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Black Panther safari in Nagarhole when the fall back option is seeing a Wild Bengal Tiger

Posted in: India, Posted in: India Wildlife

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Black Panther safari in Nagarhole – when the fall back option is seeing a Wild Bengal Tiger

So, let's all be honest, if you call your wildlife holiday in India a Black Panther safari, you are setting yourself up for a fall. The same could be said of other iconic, rare species; such as Clouded Leopards, African Wild Dogs or the amazing Spirit Bear. In our personal experience of talking to Nagarhole wildlife guides who often spend a whole season at the park - and without resorting to any unethical practices or using camera traps - the chances of seeing a Black Panther are around 5-10%; if you spend an entire month on his ‘tail’. The reality is that most visitors to Nagarhole national park only come for 1 or 2 days; so, their chances are much less. We took a simplistic approach, that if we created a small group Black Panther safari, it should last 6 to 7 days and then hopefully one of those 1 to 2 ‘good sightings’ per month might happen on our watch. With a lot of luck on our side and the Number 1 wildlife guide in Nagarhole, our first two groups managed to see the black panther in 2018.

Nagarhole national park safari – How to plan for a tiger sanctuary like no other?

It truly is a remarkable national park and without a doubt the premier park (by some distant) in southern India. So, if you find yourself in Southern India on a cultural tour or beach holiday and want to give yourself a chance to see wild tiger, leopard and wild dogs (Indian Dhole); then try to find a way to fit in Nagarhole and you must talk to someone who really understands the park, or you could end up with a ‘joke’ safari.

The key point is that due to its history as a hunting lodge and then one of the first wildlife tourism lodges in India, Kabini Jungle Lodge controls the allocation of jeeps inside the park; or Bolero vehicles as they are known in the south. These are absolutely the only suitable vehicle for photographers and it does not matter how many promises you may be given by other lodges or resorts in the area; ultimately it will be the management of Kabini Jungle lodge who will decide how you journey into the park each day and therefore a good starting point would be to book a room inside this colonial resort.

Why you should not just focus on the Black Panther during your Nagerhole safari

Another important point to make about your safari experience in Nagarhole, is that the park is split into two zones, A and B. There are 6 vehicles permitted in Zone A and 5 vehicles in Zone B and to try and be as fair as possible, your allocation of jeep safaris will be split between the two zones. In 2018, the male Black Panther was mainly seen in Zone A and therefore when we visited this side of the park, we generally took a more patient, ‘listening to alarm calls’ approach, to firstly try and determine if the alarm calls were most likely related to leopard activity and then secondly, if that activity was close to the ‘normal’ territory range of the black panther. However, searching in Zone A for the black ghost did not stop us prioritising other alarm calls, or ‘jungle messages’ from other vehicles if that indicated activity of other apex predators; such as tigers, leopards and wild dogs. We were particularly fortunate that there was a very active pack of 8 wild dogs in an area not far from the Black Panther and we had some truly spectacular encounters with them on 2 or 3 occasions, including witnessing a hunt.

Best time to visit Nagarhole for Black Panther

The simple answer to this is SOON; as with all big cats, particularly males, we have no idea of how long he will be able to hold onto his territory and he has already got himself into plenty of scrapes. In fact, shortly before we arrived to start our black panther safari at Nagarhole in March 2018, we were told he had been in a fight with a large standard coloured male leopard and a photo clearly showed a significant part of his cheek missing. We did wonder if this would cause his to ‘lie low’ for a while on the fringes of the other leopards territory, However our brief encounter with him – where he had managed to kill two spotted deer fawns at the same time – shows he was not ready to give up his spot yet and with the incredible prey density at Nagerhole; you can’t blame him.

From a climate point of view, southern India is generally hotter and more humid than the north, so you wouldn’t want to travel too late in the season. However, Nagerhole seems to have its local climate ‘tempered’ a little by the huge Kabini Lake and some early mornings in March, we experienced mist and quite cool starts to the day. Generally, the best time to see big cats in India is March through to May as they concentrate around the few remaining water sources. We would generally stick with March/early April and only delay to May if you can handle the heat and you are maybe looking to photograph the amazing herds of Indian Wild Elephants, which come to eat the succulent grasses at the edge of the receding waters of the lake – they can number up to a Hundred.

If you would like to experience the beauty and excitement of a Nagarhole wildlife safari check out our small group Black Panther wildlife tour and safari or contact WhatsApp Allan, who led one of the successful tours in 2018. You can also email us at [email protected].

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