Tiger queen of India: In the second part of Weekend magazine’s series on unmissable new BBC wildlife show Dynasties, the team witnesses a big cat’s dramatic battle with her own daughter
- Sir David Attenborough is set to star in BBC’s five-part wildlife series Dynasties
- He revealed how the team were able to document tigers and wolves
- The team watched tigers battle for territory in Bandhavgarh National Park
- Raj Bhera had to re-establish herself as Queen after her daughter became a rival
- The team spent 585 filming days in Zimbabwe to document painted wolves
After the stunning success of Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II, Sir David Attenborough returns to our screens tomorrow night to present a brand new wildlife spectacular – Dynasties.
The five-part series, four years in the making, follows five captivating and elusive creatures – lions, tigers, chimpanzees, emperor penguins and painted wolves – as they try to protect their offspring and preserve their bloodline.
As Stephen Moss reveals in his book accompanying the show, there’s love and devotion, tragedy and triumph.
Sit back and enjoy the family drama of the year…
Sir David Attenborough revealed how BBC’s Dynasties team were able to film animals including tigers and wolves across four years for a new wildlife series. Raj Bhera (pictured at the hidden den with her young cubs) has territory within Bandhavgarh National Park
Raj Bhera is the ruler of a tiger dynasty that goes back at least a century.
A fully grown female, she is five years old, strong and experienced, with a grown-up daughter named Solo whose territory is close to hers.
They live in Bandhavgarh National Park, 500 miles south of Delhi. Created in 1968, the park is patrolled by Forest Department guards on elephant back to prevent poaching.
Dhruv Singh, who is from the area, knows these tigers’ long history.
‘Raj Bhera lives in the shadow of Bandhavgarh fort, an ancient city once home to maharajahs,’ he says. ‘Her dynastic rule echoes that of the people who lived here.’
Will the real Kim K please stand up! Instagram collage…
Revealed: Diana’s heartfelt letter telling a fan battling…
Share this article
Raj Bhera has a litter of cubs – three male and one female – hidden in a den in a remote, hilly part of the park.
Her task is to raise them from birth through to adulthood and independence.
She will only achieve that goal if she is able to find enough food for her and them, while at the same time defending her territory against intruders.
And she will have to do this all on her own because, after mating, male tigers play no part in raising the family.
Her cubs, whose eyes open roughly a week after they are born, stay in the safety of the den for eight weeks or so, being fed on their mother’s milk.
Raj Bhera (pictured) is a strong and experienced mother tiger who struggled to patrol her territory after a rival female pushed her way in
They grow rapidly: by the time they are four weeks old their weight has increased fourfold.
After a couple of months, Raj Bhera gradually starts to wean the cubs onto solid food, though she will continue to produce milk until they are about six months old.
Sadly, the chances of any cub reaching maturity are less than 50/50.
They may die from accidents, attacks by male tigers, poaching and other human encounters, bad weather, conflicts with other predators such as leopards, or starvation.
Cubs are keen to explore their surroundings – like all young mammals, this is the way they learn – so Raj Bhera has to keep a constant eye out for danger.
Cubs also enjoy play-fighting, which is crucial in learning the skills they need to make a life on their own.
With a new family to look after, Raj Bhera cannot patrol her territory – roughly eight square miles – as often or as diligently as she did.
So a rival female pushes into a key part of Raj Bhera’s territory.
LONE HUNTER WITH A HUGE APPETITE
Raj Bhera (pictured stalking her prey) would often cover up the remains of carcasses using leaves and grass. A large adult tiger can eat up to one-fifth of its bodyweight
The ability to hunt animals far bigger and heavier than itself makes the tiger unique among large predators – lions and cheetahs do go after big prey, but usually they hunt as a team rather than on their own.
Not so the tiger, which always hunts alone. Once a tiger has successfully killed, it will drag the body of its victim into cover, so it can feed without being disturbed.
