17 February 2014

Spotting Mr. Spots

It might be true that I've never gotten a camera trap photograph of a Leopard, but then again I've never really tried either. I've always had good luck with Leopard sightings in the flesh and I guess that might be one of the reasons I've never felt the need to go chasing those spots with my camera traps. Another reason would be that it sometimes feels like the focus of every second camera trap photograph (or at least survey) from the African continent are of Leopards.

However, to prevent you, my loyal readers, from feeling unloved (because I never post anything about Leopards on this blog), I'll resort to some bad video clips I was able to take during the December festive season of everybody's favourite spotty feline.

True, not camera trapped, but I hope it's close enough ;)

I drove into the park late in the afternoon. It struck me that the road I was on was teeming with baby antelope, Impala to be precise. Surly this concentration of easy and juicy meat on tiny and clumsy hooves must attract the attention of the local predators? I made a mental note to drive out on this road early the next morning to see what predators where around for the feast.

The next morning I was up early and sure enough, there it was, a Leopard strolling down the road.

Leopard (Luiperd - Panthera pardus) spotted in the distance

As any experienced park visitor will tell you the key a great sighting is to work for it. You have to be up and ready for action as the camp gates open.

Despite my sometimes feverish intensity I like to think of myself as being a fairly calm guy and don't mind not being the first car out the gate. (Yes, people queue at the gate before opening time.) As it turned out I was the third car to turn down this road.

I was pretty happy with third and even thought the photograph looks terrible it was a good sighting.

When more cars arrived the Leopard started moving, leisurely, off the road and deeper into the vegetation. The cars in front and behind me started to setup the usual traffic jam that follows any glimpse of a big cat in the park.

Having had a good view of the animal already, I decided to leave the Leopard behind and continued on. I don't like haunting a sighting or milking it dry. It was still very early in the morning and you never know what might be around the next corner.

In this case, another, bigger, Leopard.

It was 04:51 in the morning and the light was still to weak to get a photograph without motion blur

A mere 3 minutes after spotting the first leopard I stumbled onto this huge male. The rest of the cars were all still forming the ritualistic traffic jam at the first Leopard in the hope of getting a fleeting glimpse of it disappearing into the veld, and here I was pulling up to a perfect Leopard sighting, all on my own. Great stuff!

Video: Driving up to the Leopard

Now before any animal rights activist come dragging me to jail, from the video it might seem like I'm racing towards the poor animal at rocket speed, but it's much slower in real life. You'll just scare the animal away if you come racing down on it. You have to be smoooooth.

Sometimes luck works for you, but at the same time it might also balance things out and work against you... As Lady Luck is the younger sister of the Camera Trapping Goddess, the two conspired against me. The result of which was me forgetting my digital camera in Jo'burg (4+ hour's drive away).

But luckily Luck is a Lady and I still had my cell phone with me. I think the phone did a very decent job.

People sometimes get so obsessed with getting the perfect photograph that we miss the moment. Even worse is when we think back to the event and feel bitter because we didn't get the perfect shot. Maybe camera trapping has helped to lower my standards, but I've embraced the self invented label of a "for-the-record-photographer". I try to snap a photo as an aid to remember the event. Taking photographs shouldn't overshadow the real event, simply help to remember it.

Video: Showing off a bit

It was a great sighting. My one small car did not bother this guy in the least and he went about his business, crossing over to the other side of the road to do some scent marking.

I was still fortunate enough to see a few more Leopards during my trip, but those sightings paled in comparison after my one-on-one with this fine specimen. You just can't beat great sightings of animals in the wild.

Video: Going for a stroll

The moral of the story? Some people will sit the entire day in front of a tree waiting for a Leopard to climb down and get that "perfect photo". Sure you are entitled to do it and it might pay off, but I like to enjoy the sighting for a while and then leave. You never know what might be around the next corner. Most often nothing, but sometimes you spot a spotted something.


  1. Great blog post, I know I can be very guilty of not truly appreciating the moment while I fiddle with camera settings!!

  2. Thanks Laura, glad you enjoyed it :)