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The un-Common Onyx butterfly

The rich habitat of Kanha Tiger Reserve is home to several species of wildlife, including big and small animals. This lush habitat runs into the premises of Singinawa Jungle Lodge, and hence our lodge also plays an abode to several of these big and small creatures. In an effort to enrich our resort grounds further, we have even developed a small butterfly garden (the Butterfly Habitat), one of our wildlife-oriented several projects. The selection of plants planted in the Butterfly Habitat enables the butterfly species found in and around Kanha to complete their life-cycle with ease, simultaneously allowing us to watch and study these beautiful creations of Mother Nature.

Recently, while taking a walk in the resort premises, I noticed a small butterfly fluttering about. I immediately realized that this was not a commonly seen butterfly in the area (although I was not able to identify it immediately), and quickly clicked a photo with my mobile. Unfortunately, before I could get my camera, the butterfly took to its wings and disappeared in the dense forest canopy.

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I referred to the butterfly field guide we have in our library and came to the conclusion that this was a butterfly named Common Onyx. The butterfly was mentioned to be distributed in the Western Ghats and in the Himalayan mountains, and nowhere near Central India. Once I had the identity of the butterfly, I even checked an online portal, www.ifoundbutterflies.org, and the distribution as mentioned was marked as mentioned in the book.Map of Distribution.png

I shared the exciting information with my fellow naturalists, and with their help, shared the record with some butterfly experts. The butterfly was identified as the Western Ghats subspecies, and the record was immediately uploaded on the online portal. A screenshot of the distribution map of the species from the same portal shows a single spot in Central India now, the first record of the not so common Common Onyx from our lodge.

With all the advances in science and the knowledge we have build up, Mother Nature still manages to throw in some surprises now and then.
Sachin Sharma
Naturalist
Singinawa Jungle Lodge
Kanha National Park

 

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Tiger brawl

We kept on driving in circles on a chilly winter morning. Signs indicating the presence of a tiger, in the form of fresh pugmarks and alarm calls, were all around us. But the striped cat kept evading us. Finally we reached a junction where we were told that a female tiger had just slid into the bushes. Dejected by the news, we waited at the spot hoping for the tiger to step back out. After a while, we decided to check a parallel road. And surely, the tigers were there! Not one, but two tigers!

The moment we chanced on them, they retreated back into the bushes. Hoping to convince the tigers to come out once again, we drove far away from the spot and waited with our binoculars and cameras pointing in the direction. Now without the disturbance of vehicles, one of the tigers did come out, and sat on the road. The second tiger also emerged with caution after a little while. Suddenly we realized, that the cautious approach was not because of us. The second tiger warily walked towards the first one, and the two exchanged a few brutal blows. The fight was brief, but vicious.

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It was only later, when I zoomed into my photos and identified the tigers, I realized the reason behind the fight. The tiger which attacked was a female tiger, T-31. She currently has a cub, may be about 18 months old. About a couple of weeks back, T-31 had shifted her territory to stay away from the intruding male. This male, not the father of her cub, would definitely kill the cub. T-31 even tried to suppress the male’s advances by trying to mate with him. But when this strategy had failed, she had to move out.

The neighboring territory was controlled by another female, T-33. This old tigress has not been seen for sometime now, but her four cubs (2 males and 2 females) still patrol her territory. In the absence of an adult tiger laying claim to the area, T-31 found it easy to move in. This area was also closer to the area where her cub’s father is now seen, and so the move proved to be doubly advantageous.

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But the four cubs in this territory, about 22 months old now, are still bigger than T-31’s cub, and could harm him. In order to ensure protection of her cub, T-31 had to keep the four siblings away from her cub and slowly try to push them out.

Mahabir's male cub 1.2.jpgThe fight we witnessed was between T-31 and one of the male cubs from the litter of four. With a lot of experience and aggression, driven by the love for her cub, T-31 emerged victorious in the fight. In fact the young and inexperienced male did not put up much of a fight at all. But despite the result, T-31 was injured in the fight, while the young male escaped unhurt. Although he had lost the fight, the young tiger left the area with an invaluable lesson of survival

-Pranad Patil,

Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

A caterpillar which mimics its own droppings!

