In Pursuit of Black Panther – A Complete Guide to Kabini Safari

posted in: Asia, India, Karnataka, Nature | 22

He lurked in the shadows of the big tree,

Leaping up, he looked down at the moving vehicles

They were looking for him, he was sure.

But would they spot him here? – That remained unsure!

Such is the tale of all wildlife enthusiasts who come in pursuit of the Big Black Cat – the melanistic leopard of the Kabini Forest. Many have been lucky to have spotted Blackie or the Black Panther in the first Kabini safari and then, there have been tales of many who have been able to see him only after 10 or more. That, however, does not mean that they always went back disappointed. Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary might just have one Black Panther but it sure has a wide variety of other exotic creatures that more than made up for the missing panther!

Kabini - a forest known for the amazing leopard sightings

Kabini Forest is in fact, one of the best places for spotting leopards. And if you haven’t spotted one in your Kabini Safari, you are most likely to at least spot a tiger and herds of elephants. Then there are sloth bears, exotic birds, tortoises, bats, barking deer, langurs, and….I can go on and on. Personally, Kabini wildlife sanctuary safaris have never disappointed me – making this forest of India my favorite place for enjoying the wildlife.

Through this guide to Kabini Safaris, I will be sharing the various attractions of Kabini Wildlife sanctuary, where to stay in Kabini, how to get here, how to book your Kabini jeep safari and Kabini boat safari and what you can expect through your journey. With all this information, I am sure that you will be soon planning your own pursuit of Blackie and his pals at the Kabini wildlife sanctuary safari. So, let’s get started.

A quick background on Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary

A tiger that I encountered in one of the Kabini Safaris

Kabini Wildlife sanctuary actually, encompasses two of the six zones of the larger 650 sq km Nagarhole forest (also, known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park). The other zones border Coorg and Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. The huge deciduous spread is home to over 200 tigers and 100 leopards – which also made it a popular royal hunting ground for the Mysore Maharajas and the British viceroys. Today, one can still spot these majestic cats in almost all the zones but the density and opportunity to see is the highest in Kabini.

 

Kabini river that gives this zone of Nagarhole its name

One main reason for this is the Kabini river that gives this area its name and attracts numerous birds and animals around it. The wide and open Nilgiri and Teak plantations that make up the Kabini forest make it easier to spot these creatures. Furthermore, unlike its surrounding forest zones, Kabini is protected and there are no highways or human population within it, making it secure for the wild.

Which of the Kabini Safaris should you choose?

What? There are more than one type of safaris?

Well, actually there is more than one type of safaris and I would classify them based on the gates and the type of safari and their timings. These are organized by the Forest Department of Karnataka directly or by their associate – Jungle Lodges and Resorts. Let me decipher them all for you so that you know your options better.

Nagarhole Safaris – Options by Gates

Kabini with its open deciduous forests, ponds and river makes it favorable for wildlife sighting

As I mentioned earlier, Kabini is just one of the few zones of the larger Nagarhole forest. The larger area has three main gates from where one can take the safaris.

  • Veeranahosahalli Gate near Hunsur
  • Nanachi Gate near Kutta, closer to Coorg
  • Antharasanthe Gate in Kabini

All these can be booked online using this website. These safaris are done in canters only. Each gate has two safaris – one in the morning and the other at around 3 pm. Note that it is better to book at least 3 – 4 days in advance as the canters are limited and get filled very quickly.

While you can expect to see the same wildlife through the various regions, the opportunity to spot is higher at Kabini. Thus, it is best to book for the Antharasanthe Gate.

Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary Safaris by Type

There are two options that you have when it comes to Kabini Safaris – a land safari and a boat safari. Both these options are available twice, every day. The morning ones start at 6 am while the afternoon ones are at 3 pm. The duration of each ranges between 2.5 hours to 3 hours. The experience and the wildlife that you see is what differentiates the two!

