We had planned to stay the whole day out, with packed breakfast and the lodge would bring us lunch later. We were on a photo safari in the Sabi Sand in Kruger National Park in South Africa, the heaven for leopard photography lovers.
Staying the whole day out in the bush has the advantage that you can stay with the animal when you eventually found it and follow it the entire day. We had found a female leopard. She had two pretty “old” cubs of about 18 months old, two boys, still staying with her. Usually the cubs have to live on their own by this age, but the boys seemed to enjoy their mother’s care and were in no rush to live on their own and do all the hunting themselves. The mother is a good hunter and also this morning she had a kill hoisted in a tree. But there was no sign of the boys. After she had fed on the kill for a while she started calling for the boys. No response. She started walking away from the tree looking and calling for the boys. The calling is a gentle sound, heard by the cubs and telling them mom is calling and expecting response. But nothing. The mother kept going and calling and after about one hour doing so, she seemed to have enough. Now she was really calling, a loud, strong leopard call that made clear she will take no nonsense anymore. And suddenly one of the boys popped up, just a few bushes away from her approaching her in apologies and trying to sooth her anger. After a moment of accepting the cubs attempts to make it up again, they wandered off to the tree with the kill.
I met her first in January 2007. At that time she was a sub adult leopard of about 16 months old, called Vomba young female. The people in the game reserve give the offspring first the name of their mother until they establish their own territory. Then they get a name related to their territory.
This young lady had a brother, Vomba young male. The two were very different. The young female was a very confident girl, not afraid of anything, chasing hyenas away at this young age. The hyenas were most likely only surprised that this young leopard went after them; at least they looked like that. She was just the same cool lady as her mother, very beautiful and determined. Her father was the territorial male, a very strong short built beautiful male leopard. At this time he was in his best years and controlling a big area. Her brother was completely different from the rest of the family. He was shy, almost a bit neurotic, he would do queer things, but somehow also a bit sad. Maybe all the strong characters surrounding him were too much for his fragile personality. He was also always very uncomfortable in the presence of game vehicles, while his mother and sister were not bothered at all. The young lady’s mother’s territory includes the lodge and she does not care if there is a bush dinner in the parking lot of the lodge, she just walks passed it and guests can watch her from their tables. Well, this young leopard lady has definitely inherited her personality.
Since they were old enough to live by themselves, her brother was very rarely seen. The young lady instead is now a grown up beautiful leopard and mother, still in the area, neighboring her mother’s territory. She is still the strong personality and as comfortable as always with vehicles. That doesn’t mean you can easily go and see her, she just does what she wants and if she wants to hide, she hides.
See some of her moments in life in pictures below.
The Sabi Sand in the greater Kruger National Park in South Africa are famous for their leopard sightings. And because one can see leopards pretty often, it is possible to follow their family life quite good, especially when working as a ranger and being out in the bush every day. Leopards have territories. The female territories usually do not overlap, but the male territory overlaps or rather covers the territories of a couple of females. These are the females he is mating with. Often female leopards stay close to their mom and set up territory next to her. Leopards are not as solitary as one might think, they usually only don’t want to be seen and that makes that we can’t follow their movements. But in the Sabi Sand we can. They let us often see what they are up to and this is very interesting. Don’t get me wrong, they are wild animals, trusting that they will be left alone and not threatened by humans.
There was this one family, a male leopard, an older female, her daughter and the two cubs of the daughter. The older female, lets call her granny was already pretty old, but a strong spirit. She was more or less allowed to pick a bit more from the male leopard’s kills and also the daughter was looking after her. And granny did what grannies do. The daughter left one of her cubs with granny and granny raised the little “boy”. That gave the daughter more freedom and strength to raise the other cub and to hunt. Some days the daughter left even the cub she had with her with dad, just to check out something. And dad was staying with the cub, looking after it until it’s mother came back. It was observed that the cub thought to test daddy and slapped him with his little paw. Daddy showed the little one that he can do that too and the cub was rolling all over the place. When observing these beautiful interactions one learns to understand leopards so much better, their close relationships and family dynamics. The little “boy” raised by granny is now a big boy and still tolerated by dad in his territory. It might be not for nothing that he looks a bit like a spoilt boy, raised by granny and having the sweet life of being allowed in the save territory of dad. He is the one on the picture above. Granny doesn’t live anymore. She became 17 years old, a great age for a leopard in the wild. She was a very special and strong spirit.