The forested premises of Singinawa Jungle Lodge are home to several amazing creatures. Big or small, these creatures provide nothing short of astonishment when observed closely. Hidden among the woodlands and grasses with the resort’s lush premises, these exceptional denizens of the Kanha forests have some fantastic stories to share. One such amazing story is that of the caterpillar of the Commander butterfly.

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The Commander is a strikingly beautiful butterfly, coloured mostly in orange, white and black. Scientifically named Moduza procris, the Commander belongs to the family of brush-footed butterflies (Nymphalidae) – the largest family of butterflies. Although the adult butterfly is quite striking, the caterpillar and pupa have a different story to tell.

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The Commander butterfly lays eggs on kadam trees (Neolamarckia cadamba). The tree is planted in out Butterfly Habitat, where we were able to observe this amazing behavioural aspect of this caterpillar. The caterpillar is dark brown in colour, with blotches of lighter shades of brown. The body is covered with spiked structures. This helps break the outline of the caterpillar’s body. On a green leaf, this colour does not provide any camouflage. But this caterpillar creates its own surroundings to blend in with. The caterpillar collects its droppings and arranges them in long chains. The colour of these droppings are very similar to the caterpillar’s body. While resting, the caterpillar aligns itself in accordance with these chains of its dropping, making itself invisible to a predator’s eye. For most of the caterpillar’s predators, caterpillar faeces is not a part of their regular diet, and hence the caterpillar is overlooked without even a second glance.

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But this mimicry is a visual deceit. A predator using any other sense to locate the caterpillar might be very successful. Predatory bugs, such as assassin bugs (family Reduviidae) have thermoreceptors in their antennae. They are able to sense the caterpillar’s presence because of its body heat. The bug then simply injects its saliva into the caterpillar, and the unfortunate victim starts dissolving from inside.

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But of the caterpillars who do manage to escape all predators, there is one more defence-less stage to go through before attaining adulthood – the pupa stage. In this stage, the creature inside is incapable of movement, and can become easy prey for birds, or easy target for parasites. So the Commander caterpillar weaves itself a cocoon which resembles a shrivelled dry leaf. The Commander thus avoids predators once again through deceit.

The strategy used by the Commander to avoid being eaten is one of the several fascinating stories unfolding in the forests of Singinawa Jungle Lodge. Many more such stories are waiting to unfold in front of you.

 

– PRANAD PATIL, Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

A streak of tigers and a rare kingfisher!

‘How many tigers have you seen in a single safari?’ This is a common question we get from several guests. Usual answers are three, four, or five if you are really lucky. There are rare occasions and don’t come along often. But October 23, 2017 was an extraordinary day. I got to see eight tigers in one drive!

It was the last safari for the guests who were with me. Having done five safaris before this, they had seen most of the park. For this particular safari, we were exploring the Mukki zone. After clicking some photos of the beautiful sunrise in one of the meadows, we decided to explore more areas. That is when we saw a car parked ahead of us, and the occupants of the car waving excitedly at us. We approached the vehicle slowly and parked behind it. That is when we noticed that there was tiger walking in front of the jeep ahead of us. The male tiger was walking away from us and was marking his territory by spraying his urine on select barks. While watching him through my binoculars I noticed the facial marking on his cheeks when it turned over his shoulder to look at us, and immediately recognized him as T-30 (Umarpani male). After a few more strides, he walked off into the bushes. ‘This was the biggest tiger in Mukki zone,’ I whispered to the guests as we moved ahead.

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The previous day, we had heard a couple of tigers mating in the undergrowth, but because of the dense forest had not seen them. I wanted to check the area to see if they were still there or had moved out. As we crossed the grassland leading to the area, we saw hundreds of Spotted Deer, along with some Barasingha and Sambar grazing in the meadow. As we were slowly making our way across the open area, we were alerted by some Spotted Deer alarm calls coming from the opposite side of the vast grassland. As we reached the area, I realised the alarm calls were coming from a nullah. On scanning with my binoculars, I noticed two tigers on the stream bed, one standing and the other sitting down. There were T-29 (Link 7 male) and T-31 (Choti Mada female), the same mating pair we had been hearing over the last few days. After a few moments, the male tiger crossed the road in front of our car and walked into the Sal forest. No sooner had he disappeared, the female followed the same path, and vanished in the same direction.

