GHOST OF THE JUNGLE
The wilderness has been my second home since my teens and among the long wish list of animals to be photographed, the pride of the place was obviously the Black Panther in the wild. Over the 3 decades of wild life photography across the world, the list had considerably shrunk to just a handful and yet the ‘Ghost of the Jungle’ remained the most elusive.
August 6, 2017 would be etched in golden letters in my memory. My family and a few friends were on our last Morning Safari of our holiday at Kabini, which had been a great one for the previous days were filled with action including the elusive Tigers and Dholes.
The morning was a bit cloudy as we set out on a Jeep Safari
into Zone A of the jungle. Hardly 10 minutes in, we heard a clear Langur warning call. Switching off the engines, checking for the direction of the call and the wind direction, we waited in silence, when a message from the jeep ahead confirmed the call and the spotting of BLACK !!! the infamous code for the Black Panther.
We drove to the spot in a couple of minutes and there, in all his majesty, on a branch about 500 meters into the jungle stood this magnificent predator – THE BLACK PANTHER!!!
Out came the long lenses and the DSLR’s in their burst mode
sounded like automatic rifles cracking the silent jungle atmosphere. We went berserk and trigger happy filling up terabytes of images and videos as the beast posed lazily on the branches. Those mesmerizing blue eyes (though they appear yellow from a distance) were fixed on us for a while and then turned away, to what we later realised was his mate, who slowly made a grand entry on the nearby tree – much to the annoyance of the langurs who went wild with their alarm calls.
This was a dream come true moment for any wildlife photographer - a Black Panther on one tree and a Leopard on another tree nearby . . . . a great to have dilemma on what to focus and photograph . . . . it was exciting shooting alternating bursts between the Panther and the Leopard for a full 25 minutes before it was time to get back before the forest gate closing time.
On the way back, we had to pinch ourselves to make sure the past hour was real. We were in a state of trance, and took a while to get back to our normal senses. One of the most treasured moments in life, which we would enjoy recalling and reliving every moment.