This reduces the danger of any of the meat being taken by other predators – including rival tigers.
When feeding, Raj Bhera gorges herself on the meat, starting at the fleshy hindquarters of the animal, and using her side teeth to rip off huge chunks of flesh, before then moving on to the rest of the carcass.
A large adult tiger can eat up to one-fifth of its bodyweight from a single kill, during two or three days.
Having finished feeding, Raj Bhera will often cover up the remains of the carcass using whatever material comes to hand, including leaves and grass, to hide them in case she needs to return later to feed some more.
This intruder is no stranger, but her adult daughter, Solo.
Now nearly three years old, Solo moves into one of Raj Bhera’s best hunting areas, with a very high density of grazing animals.
Solo could take her mother’s prey, putting the new cubs at risk.
Raj Bhera and Solo come face to face after Raj Bhera has made a kill. Secretly, Solo was watching.
Gradually, Solo edges nearer and nearer, until her mother can no longer tolerate her presence. Now Solo is fully grown, she could take the kill from Raj Bhera.
Raj Bhera has to show Solo who’s boss. Yet she hesitates, realising perhaps for the first time that her daughter has grown into a real rival.
The confrontation teeters on the brink of a full-scale fight.
Raj Bhera (pictured keeping her cubs hidden safely away in a den) stays in charge using her age and strength
But Raj Bhera raises herself up to full height and Solo adopts a submissive pose, rolling onto her back. For now, Raj Bhera has won.
Her age and strength keep her in charge. But soon Solo will start her own family and will have to enter her mother’s territory once again.
By this stage, she will be far more experienced – and she might win the battle for supremacy between the generations.
At this point, each time Raj Bhera makes a kill the three bigger, stronger male cubs come in to feed straightaway, leaving little or nothing for their smaller sister, Biba.
So one day while her brothers and mother sleep, Biba goes to feed on the remains of a kill.
Sir David says…
‘Raj Bhera, like so many other animals, is short of space – surely we should afford those creatures with whom we share the planet the chance to retain some part of their ancient heritage?’
She finishes eating and heads to the pool for a drink – where a male tiger is taking a dip.
Curious, she approaches – an act that could be fatal, as males will usually kill any cubs they come across that are not their own.
But fortunately, the male recognises her as one of his own cubs.
Raj Bhera’s adult daughter Solo (pictured) rolled on her back in submission after encroaching on her mother’s territory
She’s very lucky: he’s the only tiger in the whole of Bandhavgarh who won’t harm her.
Male tigers rarely bump into their young and when they do, they just move on.
Sadly, Biba’s troubles with her siblings didn’t end and, aged 17 months, she moves away to find her own territory – some six months earlier than normal.
Raj Bhera now feels the immense strain of providing for her three remaining cubs while trying to repel Solo.
‘When we first met her, Raj Bhera was in glorious condition,’ says director Theo Webb.
POWERFUL CREATURES IN PERIL
There are now far more tigers in captivity – at least 13,000, the vast majority in the United States – than there are in the wild.
More than half of those that do survive in the wild, at least 2,200, are found in India.
In the past century, more than 90 per cent of the tiger population has been wiped out.
Poaching is fuelled by the demand for tiger products in China, which continues to grow.
Biba, Raj Bhera’s female cub, met her father at a pool – a rare incident as males usually have no role in raising their cubs. He would have killed her if he hadn’t recognised she was his
In the early 1990s, a survey in the Ranthambore National Park in northern India, once a hotspot for tigers, found just 15 individuals – poachers had killed the rest in order to supply the lucrative trade in skins and other body parts.
Soon afterwards, the authorities in Delhi seized a haul of almost 500kg (1,100lb) of tiger bones.
In 2010, the umbrella conservation body the Global Tiger Forum was established.
Tiger experts from all over the world came together to try to stop, or reduce, the illegal trade by promoting anti-poaching measures and working closely with local communities to get people on the tigers’ side.
