A tourist in India found himself in the perfect place at the perfect time when he spotted a rare black leopard on his first ever safari.
Abhishek Pangis, from Pune in western Maharashtra state, probably had some high hopes about the animals he’d see during a two-day safari trip with his parents in Tadoba Reserve this June. As it turns out, he got a photo many professional photographers would have given their right arm to have captured.
The 23-year-old, who studies engineering, came face to face with the leopard during the second day of his trip, and said he’d never seen anything so beautiful.
The rare animal owes its dark coat to melanism, with excess black pigment developing in the skin or hair due to a recessive genetic mutation.
Melanism allows the leopard to blend into the shadows and become nearly invisible in the dark, and Abhishek acknowledged that professional wildlife photographers spend countless hours, and lots of money, in efforts to catch a glimpse of such rare animals.
Recalling the incredible moment he spotted the leopard, Abhishek admitted that his mind ‘went blank’ when he first laid eyes on it.
I knew there are black leopards but I was very lucky to have spotted it during my first safari trip.
Typically, visitors to Tadoba Reserve only spot the black leopard for two or three minutes, if they’re lucky enough to see it at all. However, Abhishek was able to observe the unique animal for an impressive 40 minutes, which is just as well, because at first he was too awestruck to remember he had a camera with him.
I was completely stunned and came back to my senses after 10 minutes and started clicking pictures.
I was very lucky as I could see it for 40 minutes. I witnessed it drinking water from a pond, marking its territory and stalking langurs and monkeys. It was a brilliant experience.
We saw him in peak summer of June last month when it was 40-45 degrees of extreme heat, as there is more chance of the wild cats coming out for water. At one point, this leopard, who should be four years old, even walked past our jeep. It was a surreal moment.
There were more than 10 safari jeeps on Abhishek’s trip, but many of them left before the visitors laid eyes on the leopard. Only three or four vehicles stayed behind, and when the black leopard come out into the open the 23-year-old was the only one with a camera to capture the scene.
I’ve no doubt the experience exceeded expectations, and we can only thank Abhishek for ‘coming to his senses’ and allowing us all to see the leopard through his pictures.