The Black Beauty, Kabini’s Black Panther

The Black Beauty, Kabini’s Black Panther

Nature & Wildlife, Travel
February 18, 2021
min read
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World over, wildlife lovers predominantly celebrate charismatic large cat species such as tigers and lions. In Nagarahole National Park located in India’s southern state of Karnataka, tigers over the years have roared loud and far and have captivated the interest of many people. But in recent years, a different large cat species – the black panther in Kabini has become a ‘junglewood’ legend.

Is Black Panther a different species?

The term ‘black panther’ is most commonly used for a leopard or a jaguar whose body is black. A black panther is not a different species but is essentially a common leopard or jaguar with a genetic mutation. Melanism in cats is caused by a recessive allele that gives them a black coat, hiding their rosettes.

Saaya – The elusive black panther in Kabini

Fondly known as ‘Saaya’ which translates to ‘shadow’ in Hindi, the black panther in Kabini lures many tourists and wildlife enthusiasts alike to tour the dry deciduous forest. Most people privileged to have spotted Saaya have been left spellbound.

“After spotting numerous black panthers on trees which were just branches, on this day, I had a chance to spend some time with the black panther. It was one of the most rewarding experiences so far. His glance towards me was even more dramatic than I had imagined. The sparkling yellow eyes popping out of the black was a thrilling sight to behold”, recounts Jayanth Sharma, an award-winning photographer on his experience of having spotted the black panther in Kabini.

Listen to this podcast in Jayanth’s very own words for the entire story.

When was the rare black beauty first sighted?

Before Kabini, there were known instances of fleeting black panther sightings in Mudumalai National Park, Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve and in the Nilgiri Biosphere. Some reports suggest that the black panther was spotted in the Kabini region of Karnataka’s Nagarhole National Park in the 2014-2015 season for the first time. The occurrence perplexed a few people because they failed to understand how the melanistic cat landed at Kabini as there were no previous records of ever having spotted one in the area.

When the first photos of the black panther emerged, they took social media by storm. Visitors thronged to Kabini to get a chanced sighting. What was once a myth now turned into reality for many. Bagheera had come alive!

Over the years, Kabini’s black panther has been the most photographed individual of its kind.

Saaya’s struggles

Everything has not been all moonlight and rainbows for the black panther in Kabini. Over the years, Saaya, younger and less experienced than other male leopards in the region, has had to fight often to fend for his territory. His most significant adversary is the famous Scarface – a prominent alpha male.

Unlike other common leopards whose rosettes help camouflage them from their prey, Saaya’s shiny black coat blew his cover very easily. Langurs would immediately sound the alarm at the first signs of movement. Hunting was tough.

During the summer months, the black panther’s coat was again a liability, standing out against the brown undergrowth. Having to constantly stay vigilant, keep rival males at bay, and hunt – simply survival perhaps was a problem.

The Dark Lord rises

As the black panther grew older, he grew stronger. He also learned to adapt to the circumstances better and hunted more successfully. In a subsequent brutal battle with one of the fiercest males, the black panther emerged victorious, earning his right to a mate. His mate was arguably the prettiest leopardess in the area – locally called Cleopatra.

The regal romance of the black panther in Kabini

‘Saaya and Cleopatra’ as the regulars call the leopard couple, have been courting for the last four years and whenever they are spotted together, it is a sight to behold. Two beautiful leopards strolling in their fabled abode.

Join us on our Kabini Photo tour here.

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