Campaigners are also trying to change attitudes in China.
Conservation scientists have identified five major areas in India, collectively covering an area of nearly 60,000 square miles, that offer the tiger its best chance of survival.
Each region is capable of providing enough food for 200 tigers – about a thousand in all.
The plan is to double wild tiger numbers by 2022: ambitious, but a target certainly worth aiming for.
‘But towards the end of filming three years later, she had become thinner and thinner, and her fur looked rougher. You could tell she was having a really tough time.’
Then Raj Bhera makes the decision to leave the sanctuary of the park and head towards a village – one of about 60 settlements supporting 40,000 people around the park borders.
Here, she causes panic and mayhem, as the villagers gather around the tiger, beating the scrub with sticks and shouting in a desperate effort to see her off.
Their response is understandable: few wild creatures are as dangerous as a cornered tiger, and many people fall victim to them each year.
Sir David says…
‘Over the past century, the number of tigers in the wild has fallen from 100,000 to just 4,000. It’s a huge decline which needs to be halted or the risk of extinction is real.’
When they hear Raj Bhera is outside the park, Theo and the team race to her.
Just as things are about to get nasty, the park rangers arrive.
‘The tiger had been cornered in a patch of bamboo where rangers managed to tranquillise her, so they could take her back to her territory,’ says Theo.
‘It was a real race against time, before the effects of the tranquilliser wore off.
Raj Bhera has successfully raised three of her cubs to adulthood (Pictured: Biba and one of her brothers relax in a shady glade in the jungle)
‘This incident showed the lengths Raj Bhera had to go to, to find food for herself and her cubs.’
Raj Bhera’s absence gave Solo the perfect opportunity to take over her mother’s territory permanently.
But she did not have time to do so, as the rangers soon released Raj Bhera.
By reclaiming her territory from her daughter, Raj Bhera had re-established herself as the Queen of Bandhavgarh’s tigers.
She has successfully raised three of her cubs to adulthood, and can continue her dynasty and raise another generation of Bandhavgarh’s tigers.
SPOT THE TIGER!
Tigers may be one of the biggest predators on the planet, but that does not make them easy to film.
Unlike lions, which give chase on open plains, tigers live and hunt in dense forest where it is hard to track and follow their movements.
So the team recruited expert help in the shape of guide and tracker Digpal Karmawas.
As with all wildlife filming, local knowledge was an essential factor in whether the team could succeed in filming the tigers at all.
At dawn each day, Digpal would take the team into the park, not knowing where Raj Bhera and her family would be.
They would then split up to look for any signs of the tigers. This is as much an art as a science, as Digpal points out.
Digpal Karmawas revealed although tigers are creatures of habit they aren’t easy to find. Pictured: Rangers on elephants could find the tigers even in long grass
‘Tigers are creatures of habit, but they are not easy to find.
‘They have favourite paths and waterholes but they always retain the ability to surprise, appearing where and when you least expect.
‘Anything is possible in the jungle!’ Being ambush predators, tigers hide in or behind trees or scrubby vegetation, and often the only evidence of a kill is the sound of the dying victim as it expires.
The best way to track them was to use a three-stage approach. The first step was to find their fresh tracks.
Then, Digpal would listen for alarm calls from deer and monkeys, to pinpoint the tiger’s whereabouts.
Even then, they are easy to miss without sharp eyes to spot them in thick undergrowth.
‘They were so well camouflaged,’ explains director Theo Webb.
‘Their stripes blended in exactly with the bamboo.’
Principal wildlife cameraman John Brown, who has spent hundreds of days in the field observing and filming tigers, was struck by their ability to change shape, depending on the angle from which they were seen.
‘I was always amazed by how the tigers seemed almost two-dimensional.
‘Viewed from the side, they have a real mass and muscularity, but they are incredibly slim in the hips and shoulders so they almost vanish when they are walking towards or away from you.
