The end of the safari season is the time to get some rest, but mostly to go through the many images taken. While I am on safari with guests I have very limited time to look at the images. Our safaris are often 12 hours per day out in the bush. Many times I just pick one or two pictures for the blog updates and forget about the rest until now, when I am home for a little longer than a day or two. Leopards always rank very high in my favorite animals list and when I am on safari I am always keen to see and look for them, especially if there is any possibility to see two (or more, even better) Leopards interacting, as it is such a rare occurrance. It only happens when a female has cubs or when a couple is in honeymoon, or when males fight, but that’s even more rare to see.
The area where I stay in the Mara is very good for Leopards, but it’s not always easy to see them. Sometimes you go for days without a sighting, then all of a sudden you keep on running into them, different ones. This year I was particularly pleased to spend quite a few days with a Leopardess who has her home along the Mara river. Most interestingly, this year she had a grown male cub, almost one year old now I estimate. Some guides reported a few times that she still has two cubs, a male and a female. I have never seen the female cub personally, even at times when she had a kill so you would expect both to be there. The male cub however is a real character, loving to lay beautifully on the rocks while his mother is away. The mother is not as confident as Olive, but she will nicely tolerate a few vehicles who behave properly. After my first sighting of her I went back to my Mara Leopards’ ID book, which includes complete ID images for about forty individual Leopards from the Central and North-western Mara. I thought I had never seen her before, but actually I realized I had seen her already, albeit briefly and only once, in January of 2010 on the Bila Shaka Lugga, in the heart of the Marsh Lions’ territory.
On a couple of occasions we saw her with Wildebeests’ calves kills, a few more times on rocky outcrops enjoying the breeze and the view. One particular day, August 7th 2012, we saw the mother and the cub with a kill on a tree. In the late afternoon, a male Leopard showed up briefly from the bushy hill nearby. I think it could be the father of the cub, whom I had seen in this same area already last year. Again, going through the ID book, it was interesting to see that I had seen this Leopard the first time when he was a small cub, on the Ntiakintiaki river, in June 2008. His mother is a beautiful Leopard named Lerai, from the Maasai name of the Yellow-barked Acacia which she likes to climb on. During 2009 this male was a regular sight on the border between the park and the Olare Orok Conservancy, sometimes even appearing with his sister. It is nice to see that he established a territory for himself and is even siring cubs of his own already, at just over four years old.
What made most sightings of these Leopards particularly interesting was in my opinion the stunning setting of rocky outcrops where they often were found. Most Leopards’ sightings in the Mara happen inside or alongside bushy streams, not particularly photogenic, or along rivers, which can be very good but also repetitive. One particular evening in late August, when all the other vehicles had left, we had this extraordinary sighting and photographic opportunity, of a Leopard silhouetted agains the sunset on the highest rock. It was the male cub, giving us a moment to remember forever. I had hoped and planned for this image way before he actually climbed the rock, so I could chose what I thought was the best position and the kind of framing I wanted. I went for a relatively wide lens, to capture a lot of sky and give a truer sense of the moment than what I would have had I gone tight with a simple silhouette.0