Written, and photographs, by Greg McCall-Peat
I believe that every safari-goers dream is to see a leopard when out on an African game drive – that sense of accomplishment when finding Africa’s most elusive big cat just cannot be beaten. The only thing that could potentially make it any better is when that elusive cat is so relaxed around the presence of the vehicles and people that it poses for photos in just about every angle that you could wish for!
This was the case a couple of weeks ago at Umlani Bushcamp in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, South Africa, when we found one of our resident female leopards (showing signs that she is suckling cubs) clearly on the hunt. It wasn’t long before she went up into a marula tree to get a better view of things, and this was when things became amazing for us onlookers.
As we were alone at the sighting, it made it possible for us to position our vehicle at any angle in order to get the best photo opportunities that the leopard presented us with. We really got to spend some quality time with her, which is something that doesn’t happen every day.
Her focused stare only seemed to enhance her beauty – which is why they are probably one of the most photographed animals in Africa. Even in black and white, her markings were stark and striking.
At one point an approaching kudu bull caught her attention. Even though leopards eat a variety of different prey, for a female leopard like herself, an adult kudu bull is just too big for her to handle.
It was a cloudy day so the white bright background created an amazing silhouette of her up in the tree.
When the sound of impala rams rutting nearby made her glance in their direction I couldn’t help but feel like she really was just posing for photos.
Eventually she locked onto a potential target, and the leopardess readied herself to descend the tree.
Just before she descended she gave a good stretch and then held the position as if she was holding a yoga pose – an almost comical scene!
After such an incredible sighting I often wonder what the animals we photograph really think. Is it a case of them not caring or not even really noticing our presence? Or do they put on a bit of a show for us? It’s a question we will never get answered, but whatever the case may be, one thing stands out for sure… leopards really are the models of the bush in our eyes.