When I started my guiding career I didn’t own a camera. I decided to focus on my guiding technique and build confidence in my abilities. During the early days I was fortunate enough to witness some truly incredible things, having said that, sadly over time one forgets the fine details and those memories begin to fade away.
After about two years, I bought my first camera which was a small point and shoot. The whole reason for my purchase was that I wanted to capture moments that I could keep with me and as time goes on, look back and reflect on specific sightings.
The more I had my camera out in the field and used it, the more I enjoyed it and before I knew, I was hooked.
Without getting too distracted, I want to share with you the power of using photography to remember a specific sighting or story.
The point of this blog is to get photographers to think outside the box, don’t just take 2000 images in a sighting, rather wait, be patient and capture the key moments which tell the story.
Going back about 3 years when I was still guiding at Londolozi Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands, I was driving a couple on a private photographic safari for 7 nights. Having driven these guests before we had built a great relationship. Leading up to this safari, they had communicated that their focus was to see leopard cubs, which is of course not a normal request or something that you can just see whenever you wish.
So, the story goes like this…
The first couple of days we knew this particular leopardess had cubs but we were not quite to sure where she was keeping them. We spent plenty of time driving through her territory looking for any fresh signs of her, something that would give us a clue that she has been moving in and out of a specific area – this would tell us that she is keeping her cubs in that area and only returning to feed the cubs once a day sometimes even only once every two days depending on how her territorial patrols and hunts go.
After 3 days, we decided to leave camp early so that we could be moving through this leopardess territory at the perfect time of the day. On the north western edge of her territory there is a large waterhole, which we stopped at to view some lazy hippos after their night out grazing. Such a special time of the day, listening to the morning chorus of the African bush.
All of a sudden, the silence was broken by a leopard vocalizing nearby. We set off immediately and a mere 300 meters/330 yards down the road we came across the leopardess we had been looking for. She was lying on a termite mound in a clearing and was seemingly quite exhausted.
While we were sitting there waiting for her to hopefully get up and lead us back to her cubs, we noticed that she was relatively full but had no fresh suckle marks (which is a sign that she had not returned to her cubs recently). There was no kill in sight, which also told us that either she had been on a kill for the last few days and it is now finished or that she had made a kill and is now heading back to feed her cubs.
We sat patiently for 8 HOURS waiting for her to move and in that time all we got out of her was the odd ear flick. Being extremely hot at this stage we decided to head back to camp for lunch and freshen up before coming back out to see if there was any change.
After a brief rest we headed back out, it was about a 30 minute drive to her last position and on the way we discussed all the possibilities of what we may come across – she may still be in the same place, she could have gone back to a possible kill and what we were all hoping for, maybe just maybe she had gone back to her cubs.
On arrival at last position, we came across the termite mound only to find her still in the same place. Although it was not quite what we were hoping for, at least she had not gone to the cubs and moved off without us.
It turns out our timing could not have been better, within 10 minutes of us arriving, she sat up and started grooming (a good sign that she might get active). This also gave us time to take a couple of photographs and make sure our settings were all correct.
She finally stood up, had a good stretch and began to move away from the mound. This in itself was an incredible sighting, being the only car and following a beautiful leopardess through a clearing is simply breath taking. Without getting our hopes up, we followed her as she scent marked and went about her afternoon business.
She approached a small drainage line which was a mere stone throw away from where she had been resting when suddenly, she started calling softly… Having only heard this sound a handful of times prior to this, my heart started beating faster and faster at the realization that she was calling her cubs!
We sat patiently waiting and after the leopardess had no response she continued moving into the drainage line, she approached a fallen over log and continued to call when suddenly, two little bundles of fur poked there heads out of the log, this was the moment we were after! What an incredible moment to witness as each cub came out and greeted their mother. You could see how excited the cubs were as they played on mom and wrestled with each other.
The mother then lay down and proceeded to let them suckle. such a privilege to be allowed into such a special moment, it is moments like this that make you realize how much mutual trust needs to be created to be able to witness something like this.We took a few photographs before putting our cameras down and just soaked up the moment.
Once the youngsters had finished suckling, the mother allowed them to play and explore before she started calling them back to the den. By this stage the sun was starting to fade and in order to keep the cubs safe she needed to get them back in the den and leave before she drew unwanted attention. We watched as she ushered the last cub back into the den and start walking away. We could still see the two looking out the log as she moved off and headed into the distance and it was at this moment when we decided to call it a day.
Such a special sighting especially because we had put so much effort into finding them, but we didn’t want to over stay our welcome. Considering the leopardess had allowed us into her secretive life we thought it was best to move on out and head for home.
Until next time,
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