Leopards of Kabini
This is a post in progress. It is an effort to curate the sighting and flavor them with the actuals of it that made each and every instance so special. This is what nature has to say through one of its most graceful messengers-The Leopards.
We have just seen one Leopard resting on the branches near the Mastigudi Chain gate enjoying the sweet July sun. After spending a good half an hour with the dominant male we decided to leave and that’s when we heard a single alarm call from a chital. Perplexed, excited we stopped-seconds later our naturalist spelled the magic words-“Leopard… Leopard…!”
The caliph garbed under vibrant spots walked, dodging the bushes and the thick growth of partheniums. It paused for a second and lent a look that disdained our presence and moved quietly into the undergrowth.
2.’Forking the Spots’
This trip was a story of missed chances. After missing a Leopard twice on the first safari near the Temple road and the 5Km stretch, we missed a tiger on the succeeding safari once more at the same 5 K.M stretch. With sighs and prayers we headed to our fourth and final safari.
How often it is told and known that it is not the end, till it is. Zone-A it was and after a relatively dry safari without even a sight of the relatively common elephant and Gaur we headed to Barballe for the last throw of the dice.
With just 20 minutes left for the safari, our driver and a brilliant spotter-Rajesh halted the vehicle murmuring-Leopard!!! Leopard!! Leopard! It took us few seconds to realize its perch which was right beside the safari track.
A male in his prime was perched on the fork of the tree like a regal being enjoying his throne. It gave us hardly 5-10 seconds before it jumped and vanished into the bushes and found comfort in secrecy. We strolled with just one backlit frame-sharing here with you.
Most of us will never see what he is looking at right now. All stories are not fairy-tales but every fairy-tale has a story. Like the flutter of butterfly’s wings doesn’t make noise, life in the forest changes silently.
Kings are made, kingdoms are won, death is cheated and life is welcome-all in an uncanny reticence. At the time of the scene the winds were gentle cradling the smell of the wet greens. The predator’s retina captured a herd of deer, hunger can wait for the night as the kingdom was at stake.
The challenger has taken the vantage position-the ruler had to restore the essence of power. Before every battle there is a pause-a tension-This is the moment you see with the picture.
What happened next is in the picture below:
‘War of the Rosettes’
We spotted 2 leopards within a span of 15 minutes and a distance of 100 meters-A father and his son at one of nature’s greatest theatre-Kabini.
The father-a warrior-a survivor has seen it all. In nature even your own blood rebel, this time the riot was started by the son. While the dash from the caliph (around 4 years old) came down like a thunder the father lost balance and slipped. His claws like the last grip on the edge held tight while his body like a pendulum swung to the rhythm of a resigned fate.
As he gained his strength and got back to the safer heights he growled uttering the soliloquy of an irony that shall move him deeper into the anonymous corners of forest.
This and more scripted a nature’s master piece. Presenting to you ‘the battle of Leopards’.
‘The Twilight Leopard’
We trudged along for hours without a spec of hope. As eagerness gave way to desperate prayers, came a ray of hope-A Leopard has been spotted resting on a tree at Balle. We swayed, we swirled, and we hurried, as we cut through silence of the forest like storm on dry leaves.
We reached, we stopped, we looked-with our pupil dilated, with great difficulty we ultimately spotted the spots-lying on a branch this male was oblivious to us, netted by the thick foliage we could initially only see its hind part and the tail, flicking occasionally like a spider web disturbed by rain drops.
As the falling light handed over its baton to the clouds, the Leopard got down from his perch. The smallest quivering of the grass on the edge of the safari tracks made its presence felt. As the dew drops wetted its naked paws and the body brushed against the parthenium-sprouting afresh from the monsoon showers, it walked the mile unseen even when scores of eyes scanned for another look.
Just when we were giving up hope, he emerged, as if to say goodbye for one last time. The clouds had let go of their guards by now and the twilight brushed the darkest corners of the mysterious woods. A leopard reaching its prime couldn’t have looked better colored by the last shine of the day. Pampered by this beautiful sight, I wished the Twilight leopard my goodbye and with it to Kabini, till I visit next time with renewed hope and dreams.
