Although I have spent many hours photographing Africa’s predators, I have found leopards to be a rather elusive subject. I have photographed them, but time has never been a luxury compared to our experiences with lions, cheetahs and hyenas. As I expected, my recent trip to South Africa to work with African Impact and lead a photography safari for Penda Photo Tours ended this photographic leopard drought!
During my time working with African Impact in the Greater Kruger area we took a trip to the Klaseri Reserve with the photography volunteers and interns for afternoon, evening and morning game drives with an overnight camp in between. Chade, our guide from ‘Africa On Foot’ who took us into Klaseri told us, “We had a leopard earlier today with a kill in this area, maybe it will be in a tree so we’ll take a look.”
I have wanted to see and photograph a leopard in a tree so I primed my own eyes on the treeline and after a couple of minutes off-roading there it was. Not just a leopard in a tree though, but a leopard with a kill in a tree. And not just any kill either…. A very unusual and dangerous choice of prey for a leopard, a porcupine!
What followed was an example of some very good and ethical guiding from Chade. As we quietly and slowly approached the tree, the leopard bared its teeth towards us, giving us a clear warning sign that it was not happy with our presence. Chade reversed the vehicle and the leopard settled down. After a couple of minutes the leopard accepted our presence and once again we slowly moved forward to enjoy a few minutes photographing this incredible sight.
Unfortunately, the volunteers and interns from African Impact were about to witness the opposite of the good guiding Chade had demonstrated. What started as a distant and quiet sound of chat quickly turned into something much louder. Another vehicle, packed with nine people, each one competing to outdo each other’s conversation volume, arrived with the subtelty of a jumbo jet. Understandably and predictably, the leopard quickly gathered its prey and leapt from the tree disappearing into thick foliage. This was obviously incredibly annoying but it was also an excellent example for African Impact’s volunteers and interns to witness. The advantages of good safari guiding and photographer behaviour compared to the results the absolute opposite brings – unnecessary, avoidable and unethical disturbance!
What I didn’t realise at this time was just how much leopard photography I was going to experience with my group of Penda Photo Tours photographers when I moved to the Djuma Reserve in Sabi Sands. I’ll blog a bit more about that soon but here is a taster!
Nikon D500 and Nikon 200-400 f/4: 1/1600, f/5, ISO250, 400mm