The leopard photo that was 7 years in the making

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Leopards and I have a funny relationship. I’ve had to exert quite some patience to obtain photos of them. But this post is not about a Kruger .

Ever since visiting the Kalahari for the first time in 14 years back in 2009, I had a strong desire to see and photograph the elusive leopards living in this harsh environment.For some people, these leopard sightings in the come like flies to dung.

You see them posting trip reports on forums or sightings photos on social media and it’s just leopards left, right and centre…but not for me. It took me 8 trips in 6 years to even SEE my first leopard. And that was a very fleeting sighting of a male leopard drinking from the camp waterhole at Urikaruus under the floodlight in December 2014.

We narrowly missed a good sighting of a mother and cub the following day (arriving at that specific waterhole literally 5 minutes too late). So you can imagine that it became quite the photographic obsession for me. On our recent safari to the Kalahari, the “streak” was firmly broken as we had 4 good leopard sightings.

The photos were not spectacular, but being able to at least spend time with the felines that had eluded me successfully over 9 separate trips to this place (in 7 years), was very satisfying and fulfilling in the end.

This was the first one – the one that broke the drought for me.I had seen that a leopard sighting was pinned on the sightings board at Twee Rivieren rest camp, quite some distance up the Auob river. We decided to go scan that area for our afternoon drive. Seeing as the temperature was upwards of 50 degrees Celsius, leaving early on an afternoon drive to take advantage of the vehicle air-conditioning needed no motivation within my family. Don’t believe me on the temperature? Check this out (note the time on the clock!):

Getting back to the story…We drove up towards the Montrose waterhole where the leopard had been spotted in the morning. We hadn’t spoken to anyone who’d physically seen it so we just looked into every nook and cranny of the calcrete ridge on the left and in the trees and riverbed on the right.

Suddenly, as we drove into a small loop road there she was! She scuttled out of a small shrub (where I would have never thought to look as it was so dense and thorny) as my vehicle came around the shrub.

Nikon D4s | Nikkor 400mm f2.8G VR | f4.5 | 1/1250 SS | ISO-640

I was able to create a few frames as she lay down in the shade of the tree, before crossing the road and climbing up to the calcrete ridges.

Once she lay down among the calcrete, the camouflage was amazing. If you are ambling along on a game drive, even at a low speed of say 20km/h, would you spot her here??

Even when she started walking along against the backdrop of this rocky ridge – she was pretty well camouflaged! How many people have driven right past leopards on these ridges so distinct to the Kalahari? Many, and I’m sure I have on my past trips as well. Even while we were sitting watching the leopard (with only her head visible), another vehicle came past us, gave a quick look, and drove off before we could tell them that there was a leopard!

What’s the take-home message for all you avid nature photographers? Everyone’s got that one elusive shot or species that haunts you – your Achilles’ heel.The only way to get the monkey off your back – is to go back time and time again to the place where you have the highest probability of getting the sighting and/or the shot, and have patience to sit it out when you’re there, and the fortitude of mind to resolve yourself to the next time if it doesn’t work out at that particular time. Don’t give up!! This leopard photo was 7 years in the making!

Until next time

 

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Morkel Erasmus

Morkel Erasmus

I used to relish writing these kinds of “bio” pieces and would flaunt the odd impressive word and use dashing grammar to make it sound like I am a boundary-shifting photographer. These days I prefer stating it in much simpler ways, much more relatable ways, much more believable ways… The fact of the matter is this: I love Africa. I love its people, its wild places and its wildlife. I love being immersed in these places, observing and photographing the fall of light on the land and the daily lives of the creatures that call it home, and presenting the results to whoever will take a look. To me, nature photography is all about being in the moment, and capturing that moment in a way that can relate to someone who didn’t have the privilege of being there with me. Sometimes I am able to capture a unique vision of the scene before me, and sometimes I just capture it the way most folks would according to classical photographic guidelines. Yet I always enjoy sharing the images and experiences and imparting the knowledge I have, both in-the-field and later online or in presentations, workshops and courses. I also just simply enjoy capturing and sharing the beauty of God's creation! The greatest thing I’ve found about wildlife and nature photography in Southern Africa is the unity and familiarity of the community of people that share this passion. We come from all walks of life and all cultures and backgrounds, yet our passion for our natural heritage and our dream to see it preserved for future generations binds strangers together and fuels conversations around campfires long after other people have run out of conversation and energy. Join me on a WildEye adventure to experience this sharing community spirit and learn to anticipate that fleeting moment and be ready for it, learn to immerse yourself in the experience without losing focus of your photographic goals…and above all, learn to see Africa anew… because there are none as blind as those who look but do not see!

Morkel Erasmus

Morkel Erasmus

Since picking up a DSLR camera for the first time, a little over 3 years ago, Morkel has been invigorated with an unbridled passion for the photographic art form. He has grown at a tremendous pace and put immense energy into the creation of his images. He absolutely loves spending time in the wild places of his native Southern Africa. From a young age he has been visiting legendary wildlife and outdoor locations, including the Kruger Park National Park and the Drakensberg Mountains, with his family. Now that he has found a way to share the natural beauty of his homeland with the rest of the world he is regularly out on photography trips. An Industrial Engineer by profession, and an accomplished artist in genres like music and poetry, Morkel has always enjoyed whatever allows him to express his creativity to the fullest. Photography turned out to be the perfect "marriage" between his engineering brain and artistic soul. "I hope that in some way I can raise awareness through my imagery of the plight of not only our wildlife but also the fragility of the last remaining wilderness areas that they call home.” Morkel was recently honoured for his commitment to his craft by receiving a "Highly Commended" for one of his images in the 2010 BBC Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. He is based in Mpumalanga, South Africa and even though he prefers going on safari with his family and friends, Morkel also leads the odd photographic safari and has recently begun presenting workshops in post-processing techniques.

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Grace Neff

Leopards are beautiful animals.

Maria Manuela Lopes

Congratulations