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As we proceeded, I noticed that one of the two guests with me had had tears in her eyes. I asked her if everything was okay, and she smiled at me. She said that four years ago she has seen a tiger in Ranthambhore, which was numbered T-29 as well, along with her husband. Since then her husband had passed away, but she felt his presence with her today.

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A few moments later, we stopped near a waterhole to see a Black-capped Kingfisher. This kingfisher is mostly seen in coastal regions and is a rare bird in Central India. As I was explaining this to the guests, we heard a series of alarm calls behind our vehicle. I alerted the guests, but as I was getting ready to move the vehicle behind, I noticed a tiger approaching the waterhole. This was the shy and elusive T-27 (Dhawajhandi female). On closer inspection, we noticed four tiny animals trotting behind her. These were her cubs. The female approached the water, and sat down to have a drink and cool herself, while the four cubs, visible timid, peeped at us from behind some grass. Later, the female crossed the road in front of our vehicle, and the four cubs followed. What a sighting!

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As we were heading back to the resort, I told my two excited guests that this was a special day and sightings like these rarely. So the next time someone asks me the maximum number of tiger I have seen in a single safari, you know the answer, Eight!!!

– DAVID RAJU, Head Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

SINGINAWA : BEYOND THE SACRED FOREST

Singinawa Jungle Lodge, as you know, is located in the buffer zone of the Kanha Tiger Reserve. Even though tiger conservation is very close to our hearts, there are many more avenues to explore at the Lodge. Let me talk to you about a few of them.

Our aim at Singinawa is to offer a holistic approach towards ecotourism. There is a constant attempt to introduce newer ways of being as inclusive towards different aspects of nature and wildlife as possible. The eco-restoration walk has become hugely popular among Singinawa guests. This 2 km trail within the Lodge grounds lets them learn about the reforestation techniques that we employ here as they talk to our expert in-house naturalists who accompany them. Spotted deer and many species of birds can be spotted often during the walk and, if you’re lucky, there might be sightings of muntjacs, leopards, wild boars and rodents too. There are also nocturnal walks on offer. These are great for viewing the range of animals like civets and hyenas that are active during the night. The Lodge grounds are frequented by various wild animals and guests find it quite exciting to see them right at their doorstep. Tree plantation is one of our most extensive activities and till date we have planted over 10,000 saplings. This herculean task has been possible due to the dedicated team of naturalists and conservationists that Singinawa has.

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Birding is an activity that I personally enjoy and so do the guests at Singinawa. There are more than 150 species to be seen here. You can observe their agile bodies covered in colorful feathers or marvel at their amazingly precise nest-building skills. The trees within the grounds provide an ideal home to a lot of them. Just ask any of our naturalists or staff members about the special birding tours available. Apart from that, we also conduct herping tours. Herping includes searching for amphibians and reptiles, many varieties of which can be found at Singinawa. A lot of them have been identified and recorded but spotting newer species is also heard of quite often. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky discoverers! If you have an interest in entomology, then you’ll particularly enjoy the unique butterfly and moth habitats within our grounds. The diverse and idyllic landscape of Singinawa offers excitement at every corner.

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The Kanha Museum of Life and Art was established at Singinawa to promote indigenous art forms that the local tribes practice. The Gonds, Bhils and Baigas create stunning artworks that reflect their natural habitat and age-old traditions. Birds and animals from the region are found in abundance within these works, drawn in a stunning range of colours. The Museum has both the words ‘life’ and ‘art’ in the title because it depicts the life of the local communities through the art they produce. It has played a vital role in the conservation measures taken to ensure the intangible heritage of the tribes and its tangible forms remain intact for many generations to come. There are many informative books and audio guides available for all visitors. The Museum also has solar panels attached to its roof and runs completely on clean energy. All activities at Singinawa are conducted with the fact that it’s an eco-lodge in mind.

