In the Shadows of the Panther: A Photo Journal

In the dense forests of Kabini, the overpowering canopy often conceals the sky. So when the panther emerged and walked towards the fleeting colours of the setting sun, I knew I was witnessing something special. Yes, he did pause to give us a look, but there was something extraordinarily peaceful about watching the most enigmatic cat, walking into one of the greatest skies I had ever witnessed.

~ Shaaz Jung, nature photographer.

The black panther is a creature of stunning monochrome beauty. It is the melanistic variant of the leopard in Asia and Africa, and the jaguar in the Americas, a variant that is genetic in origin. For four years, wildlife photographer Shaaz Jung has followed and photographed this elusive cat in the jungles of India. His recent exhibition ‘Dawn of the Panther’, showcased the life of an individual black panther through the changing seasons. It starts in an unusual setting where the panther is seen thriving in a dry and deciduous forest before the habitat slowly changes due to the seasonal rains, giving it a lush finale.

We knew the winds would someday bring home a creature that would slowly become the soul of this forest. He rules the tallest trees, commands the flight of ravens, directs the clouds and brings new order to a timeless jungle that now radiates around his enigmatic aura. He is the perfect paradox and without a doubt the hardest cat I have ever tracked.
That lonely feeling, when the forest goes eerily silent but you know you’re not alone. That paranormal sensation where you can’t help but feel like you’re being watched. On most days, I look around and see nothing. But sometimes, when the wind dies and the leaves stop swaying, your eyes meet their eyes.
We drove out at first light and watched darkness lift to reveal nothing but ambiguous shapes in the thick mist. We parked ourselves under the old Banyan, where he was seen the day before. The silence was deafening and dawn was like the dead of night. No songbirds sang, no crickets hummed yet there was an eerie sensation of being watched. Spending years on the same track, tracking the same animals, strengthens your intuition and within minutes a ghostly figure slowly took shape on the road ahead. It drifted by us in absolute silence and was by far my most chilling experience with the black panther
At the gates of dawn, the warm glow of first light and then, darkness hung between the trees of life.
Crows sensed an arrival, monkeys gathered on the outstretched arm of a tall tree as the steady hum of crickets swallowed the last birdsong. Darkness neared and as the crows took flight and darkness showed itself.
I found myself under the ancient trees of life, as silver raindrops danced and wild flowers reached for the sky. The air was rare that day, laden with secrets, and in that powerful silence, I found the Panther.
In the dreamworld my moonlit leopards were real. In the real world, they were just a dream.
Darkness lives, all light must die, for the night shall walk, when the ghost birds cry.

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