Kabini Boat Safari

Kabini Boat Safari - a dynamic option that birders would love

The Kabini boat safaris begin at the Jungle Lodges (JLR) campus. Through your resort. – It does not matter which Kabini resort you are staying in for this. Most of them have a tie-up with the JLR desk and all you have to do is ask your resort to book a slot for you in that day’s boat safari. (The morning ones will have to be booked a day in advance). Your resort might charge you a little extra for the drop and pick-up that they offer to JLR.

I would recommend taking the Kabini Boat Safari during the second half of the day. It gets fairly foggy in the morning and you might not have clear visibility when on the boat.

What kind of wildlife can you expect to see with a Kabini Boat Safari?

The migratory Bar Headed Geese seen on a safari by boat in Kabini

If you are an avid birder, you will love the Kabini boat safari. From the resident kingfishers, cormorants, ospreys and storks to the migratory rare birds like the the bar-headed geese, I saw them all. What was even more amazing was that I could see them in action at close quarters – swooping and catching their prey, launching and landing and flying close to the water.

Black cormorants seen during the Kabini Boat Safari

As the expert boatman guides the vessel around, he will point out to the various land mammals and reptiles. It is almost certain that you will see spotted deers, langurs and elephants. In fact, during my boat Safari in Kabini I saw so many elephants – herds, babies and tuskers that I finally ceased being amazed by them.

Herd of elephants seen on a boat safari

The Kabini boat safari allows you to get really close to the Indian muggers. The lazy creatures lie around like mute statues in an open museum. At one point, we got so close that I could count the crooked teeth in the crocodile’s jaw. Of course, I got a start when it suddenly slid into the water right next to the boat! Ooops!

Indian Mugger Crocodile that I saw during my Kabini Boat Safari

On some lucky days, the people on a boat safari in Kabini have been able to see tigers and leopards by the river side. It is not uncommon to spot the exotic Malabar hornbills and serpent eagles too, when on a boat ride. On the whole, I found that the Kabini boat safari was a little more dynamic as compared to the land safari with all the action that went around the river. There was not one dull moment!

Land Safaris – Kabini Jeep Safari and Canter Safaris

If you are looking for Bagheera (Blackie or the Black Panther) and its catty comrades, then it is an easy choice of Kabini Safaris. Land safari it is!

There are two ways in which you can explore Kabini by land – one is by way of the Government Canters and the other is by Kabini Jeep Safari. The forest department canters can be booked through the Nagarhole website and have limited availability. You can even book these in person by reaching the Antharasanthe Gate in Kabini a day in advance for the morning safari and around 10 am for the evening safari.

Kabini Jeep Safari is ideal to spot the bigger mammals and the Cats

The Kabini Jeep Safaris are exclusive to Jungle Lodges and Resorts and its guests only. They are included in the stay package of that property. It is not possible to book these on your own.

If you are staying at any other Kabini resort, then you have two options for a land safari. The first is through the Nagarhole website or approaching the Forest gates directly. The second is through your own Kabini resort that has slots in the canters operated through JLR and forest officials.

Zone B of Kabini forest that is close to the river

Kabini forest is divided into A zone and B zone. The A zone is largely forest, wooded area while the B zone takes you closer to the Kabini river. Frankly, this is more a good to know fact as you have no control on which zone you will be taken to. The vehicles are divided randomly between the two zones and once you are in a particular zone, you will only be in that area.

Morning or noon safari ? Well, experts say that morning safari is always better but frankly, my experience says that it is all on your luck. The few times that I have gone on Kabini safaris, I have had amazing sightings at noon.

What kind of wildlife can you expect to see with a Kabini Safari by land?

Kaimara Male Leopard that I saw during my Kabini Jeep Safari

BIG CATS – including the Royal Bengal tiger and the leopards. And of course the one exclusive melanistic leopard – Bagheera. I have been lucky to have seen them and yes, in one single Kabini Safari (not the last one but the penultimate one).

Kaimara Female leopard sitting on a tree - sadly she refused to face us

It is pretty normal to catch these big cats on the land but to see the leopards on the trees is something else. A Kabini safari is one experience that gives you an opportunity to actually spot them climbing, lying down and even jumping off the trees.

