Social media has been lit up the past couple of weeks by a stunning photo of a leopard and black panther couple living their best lives in an Indian forest . Originally captured in 2019 by wildlife photographer Mithun H, the pair have been reportedly courting since 2016 and were nicknamed “The Eternal Couple”. Black panthers and leopards come from the same species – panthers are an all-black variation of their spotted counterparts. Both variations can interbreed and the offspring would not be hybrids.
Initially, photos of Saaya, the male black anther went viral after he was photographed in the Kabini Forest reserve in Karnataka, India. He was flawlessly beautiful, and people online likened him to Bagheera from ‘The Jungle Book’.
Later on, a photo of Saaya and his mate, Cleo the regular leopard hit the media, and people can’t get enough of the stunning novel couple. They looked so unusual that some people attributed the photo to the excellent skills of a pro-Photoshop artist. However, several photos were later released by Mithun H, and the couple is as real as they get.
He posted a close-up and far-shot of the same picture on his Instagram page on Saturday, July 19.
“Saaya and Cleopatra have been courting for 4 years now and whenever they are together it’s a sight to behold. The forest comes alive as they trot nonchalantly in his fabled kingdom. Usually in the courting pairs generally it is the Male who takes charge and moves around with the female following close behind. But with this couple, it was definitely Cleo who was in charge while the Panther followed,” Muthin wrote in the caption.
A once-in-lifetime shot
Mithun had spent a long time observing the amorous yet adorable couple in the forest. Although the two began courting in 2016, they’d been members of the reserve for a much longer period.
“The female Cleopatra has been a heartthrob of Kabini since 2009,” he tells My Modern Met . “I have followed her for 12 years now—ever since she was a tiny cub. The panther Saaya entered our lives in 2014 as a sub-adult shy cat trying to establish territory. It was only in 2016, when he finally asserted his dominance, that he paired up with Cleo for the first time and I have followed their journey since.”
Mithun spent days in the forest with the big cats trying to capture them together from a specific angle. He knew exactly what he wanted to capture but the couple wasn’t cooperating, completely oblivious to his presence. He struck out on the sixth day when the pair made a big kill and were enjoying a feast. Mithun sat in his spot, knowing they would walk away together the moment they finished with their meal.
Finally, as the beautiful couple began to make way their back, Mithun caught their attention and they stared right into his camera with two pairs of bright, golden eyes.
“I can still close my eyes and relive that moment every single day of my life. You don’t see that often. Probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he recalls. “This is where the knowledge and years of experience of following and tracking the panther came in handy. I just had to wait at one of his favorite paths, since that was the place he would get her since that was the edge of his territory. And this he did after six days. It was a fruitful wait though. I could wait for 6 years for a moment like this.”
The Panthera pardus species (leopards and panthers) is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list. These animals face a host of survival issues, especially habitat loss and relentless poaching. Leopard skin is a prized commodity for trade on international black markets, and only 4000 to 7000 of these animals are estimated to be remaining in the Asian wild .
Mithun hopes his photos would raise awareness about the necessity of leopard conservation and protection.
“They are the most neglected of the big cats across the world and in danger because of conflict with humans on the edges of the forests. People need to realize the beauty and grace of this amazing feline and their very important role in the ecosystem,” he said.
- Rachel Hosie. A leopard and a black panther were photographed together in a rare moment. Insider. https://www.insider.com/photo-leopard-and-black-panther-photographed-together-in-rare-moment-2020-7 Retrieved 27-07-2020
- Jessica Stewart. Photographer Waits 6 Days to Capture Perfect Moment Between Big Cat Couple. My Modern Met. https://mymodernmet.com/panther-leopard-couple-mithun-h/ Retrieved 27-07-2020
- Andy Coghlan. Hundreds of endangered wild snow leopards are killed each year. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2109894-hundreds-of-endangered-wild-snow-leopards-are-killed-each-year/ Retrieved 27-07-2020