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Here’s hoping that more of you will join us in our endeavors, as guests and as contributors. Only through a collective effort are our goals achievable. Take the journey with Singinawa and walk on the wild side!

My Love for trees and plants!!

Ficus racemosa (Doomar_Goolar).JPG“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”
– Kahlil Gibran
I don’t exactly recall when I discovered my love for trees. Maybe I was always meant to
love them. I still remember being fascinated by their beauty as a child and that
fascination exists till date.
When I purchased the Singinawa Jungle Lodge two years back, one of my first missions
was to re-green the property. The rich natural habitat of the area had been affected by
the presence of the Lodge till then and I felt that it was my responsibility to restore it
back to its original state to the maximum extent. Singinawa was to be an eco-lodge and
an epitome of sustainable tourism. Since then, tens of thousands of trees have been
planted at the Lodge. The effort has been a lot of constant hard work but also one of the
most rewarding projects ever. With every visit, I see more and more progress being
made.
I love discovering new trees during my walks in Singinawa. The canopies of giants, little
pools of light where the rays of the sun managed to find gaps within their leafy branches,
shade paths across the place. There is so much to look at. The Ghost tree stretches its
pale body into the sky while the Mahua releases the intoxicating aroma of its flowers,
from which the locals produce a delectable wine. The Palash is rightly called the Flame
of the Forest, bright red flowers adorning its branches like a thousand rubies. Sal trees
stand upright in their groves like custodians of the forest, ornamented by their blossoms.
Pradip Krishen, in the foreword of Peter Wohlleben’s book, writes that Sal trees die when
planted alone due to loneliness without the company of others of its kind. The book,
called ‘The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries
from a Secret World’, is an absolutely wonderful read. It presents trees as interactive
entities that can feel things the same way as any mobile organism. I could relate to it
because I have always considered them to have distinct personalities. Some are more
sombre, like majestic war veterans with many stories of their life experiences, while
others are more flamboyant, branches dancing at the slightest breeze. Singinawa’s trees
are thoroughly enjoyed by its wild inhabitants who used them for shelter and food.
Congregations of langurs feast on juicy mangoes while Grey Hornbills and other birds
make a meal of Doomar or fig tree fruits. Some trees consider imitation the sincerest
form of flattery, like the Kachnar whose leaves look like camel’s hooves.

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Singinawa also plays host to some stunning varieties of orchids. The Checkered Vanda is one of them. It favors Mango and Terminalia trees, and blooms between March and August. It is believed to be a cure-all and the juice from the compressed plants is often sold as medicine. This has seriously depleted its numbers and we, through our efforts, have successfully managed to give it a good home and protection at Singinawa. Due to the resemblance of the Vanda’s flowers to a devil’s face, it is sometimes referred to as Rakshas or Demon in Goa. Quite unfair, I think. Flowering plants are found in abundance at the Lodge and spring fills the place with vibrancy and redolence. There are bursts of color everywhere. The cool breeze carries with it such exotic fragrances that I can’t help but carry a smile on my face as I walk through.
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We haven’t forgotten to take care of some of our most delicate residents, the butterflies. The larvae of many species can be seen in the host plants at the butterfly habitat. I find it so exciting to find previously unnoticed ones. It just proves that, like the guests at the Lodge, they too enjoy their stay at Singinawa. Whoever is spreading our fame via word of mouth among them, thank you. Maybe it’s one of the Oak Blues or perhaps the Baronets, sipping nectar from the nearby flowers quite nonchalantly.

It has been such a pleasure to pursue my passion for conservation and re-greening at Singinawa. I hope to launch many ventures along these lines in the future. Looking forward to a greener tomorrow!

-Tulika Kedia

MD, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

Phen Sanctuary

Located in the vicinity of the Kanha Tiger Reserve, Phen Sanctuary has led to some wonderful experiences for me. It’s an ideal place to view a host of wild animals and birds. For a wildlife lover like me, Phen provides the fodder for many memorable stories. Let me share what happened during two recent visits.

