A tiger’s diet in the wild can be really varied as they can predate on pretty much everything in their turf, even though it is ungulates that predominantly make up their prey base. I have seen tigers feed on leopards, Sloth Bears, pythons, monitor lizards, crocodiles, bullfrogs, langurs, peafowl and even Jungle Babblers. But I had never seen them predating on soft-shelled turtles, till the morning of April 2, 2021, in Ranthambhore National Park. I have seen tigers, mostly cubs, “playing” with turtle shells often, but rarely with living turtles. And they lose interest as soon as the turtle recedes into its shell.
On April 2, we found a sub-adult tigress called Riddhi sitting at the edge of Rajbagh Lake. She had recently separated from her mother’s guardianship but was still residing within her mother’s home range.
She would avoid any confrontation with her more powerful mother by staying well away from her. A few minutes later, we heard alarm calls from a distance indicating that another tiger (most probably her mother – Arrowhead) was approaching. Riddhi instantly got up and started moving away from the direction of the calls.
We drove almost halfway around the shore of the lake to get to where we thought she was heading, and when we got there, we found her sitting right next to what appeared to be a turtle – an Indian Softshell Turtle.
Some moments later, the turtle tried to run away, which in my opinion, proved to be a huge mistake. The tigress got up to take one step forward and grabbed the turtle by the right hind leg that was protruding out of the shell.
She then picked up the helpless turtle and carried it to an opening in the grass, a few feet away, and started chewing on the leg that she was holding.
Within the next minute, she had opened up the shell around the right hind leg to eat up the entire turtle.
That’s when the alarm calls of Spotted Deer started up once again, and Riddhi left the turtle and walked away to get away from whatever was approaching her. We tried following her but lost her in another large patch of grass.
We went back to where the turtle was and amazingly found it still alive, lying upside down with a chunk of its body missing and desperately trying to flip over. We had to leave, but we were informed later by the forest guards that the tigress had come back to finish her meal.