It was a usual morning drive for me at Kanha National Park. We had Kanha Zone for this particular safari. We entered through Mukki Gate and drove straight to Kanha Meadow, crossing some Saal forest and then through hilly, bamboo-covered terrain. As we were approaching the Kanha Meadow, we heard some Spotted Deer alarm calls. ‘May be a big cat is on the prowl,’ I alerted my guests. Once close to the warning calls, our guide spotted a beautiful female Tiger walking through the meadow. Although there were patches of tall grass in the meadow, we could see her clearly through the gaps. The monsoon season had just passed by, and the meadow was covered with patches of lush green grass and contrasted beautifully with red of the drying grass. It was a surreal sight to see this Tiger walking through the meadow.
After a little while, the Tiger lied down, quite close to the road, and the guests in my car started clicking photos and observing her through the binoculars. Suddenly a group Jungle Babblers started screeching on the opposite side. The undergrowth was dense here, and I could not see a thing. ‘May be a mongoose or a snake,’ I whispered to my guests. The babbler calls grew more and more frantic, and I yet couldn’t see what was happening in the thicket.
The naturalist from the vehicle behind mine whispered, ‘David, there is a Spot-bellied Eagle Owl on the ground there!’ At over 2 feet in length, the Spot-bellied Eagle Owl is one of the biggest owls in the Indian Sub-continent. I tried to explain to my guests that this was a rare owl to see in Central India, and we might not get a chance to see it again, but they were busy clicking photos of the tiger, and ignored my requests to try and see the owl. Everyone in the three vehicles parked there were busy watching the tiger, except for me and my fellow-naturalist friend, who were busy watching and photographing the owl.
After a while, the tiger stood up and started following the babbler calls keenly. The tiger went into stalking mode, and I heard myself shouting in my head, ‘No, this is not happening!’ I was praying that the tiger does not attack the owl. As the tiger closed in, the owl sensed danger and took off. It was carrying a big, dead bird in its talons. The tiger leaped and slapped the owl in mid-air, sending it back to the ground with a thump. All this happened in a split second! The eagle-owl was feeding on a peafowl, which the tiger picked up and walked off into the thickets, leaving the owl on the ground injured.
If you look carefully at the Tiger’s image, you will notice a fold of skin hanging down from her belly. She had been nursing a litter of four cubs at this time. (As I write this today, all her cubs have grown up and at over 2 years of age, have started looking for new territories for themselves.)
I am frequently asked as to what is my best sighting in Kanha, and this without a doubt is one of the best wildlife moments I have ever witnessed!
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge