Kabini Black Panther safari at Nagerhole
Giving yourself the best possible chance to see the fabled Black Panther in the jungles of South India, required meticolous planning, an expert guide and of course, lots of luck! We give you the insider tips on how to do it and explain why our two small group safaris there in March 2018 were successful.
Planning the Black Panther safari at Kabini, Nagerhole
These days with the power of social media and many wildlife photographers posting from the ‘field’, it is easier to identify patterns of behaviour and the appearance of certain species that were once considered incredibly rare and almost impossible to see in the wild. Having travelled in India for 21 years, I have assembled a great network of contacts and wildlife guides who keep us abreast of what is happening in the very dynamic and wildlife rich national parks of India.
So when you hear about a male melanistic leopard being seen 4/5 times a month in Nagerhole national park, you can then start to plan how to put together a big cat safari which will at least give your clients a chance to see the Black Panther.
A complicated park to organise the Black Panther safari – how to overcome obstacles!
Having travelled to Nagerhole myself on a recce trip a couple of years before, I was already well aware of one particular and slightly peculiar aspect of organising wildlife safaris in the park. The park authorities run two very different type of vehicles inside the two zones (A and B). One of them is called a Bolero, which although it has a slightly higher wheel base than the more ‘low slung’ jeeps you find in central India; does provide wildlife photographers with a good base to photograph from and nice open windows to capture that special wildlife encounter. The other vehicle is the ‘dreaded’ canter; which resembles a small army style bus and can hold as many as 30 people – YIKES. The very important point to make here is that unless you are the BBC or National Geographic (both were making documentaries in Nagerhole during our visit in March 2018), you will only have a ‘chance’ to be in a Bolero if you are staying at Kabini Jungle Lodge (they control all the vehicles in the park) and if you are part of a small group. Even the Bolero style vehicles will be filled with 9 clients, unless the company you are travelling with is able to set a limit. On our side, this required several letters to the owners and management of ‘Jungle Resorts’ to get the clearance and probably one of the reasons we managed to get the Bolero for 100% of our clients drives, was because we booked two groups with the lodge during March.
How to find the Black Panther in Kabini?
As you would expect this is not an exact science and anybody who tells you such a sighting of a rare animal like the Black Panther is guaranteed is best avoided. However, when planning such a leopard safari in India, we can use the evidence of the frequency of sightings to calculate how many safaris we need to give ourselves a chance. Our research showed us that he was being seen around 4/5 times a month, so we planned for a full week of safaris; infact 15 separate jeep safaris in total. To put that into perspective, while we were at Kabini Jungle Lodge, we did not meet any other group who stayed more than 3 nights – apart from the filming companies already mentioned.
We then chose an expert wildlife guide who had basically learnt his ‘craft’ in the jungles of south India and had spent several years tracking and guiding in Nagerhole. When I use the word ‘tracking’ I don’t say that lightly as my experience during March was how often we stopped the vehicle to listen for alarm calls and also how often we heard one of the prey species call. During our stay we heard Sambar, Spotted Deer, Muntjac, Langur, Giant Squirrel and Jungle Fowl alarm call and provide us with our very own jungle GPS to track the moving predator. Indeed, our sighting of the Black Panther happened when our guide heard a faint Langur call at the very end of the safari and rushed to a spot where we glimpsed the melanistic leopard with two spotted deer fawns it had recently killed.
Apart from the Black Panther, what other predators can you expect to see at Nagerhole?
One of the best things about Nagerhole is the high density of prey – I have never seen such huge herds of spotted deer in any Indian national park – attract all the major predators and although you might be looking for the Black Panther, you are just as likely to come across a tiger, standard leopard or wild dogs and you drive through its beautiful forest. During our one week wildlife safaris, we managed to see 7 tigers, 5 Leopards and multiple sightings of a pack of 8 wild dogs (Dhole) – who we even managed to follow while they were hunting. Infact, we have now designed a very special ‘Monsoon Wild Dogs and Leopard safari’ to take advantage of the time of year when the dogs are seen with their pups. The young ones have so much energy and just want to play all the time, so this makes them a personal favourite for wildlife photographers.
Now is the time to plan your Black Panther safari – don’t wait too long!
It’s a simple equation really, as a tiger population grows in India’s national park the leopard population gets pushed to the fringes and sightings become less frequent. Nagerhole now has around 90 tigers and we were delighted to see them, as well as the Black Panther. However, if this population continued to grow, then it is almost inevitable that leopard sightings in general will become rarer inside the park. We have already booked space for a repeat of our successful Black Panther safaris in March 2019 and we would love it, if you were able to join us.