An old Chinese proverb “one hill cannot shelter two tigers’ is quite apt for the Tigers of Kanha. The tigers of Kanha are exceptionally big in size. Having observed Tigers for close to 30 years in many nationals parks (especially in the Central India highlands) I think Umarpani male (the biggest tiger of Kanha) has it all going for him as far as size, strength, and stealth is concerned. He certainly can be crowned as the biggest tiger of central India. Umarpani male (the biggest tiger of Kanha), slightly premature to crown him as the future King of Kanha as there is some serious competition on the cards from Chotta Munna who is taking his father’s legacy very seriously.
A lot of this has to be dedicated to his genes. His forefathers have been dominating Tigers in Kanha for past generations. Let us see which lineage does he come from.
The lineage of Umarpani male, the biggest tiger of Kanha:
Father is Munna, the legendary Tiger who has CAT spelled on his forehead. At 15 years of age, Munna is still controlling the main tourism zone of Kanha. The world knows him, and he needs o further introduction. Munna’s father also known as the Limping male was one of the dominating and a huge Tiger before Munna.
Limping male, father of Munna, and grandfather of Umarpani male:
Mother is Umarpani female, the daughter of Banda, the dominant male Tiger of Kanha before Munna, and Sonapani female, who in turn is the sister of legendary Laxmi (not the same litter). This is the reason for her size. Her size confused people with a male Tiger quote often. So her genes come from dominating male and popular Tigresses of Kanha.
Umarpani male, the biggest tiger of Kanha:
He was born around Nov 2009, they were two brothers and sisters in the litter. The other male cub was even bigger than him. He was shaping up well until about 2 years old when tragedy struck. When and where he disappeared along with his sister none know. Umarpani male (the biggest tiger of Kanha) is the smaller of the two brothers. At times I wonder if his brother was around what would have been his size.
Umarpani male in 2014 (5 years old) , looking like the biggest tiger of Kanha:
My first sighting of Umarpani male was in December 2014. I mostly followed him from behind, and only for a few seconds, I was able to take some of his side flanks. He was about 5 years at that age. His muscular build was very obvious.
Then I saw him again in June 2015. Behold, I was in a state of shock when he turned to look at me. I skipped a heartbeat or two. Never before any Tiger seemed so big to me. From close-quarters, a lot of Tigers look big. But this fellow’s largeness was evident even from a distance. It was not only his size that stole my heart, but his looks and presentation are of a killing machine. I am not sure how many people have had the opportunity of photographing Umarpani male(the biggest tiger of Kanha) for 30 minutes or more. But after that sighting, I thought if I do not see Tigers for the next 2 years I am fine, as I thought I had seen the best.
Who is bigger Munna or Umarpani male?
Today when I sit back and compare both these big Tigers, Umarpani male (the biggest tiger of Kanha) outshines Munna very comfortably in size and semblance. And this I am comparing Munna in his prime. The skull of Munna is big, but the Umarpani male’s skull is bigger, wider, and with a larger circumference. Though the height and length of both would be similar, the sheer compactness and crassitude of Umarpani put him in a class of his own. His overall bone structure, bigger limb bones, and wider skeleton put him on a pedestal where his huge father starts to look minor in size compared to him. After all Umarpani male has the advantage of his mother’s genes as well. She was one of the largest Tigress of Kanha ever.
Umarpani (the biggest tiger of Kanha) vs Bheema
Bheema is thinner, in fact much thinner compared to Umarpani male (the biggest tiger of Kanha). They might seem to be of the same height and length but in girth Umarpani male outclasses him. Bheema’s bone structure is a lean, smaller frame compared to Umarpani. And his skull lacks the monstrosity of Umarpani. Bheema weighed 225kgs when he was just 2.5yrs old (vs Jai 220kgs full grown). Bheema with his winter coat would be 250kgs plus, and yet Umarpani male outmatches him in summer. Now again for a moment think about Umarpani’s brother who was even bigger than him. What a loss to Kanha by his mystifying disappearance.
Umarpani (the biggest tiger of Kanha) vs Rajaram (Kingfisher)
I have been a fan of Kingfisher too as he was a peaceful Tiger who in terms of size looked similar from a distance. He like Chotta Munna gave ample opportunities to tourists to see him from close quarters. But as one would look at him closely he seemed like a Tiger on steroids. He was shorter in height compared to Uma male. Maybe hence he lacked the core muscles and his belly literally touched the ground. Length-wise also he was smaller than Bheema and Uma male. When someone saw him with a full belly he looked like a big Tiger, while he was actually a big belly Tiger. Also from the Tiger point of view, he did not have the cuts and contour of a competitive cat. He seemed to be a lot of fat and lacked a muscular manifest.
