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INTERVIEW: Shaaz Jung opens up about the blood, sweat and years behind the viral images of a rare black panther

Jul 7, 2020, 16:06 IST
Business Insider India
Pictures of Saya - the rare black panther that went viral Shaaz Jung
  • The photographs of Saya, a rare black panther residing in the Kabini forest of India, have gone viral, with people comparing it to Bagheera from the Jungle Book.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, Shaaz Jung, the wildlife photographer, shares how he has spent the last five years capturing the black panther.
  • For Jung, this was once in a lifetime opportunity.
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The photographs of Saya, a rare black panther residing in the Kabini forest in Karnataka, India, have gone viral.

The man behind the camera, Shaaz Jung⁠— who spent 12 hours a day for five long years tracking the panther⁠— was more surprised how these pictures broke the internet.

“My first reaction was this is so typical of the internet today – the digital age where anything, anywhere can just go viral,” Jung told Business Insider. Shaaz Jung

Capturing Saya – the rare black panther

The 31-year old wildlife filmmaker and photographer has spent the last five years solely documenting Saya – the melanistic leopard who has found his way into the Kabini forest.

“When people see these pictures, they think there are several leopards, but actually there’s just one black panther where we are – one melanistic leopard in the dense forest of Nagerhole. So, it was like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Jung, who also owns a wildlife safari lodge in Nagarhole National Park. Jung said the park is one of the few places in the world that have tigers, leopards, the black panther, elephants, bears, dholes and more. “This is truly the real jungle book,” he said.
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For two-three years straight, Jung has been going into the jungle at 6 am, spending all day out there till 6.30 pm, for all seven days in a week. “I would consider myself very lucky if I saw him twice a week and a lot of times it would be just fleeting glimpses,” he said.

The Jungle is WatchingShaaz Jung

But Jung knew that this was once in a lifetime opportunity, so far black panthers were only studied in the forests of Malaysia with the help of remote camera traps.

“The result is the first portfolio of a melanistic leopard where we have got him hunting, courting, fighting everything. My aim was to go deeper and understand how he is surviving in a forest where he doesn’t belong,” he said.

Black panthers are usually found in evergreen forests, where the thick canopy of trees doesn’t let the sun into the undergrowth, but Saya is found in the deciduous forest of Kabini. “He is not just surviving, he is thriving,” said Jung.

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From a family of wildlife enthusiasts

Jung is the ambassador for Nikon India and also recently worked as the director of photography for a National Geographic film on the rare black panther.

The virality began when a Twitter handle called ‘Earth’ picked it up and soon thousands of people across the world were sharing the photos. Jung, whose father is the former Indian cricketer Saad Bin Jung, got a call from his uncle, the actor, Saif Ali Khan too about the viral photographs and asking that he would like to share it too.

Jung, an economics graduate, was headed for the corporate world, until he came to the forest when he was 20, along with his parents who are wildlife conservationists.


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