‘In over 20 years of wildlife filmmaking, I’d never spent more time looking for the subject and so little time with it visible through the viewfinder.
‘We’d go for days without seeing Raj Bhera. Even when we found her, the situation was usually unfilmable.’
So the team put out camera traps, triggered by movement, around Raj Bhera’s territory to capture her as she patrolled.
What they did not bargain for was that her cubs would take such an interest that they pushed one of the cameras over, into the water.
Despite these difficulties, the team got wonderful material of Raj Bhera and her cubs bathing in a pond.
They chased cormorants and other waterbirds, and enjoyed playing in the water, just like children in a swimming pool.
For Theo, this made up for all the disappointments.
‘Camera traps are very hit-and-miss. But sometimes they are the only way to obtain intimate, close-up views of natural behaviour.
‘An insight into the secret world of our tigers.’
A Game of Thrones in the African bush: Two packs of painted wolves – led by a mother and her daughter – battle for the territory that will keep their pups alive in this action-packed episode. And Tim Oglethorpe went out on location
A bitter battle for territory on the floodplains bordering Zimbabwe’s Zambezi River lies at the heart of the Dynasties documentary about the wild hunting dogs known as painted wolves.
And the most startling thing about this feud is that, like some African version of Game Of Thrones, it’s between an alpha female, Tait, and her daughter, Blacktip.
Painted wolves, so-called because of their black, brown and white markings, live in packs headed by an alpha female and alpha male.
There used to be half a million of them spread over 39 African countries.
The Dynasties team ventured to Zimbabwe’s Zambezi River to film painted wolves in 11 visits (pictured: tiny wolf pups emerge from their den)
But when the Dynasties team started filming, there were just 6,600 painted wolves remaining in their heartlands of east and southern Africa, as human encroachment has led to a loss of their natural habitat, while the erroneous belief they’re a danger to humans has led to them being poisoned and shot.
It’s shrinking territory that triggers the riveting events in this Dynasties episode.
Blacktip’s pack, which after several successful breeding seasons has grown to 30-strong – over twice the size of her mother’s – can’t source enough food in its current home.
But with the Zambezi River lying to the north, with crocodiles waiting in the shallows; hyenas, another predator, to the south; and human hunting lands to the west, Blacktip has no option but to invade her mother’s far bigger patch to the east.
What follows is a vicious confrontation between the two packs.
Although Tait senses Blacktip’s scent on the wind, her pack has little time to react when Blacktip’s family bear down on her.
A vicious fight ensues and casualties are high. Blacktip’s wolves are left with gashed necks and flanks, but Tait soon realises the safest course of action is to withdraw.
She and her pack are forced to resettle further east into the highly dangerous Lion Pridelands.
For Nick Lyon, the producer who spent four years filming Tait and the other painted wolves for the most intimate and extraordinary documentary ever made about them, the coup was a disaster.
The team racked up 585 filming days during 11 visits to Zimbabwe, and learned the unique markings on the sides of every single wolf in the three packs being observed (another daughter of Tait’s, Janet, led a pack on the eastern edge of Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park). That’s 182 flanks on the sides of 91 animals!
The painted wolf (pictured) is one of the world’s most endangered carnivores
But the canny painted wolf can easily disappear within the 2,600 square miles of the park (an area the size of Devon), and the conflict between Tait and her daughter Blacktip meant the star of Nick’s film had simply vanished.
‘There was nothing for it but to search the entire park for Tait’s tracks,’ says Nick.
‘The trackers, Nick Murray and Henry Bandure, spent a month trekking through thick bush infested with tsetse flies and mosquitoes.
‘Then, amazingly, they found Tait’s new den, a two-and-a-half-hour drive away from her original den.’
The wolves make for fascinating viewing.
For instance, when near water they are 100 per cent focused on crocodiles, or the slightest hint of them.
The local ones are so large they can swallow a painted wolf whole. Every pool could have one, so Tait’s pack has to be wary.