The fatal fight, October 2016: Umarpani male vs Rajaram
Umarpani (the biggest tiger of Kanha) had a close skirmish with Rajaram in January 2015, wherein he got Rajaram to retreat. Though both seemed to have some injuries, Rajaram left his area and stayed away. So Uma male had a measure of him from the past fights while Chotta Munna did not. So had it been Chotta Munna in the territorial fight even he would have sustained injuries. But Uma male had the knowledge of the mass and might of Rajaram so it was most likely him, and only him who could have given the fateful bite.
Another point that would point towards this direction is that the fight most likely did not last long. Uma male nailed him fast and furious, cause had it lasted long even Umarpani male (the biggest tiger of Kanha) would have sustained injuries, which he did not. He was sighted a couple of days later moving quite briskly by the forest department.
Rajaram and Umarpani male (the biggest tiger of Kanha) in a territorial fight. Photo by Naren Malik
The above fight between the two was in January 2015.
No one has any evidence of the fight of October 2016, as it was seen by none. But the past records, and strength of Umarpani male (the biggest tiger of Kanha) tilt indication towards him. He usually avoids the limelight and prefers giving the tourist vehicles a skip. Uma male is mostly sighted crossing the tracks, even if he follows a vehicle it is not for a great distance. But this behavior might undergo some change now and people might start seeing him more. As killing Rajaram has given him extra expanse in the territory, and confidence for sure.
Umarpani (the biggest tiger of Kanha) vs Chotta Munna (Link 7)
This will be the comparison for the future or fight for the No 1 slot. Chotta Munna has the attitude of his father. He has gained in size over the last 4-5 months. But being younger to Umarpani ( the biggest tiger of Kanha) male would most likely be a tad deficient in strength as on date. But Chotta Munna seems to be catching the eyeballs of everyone as he is one tourist-friendly Tiger. On the contrary Umarpani male is shy.
Link 7 (aka Chota Munna)
With Rajaram out of the equation, it is but natural that Umarpani (the biggest tiger of Kanha) and Chotta Munna will expand their territory. It cannot now be ruled out that Kanha might witness another superiority sparring between these two males in the near future. It is unlikely that anyone will lose easily without giving the other some serious agony. I would pray that they both survive in case such a situation arises, as both are very strong contenders to be the next Legend of Kanha after Munna. May the strong genes of Tigers of Kanha prosper far and wide.
Umarpani male, the biggest tiger of Kanha
I would like to thank Minh Ha and Naren Malik for providing some crucial information on lineage, and Naren for some images as well. A special mention here for Minh Ha whose knowledge on Tigers of India is nothing short than encyclopedic. He is an inspiration to many.
Updates on the males in Mukki zone, Kanha (updated in October 2020)
I am updating this post after almost 4 years. And I am not surprised that Umarpani male, the biggest tiger of Kanha, (now 11 years plus) is still ruling Mukki. Despite being well over his prime, he is still standing ground firmly. The last two years have seen several new adult male tigers come and go.
It was Chota Munna (Link 7) who vanished from the scene almost a year back. Some said he moved out into another adjoining forest, some said he would have died. No one knows where he is, but we hope that someday he will make an entry back into the tourism zone. People just loved to see him.
It was in late December 2019 and early 2020 that another male had some serious skirmishes with Umarpani ( the biggest tiger of Kanha). This time it was the Jamuntola male (T24). Some people who saw the duel between the stalwarts over Dhawajhandi female said, it was quite an even faceoff in which both the males were injured.
Their roars resounded afar and for long into the forest. Finally, it was T24, who had to leave the area with his tail tucked in. Despite being younger to Umarpani male he could not stand his ground and had to depart. The battleground left behind was drenched with blood. And there were several bloody pictures of Umarpani male floating around social media, but it was Umarpani male who was seen in the area again rather soon, and not T24. This clearly showed that the rank order between the two was established. Such fights normally do not end up in the death of a tiger, but
Progress to February 2020
On 1st February 2020, Garhi male (T50) also tried his luck in displacing the ruler of Mukki. But to no serious avail. He had to let go of the area. It is interesting to note that all these males were in the prime, while Umarpani (the biggest tiger of Kanha) is well past his prime, but still, he not only survived but thrived the battles.
Balaghat male, and Baisanghat male have been transient in the territory of Uma male, but he seems to have accepted them as he knows that they do not stay there for long, and move on.
Lately, it is Neela Nallah male (T-121) that has been sighted courting the Dhawajhandi tigress, so that means another male tiger skirmish could be accepted. Though very young, the male cubs of Dhawajhandi will soon want to establish their territory.
Kope Dabri male has also been sighted in Mukki. It seems in the coming months when the mercury goes up, and the waterholes shrink, we can anticipate some serious roaring, exchange of powerful blows, and some blood on the trails in the battle-ground of Mukki, seems the stage is set for Battle Royale.
But one thing for sure is that this season one would surely see more of Umarpani male (the biggest tiger of Kanha) compared to yesteryears as he is determined to retain his stronghold of his beloved Mukki.
– Sharad Vats