A rare leopard sighting in Jim Corbett National Park. Given the profusion of tigers in Corbett (it has the highest number of tigers and the highest density of tigers in the world), the leopards have been pushed out to the peripheries and buffer zones. This was a serendipitous and a rare sighting in the Jhirna zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve.

After a freezing morning safari in December – it was the last safari of our Corbett trip – we had come back to the forest rest house and were about to head back to civilization. It had been a foggy morning, with no sightings except a pesky tusker that had charged our vehicle a couple of times. There were 20 minutes left when a gypsy stopped at the FRH, and the guide said that they had seen a tiger near a riverbank some 2 km from the FRH.

I asked a friend, “Shall we?”. He was like whatever, let’s try. My two other friends opted to have a hot water bath and have breakfast at Jhirna FRH. Too bad, they missed out on a spectacular sighting.

Leopard on a tree. He was as big as a small tigress. 

Leopard on a tree during a Corbett National Park safari

Coming down to hunt

Descending leopard in Corbett National Park

We reached that spot, switched off the Gypsy engine, and waited. Five minutes of silence. Then the langurs went crazy – there were alarm calls from all around. The guide told us to keep our cameras focused on the jungle road since he anticipated that the tiger would be walking towards us. Anyway, I decided to look around to see which way the langurs were looking. Imagine my surprise when I see this huge male leopard sitting on a tree and staring at us with that “Who the hell are you!” look. He was so big that in that first second I thought it was a tigress, before the rational part of my mind told me that tigresses don’t climb trees like that. After my gasp, my friend and the driver looked back, and were like!!!

He was seemingly dozing, but also keeping an eye out, as we realized. Suddenly he stretched, got up, looked at us, and scampered down the tree in a second. There was heavy undergrowth below the tree, so we couldn’t see him. But then we heard the dying call of a cheetal fawn. He had caught one! We saw a fleeting glimpse of the leopard with the fawn in its jaws before he climbed up the hill and vanished. I had been anticipating and changed camera settings on the fly, in one second, when I saw him get up, so was able to take a few action shots.

When we went back to the forest rest house, and told everyone what happened, and showed the photos, our friends were gnashing their teeth 😉. You never know what you will experience in the jungle. You wait for hours and nothing happens. Then suddenly there is magic for a couple of minutes!

Looks rather nice when printed large 😼

Fine art print of a leopard in Corbett National Park