Lover’s Creek – A Leopard’s Tail Part 1

Every once in a while I get to experience something new and different, a sight that I’ve not seen before, a new species I’ve not yet encountered, or a new park explored for the very first time. As time goes on these experiences become less frequent. This is understandable I believe.

This however makes these new encounters all that much more remarkable and memorable for me. They tend to stand out from the usual happenings I get to see in nature.

On a recent safari to the Selinda Reserve in Botswana, I had another of these truly remarkable moments. It really was something right out of a storybook.

We had found two leopards mating about 15 minutes from our camp – Selinda Camp’s Suite. We spent some time with the cats on the first day but they were embedded into thick brush with no great view and certainly no photographic opportunity at all. Still, leopards can be hard to come by this time of year in this region, so it was a great find and one that I enjoyed.

The next afternoon we managed to track them down once again. You see, leopards can make for anything from 2 to 5 days. It depends on the cats really. They also tend to stay within a certain area, no moving too far. This makes it “easy” to relocate them. Sometimes, all you have to do is so drive into the area where you last saw them, switch the car engine off, and listen intently for about 20 minutes. There’s every chance in the early morning or late afternoon, when they are cooler and more active, that you’ll hear the vocalizations associated with mating.

Once again, we found the two lovers in thick brush. I had hoped that they would have moved out of this area over the last 24 hours. Luck, however, was to be on our side. Not long after we arrived they started moving, covering some good ground. We managed to stay with them and this would prove to be well worth our while.

In the midst of the thick brush lay a beautiful, scenic waterhole. The two cats drank some water from it and then lay down at the edge of the water, as if asked to do so. Perhaps they picked up on my telepathic messages because boy, the scene in front of me was nothing short of breathtaking! I wanted nothing more than for these two cats to spend some time at this waterhole because the light was getting to that golden, side-lit stage, and the scene was just so beautiful and storybook-like. It’s the kind of scenes and settings you often drive past and thing to yourself, “Man if only there could be a leopard lying over there”. Well, my dream came true and more – I now had two leopards in this idyllic setting.

I immediately had our vehicle positioned in such a way as to be low down to the ground, and to be in a position to see the best reflections of the cats in the water. Vehicle positioning is of extreme importance, more so because I used my Sony 400 f2.8 GM lens. I can’t zoom in, and I can’t zoom out. I have to look at what’s in front of me, consider the terrain, and then re-position accordingly. We moved a few times, depending on what I wanted to see through my lens. It worked beautifully and we got the shots that we wanted!

Now the moment of truth arrived. The big question (and hope) was simple, would these cats mate in the same position, right there next to the waterhole? That, would be absolute perfection. I was all set up, ready for the action, ready for that magic moment. It’s hard to describe one’s feelings during those moments of intense anticipation. You’ve played these scenes out in your head so many times, hoping for encounters of this nature. Then, when they finally do arrive and there’s a chance of those magical shots, the emotions that build up inside, are tough to put into words. If you know, you know!

And, then it happened.

The female stood up and walked over to the male. Often in leopards it’s the female that initiates mating. She’ll get up, walk over to the male, often in a foul mood, and get him into the “mood” for the task at hand. Adult leopards are not social creatures and only really spend time together like this when they mate. Being together like this goes against their nature and interactions are often rather heated and intense, as you’ll see from the pictures below.

I was in a great position to capture the magic that followed, and I was ready for it. The settings on my Sony A1 had been checked over and over again to make sure I am in the right window, and when they started mating I picked the moments and fired away at 20 frames per second.

The results? Well, see for yourself!

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