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Tea and Snakes served here!

Short-toed Snake Eagle, Kabini -

If you’ve ever wandered off the urban jungle into the hinterland of India, chances are you’d have been assailed with sign boards and menus that shocked the palate and tickled the funny bone, albeit inadvertently. Pride of place probably goes to the all too common boards outside wayside eating joints with signs reading, ‘Tea and Snakes.’ While the sign writer has obviously made a meal (or snack) of the Queen’s language, he might be celebrated for getting it right if his client happened to ply his trade in Kabini. For here, where the customer is often short-toed and yellow-eyed, the snacks are quite literally snakes. In fact, even the main meals are snakes, with the odd side order of lizard, frog and rat. While smaller snakes and reptiles are swallowed up whole, they’re far from wholesome. The Short-toed Snake Eagle of Kabini prefers a more substantial repast of Rat Snakes and Keelbacks, and, when in an adventurous mood, the occasional Cobra or Saw-scaled Viper. He spends most of his time on the wing, soaring over the biosphere, keeping a keen lookout lest a tasty morsel slither by. And when he does spot a likely looking meal, he swoops down silently to issue a challenge. It’s usually an unequal battle between the diner and his dinner, and after putting his sharp talons and beak to good use, the eagle settles down to a well deserved meal. While not usually loquacious, he has been known to let out an appreciative whistle or two after a particularly satisfying dinner. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, and are invited to meet a resident raptor over a convivial cup of tea, please don’t forget one thing. Bring your own snacks.

Photograph: Kiran Poonacha Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy

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