It takes about two hours to reach Phen from Kanha and I usually leave before daybreak. Its idyllic natural beauty is always laden with promises of adventure. Seeing the giant squirrel as it expertly jumped from one tree to another was definitely a highlight. It took us hours of scanning the trees for the squirrel. We saw many squirrel nests made of fresh leaves and after a while the animal was finally spotted. I marveled at its agility and the fact that it was such a lucky sighting.

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The plateau called Jurji Dadar in the sanctuary reminded me of the Bamni Dadar in Kanha where my husband and I had spent countless days admiring the stunning panoramic view. A hike on foot through a forest trail led to an amazing discovery. We went down some steps and suddenly in front of us there was a small crystal clear water-body and a waterfall that was brimming with fish. It was so pleasant just soaking in the serene atmosphere, embellished by the sound of flowing water and the songs of birds.

Alarm calls of langurs suggested the recent presence of one of the animals they considered a threat and soon enough we noticed fresh pugmarks of a leopard. It was quite exciting! There was a troupe of rhesus macaque in the hills at one time which made me wonder who was more amazed at the presence of the other, us or them. Both parties spent a few minutes watching each other before deciding to move on. One of our visits also led to the sighting of two wild dogs mating. They are commonly known as dhole and found across this region.

Birding is one of my favorite activities and Phen Sanctuary is perfect for it. It boasts of more than 150 species of birds and we were very happy to see quite a few of them, 65 to be exact. There were quite a few varieties of jungle fowl, along with water birds like the Lesser Whistling Duck, Little Grebe and Little Cormorant. The Red-wattled Lapwing was quite interesting to observe due to its characteristic call. It sounds like “did-he-do-it” which has actually led to the Lapwing being nicknamed the ‘did-he-do-it bird’. We saw predatory birds such as the White-eyed Buzzard and Bonelli’s Eagle as well as the Black-winged Kite, with its intense red eyes. Small, brightly colored birds were abundant in the Sanctuary and they added to the already vibrant sights and sounds of the jungle. In a matter of just a few hours we were able to see many Swifts, Minivets and Flycatchers. The Purple Sunbird’s glistening feathers made him stand out from the green surroundings like a dark gem. The Lesser Goldenback woodpecker with its bright red crest proved that punk is not dead in the wild. I love encountering newer species on my birding trips and Phen has definitely expanded my repertoire of knowledge significantly.

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A very remarkable incident occurred during one of my visits. We saw the pugmarks of a sloth bear, a tiger and a leopard in a single PIP (pug impression pad). PIPs are prepared using a thick layer of fine soil on often-used animal paths in the jungle to trace their tracks easily. Finding tracks of three big animals on one is quite rare and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have witnessed it. Another fortunate sighting that could have resulted in unfortunate consequences was when my naturalist and I spotted a burning tree on our way to Phen. We immediately notified the nearest forest officer and a disastrous jungle fire was avoided due to our vigilance. When on a jungle safari, you must keep a lookout for not only wildlife sightings but also anything out of the ordinary.

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Every time I leave Phen Sanctuary, it saddens me that the trip has come to an end. Yet there is a little tinge of excitement at what awaits when I return. There are always newer things to learn, newer adventures to be had. As life continues, so does my passion for nature and wildlife. Try not to limit yourself to the concrete jungle. The real one is out there and it is spectacular.

 

Tulika Kedia

MD, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

My latest sojourn to Singinawa

There are few places in the world that offer a fresh perspective on every visit. Singinawa is, I am proud to say, one of them. Each visit of mine has inspired new stories, letting my love for nature grow fondly. Recently, I decided to go there with my family and I’d love to share the experience with you.

