I had returned to India after a stint in the U.S. just in time before the tiger reserves were closed down at the onset of monsoon. It was just a couple of months after the Black Panther was first seen, and the nation was gung-ho about the rare specimen. As was always the case, I was excited, but also skeptical of my own luck flourishing enough so as to get me a sighting of the animal.

I never really thought much about making a trip to Kabini immediately and was quite content about having safaris coming up in Kanha. However, my mother who has always been one to encourage my passion for wildlife photography, insisted that I do a short solo trip to Kabini to test my chances. That’s how I found myself in Kabini, on my first ever solo wildlife trip. Given the purpose of the trip, I was inclined to ignore everything else going on in the forest and focus my best energies on tracking the “blackie” as it is now widely known.

kabini black panther

Photograph: Bhargava Srivari

 

I spent two days in the same area where the naturalists believed the Black Panther was, without any success. On the second day though, we were blessed with a sighting of a tigress and her three cubs walking on the forest road. This was a chance sighting thanks to us holding on to the same area without tracking any other wildlife. My safari mates, who by now became good friends, were on cloud 9 with this sighting and decided to end their trip and head back home. I decided to stay on for another day, and as fate would have it, it started pouring cats & dogs that afternoon. Amidst fears of a washed-out game drive, we set off on safari and thankfully the rain relented, allowing us to continue our pursuit of the much elusive black cat.

kabini black panther

Photograph: Bhargava Srivari

 

With nothing but the beautiful green environs to soak in, I and our naturalist picked up binoculars and started to look about on trees for any sign of life. This was when I heard our naturalist utter the three magical words “Sir, Black Panther”! It took me some time to spot the animal cuddled up on a far away and high tree branch in the rain, but once I saw it, there was no mistaking it that I finally set my eyes on one of the rarest creatures to roam the wild. I was blessed to have gotten time with the animal, which was very relaxed in our presence, and made images to my soul’s content. It remains my only sighting of the famed being while several of my friends have seen him many times thereafter, but then you can’t always ask for more.