Shaaz Jung, whose shots recently went viral on social media, first spotted the panther—named "Saya" aka Shadow—in 2015 on the fringes of the tourism zone in Karnataka's Nagarhole Tiger Reserve in India.
Cover Image Source: Instagram/Shaaz Jung
It's raining black cats! A majestic black panther was captured on camera in all its glory by a dedicated wildlife photographer who has been tracking the beast for the past five years. The elusive animal was photographed by the renowned artist and photographer Shaaz Jung in Karnataka, India, and the results are truly beautiful. Jung, whose shots recently went viral on social media, first spotted the panther—named "Saya" aka Shadow—in 2015 on the fringes of the tourism zone in Karnataka's Nagarhole Tiger Reserve. In the years since, the photographer has spent hours on end every day waiting for a glimpse of the magnificent feline.
A black panther roaming in the jungles of Kabini, India. pic.twitter.com/UT8zodvv0m— Earth (@earth) July 4, 2020
According to Scroll, the Nagarhole National Park and Tiger Reserve stretches between Kodagu and Mysuru districts in Karnataka and is home to a variety of birds and wildlife including tigers, elephants, bison, sambar, barking deer, sloth bears, wild boars. Although it used to be an exclusive hunting reserve during the rule of the Wodeyar dynasty, it was converted into a wildlife sanctuary in 1955 and upgraded to a national park in 1988. In 1999, it was declared a tiger reserve and was brought into the fold of Project Tiger.
Speaking to India Today about when he first set eyes on the black panther, Jung said: "It's been an absolutely incredible journey. I've been studying leopards for the past ten years. But in 2015, I first encountered this melanistic leopard and it gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity to finally shed some light on the master of darkness. To finally document an animal that hadn't been studied this intimately before."
When asked if his meeting Saya was a chance encounter or a conscious effort to track the animal, Jung revealed that it took him a whole year to track down the beast.
"He hadn't established his territory yet so I spent a year on safari, trying to track him," he said. Jung, who was the director of photography for the National Geography film The Real Black Panther, also explained how difficult it was to photograph the panther over the years.
"From 2017 to 2020 we had a filming and research permit and for the first time ever, we had to make a film on this melanistic leopard. So that required hours and hours every day to track this animal. He really teaches you the art of patience because eight to ten hours a day, every day, and I'd be extremely happy and lucky if we saw him for maybe 12 seconds or 15 seconds a week," he revealed.
Jung also wrote a beautifully crafted tribute to the elusive Saya on Instagram at the end of last year, sharing some of his favorite snaps of the leopard over the years. My 2019 belonged to the world's most elusive. Over 150 sightings, 8TB of images, 50TB of footage, a National Geographic film, and a lifetime of unforgettable memories. We spent ten hours a day, every day, trying to understand the black panther but true wisdom in the jungle is knowing you know nothing about its true origins.
Every day was a journey into the unknown, as we attempted to unravel the secrets of a cat very few have documented long enough to understand not just his character, but also the little idiosyncrasies that make him unique, he wrote.
The result is an overwhelming portfolio, and possibly the first in the world, of a melanistic leopard in the wild hunting, mating, fighting, and thriving against the odds of natural selection. I want to thank all of you for being a part of my journey this year.
The jungle can be a lonely place but thanks to all of you, never have I felt alone. Nature is where it all begins and I hope my work this year has inspired you to fall in love with the wilderness and visit the jungles, Jung concluded.