My Moments with Leopards

Marlon duToit All Authors, Marlon 13 Comments

Leopards – who does not have a soft spot for them?

I am convinced that they must be the number one animal most returning safari-goers have on their bucket-list. Sure lions, elephants and giraffe are right up there when it comes to popularity, but leopards are just so damn hard to find in many safari destinations that it can take travelers many visits to Africa before getting a quality sighting of one.

You’ll often catch a fleeting glimpse of streaky spots flitting across the road up ahead, or perhaps lock eyes with one for a few seconds before it makes a dash out of the tree & in to thicker cover or long grass! Sound familiar?

They are extremely shy by nature and even when individuals do become relaxed in the company of vehicles & their occupants, they still prove extremely difficult to spot. They are true masters of camouflage.

I have been privileged to spend quality time in the company of leopards in some incredible wildlife destinations. I worked as a safari guide for Singita Game Reserves for more than 6 years and it was during this time most notably, that I got to play witness to fantastic moments with these spotted beauties!

I wanted to share some of these moments with you, give you a glimpse into the beautiful, secretive life of Africa’s silent-killer.

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Whilst out on a morning game drive with my guests at Singita Sabi Sand, we found this young male enjoying the high-branches of a dark-wooded Ebony tree. At the time (and still), I have always wanted to photograph a leopard on this stunning dark tree, with the green foliage making up the back ground.

My friend Ross Couper & I grabbed our cameras and headed back to the spot to see if he was still hanging around. It was a cloudy cool day and the light was still pretty. We accessed the area by foot & spent over an hour just watching him. He was completely at easy in our presence and we simply enjoyed being out there with such a striking animal – the “shot” now a distant memory, completely replaced by the amazing encounter.

Then he moved.

We were ready and as he seemed to float down the large limb of the ancient tree, he paused but for a second behind a smaller branch. My shutter fired and I knew I had the shot I’d been dreaming of.

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I will always remember this special sighting!

This male never really let go of the bond between him & his mother, and this caused him to hang around his mother even well after the birth of her 2 new cubs. She also never made a concerted effort to break that bond, and kept calling him whenever she had made a fresh kill.

On many occasions we would have 4 leopards in one sighting, just incredible!

Here I photographed him snarling at one of the young 3-month old cubs as they approached him and their impala kill.
The other great thing about this sighting, is that it took place on the lawn of one of the Singita staff members!!

Only in Africa 😉

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My very first visit to Mana Pools National Park resulted in the special moment. If I am not mistaken, it was taken on my very first day there.

The light was extremely low and we were well on our way back to camp, cameras just about packed away. Then she walked across the road and sat down right on the edge of a terrace leading down to the Zambezi River. In the car with me and equally as keen to get a shot of her was good friend Morkel Erasmus.

She looked back at us for a few seconds allowing us the opportunity to photograph her, and then walked down & out of sight.

Magical Africa, indeed.

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A young male leopard photographed in Madikwe, South Africa.

Madikwe is a new destination for me, having visited for the first time in 2015. Leopards were never that often seen and images like this are very special indeed.

This male was habituated through careful & considerate game viewing by the local guides, and he was drenched in spectacular sunlight here. I had to push my ISO to 5000 to get enough shutter speed, but it all was worth it. Just a lovely moment in a reserve I had not travelled to much, a stand-out memory.

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I love this, absolutely adore it!

We as the photographers are charged with telling the subject’s story. How and when we capture it will reflect on that specific animal – good or bad.

To see an adult male leopard curled up in a little ball, in the fork of a tree like this is extremely special and not often seen. He was so comfortable! My private guest and I spent over 2 hours just sitting with him in the heart of the Okavango Delta at Mombo Camp, watching him & enjoying his presence. It captures a very different side to them – soft, calm, almost cute!

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I will always remember this image.

Just the day before I was fishing with my guests at this very point. All of a sudden we spotted this leopard approaching the river with intentions of crossing at this very same spot. I always kept my camera with me but on this occasion had fishing rods with me and was completely unprepared.

I grabbed my 400 f2.8 and tried as best to capture the jumping cat, but failed miserably. I was gutted!

The very next day I followed him & noticed he was heading to the exact same crossing.
As you can guess, I was well prepared. I mounted the right lens & captured a great moment as he flew through the air as only a leopard could!

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We found this striking young male on a recent private safari to South Luangwa.

We were en-route back to camp when we spotted him hunting some impala. After an hour with him he eventually settled in this thicket. I just love the look on his face, the dark shrubbery surrounding him and the soft backlight coming through behind him.

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Young leopard are extremely curious by nature. It’s how they need to learn, how they build the confidence to survive once they step out from under their mother’s wings.

This young male was left by him mom as she went hunting. They do tend to be a little more out-going than young females and we watched him walk from the thicket he was in, to the fallen Marula Tree.

Here he played and enjoyed the open space, exploring and learning. Yes, it was dangerous for such a young cat to be out on his own. Hyenas and especially lions pose a serious threat to his existence – especially in the Sabi Sands where both are abundant. But these were steps he needed to take to build the courage & skills he would need when leaving his mom for good, and we were privileged to be able to witness these first steps of independence.

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I love this moment as mother & cub stepped out of the river’s treeline in order to cross over this rocky section. This moment has alot of special significance to me.

I watched this mother grow from about 6 weeks of age. She grew up within the Singita Kruger concession where I worked as a guide for over 4 years. I spent everyday with her. I eventually moved on and at that time she was nearing 2 years of age.

I returned often and never saw her again, often fearing the worst.

Then almost a year later I saw her again, this time in the company of 2 little cubs. In this picture the 2nd cub had already gone across.

It is one of the moments in nature I will always remember, a special moment that meant so much to me.

Thanks so much for sharing these precious memories with me. I trust you’ve enjoyed it!

Till next time,

About the Author

Marlon duToit

Passion, enthusiasm and an unquenchable thirst to explore and introduce you to our natural world’s wildlife perfectly sums up my ambitions. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Through my African adventures I kept my photographic passion alive. Behind a camera aimed at a lion or a leopard is where I am most at home, my heart skipping a beat at the mere thought of it. My intention has never been solely for recognition but for the plight of what’s left of our natural recourses. Using my love and understanding of wildlife I am able to convey to the viewer more than an image or a fleeting moment. I aim to tell a story, to bring that moment alive to you and to capture your heart through it.

Comments 13

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  1. Cynthia Underdown

    I so enjoyed reading your stories about the leopards, and seeing the beautiful shots of them in their habitats. On my only safari last year to the Serengeti I was so lucky to see a leopard dozing comfortably in a tree – it was my star moment. Can’t wait to visit Africa again.

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      Marlon duToit

      Cynthia that’s amazing & so lucky! Many people visit time and time again without seeing one at all! I hope you’ll return to our beautiful continent again soon!
      Marlon

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      Marlon duToit

      Susan it’s an absolute pleasure! Thank you kindly for taking the time to read and to write here 🙂
      Marlon

  2. Pingback: My Moments with Leopards - Africa Freak

  3. Renata Ewald

    Love your article, thank you. Boy oh boy these leopies do creep into once heart and your beautiful images just burns it in and want me to go out and look for spots.. 😊

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  4. Martha Myers

    Oh, Marlin, you have captured such a wealth of memorable images here! What gorgeous light, and stunning poses. Is it possible to admire leopards too much?? I think not!

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      Marlon duToit

      Martha, I can NEVER tire of leopards, I don’t think it’s possible at all! They are just too beautiful! Thanks once again for reading through and for taking the time to comment, really appreciate it!

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