Kabini, the first forest in southern India that we first visited about 9 years ago. My son was about 2.5 years old and he named JLR Kabini as “Jungle House”. Till this day, my kids refer to every accommodation around forest as Jungle House. It was a wet October and forest was lush green. Had an amazing sighting of Dholes and Elephants were everywhere. Cats of Kabini remained elusive.
We went back to Kabini multiple times, with mixed experiences. Somehow we were not into the good graces of the forest lords. That is not to say we loved this place any less. It has always been on the top of the list of places we wanted to escape to on any given day. Alas if only we could afford to..
After 2 years, in June 2018, we decided to visit Kabini again. It was essentially a family trip that involved staying at JLR and going on safaris. Not bad huh. As this was the rainy season, expectations of wildlife sightings were quite low. Our friend Giri Cavale was visiting Kabini during this time, so we decided that we will join him when he is there.
Things started getting interesting from 1st safari itself. We were in Zone B and were scanning for any activity, all of a sudden something ruddy caught our attention. “Dhole” my son whispered. Indeed it was a Dhole, but it was not alone. It was a nice little group and it was moving head on to our vehicle. As we started reversing to accommodate their movement, a group of Cheetals crossed the road running really fast. This got the group’s attention and they brought down a fawn and consumed it right in front of us. Having seen Dholes after a very long time I was very glad, just slightly worried that my 6yr old daughter will be traumatized. Apparently not, she was excitedly narrating down the hunt to any and all who will listen.
That first safari set the tone for our trip. Next two safari’s gave us two different leopard sightings. Although these were far, we enjoyed it. After missing cats in 3 previous trips, I felt that finally Kabini was feeling generous. It was not all about cats though, woodpeckers were quite active. This was the first time that I saw Rufous Woodpecker out there. Jungle Mynas were quite vocal but camera shy. Streak-throated Woodpeckers and Flamebacks were around. We found a very cooperative (and slightly wet) Crested Serpent-eagle near the backwaters. This guy had patient to let us make a few images while sitting around in a drizzle.
One of the biggest draw in Kabini now a days is ‘Blackie’ the black panther. Of course, a sighting of him wad very high on my wishlist but a chance to see it was very slim. One of the evening safaris saw us heading towards the area he is know to favor. On a whim, Giri decided to checkout the powerline area. Minutes into that area and we were facing a tigress heading our way and even attempted a hunt. I messed up the picture and cut her tail out of it. Well, you live and you learn.
We made another attempt to see if we could go ahead and find Blackie again. While the hopes were still there, my cat luck is not exactly something I brag about. Maintaining pin drop silence ( a feat considering we had my 6 and 9 yr olds in the jeep) we started surveying the area. We parked ourselves in a strategic position on a junction. A few minutes passed and we heard a deep-throated grunt. “Blackie” Giri whispered. barely had he mentioned it, and we heard another growl. Our driver immediately raised two fingers to indicate that it was a pair. Having not seen the source of these growls, we had no idea if it was Blackie with a mate or some other leopard couple. While we were peering into the bush, Giri alerted us of a leopard that was approaching us along the track. I was confused. Apparently, this dude decided the investigate the ruckus being made and he was about to crash the ongoing party. With omnious intentions, the new male disappeared into the bush where we were expecting Blackie to be.
Within seconds, a rush of something black confirmed we were in company of Blackie. The new male chased him out of the bush. We were now conflicted, which leopard to watch. A large male on one side of the vehicle and Blackie on the other side. This went on for a few minutes. In fact Blackie was so close to the vehicle that I had to struggle to get him into the frame. Finally the new male decided that he had established his dominance and he returned. Blackie dashed across the road and disappeared up his favorite tree.
This was one of the best trips to Kabini in terms of wildlife viewing, and the lush green forest was a bonus. We left Kabini with a heavy heart, but I think we will be there again soon. After all, for my kids, it’s the original jungle house.