The black panther of Kabini
I consider two people as my gurus, whose names I would like to disclose. One is N A Naseer. I accepted him as my guru the moment I spotted his wildlife pictures in Yathra Magazine. The second one is Google. I google for everything about camera, lighting and the latest brands and specifications. Thus I equipped myself and set out to explore the thick forests with a camera since 2014. That time, my friend — a bird-watcher — used to accompany me. Predictably, my focus that time happened to be birds. Gradually, I shifted my attention to the feline species when I reached Kabini.
Almost everybody knows that a black panther had long made the dense forests of Kabini its abode. But only very few people honestly take the credit for being lucky enough to have a glance at it. Though I ventured into the thick forest for more than 35 times, happily responding to the irresistible call of wildlife photography, practically nothing other than a few monkeys and birds blessed my camera. Sometimes, I slipped into insurmountable dejection thinking about it and many a time I thought that all my time and money spent on the camera has been an irreparable loss. But, in wildlife photography, nothing is more rewarding than patience, that too boundless reserve of it as only the mother Earth could boast of.
Actually, I have no time to spare from the hassles of my job which is pretty demanding. Amidst the hectic days, finding some time for photography is a great challenge. And also, once the time and money it takes to be a wildlife photographer are managed, then the support of the family also evaporates into thin air. But I came back recharged and rejuvenated after each trip. The energy and happiness the forest instils in me reduced my tension considerably. This was a welcome change for my family also.
The long wait finally brought tigers and leopards before my camera. One such flick was that of a leopard hunting down a deer as the hapless flocks of deer looked on. That photo captured some attention and several attested that it was distinct. Thus my wildlife photography fad slowly got acceptance among my friends. Against this circumstance, when I was on my latest venture to the forest, then this rare luck dawned on me — the black panther appeared before me. I always tucked myself in the Jungle Lodge Safari in Kabini whenever I went there. There is less number of visitors and so your privacy got a little more respect. We started for the safari at 6 in the morning. Ravi and driver Rajesh were with me; most of the time these two are my companions. Then Ravi suggested the route through Beraballa.
Our jeep had sped ahead for just ten minutes; suddenly ‘he’ turned up before us. Did my limbs and arms shiver for a second or two? Because this is what I had been waiting for a long time. Now it happened, that also quite unexpectedly. A sighting that lasted for 10-20 minutes and after that, he turned back and slowly disappeared among the trees. As per the census, there are 200 tigers and 100 leopards in Kabini. And people get to see, most of the times, the same creatures repeatedly. But, there is only one black panther, because nobody claimed so far that they had been able to ‘trap’ him within the frame of a camera. That day, I came back contended that I was blessed with what I had been longing for.
I noticed a super-duper luxury vehicle parked in front of the lodge and instantly I guessed that a well- heeled one had been hosted in the next room. But till then, we had never met or greeted each other. His name was Chet. And the camera with him was obviously British upmarket. The moment we chanced to meet that day, we struck a friendly cord. It was, more accurately, a friendship between two cameras. Every photographer must have such experiences. He ogled at my camera and I at his. When I told him that I had encountered a black panther that day, his interest spurted. Chet, who was planning to leave that day, postponed it for a day. But his accommodation became an issue because his room had already been booked by someone else for the next day. As we became pals by the time, I invited him to stay with us. He slept in the divan in our room that night.
Chet also came with us for the safari that day. Although we had started by 3.30 pm, nothing interesting had come our way. Suddenly a phone call. It was almost 6 pm. The forest added its thickness copiously by the shroud of darkness falling on it. We rushed to the spot, where we were informed that the black panther had been spotted. He was resting on a tree trunk after an act of love. He looked exactly like a hard black rock on the tree top. Every camera lens was focussing on him. Reclining on the tree trunk contentedly, the animal was furtively glancing at us. The cameras which were flashing continuously had more than enough what could be asked for. Everybody was about to turn back. Suddenly, I spotted her through my viewfinder, the lover of the panther – a leopard. She was also in the same tree. I could capture them both in the same frame. My mind was seething with happiness. It is heard that somebody had photographed the mating of a black panther and leopard but so far it has not appeared anywhere.
My plan was to return after the next morning safari. Chet was also with me for that safari as well. I suggested taking a selfie before parting. He agreed happily and came close to me for the photo. We immortalized the moment that way and returned to the room. When I said goodbye, I gave him my visiting card, and he gave me his. I glanced at the card: Chet Kamat, CEO, Oracle Group! Seeing the name and designation, I was dumbstruck for a moment. If I had known that earlier, I never would have got the nerve to ask for a selfie. He is one among the four most recognized talents in his field all over Asia – another panther in every sense! I accepted it as another gift from my constant and trusted companion – my beloved Kabini.
Translated by Madhuvan Geeth
The article was published in Mathrubhumi Yathra April issue