The Photo Story: The Leopards of Kabini

A curious leopard cub explores his new world
Photographer: Shaaz Jung

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS: SHAAZ JUNG

I grew up in awe of the mighty tiger, but it was the leopard and his deft movements that ignited my love affair with the woods. I have spent many days under many trees trying to understand a creature that didn’t want to be understood; the obsessive lure of the evanescent leopard has enticed me to continually tread unknown corridors in search of his ghostly existence. The forest is a labyrinth, with paths as mysterious as the creatures that walk them. Understanding the ways of the forest is essential to understanding the ways of a leopard. Now, many moons later, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve deciphered the peculiar patterns of the spotted kind, but I have, undoubtedly and very intimately, been allowed into the lives of certain individuals that have shaped me as a human being.

In Karnataka’s Nagarhole National Park, the tourism zone encircles the Kabini reservoir. Because of the water body, the manmade waterholes, and the salt licks, the area flourishes with wildlife. It is said to have one of the highest prey densities, with over thousands of kilograms of meat per square kilometer. This has led to a high number of predators. When food is in good supply, territories do not need to be very large. A male leopard’s territory in the Kabini tourism zone ranges from 20 to 30sqkm. A female, on the other hand, needs less than half of that, and, ideally, a male requires two to three females in his territory or on its fringes.

The iconic resident males of Kabini – Scarface, Torn Ears and Monk – and their beautiful leopardesses, Cleopatra, Marble and Tuka, are undoubtedly the charm of this jungle. With the arrival of the black panther, this is truly the home of the elusive.

In most forests, it is the tiger that rules, but, in Kabini, it goes without saying that the king wears spots.

 

A black panther is caught off guard on a dreary monsoon evening
Photographer: Shaaz Jung
An angry leopard emerges from the thicket to guard his fresh deer kill
Photographer: Shaaz Jung
Wild dogs are a leopard’s nemesis. A large male hangs on as dholes circle his tree
Photographer: Shaaz Jung
Scarface, the resident male, and Cleopatra engage in a fiesty courtship
Photographer: Shaaz Jung