‘So much of their day is spent staring into the water just to see where the crocodiles are.
‘They stare and stare and stare. They’re fixated on crocodiles,’ says Nick.
Sir David says…
‘It’s wonderful to see a programme entirely about painted wolves, they’re fascinating. When TV was young, Americans thought the only animals viewers wanted to see were lions and giraffes’
Back in Tait’s old territory, Blacktip was starting to enjoy the rewards of victory.
Nick and his team captured her and her family performing a high-energy greeting ceremony in which ears are flattened, forequarters lowered and tails curved over the back, along with sniffing, licking and ducking under each other.
It’s the prelude to a hunting mission and soon the pack are advancing towards a herd of impalas, the wolves splitting into attack parties of three and four.
Suddenly, an impala bolts, unwittingly firing the starting gun on the carnage that follows.
Reaching speeds of 45mph, and with stamina that allows them to maintain that pace over long distances, Blacktip and her pack set their sights on an impala they’ve perceived as weaker than the others.
The highly efficient hunter Blacktip lunges and grasps at a back leg and fells it. The hunt is over and the feeding begins.
Meanwhile, Tait has started to flourish in the Lion Pridelands.
Four months after moving there, she has given birth to two puppies in a former aardvark burrow.
Alpha female, Tait, and her daughter, Blacktip had conflict that led Tait to find a new den (Pictured: elephants keeping a wary eye on Blacktip’s pack)
Nick Lyon and his team were on hand to capture the footage, as proud mum Tait emerged from her den followed by her pups, who’d spent their first three weeks underground.
Little bundles of fur unsteady on their feet, they were the epitome of cuteness amid a deadly world.
Their emergence was also a filmmaker’s dream.
‘The pups were so small and their heads so disproportionately large that whenever they stopped walking, they would teeter over their front legs like a see-saw,’ laughs Nick.
Ox, the pups’ father, was first to go over and sniff them – this was his first litter, Tait’s eighth – while the pack formed an orderly queue to come and see, smell and fuss over the new arrivals.
Soon it was time for the pups to take a nap back in the den and Tait positioned herself so she could still see the entrance to the den while enjoying the breeze and the shade of a large acacia tree. But she was soon off hunting again.
Leaving behind her two new pups, Tait set off across the grassland accompanied by the other adults in the pack.
A CLOSE CALL FOR SIR DAVID
Sir David Attenborough got up close and personal with the painted wolves while out in Zimbabwe filming the episode’s closing sequence – but it was a close-run thing.
‘Producer Nick Lyon became obsessive about getting David close to the wolves,’ says executive producer Mike Gunton.
Sir David Attenborough (pictured) was flown down in a helicopter to capture shots alongside Tait’s youngest daughter
‘I told him we didn’t have time to do that for the closing sequence, that we would waste hours trying to set it up and it probably wouldn’t work anyway.
‘But somehow it did.
‘David was flown down in a helicopter to where Tammy, Tait’s youngest daughter and current alpha, was resting with the pack, and filmed him just as the wolves were starting to get up and stretch.
‘It made for wonderful footage. Everybody knew – the crew, David, perhaps even the dogs – that this was the moment and it worked superbly!’
But as Nick captured her departure on film, he soon realised something truly extraordinary was happening.
Apart from the pups, all the wolves had gone hunting, which meant the three humans in attendance near the den – Nick, tracker Henry and cameraman Warwick Sloss – had been left in sole charge of the babies.
‘It took a while for it to dawn on us,’ says Nick.
‘But the trust between us and Tait’s pack had reached such a level that they felt able to leave us with their offspring.
‘So we babysat for them, and even had to shoo the pups back into their den. We only left when Tait and the others came back.’
Eventually, the conflict between Tait and her daughter reignited.
Blacktip, who initially appeared to have no idea where her mother had gone, picked up scent marks from Tait’s pack and decided to go off in pursuit.
