We knew where we had to be. We were on the lookout for the black panther of Kabini. The ghost of the forest. We entered the park at first light and made our way towards the core of the panther's territory. It was early and an eerie blue haze lingered below the tall forest canopy.
We stopped often. This is important when tracking any cat in terrain as dense as this. Visibility is limited to the road & a marginal area cleared either side of it. If you are going to see a leopard here, you need to have you wits about you.
You need to listen. Listen to the sounds of the forest. Listen to alarm calls given by deer, by squirrels, by birds and by the monkey's up above. They will tell you when a predator is on the move, they'll give his position away.
You need to watch. You have to keep your eyes open, pay attention to not only the road up ahead, but also the road behind. A leopard could cross within minutes and you would have missed it all.
You need intuition. We had Shaaz Jung, one of the world's most loved photographers right now. Fortunately, he's a tracker by heart and that comes first. And then, there was me. The two of us combined years worth of experience and coupled with obvious skills mentioned above, you need a sixth sense. You need to be able to understand your subject, and you need to know where they'll be before they get there. This is key, especially in Kabini.
Yes, we were on the lookout for the black panther, an iconic animal and in terms of the ability to be photographed, one of a kind. Kabini had different plans for us though.
Out of the blue, we were met by none other than Scarface, the most dominant male leopard in the region. He was completely out of his territory and was intruding right in to the core of the panthers domain.
He's an incredible cat to see. Large, strong and powerful, oozing confidence with every single stride. He crossed the road up ahead and lay down for a few seconds on the leaf-litter next to the road. It was incredible to see how well camouflaged he was. If you blinked he would surely disappear from sight.
We watched him for a few seconds before he stood up and walked away into the blue forest. I snapped another pic of him disappearing. It was a haunting sight and one to remember. Here this incredible cat appeared right where we were. We could so easily have missed him. This forest is dense and thick and finding a cat is not easy. But here he was, in all his magnificence & he put on a short show for my guests, one that they'll hopefully remember for a lifetime to come.
It was all over in a matter of minutes. A brief encounter with a Kabini legend.
He came, and he went.
Marlon du Toit