Photograph of a Leopard With a Black Panther Shadow Is a Once-in-a-Lifetime Shot

Photographer Mithun H camped out for six straight days to capture this stunning image

Wildlife photographer Mithun H has made a name for himself capturing gorgeous shots of big cats and other animals in the Kabini Forest in Karnataka, India, and his documentation of the black panther named Saaya is featured in the National Geographic series, “The Real Black Panther.” But a recent photograph entitled “The Eternal Couple” is particularly remarkable. The stunning shot finds Saaya looking like a perfect shadow of his leopard mate, Cleopatra, and here’s the story of how it came about.

This is Mithun H.

Mithun standing in front of a very blurred background of trees.
Mithun standing in front of a very blurred background of trees.

He’s an expert at capturing extraordinary moments in the lives of animals, such as this photo of a cub hugging his mother with joy after being briefly lost in the undergrowth.

A tiger cub on its hind legs with its face close to the face of its mother.
A tiger cub on its hind legs with its face close to the face of its mother.

Or this shot of “Kate” and her cub, angrily protecting a kill from another member of the family who was approaching too close.

2 leopards in a tree. The one on the right is hissing, its ears held back.
2 leopards in a tree. The one on the right is hissing, its ears held back.

This photo shows a male tiger who has just noticed an unusual scent on his regular patrol of the Bandipur National Park.

A tiger looking up.
A tiger looking up.

And here, a leopard lounges gracefully in a tree in Kabini, taking a break to watch the world go by.

A leopard lying on a tree branch, its left paw dangling free.
A leopard lying on a tree branch, its left paw dangling free.

Some of Mithun’s best photographs occur closer to home, such as this shot of a rose-ringed parakeet taking a bath during the final rains of the season.

A green parakeet with black wings and a pink beak taking a bath during a storm.
A green parakeet with black wings and a pink beak taking a bath during a storm.

But the multi-year relationship with Saaya the panther that has been particularly fruitful. Here, he proudly stalks the forest alongside a leopard.

A leopard standing about a foot away from a black panther in the wild.
A leopard standing about a foot away from a black panther in the wild.

And here, in a once-in-a-lifetime photograph that is becoming famous online, he stands in as the shadow of his leopard mate, Cleopatra. “I can still close my eyes and relive that moment every single day of my life,” says Mithun of the moment he got the photograph. “You don’t see that often. Probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Another shot of a leopard standing about a foot away from a black panther in the wild.
Another shot of a leopard standing about a foot away from a black panther in the wild.

There was certainly a lot of waiting and patience that went behind. I had waited six days for this in the same spot since I could hear the Panther and Cleopatra mating about 100 meters away in the thick undergrowth but could not see them due to limited visibility. They had made a large kill and would not move until it was over. That 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 sox years for a moment like this.

Mithun, outside in the desert, seen in profile from over his shoulder, shadows falling across his face.
Mithun, outside in the desert, seen in profile from over his shoulder, shadows falling across his face.

“Usually in the courting pairs generally it is the male who takes charge and moves around with the female following close behind,” Mithun explains. “But with this couple it was definitely Cleo who was in charge while the Panther followed.”

Another shot of a leopard standing about a foot away from a black panther in the wild.
Another shot of a leopard standing about a foot away from a black panther in the wild.

To see more of Mithun H’s glorious photographs of wildlife in India, you can follow his work on Instagram.

Written by

Formerly editorial director @BuzzFeed. Currently editor @Tenderly and writer at large. Email: JackAShepherd at gmail

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Jack Shepherd

Formerly editorial director @BuzzFeed. Currently editor @Tenderly and writer at large. Email: JackAShepherd at gmail

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