The winner takes it all
It was a usual summer morning at Tadoba National park, a famous tiger sanctuary from central India. No one from our vehicle would have thought that this would be one of the best sighting of their life. As usual early in the morning we left from our resort in our gypsy, we entered from Moharli gate and decided to check the Telia Lake zone, to see if there is any movement of tigress Sonam and her four cubs.
As soon as we reached the spot, we could hear spotted deer alarm calls from opposite side of the lake. Sudden adrenaline rush got us, we hurriedly readied our cameras and driver took a proper position for our gypsy. Soon we saw two wild dogs (dholes) chasing a huge male spotted deer on the opposite side, they reached the edge of water in no time, the deer got cornered and had no other option than to jump into the large water body. The deer was swimming close to the edge of the water body but as both the dogs were following its movement, the deer decided to cross the water body and started swimming toward the centre of the lake. It was not even half way through the lake, when we saw three arrow shaped ripples slowly moving closer to the deer. A chill went down our spine, someone from other vehicle murmured “oh God.. crocs! crocs!!” with every passing minute those arrows were closing in on the deer.
Through our camera’s view finder we could see the terrified deer trying frantically to out-swim the crocs, but in vain. One of the mugger crocodile reached the deer. We could see large splashes of water. The fully grown deer was not going to give up so easily. For a moment both the deer and the mugger disappeared from the surface of the water, we thought this is it. But soon the deer’s head reappeared above water surface, his eyes were popping out the fright of death was clearly visible in his eyes. The crocodiles kept drowning him and it kept coming up, the struggle continued for some time. But finally the head disappeared for the last time.
At the same time of this drama happening inside the water another drama was unfolding on the land. Soon after the deer jumped in the water, hearing all the commotion the queen of the Telia lake Sonam came out from forest which was at right side of our vehicles, soon followed the Male tiger bajarang from the far side of the lake, probably fearing for the wellbeing of her cubs which were behind the bund of the dam. Their presence was enough for the dogs to quickly disappear from the scene.
We were quite happy with the early morning action-packed drama and now enjoying the rather calm sighting of Sonam. She was walking around the lake and one by one her cubs also appeared. We were enjoying the visual treat the light was perfect and mother and cubs were giving us ample opportunity to take some good images. The huge Bajarang male also came out from the bushes and posed for us for some time.
After some time the spotted deer body reappeared at the water surface. Sonam noticed this instantly. We could also see the crocs guarding their prized kill. As the deer was on our side of the lake she circled entire lake and came to our side of the lake. The brave lady soon dived in the water and swam towards the kill. She grabbed the deer by neck and started swimming towards our side of the bank. This powerful animal pulled it out of the water and dragged it for good fifty metres in front of our vehicles to a secure location in the woods where she and her cubs can devour it without any disturbance.
Sonam became famous after the television show named ‘Tiger sisters of Telia’ by Discovery channel. She is the dominant amongst the four female litter of tigress Madhuri and eventually drove all her sisters and her mother Madhuri out from the Telia lake area and made this her territory. She is still ruling this zone and now has four cubs. The father of these cubs ‘Bajarang’ is also frequents this zone.
Text and images by Sangram Govardhane Panel Expert, DCP Expeditions