Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

Before I climbed up into the jeep, the man in charge of our small party stepped forward, shook my hand and introduced himself as a 'professional naturalist'. 'Bloody hell, ' I said, thoroughly impressed. I'd expected a guide or a park ranger, not a full-blown naturalist.

I was the last to board the open-sided jeep and introduced myself to my fellow passengers. Beside me was a couple from south London, Jerry and Kelly, and behind us a middle-class Indian family: a shy man, his voluble wife and between them a portly son about 12 years old. They were up from Mumbai for a few days tiger-spotting and bird-watching.

At the entrance to the national park we filled in forms waiving our right to compensation should we be mauled to death by a tiger, while importunate hat-sellers shoved baseball caps and floppy bush hats under our noses. The naturalist disappeared into an office then returned to his place in the front seat, and as he settled himself he shot me a venomous glare.

Ranthambore national park is where Russell Brand celebrated his marriage to Kate Perry. He bought her a tiger as a wedding gift, according to the newspapers, but it is staying in the park, the money going towards conservation work. There were 25 tigers in Ranthambore until recently, but one was poisoned a fortnight ago by villagers tired of losing their cattle, and a further nine can't be accounted for, the naturalist confided later. If we didn't see a tiger in the course of our visit we must be philosophical about it, he advised.

More often than not, a party of visitors such as ours leaves without having seen a tiger.

But fingers crossed, this afternoon we will be as lucky as these people, he said, pointing to Jerry and Kelly.

Jerry and Kelly happily explained. They had arrived in town the evening before, put up for the night in a hotel, and gone out before breakfast on an early-morning game drive.

And within five minutes they had encountered a big male tiger called Star. They were still getting over the shock, said Kelly. Four hundred pictures they'd taken in 20 minutes.

Clearly they didn't want to crow about it, but their natural English reticence couldn't disguise the fact that they were astonished by their good luck and awestruck by what they had seen. …

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