Sher Bagh’s Tigers of Ranthambhore – T25

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's look of sinister playfulness which draws itself across his face in the setting (or rising) sunlight.
Zalim’s look of sinister playfulness which draws itself across his face in the setting (or rising) sunlight.

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.

Zalim emerges from the foliage. A daunting presence to even the most seasoned wildlife enthusiast.
Zalim emerges from the foliage. A daunting presence to even the most seasoned wildlife enthusiast.

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.

The sighting that christened "Zalim" at the farm near Sher Bagh.
The sighting that christened “Zalim” at the farm near Sher Bagh.

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.

An image from the Forest Department camera trap which shows Zalim with his daughters.
An image from the Forest Department camera trap which captured the fantastic phenomenon of Zalim bringing up his daughters in the absence of a mother.
Zalim devoted time to his daughters and brought them up with loving care and devotion.
Zalim devoted time to his daughters and brought them up with loving care and devotion.Image courtesy Balendu Singh
Daddy's girl. Zalims' girls have grown up to be independent, fierce young tigresses. Image courtesy Balendu Singh
Daddy’s girl. Zalims’ girls have grown up to be independent, fierce young tigresses. Image courtesy Balendu Singh

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).

Zalim with his former mate - T17 who has recently given birth to 3 cubs.
Zalim with his former mate – T17 who has recently given birth to 3 cubs.
Zalim and Brat (T19). A fleeting encounter.
Zalim and Brat (T19). A fleeting encounter.

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!

To look into Zalim's eye as he stares right back at you is a nerve wracking yet magical experience.
To look into Zalim’s eye as he stares right back at you is a nerve wracking yet magical experience.

Read more about Zalim and his sightings on our Facebook page. Read the connecting blog about male tiger behavior by Valmik Thapar.

Written by Yusuf Ansari
Photographs from the Sher Bagh archives.

9 thoughts on “Sher Bagh’s Tigers of Ranthambhore – T25

  1. Thank you for bringing us this wonderful account of Zalim. What a fantastic tiger, who has been unlucky in love, but has proved to be such a wonderful father. His role in bringing up his daughters has completely changed the way we think about male tigers. Long may he chase motorcycles in Ranthambhore.. I look forward to hearing how his daughters are faring in Sariska.

    1. Dear Kathy, Zalim’s two daughters, B1 and B2 are both faring well in Sariska, though we miss them hugely. They appear to have adjusted well to their surroundings and both have independent territories there now. Meanwhile there were a few sightings of Zalim before the Park closed and on the 2nd of July he was heard roaring on the hill behind Sher Bagh. You are perfectly correct to say that his behaviour has provided unprecedented insights into tiger dynamics and yes, there is so much more to learn about these Big Cats. Thank you for your comments and we look forward to hearing from you soon. Best.

  2. I’m one of the lucky ones who’s seen Zalim in the forests of Ranthambore.. Fantastic piece…especially the bit about him being the park’s ‘metrosexual male’ and of course, the pictures.

    1. Dear G, you’ve always been lucky with Ranthambhore I guess! Glad you enjoyed the article, we all enjoyed your coverage of Zalim and his two girls too. Stay tuned in and thank you for the fabulous feedback.

  3. Wow.. amazing photographs. Ranthambore is the best place for wildlife photography. I like this place. Ranthambore Tiger reserve is the best place to see tigers. Thank you so much for this amazing sharing.

    Ranthambore Tourism

    1. Dear Mr Jhon. Thank you for your comment. Ranthambhore indeed is a phenomenal location for wildlife photography. Every moment brings an opportunity. We do hope you will come and visit us.

  4. What’s up, I want to subscribe for this website to take most
    recent updates, thus where can i do it please help.

  5. Superb Pictures, last week only discovery channel showed story of T25 & his daughters,
    All together different behaviour from Male tiger towards his daughters in absence of their Mother
    he was actually teaching them like mother like how to hunt n all & protecting them from other tigers like “SUNDARI”
    I am really surprised that in Indian forest we have such interesting stories
    we need to publish or tell such stories as many people as we can, which will help to increase awareness & interest about the wild life conservation in India

    1. Dear Sarang,
      Thank you for your comments. We do indeed have wonderful stories to share about our forests and the wildlife and we try and must all continue to try and do our best for conservation.
      Thank you for your support!

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