Leopards from my archives.

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Living in the dappled shadows, male leopards lead a solitary yet majestic life. A master of stealth, his golden coat is adorned with inky rosettes that serve as a canvas of survival. This predator is a lone wanderer, a solitary sovereign traversing the vast canvas of his realm. His life is a journey through moonlit landscapes and sun-kissed horizons, where each step echoes the primal rhythms of the untamed. As the moon rises, he embarks on a nocturnal quest, navigating the labyrinth of shadows with feline finesse. His nights resonate with the orchestrated symphony of the wild—a blend of rustling leaves, distant calls, and the rhythm of his padded paws. In the dance between shadow and light, this leopard roams, embodying the spirit of the wild, a silent sovereign in the realm of the African bush.

 

 

 

Although many guests, when out on game drives tend to look into trees for leopards, this is how they are usually first seen.

Leopards can lead field guides on a roundabout chase, around termite mounds and in and out of dongas should they feel so inclined. Fun for them, but frustrating for those in a vehicle.

This post is filled with some of my favourite leopard sightings over the years. For me, this predator remains one of the most elusive of all the cats and gets my adrenaline pumping after almost 60 years of spending time in reserves around South Africa.

 

 

 

Spending time with a leopard when you are the only guest in a vehicle is special. I was embedded with a wildlife TV company for several days and when we found this youngster, we were able to spend almost an hour just observing its behaviour.

 

 

 

Sabi Sands produces the most leopard sightings per game drive than almost any other wildlife area in South Africa. It is a scientific fact that the reserve has more of this animal per sq km than any other in South Africa.

 

 

 

When THIS is a first sighting, can it get any better?

This was just the beginning, for, if memory serves me, we saw 10 different leopards during a 4-day trip.

 

 

 

We spotted this mom and her cub almost by accident lying on a side road. According to our guide, we were the first guests to see the cub, although it had been seen by guides and staff.

I contacted our guide a year later and the cub had survived its first year. Since then, I have lost contact with both the guide and the animal.

Mortality is high with leopard cubs and as a result, staff do not name them for the first year.

I have to say that I am ambivalent about giving animals names, even if it is for ‘scientific’ purposes. But having said that, I have been at lodges where returning guests have specifically asked for leopards, by name, that they have seen previously.

Did you know?

Leopard cubs remain with their mother until about two years of age—a long, crucial period in the lives of the cubs, wherein they learn all the necessary skills from their mother to hunt, forage, feed and survive in the wild. The cubs usually begin to accompany the mother on hunts when they are about four months old.

 

 

 

Playtime? I always wonder how animals view us. Are we the human version of a Gary Larsen cartoon?

 

 

 

The same leopard, now right side up!

 

 

 

Eyes on the prize. Even when taking a moment at the waterhole, this leopard was weary.

This was the first, and to date, the only time that I have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to capture an image like this.

 

 

 

Just when I said I had not seen another leopard drinking…this happened on a drive after I published this post.

We had been watching a herd of buffalo wallowing and and drinking at this waterhole and were on our way back to the lodge when the tracker said “Inkwe”…and the guests on the vehicle sat up and took notice!

She had been hunting a scrub hare, unsuccessfully I might add and she seemed to think that a long drink was the better option.

I could barely contain my excitement as she settled down right in front of our vehicle. Extremely relaxed and in no hurry to leave, she was a pleasure to watch and photograph.

 

 

 

This sequence was another first for me although I have come across mating leopards subsequently.

It was interesting that the other guests in the vehicle did not realize just what a special event they were watching and after a few minutes were complaining and ready to move on.

The guide was able to convince them that what they were witnessing was indeed a rare sighting and well worth remaining at for a while longer.

 

 

 

We were informed by the guide that this was the first mating for the young female but the male ‘had done this before’.

Males take no part in raising the cubs and, in fact, only interact with the females for mating purposes.

Territorial males will often see the cubs as competition and, as such, will be killed by this male, even if it is their father.

 

 

 

A moment of respite between bouts of copulation.

Leopards and lions have very similar mating rituals which, on average, have them mating every 15 minutes for up to 5 days. This means that they can mate more than 250 times during this period, hence the reason for frequent rest periods.

It is usually the female that will initiate the interactions.

 

 

 

Lots of growling, screaming and noises that can be heard from a long way away.

To ensure her submission the male bites her on the nape of the neck. The act of mating can be painful as the male’s penis has recurved barbs. This a trait of felines, including house cats, which in combination with the numerous copulations induces the female to ovulate.

The female needs a stimulus to start ovulation which mating assists with as the male leopard’s penis has barbs that dig into the female. When the male retracts, these barbs hurt the female but act as a stimulus to start producing eggs. The intense sounds emitted are due to the pain of the act.

 

 

 

I have no recollection as to why this leopard was looking like this…

 

 

 

Finally, a leopard in a tree.

 

 

 

With eyes that carry the weight of untamed instincts, this youngster peered into the very essence of my being. The intensity was palpable, drawing me into a silent communion with this predator.

The eyes, adorned with a ring of innocence yet reflecting an ancient wisdom, seem to possess an otherworldly ability. Locked in a gaze with this feline enigma, it becomes an unspoken challenge—one that I was glad to accept. It’s as if the young leopard’s eyes held a magnetic power, compelling me to acknowledge the untamed spirit within.

In that shared moment, a connection was forged, transcending the boundaries between observer and observed. The young leopard’s eyes, an embodiment of the wild’s raw poetry, invite you to dance on the precipice of the untamed, where every blink is a heartbeat, and every shared gaze whispers the untold stories of the vast and mysterious wilderness.

 

 

 

Time to escape from the paparazzi…

 

 

 

Eye of the tiger?

Here in Africa, we have the eye of the leopard.

“I am ready for my close-up”.

 

 

 

This individual had been eating dung that it had found. I did not know that leopards did this, but it seems that they do so to mask their smell during a hunt and eating it also aids in their digestion process.

 

 

 

This is one of the largest male leopards that I have encountered.

It used to frequent a camp that my wife and I visited on more than one occasion.

Unfortunately, this boy became habituated to humans, frequently walking through the camp as he did. My wife had encountered him in the bar area during one of our visits to the lodge.

As is normally the outcome in a situation like this, he eventually attacked a staff member in a village nearby and was euthanised as a result.

A sad ending for a magnificent animal. Yet another victim of the encroachment of humans into its territory.

 

 

 

This week I head off to these 3 camps, which are all part of the portfolio…

I hope to add legendary new leopard images to my archives.

 

 

 

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