And suddenly it turned back… After almost half an hour being stuck on my viewfinder, hoping, praying for one look of this majestic individual-after minutes of being motionless with cramp setting in due to the unusual position I have set my window to photograph it-it obliged.
The cloud cover, the humid air, the sweat rolling down from my temple for just one opportunity to frame the cat while it set its eye on me intermixed to plot a perfect evening.
A male leopard it was, responsible to increase the tribe and hope for the species in a land of dreams called Kabini. Tucked in a branch, curtained by canopies it dissolved seamlessly; ‘and suddenly’ it gave me this moment which I am sharing with you.
Zone A it was. Prying eyes, praying soul and dying light were the course of the safari till we came across a herd of elephant displaying amazing grooming behavior in a waterhole.
We left the spot to reach Tiger Tank which boasts of good tiger sighting and on that day chances were higher as there was an incessant alarm call from a Chital. To compound the dying chances our driver also had a glimpse but we weren’t lucky enough. With the camera hanging lower than our hopes we 3 cars (ours being the last) were rallying out of the forest through the Udbur junction.
Right before the safari track gave way to the highway my dear friend and senior naturalist Sukanta Das spotted this beauty with our driver braking right in front of this female Leopard.
The individual was lying flat on the ground camouflaged to an extent where two vehicles moving ahead of us fractions ahead couldn’t spot it. Startled by our sudden pause it gazed at us for a few seconds before retreating back to the bush. Such is life here-where it is not over till it is.
If you can count infinity-you can describe beauty of the moment. The Brain-Fever bird’s intermittent call, sound of the rustling breeze gliding over the morning dew and one of the most graceful cats poised elegantly on the branch, presented a mosaic of inspiration for an inchoate poem. That morning, nature was at its lyrical best and the Leopard its highest note.
As the sunlight articulated its way through the canopy of the summer forest, he hung on the branch like a wall clock frozen in time. Sometimes the depth of silence is understood by the way it is broken-in this instance we humans were the reasons. The otherwise calm milieu was broken by another vehicle that approached with cautious strides. The rolling of the engine disturbed his sleep as he looked up to convey his disapproval.
The soft sun and the baked rosettes churned out a visual delight. An arsonist, it has set the summer forest ablaze with its shining pelt. One of the finest examples of its breed-the male leopard at the zenith of its rule rested peacefully.
As the age old trunk enmeshed its way up, the spots lent the forest its characteristic milieu. It changed sides on the branch like a dancer on her ballet shoes and breathed in the morning warmth.
Such is the story of one usual summer morning in one of the finest forests of our country-Kabini.
The True Picture
I have waited for the moment for the last 4 months-22 safaris to be precise. Kabini is reputed to be the Leopard capital of India but the spots have not earned me a stripe. I have dreamt of my leopard picture on the tree for months, woken up in the middle of the night and have left a prayer to the monsoon winds or the summer breeze, yet every visit had ample memories barring the ones of the rosettes.
‘After a dry summery under the sultry sun we headed to T-junction near Sigur. As we lazily strolled to the cross-section we found a conglomeration of vehicle pointing at a tree. I have had my hopes quashed many a times on every bend, under every gleam of sunshine on an open patch of the forest-thus emotions were apprehensive. Our naturalist while still figuring out for the animal whispered-Leopard
It took a while to figure out and this is what we saw. Yes, there was a leopard, but lot of distractions and not on an ideal patch. Happiness of sighting one soon turned to a despair of not being able to photograph it. Feeling low, we left the track as it was time.
This is what nature is-not under your control. This is what keeps you bringing to the forest for that extra shot you have dreamt for. This is reality-fate-the ‘True Picture’
If you are of the Rosette kind, please visit Wolfpack Outdoors to wear your passion and be rubbed by the Leopard Spots