Grey Langurs - commonly found in Kabini Forest
Spotted deer or Chitals in Kabini

Spotted deers, barking deers, wild gaurs and langurs are as common as people in a city. Here and there, you are likely to come across Indian terrapins and tortoises. This set of three were so small and camouflaged.

Indian Terrapins  - spotted on a land safari in Kabini

There ….see three Indian Terrapins on the rock?” – said our naturalist

Where ? I can’t see them.” – I complained

See those rocks, and something coming out of them? ” he says

Uh Huh!” – I mumble!

Those are the heads of the Terrapin. Focus your lens on those” – he laughed while I gasped at the way his eyes had spotted these tiny creatures without binoculars!

Osprey with its kill - caught during a land safari in Kabini
Elephants bathing in a pond in Zone A of Kabini

Giant Malabar Squirrels and elephant herds are the other creatures that I have seen in the Kabini forest. It is a little hard to spot the birds in the dense jungle but the few that I did manage to catch were Ospreys and Eagles.

How much do the Kabini Safaris cost?

The price of a Kabini Safari starts at INR 300 per Indian adult and INR 1100 for a foreign national. Camera charges are additional. It ranges from INR 600 for cameras with over 200 mm lens to INR 1250 for a video camera. Besides these charges, there are park fees and GST charges to be paid.

The boat safari charges may be the same or might differ slightly.

How can I book a Kabini Safari?

A quick synopsis of what I have already explained – there are two ways to book your Land safari – the first is through the forest office. You can head to the Antharasanthe Gate in Kabini and book your spot in the Government canter. Remember to book at least one day in advance for the morning safari and for the evening one, you need to get your spot by 10 am for that day. You can also, book online through the Nagahole website. It is advisable to book your spot online at least 3 days in advance.

The 2nd option is through your resort in Kabini. These resorts have a quota with the canters operated by Jungle Lodges. The charges for the safari might be a little higher considering the transport to and from the Safari gates.

For the Kabini Boat Safaris, your only option is to go through your own resort and reserve a spot using their quota with JLR.

How to reach Kabini ?

The closest airport to Kabini is in Bengaluru (275 km). Bengaluru is well connected to not just the rest of India but outside India too. One can hire a cab from the airport to take you straight to Kabini via Mysuru. Alternately, you can book one of the many daily trains from Bangalore to Mysore and then head to Kabini from Mysore.

Mysore is just 90 km from Kabini. Though it has a domestic airport, the frequency of flights is very low. It is best used as a central railway station for Kabini. One can either book a cab online or at the railway station for Kabini.

What is the best time to visit Kabini?

The best season to visit Kabini would be between September to May. For birders, the months between December to February is ideal as one can spot a lot of migratory species.

In terms of safari timings, for Land safari, either of the two slots (Morning 6 am and Evening 3:30 pm) are good. However, for the boat safari, the evening one is a better option. Mornings tend to get a little foggy, hampering your visibility.

Where to stay in Kabini?

There are tons of resorts in Kabini that offer you comfortable stay options with good food and activities like Nature walks, mini safaris, kayaking and more. However, note that they are all quite expensive. There are no budget stays in Kabini. Jungle Lodges and Resorts is the most popular stay option in Kabini but it does get booked fairly quickly during the peak season.

Besides JLR, you have options like The Serai. Kabini Waterwoods, Kabini Evolveback, Kaav Safari Lodge, Red Earth and the Bison. All these really get busy and it is recommended that you book them as early as possible.

Well, that is it for now as far as Kabini goes. I hope that with this guide to Kabini Safaris, most of your queries for this lovely forest have been answered. Do pin these to your boards as a ready reckoner and also, share it around with all those who want to head out in search of the elusive Blackie in Kabini

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Booking Resources:

  • For booking Kabini resorts online, do consider using Booking.com. You can reserve your room without paying an advance.
  • Tripadvisor also, offers booking for Kabini through its various partners. You can use this link to book yours.
  • For booking private cabs between Bangalore and Kabini, Klook.com has a few options. 
  • For any of your travel-related accessories or needs from Amazon, do use this link to get to the website or the app and buy yours. 
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
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