Lithe bodies that flex athleticism in their slightest movement, kohl-lined eyes which bore through your frame and a visage that arrests the most confident onlooker into awe inspired paralysis is the effect these magnificent creatures have on all those who chance upon them. A restrained fierceness is their most potent weapon and you will not want to know what unsheathing it feels like. Zalim, is this week’s feature in the Living Legends of Ranthambhore Series .
Zalim; the very name radiates menace, evokes fear and lashings of trepidation. Zalim, translates into a combination of ‘tyrant’, ‘cruel’, ‘without sympathy’, and is the name of one of Ranthambhore’s shier, more aggressive males, T25.
At approximately 8 and so in his prime, age has not dulled or diminished the form that led to his ‘baptism’ as Zalim. I first saw him, while sipping a cup of tea, a morning ritual frantically interrupted by crackling wireless sets and Jaisal in his Willy’s jeep as he saw the young tiger mildly irritated in the undergrowth at Sher Bagh. Nothing captures that moment better than the narrative from Ranthambhore, The Tiger’s Realm which describes our first encounter with Zalim on that cold winter morning;
“We were at Sher Bagh enjoying a scrumptious Eggs Benedict when there was a crackle on my wireless. A tiger was reportedly seen some fifty yards from the farmhouse in a cluster of dhok trees just moments before. We grabbed our cameras and rushed there in our ’42 Ford jeep to find Stan – a dear friend from England – and Yusuf standing in their dressing gowns, blissfully unaware while they sipped their chhota-hazri on the patio f the house. After warning them, we drove the jeep off track to find this large male, who we named Zalim. In the late 1980s my family had bought fallow land that resembled sand dunes without a single tree or vegetation to speak of. Within two dcades it had been transformed into a healthy forest with close to fifty thousand trees, painstakingly nurtured by Valmik and Goverdhan. It is now frequented by over one hundred and fifty species of birds, and regularly visited by Ranthambhore’s big cats.”
Since then we have reached something of an accord with our feline neighbour but it was that first encounter, of teeth, snarls and hisses which led to us naming him Zalim.
Over the years we have seen those teeth bared more than once; snarling and in that particularly look of sinister playfulness which draws itself across his face in the setting (or rising) sunlight.
Zalim’s provenance, his arrival and presence are more mysterious than the Count of Monte Cristo’s, some say he is a Lahpur tiger, from the other side of Ranthambhore. Others believe him to be a young male thought to have been poached, but evidently still alive. No one knows for sure where he came from, what we do know is that he has claimed a territory that stretches from Sinh Dwar to the far reaches of Kachida. Sher Bagh forms one frontier of his sprawling domain.
Zalim became the focus of the world’s attention when it was discovered that he was actively bringing up his two female cubs, B1 and B2 in the absence of their recently deceased mother the Kachida Tigress (T5). This fantastic and rarely documented phenomenon turned our knowledge of tiger behaviour on its head and transformed his image from fiercely aggressive muscle on legs to one of doting, caring father. No spin-doctor could have managed the transformation better. Zalim became Ranthambhore’s most metro-sexual male who devoted his time to his girls, trained them (as far as is possible for a male tiger to train cubs), protected them and fed them on his own kills. Both cubs have now grown into beauties and their story of survival and resolve will form a separate narration in our blog in the days to come.
Zalim is considered by some to be unlucky in love. His mate T5 died leaving him with two female cubs, who were translocated to Sariska Tiger Reserve earlier this year. His short-lived romance with Split (T17) was abruptly interrupted due to her own disappearance but at least resulted in the birth of three more cubs. More recently, Brat (T19), having driven out her sister Split from that territory was observed mating with Zalim twice, before leaving him, to return to her longer running partnership with Star Male (T28).
For now, Zalim traverses his realm in solitude. And to sight him is a special treat. Be sure however not to he anywhere near a motorcycle. Many a Forest Guard has endured the nerve-splitting consequences of roaring past Zalim, to be mock charged and roared at in return.
Here’s to celebrating one of the fiercest ones of them all!
Written by Yusuf Ansari
Photographs from the Sher Bagh archives.