We were on a morning game drive when we approached a tree where a leopard was seen earlier that morning. When we came closer we saw that there was a kill in the tree and a male leopard lying underneath in the grass. He was lying on his side, eyes closed, but probably not sleeping. We watched him and suddenly another leopard approached the leopard in the grass from behind. It was a female leopard. The two knew each other well, but she was very cautious. She was trying to steel his kill (he had stolen the kill earlier from another female leopard, actually her daughter). When she knew where he was she retreated back into the bush, all happening without any sound. He stayed the whole time lying on his side in the grass, pretending not knowing that she is there. Then out of nowhere the female leopard climbed the tree in the back of the still in the grass lying male leopard. At that moment the male leopard jumped from lying on his side in the grass into the tree in less than a second (didn’t manage to get a photo of that), chasing the female leopard up into the very top of the tree. The female leopard was sitting in the treetop with a leg of the kill in her mouth, shaking from the stress and urinating on us in the vehicle under the tree. The male leopard growled at her, she growled back and he wouldn’t let her come down. After a while the male leopard chose to have a look at the kill to see what the damage is. At that moment the female leopard took her chance and jumped past him down the tree and ran off, with the leg from the kill! The male leopard was not happy, rearranging his kill and by doing that angrily, he dropped it. Now he had to watch how a hyena took off with his kill. She had been sitting under the tree waiting for the moment the kill would fall. The hyena had the biggest portion of the kill, the female leopard had al least something, the male leopard was still sitting in the tree and had nothing. He had played cool for too long.
It is already very fortunate to be close to a leopard and able to photograph this incredible animal, but this leopard sighting was of a magical kind.
We were on a game drive on Londolozi Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand (Kruger National Park) in South Africa when our tracker spotted a kill in a tree just of the road in the bush. We pulled over and found an the foot of the tree a male leopard, not to happy with us at first, but quickly focusing again on his prey up in the tree. His kill was a nyala and the tree was not really ideal for a hoisted kill, but it would do one could think. The leopard was not happy with the position of the kill and went up the tree to rearrange his kill. What happened then you better see in the video. Words cannot match that.
It might sound far-fetched, but Quantum Physics is the starting point to understand and photograph leopards. Everything is made of the same energy and everything is connected to everything else is an essential lesson from Quantum Physics, that applies to us as it applies to leopards, a coffee mug and the car we are driving in. Because we are all made of the same energy, we are also all connected and communicate on the energy level all the time, mostly without being conscious about that, although we use phrases like “we are on the same wavelength” with somebody or not. So somehow we know that we are communicating on frequencies like radio channels and some people can receive the signals and some don’t or receive only distorted messages. That means that the energy we are made of vibrates or moves in different frequencies, higher or lower frequencies, faster or slower. We might experience situations where we immediately have a good “click” with somebody. Most likely this persons communicates on energy level on the same frequency as we do. When we experience a situation that we find it difficult to be in the presence of a certain person for too long, because we start to feel tensed and restless, like pressure is building up, we might have an encounter with somebody of a high frequency energy and our energy frequency finds it hard to adjust to the same level. In the other direction to a lower frequency the adjustment is easier and mostly not experienced as demanding or unpleasant. But what does all that have to do with photography and especially leopard photography? An easy answer could be, wait until you look one into the eyes, but it is helpful to know what happens when you are in the lucky position to be near a leopard and able to spend time with the animal. The difference in photographing wildlife in general and leopards in particular is the very high frequency energy this incredible cat has. Being conscious about that helps a lot when photographing them. Imagine you are on a game drive and suddenly there is the leopard you were looking for already for days, right in front of the vehicle on a termite mount. Now just shoot away. Don’t think. Let the adrenaline from the excitement out and also take the pictures you can get, before the leopard possibly disappears. This moment might take a minute or two. You will feel when the excitement has settled and you will sit more relaxed in the vehicle. First thoughts of how to photograph the leopard properly will pop up. The next thing might be a feeling of impatience and negative thoughts about the light, the not doing anything animal, chaos with the camera settings, maybe a bit cursing, annoyance and eventually anger why we are still here with this leopard, enough leopard. This is a very important moment. When you decide to leave the sighting, you will miss the chance to connect with the animal and to get the most beautiful photos. All the negative thoughts and the physical reactions of feeling uncomfortable are caused by the difference in energy vibration/frequency. The leopard as a high frequency animal is just sitting there and doing nothing, only sending out on his/her frequency and your energy is trying to tune in to the leopards energy frequency. This tuning process causes the uncomfortable feeling. It will disappear as soon as you are tuned in and from there its as easy as what to photograph this amazing animal and to get the most beautiful leopard images. Be patient. Stay with the animal and give yourself the time to tune in. As soon as you are tuned in on the leopards frequency the whole “energy situation” on the sighting will calm down and all present parties will connect on the same level. The leopard will start doing his/her thing and the most incredible photo opportunities will occur.
Try it at home with your cat and get trained for the big cat!