To survive in a fragile ecosystem despite the enormous pressures by humanity alone should make her and all tigers legendary, but the story doesn’t end here.
A record holder
The Queen of Pench Collarwali holds 2 records, any guesses what they are?
Collarwali has successfully raised 26 cubs until 2018 and as recent as January 2019 she was spotted with a litter of 4 new cubs which takes her tally to 30.
This is after she lost her first litter of three cubs due to her inexperience. Some life lessons to be learnt here for all of us.
An average tiger cub leaves mother care after about 2 years, but Collarwali’s cubs as observed left mother care at a year and six months. She would distance herself for days in the end.
And that’s not all, she has also had a litter of 5 cubs that she has successfully raised. That would entail hunting every other day to feed 5 growing tigers simultaneously. Also protecting them from the various threats that exist amidst the jungle.
Currently, the Queen of Pench Collarwali walks the jungles of Pench Tiger Reserve raising her new litter. A special shout out to the forest department for their passion and hard work to keep the jungles safe. It is because of their constant effort, these beautiful animals roam free in the jungles of Central India.
I recommend everyone to travel to Pench and experience the splendor of the Jungle in “The Jungle Book” and with patience and some luck by your side, catch a glimpse of the legendary “Collarwali”.