As they trekked deeper into the Lion Pridelands they encountered a troop of baboons, one of whom paid with its life as the two species clashed.
Blacktip and her followers raced on through the moonless night, not realising they were being trailed by a pack of hyenas, who started to summon help with their eerie whooping calls, eventually forming a 15-strong group.
When Blacktip realised the danger she was in, she decided attack was the best form of defence and turned on the hyenas.
Low-light and infrared camera specialist Justine Evans captured the ensuing fight, which resulted in the death of one of Blacktip’s pups.
Seemingly grief-stricken, the painted wolves milled around, reluctant to leave without the lost pup, eventually having to do so with their heads down and tails between their legs, marching in silence.
Eventually, Blacktip came so close to her mother’s new home that Tait could smell her daughter on the breeze.
But then another, more dangerous, animal intervened.
‘We suddenly noticed a lion creeping towards Blacktip and her pack through some long grass,’ says cameraman Barrie Britton.
‘We then saw more lions behind and realised the dogs had no idea they were there.’
BABOON FOR DINNER
The dry season makes it harder for the painted wolf to hunt.
Elephant footprints, made in soft mud at the end of the wet season, were now baked hard.
For the wolves to pick their way through the potholes at full speed chasing nimble impalas could end in a broken leg or worse.
Blacktip had to rethink her hunting strategy, and she came up with something never seen before.
She switched from impalas to baboons.
Blacktip’s pack began hunting baboons in addition to impalas (Pictured: adults prepare to attack their prey)
The chacma baboons at Mana Pools are fearsome characters, a large male being almost twice the size of a painted wolf, immensely strong, fast and with formidable canine teeth.
They pass the night safely up in the trees, but spend most of the day foraging on the ground where they are vulnerable.
At the start of the first hunt the wolves approached silently.
A loud baboon bark announced they had been spotted, and the pack spread out and broke into a run.
The baboons panicked, and while some of the painted wolves kept the large male baboons busy, the rest could seek out the smaller and more vulnerable members of the troop.
Blood was spilled, and several of the wolves were left with open wounds, but from then on Blacktip’s pack specialised in hunting both impalas and baboons.
Only at the last minute did the painted wolves realise what was going on. A gruff bark was the signal to scatter, causing confusion among the lions, before the most unlikely of allies further helped Blacktip’s cause. A buffalo suddenly charged through the trees, distracting the lions. When it fell momentarily, the lions were on it in a flash – a more substantial meal than the one they were expecting.
But the encounter with the lions was the last straw for Blacktip, and she decided to call off her hunt for Tait. Once they’d made up their minds to go, the wolves barely looked back as they raced through the night without stopping, covering some 15 miles.
The war between mother and daughter was over, and it was time for Tait’s pack to reclaim their old territory.
But Tait didn’t join them, she was too old and slow and was killed, with her companion Ox beside her, in the Lion Pridelands.
But the story doesn’t end there, for a new generation of leaders must continue the bloodline.
After weeks of eerie calls echoing round the park as the pack decided on its new leader, eventually Tait’s youngest daughter, Tammy, emerged as the new alpha female.
Nick Lyon hopes his documentary will change the image of these relatively unknown creatures.
‘What shines through is their love for each other within the pack,’ he says. ‘They’re the most caring carnivores I’ve ever worked with.
‘They’re much smaller than the likes of lions, yet they survive by exhibiting tight family bonds in a very tough world.
‘ People often regard them as grizzly predators but they’re not. I hope this documentary reveals a new side to a misunderstood and much-maligned creature.’
Dynasties: The Rise And Fall Of Animal Families by Stephen Moss, published by BBC Books, £25. Adapted by Christopher Stevens and Tim Oglethorpe. Offer price £20 until 24/11/2018. Order at mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640, p&p free on orders over £15.
Dynasties begins tomorrow at 8.30pm on BBC1
Source: Read Full Article