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Our first pass at spotting a leopard, you may remember, was when we returned to the Rhino camp after sunset one evening. During the drive back, we noticed the heads of four Giraffe all intently looking in the same direction at something ahead of us. It was getting dark and I was in a back seat. Our driver pulled out a bright spotting lamp and pointed it into the bush.
Just moments later our spotter saw the leopard in front of us. Within seconds the leopard bolted into the bush and disappeared into the darkness. I missed it entirely and wondered if we would get another chance to spot this elusive animal.
Our first game drive at the Lion Camp answered my question. We were already having a good day when our driver headed out of the grassland toward the bush. He was heading to an area where leopard had been previously spotted.
We drove for some time until another nearby driver spotted something. The young leopard Figlet was in the bush near the stream we were canvasing. We drove over to join the other vehicle and surveyed the area.
Not knowing if we would succeed and expecting it would not be a long viewing if the leopard was moving in the bush, I readied my camera for shooting into the bush with a long 400 mm lens, a fast ISO speed, continuous shooting mode and auto focus settings. I was expecting lower light shooting into the bush and knew the faster ISO speed would give me slower shutter speeds to complement using a longer lens.
When we reached the bush where the other driver was waiting, it did not look promising. We found heavy bushes in front of a meandering stream with a deep bank. There were lots of directions the cat could go without our seeing her.
Our driver pulled away from the other vehicle and parked us in front of a spot where a small opening let you look back into the brush. No one could see a cat.
I secured my camera to my wrist, adjusted the viewing screen on the back so I could look down and see what the camera saw and lowered the camera as far as I could over the side of our vehicle, pointed into the opening. If the cat appeared the photos would be from her eye level.
We sat with me leaning over the edge of the vehicle and our guides a bit nervous about my posture. “No one is getting out to retrieve your camera if it falls,” they politely pointed out.
We waited quietly. Nothing happened.
And, then there was movement in the bush. As I watched, the head of the leopard moved through the bush into the back of the opening my camera was watching. I hit the shutter button and the camera took a dozen pictures in quick succession.
She was gone as quickly as she appeared but the thrill of seeing her remained. As did her image. The autofocus worked imperfectly under these challenging conditions but did manage to focus on Figlet often enough to generate a some great images. The one below shows her just as she appears in the opening in the bush.
We had seen the elusive leopard on her home turf and captured her image as she warily moved near the river bank. It was a great moment and one we did not expect to replicate.
A couple of days later, however, our guides started our morning drive looking for Figlet again. She had been spotted outside the conservancy (meaning there could be more vehicles following her) in a tree near a stream.
What outed her was the carcass of an animal she had killed the night before. It was in the high grass near the tree where the other drivers said she was hidden. You can see our approach to the area in the image above with the safari vehicles around a tree.
We stayed awhile but there was no cat to see. So, we drove through the grass near the stream, passing the carcass and a pair of opportunistic hyena. We followed the stream long enough to spot several Dik-dik (small antelopes a bit larger than the Suni we saw in Nairobi National Park) but found no leopard.
Our driver got back on the radio and then backtracked to approach the original site from another direction. There were still a few vehicles at the site but they were beginning to move on.
So we moved too, driving near the stream in hopes of catching another glance of the leopard. From the radio conversation (in Swahili) our driver knew we were close when he pulled up close to the stream to watch. Another vehicle pulled up behind us along the stream bed and Figlet moved away from the vehicle along the edge of the bush giving us this spectacular view.
Our driver pulled our Land Cruiser ahead in the direction Figlet was moving. Another vehicle arrived. Figlet kept walking in the bush and then turned and walked out of the bush in our direction.
Not the least bit intimidated by us or our vehicles, she walked leisurely up to our vehicle and stopped long enough to look at me and the long lens of my camera. She was less than two feet from the vehicle.
I pushed the camera shutter to capture the large aqua marine eyes that mesmerized us all. I also felt my heart race a bit as her eyes caught mine and she stopped.
She was so close. And as she fixed her gaze in my direction, I felt vulnerable. Pulse beating vulnerable. If only for a moment (she moved on), I feared she might jump into the vehicle. The thought and my racing heart resulted in a fuzzy close-up of her magnificent eyes.
Fortunately, I was able to catch them in a longer distance shot when my hands were steady. Here is Figlet's close up.
Once she walked off, we left as well. It was time for a bush breakfast. We drove to a more open spot and had a breakfast prepared earlier at our camp on a table and chairs set up next to our vehicle. Within a few feet of our table were hippo tracks in the mud. A great breakfast as usual and we still had the rest of the morning drive to look forward.
All photos and text are copyright Clinton Richardson. The images are from the author's Safari Collection at Trekpic.com. If you like these posts, please tell your friends about the Venture Moola blog at Readjanus.com. Want to plan your own safari? If so, feel free to check out the outfitter we used at Porini.com.
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Travel, business and history with original photos.
Clinton Richardson - author, photographer, business advisor and traveler.
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