When we think about love, like most people, it has to be between two humans. but reality opens our eyes to how much other species love life and each other and form a deep bond of affection that lasts a lifetime. The story of Saaya and Cleopatra is one such love affair that has lasted the uncertainties of life in a forest. They have sought their destiny where man poses no threat.
The love story of Saaya and Cleopatra has played out in the dense forests of Kabini in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Thanks to the unstinting efforts of two wildlife photographers, we have been able to get a glimpse into the courtship of these two leopards in these forests of the Western Ghats. The pictures that they have managed to capture are all the more interesting because one of the leopards has an excess of melanin on its skin, which makes it resemble a dark panther.
While Mithun has photographed both Saaya and Cleopatra extensively, Shaaz Jung has documented Saaya amidst the wilderness of the forests of Kabini for NatGeo.
Cleopatra has been in the forest of Kabini for the past 12 years while Saaya was first sighted in 2014. They have been courting each other for the past 4 years.
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Shaaz Jung says that it was the sheer beauty and uniqueness of Saaya that made him focus on the black panther. The magnificent melanistic leopard had learned to adapt to the dry deciduous landscape of the forests that are different from their original habitat of evergreen forests.
Shaaz Jung says that the magnificent cat had eluded him for close to three months at a stretch. Jung reveals that he spent 10 hours a day for up to three years in search of the elusive Saaya and Cleopatra.
Saaya came to Kabini when he was still a sub-adult male and starting to mark his territory.
Saaya And Cleopatra: The ‘Eternal Couple’
Saaya and Cleopatra have been courting for the past 4 years. Every sighting of the couple is an exciting experience. The forest bursts into life whenever Saaya and Cleopatra go for a stroll of the scenery.
Saaya and Cleopatra have overturned one major belief that it is the male who dominates in the pack. The female is generally seen following close behind. But the story of Saaya and Cleopatra has played out differently as it was the female who was the dominant one while the panther followed.
Mithun shot the much-acclaimed shot titled ‘Eternal Couple’ when both of them were partaking of a deer that they had hunted. It was shot early in the morning. It took Mithun 6 days to get the perfect shot as Saaya had made the kill deep inside a bushy area.
The forests of Kabini have been home to Mithun for 20 years. he had been taking shots of the leopard when he first heard of a black panther seen near the highway. He was stunned at first. He had only had elusive glimpses of panthers in other forests, but there was on right in Kabini. This was his first encounter with Saaya back in October 2014.
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He followed Saaya and Cleopatra for the next two years, catching up with them in other parts of the forest. There wasn’t any particular routine in his movements. He was then a sub-adult, still in the shadows of other dominant leopards. Saaya was particularly elusive and wary of human presence. He lived in the shadows till he grew strong enough to dare the resident male leopards in the Kabini forest.
Saaya had a major showdown with Scarface, a dominant male in the region. Saaya was injured but finally, they each chalked out their respective territories. Saaya and Cleopatra stayed together. Mithun says that the couple had taught him a lot. They live in the moment, treasure their family, and have learned to adapt quickly to a situation; lessons that are equally relevant for humans.
Image credits: Instagram