Having owned the Lodge for two years now, stepping into its grounds gives me a sense of familiarity and yet I am exhilarated about what I might encounter. There is always a feeling of adventure that one has when going to a place that is inhabited by wildlife but I am glad to combine adventure with comfort at Singinawa, letting my guests enjoy the best of both worlds. Conservation is very close to my heart and through the Singinawa Conservation Foundation, along with the efforts of my dedicated team, the Lodge has been re-greened quite extensively within a short period of time. This, of course, is an ongoing process and one that I hope to continue expanding with time. The team of naturalists at Singinawa contributes immensely towards educating guests about the huge variety of plants and wildlife that can be found here. With every visit, I notice a positive growth in the right direction.

This time at the Lodge there were plenty of pleasant encounters, expected and otherwise. The antics of the mischievous langurs in the trees have always amused me. At times I try to decipher what they might be chattering about. A trip to the river Tannaur led to a happy sighting. I saw tracks of a hyena on the riverbank, a healthy sign of the animal population in the Reserve. It might have followed a deer or simply come to enjoy a refreshing drink of water. We’ll let that remain a mystery. Deer are quite a common sighting at the Lodge. The lush grasslands that surround it are quite beckoning for the different species that inhabit this region. Spotted deer and families of wild boar graciously visit Singinawa’s guests. Sighting animals is not limited to daytime. The night brings with it its own troupe of wild visitors. I had just stepped out of my room at night when I saw a couple of palm civets nearby. It was interesting to note their explorations of the area in search for some juicy berries or perhaps a crunchy insect. They were very pleasant company for a while before scurrying off.

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The beauty of a luna moth enthralled me during one of my walks. Its gracefully long hind wings made me think of a ballerina in the middle of a quatrième devant, robed in a delicate shade of green. I was honored to have witnessed it during its short life span of a week.

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For me Singinawa is a vision. I endeavor to provide the best habitation to not only guests at the Lodge but also to the natural residents here. One cannot isolate oneself from nature when promoting ecotourism. It is imperative to create a holistic experience where nature plays a pivotal role. This trip has reinvigorated me to continue on my journey of conservation. Looking forward to see what the next one brings.

-Tulika Kedia

MD, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

Breakfast after the Tiger

The renowned National Parks of India which are scattered through the vast country attract a host of wildlife enthusiasts from around the world. Being the wild habitat of the Big Cats, people travel from around the globe to witness these spectacular animals.

Sally and Richard were drawn by the same allure during their visit to the Singhinawa Lodge. We left in the early hours for our morning game drive in the Mukki Zone of the Kanha National Park. While exploring the zone for the majestic tiger, we came upon a host of birds that caught our attention. Nonetheless, the tiger didnt make it appearance and around 8:30 am we decided to go for breakfast and restart our quest after our morning meal.

As luck would have it, as we were settling for breakfast, a park guide alerted us to the sighting of a tigress in a nearby area. The possibility of a sighting got the group excited and we promptly decided to halt the meal preparation, fold our tables and get back on the trail.

When we reached the designated spot of the sighting, another vehicle welcomed us- they were waiting for the same experience. We decided to move our vehicle further ahead and lo behold, around 100 meters ahead the tigress was walking in front of us.

The sheer excitement of seeing this majestic animal got the whole group excited, the wonder of the experience was palpable. As we continued to watch, the tigress stopped and slowly went inside the bamboo thickets. Within a fraction of a second she stepped further inside the bushes and we heard the sound of a kill.

On moving the vehicle further we saw the tigress holding a spotted deer faun in her mouth. The excitement of seeing this episode in the wild right in front of their eyes stunned the group and everything watched with rapt attention. Finally the tigress turned towards us and was now facing the group, giving her audience the opportunity to take pictures and videos of this raw moment in the wilderness.

This memorable sighting is etched in the minds of my companions and I, as none of us had witnessed a tiger kill in real time before. Hilariously the unanimous verdict of the group was “it was worth skipping the breakfast”. We finally went back to have breakfast where we shared our thoughts on this ‘once is a lifetime’ kind of experience. We thanked the park guide for alerting us about the sighting and for having this memorable experience at Kanha that would stay with us all for the years to come.

Sachin Sharma, Naturalist

Singinawa Jungle Lodge.

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