I was on safari with family friends from the other side of the world, and on that chilly morning, we had already seen a Tiger tread the beautiful forest in lovely winter light. Seeing ‘success’ in the first few minutes of the jungle drive brought contentment to my safari inmates, and emboldened me to ask our driver to head on a route none had taken that morning, as the other vehicles had gone in search of the famed Black Panther to the area of the park where he was last seen. We drove along familiar forest roads for most of the morning, halting every once in a while, to observe bird life and listen to the sounds of the forest.
On one such pit stop where I was photographing the Indian Pitta on the forest track, where the track plunged into a seasonal nallah, hiding everything beneath while you looked at it from afar, I noticed a yellow dot walk into the camera viewfinder from behind the tiny bird. I lowered the lens and looked at the road, only to find a magnificent Tigress heading towards us. I noticed something unusual about the way the tigress sashayed down the forest track and reached for my binoculars to observe her more clearly, and what I saw blew my mind.
The bold big cat had a fully-grown dead Deer hanging by its mouth! I asked everyone in our safari vehicle to stay low and calm, allowing the Tigress to come closer and remain comfortable in our presence. The tiger was clearly surprised to find us when she finally made her way up the depression on the road and sensing that she might wander off into the thick bush on the sides, I asked our driver to back off and give the animal some space. As we reversed and amplified the distance between us, the Tiger relaxed and continued on its path towards us, all the while dragging along the carcass.
We realized that this was a new mother and had perhaps made a kill far away from where she hid her cubs. To feed her cubs, she had two options – to hide the kill and then come fetch her cubs to walk the distance to the kill or bring the kill to the secret place where she hid her cubs. It was apparent that she chose the latter as she would have found it difficult to hide the carcass from scavengers.
What followed was an exciting half hour of natural history, when we were fortunate to observe how much of a struggle it is for a tiger mom to keep her cubs well fed. The tigress dragged the heavy carcass over a long distance, but every few hundred meters it was apparent that she got tired and then would drop the carcass and rest herself for a few minutes before setting off on her mission again. It was a joy to see that when she eventually reached her cubs with the kill, the cubs were elated and fed to their heart’s content.