Mithun explains how he met the heartthrob of Kabini; Zaya and Cleopatra
Recently, the unique photo of a black panther resembling 'Bagheera' from ‘The Jungle Book’ alongside his mate, a leopardess, went viral on social media and made headlines in the national media.
As the image went viral, inquiries were made on social media about who captured the two magnificent animals. There was also some controversy over the credit for the picture.
It was Mithun H, a 31-year-old wildlife photographer from Bengaluru, who captured this black panther named Zaya and his mate leopardess named Cleopatra, on his Nikon D5 camera. Mithun talks to mathrubhumi.com about the viral click 'The Eternal Couple' and his wildlife photography career.
For more than 11 years, wildlife photography has been Mithun's life breath. Zaya and Cleopatra came in front of Mithun's camera from the jungles of Kabini in Karnataka. Mithun was filming for the show 'The Real Black Panther' for the National Geographic Channel.
About 'The Eternal Couple'
I can still close my eyes and relive that moment every single day of my life. You don't see that often. It’s probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. There was certainly a lot of waiting and patience that went behind. I had waited 6 days for this in the same spot since I could hear the black panther and leopardess mating about 100 metres away in the thick undergrowth but could not see them due to limited visibility. They had made a large kill and would not move until it was over. That is where the knowledge and years of experience of following and tracking the panther came in handy. I just had to wait at one of his favorite paths since that was the place he would get her since that was the edge of his territory, and this he did after 6 days. It was a fruitful wait though. I could wait for 6 years for a moment like this. This was shot in the winters of 2019 with a Nikon D5.
Why the names Zaya and Cleopatra?
Zaya means Shadow in Hindi, the way the Black Panther moves about like a shadow in the jungle is true to his name. Cleopatra is the beautiful Egyptian Queen, so this female loves to chill on trees in a royal posture and hence the name.
That huge male tiger changed my life
Having been born and brought up in the jungles of South India, I always had a passion for wildlife and big cats ever since I can remember myself as a kid. Photography was a means to immortalise the moments I see in the wild. Picked up my first camera in 2009 and was treated to a magnificent sight of a huge male tiger swimming and wading through a flowing river with ease. That was the moment I decided my way forward in life.
'The Real Black Panther'
The show 'The Real Black Panther' on the National Geographic Channel was truly special. To be able to work on one creature for an extended period of time and follow his journey was truly special. To be in the park, day in and day out for 10 hours a day documenting wildlife was a different experience. It gave me an insight into this world of cinematography and how it works, which was very helpful.
Most dangerous situation ever faced
Not many. Most of the situations are with Elephants; when they get protective about their calves or lone male tuskers in musth. I got charged by elephants once when I was on foot as part of a census activity in Kabini. You will be surprised by the speed of these gentle giants. That was a scary experience. It definitely has some dangers associated for sure. But if you know your limits and study animal behaviour, which is the most important facet, then you have won half the battle. These beautiful creatures are generally more scared and shy than we think. Generally when you respect them and give them their space, then there is absolutely no danger in wildlife photography. The secret is patience and respect.
Opinion on Zoological parks
As sad as it is to see the animals caged up inside confined spaces, definitely not a fan of that. The animals are supposed to be in the wild, roaming freely in their habitat and not at the mercy of humans. Although one of the thought processes also is that Zoos provide education and awareness among the people.
The most beautiful forest you have been in
Kabini is definitely home and one of the most beautiful parks for sure. Apart from that, BR Hills is another place I love because of the rolling hills and the dense evergreen habitat. In the North the terai landscape of Corbett is just breathtaking.
Most favorite camera
I'm a Nikon user and use the Nikon D5 currently but I still love the earlier D3s. The low light performance of that camera was mind blowing.
Your advice to wildlife photography aspirants
Just pick up a camera and explore the woods. You are your best teacher and shoot for yourself. Have an alternative career that can fuel your passion. And always give importance to your binoculars more than the camera because then you have won half the battle.
Panther in the Rain . Fresh from a few days days back where we tracked the Black Panther on a beautiful monsoon drive in Kabini. . After nearly 3 months( longest ever) I was desperate to see this enigmatic creature. More so since when we last saw him in March he was involved in a mega tussle for territory and females with the new Khymara Male Leopard. It was simply magical to spend quality time with him again in the heart of his territory on a beautiful moss laden tree with the rains pelting down. He is looking fitter and stronger than ever before. Stay tuned for more pictures and stories to come from this surreal encounter. . #kabini #love #leopard #nikon #wild #Natgeo #mithunhphotography #instagood #instadaily #jungle #bigcat #forest #wildlifephotography #nature #wildlife #blackpanther #melanistic #therealblackpanther #thebisonresort