I chose a partially sheltered sandy patch, situated about 60 metres away from the potential entry point. I believed distance and a low position would give me the best chance of seeing this superb leopard if she appeared.
With my legs crossed I placed the camera on my lap and lent forward, keeping my head below the level of the barbed wire, It is an interesting perspective, searching for spots when you are now as tall as that which you seek. The grass towered over me and for a moment I felt vulnerable. Time passed by and for the most part I kept still, aside from brief adjustments to improve circulation in my legs. Fuelled by possibility, my resolve strengthened as the sun sank toward the horizon.
Through the maze of wire a familiar shape caught my eye, I appeared to catch Kulua’s attention immediately. I accepted the likely outcome of her moving off as she has so many times before. A tail brushed up against her face and I realised one of her cubs was with her, the leopardess cautiously continued to survey the surroundings whilst I attempted super stealth mode. This is a great time for my heart rate to slow, however I always experience the opposite affect. Kulua moved toward the fence as her cub playfully interfered with her path. I used this opportunity to lift my camera and be ready. Though the cub reached the dug out first, she was quick to relinquish her position and happy to follow moms lead. After yet another pensive stare in my direction this marvellous feline slid under the wire blades and then focused on my lens.
I’ve spent over one and a half years following these incredibly shy cats with the dream of such a scenario playing out. In seconds the cub was right next to her protector, I was in disbelief as I know how timid this youngster is, fortunately the distance between us and my low posture meant Kulua never viewed me as a threat, in turn this gave me a chance to photograph the cub. With surprising casualty the Queen padded her way across the road. The little one was more fearfully minded and retreated back to her comfort zone. No matter, they teamed up shortly after. I rose to my feet and gracefully departed. I had played out so many scenarios in my head and considered many more sequestered spots, thankfully this plan played out perfectly.
Consider, if you will, the improbability of this event. These cats are superior in sight, smell, hearing and instinct whilst they have a healthy fear of humans and are almost exclusively nocturnal on the wildlife estate. My distant and submissive position may have played a part but ultimately it was the leopard’s decision to allow me a glimpse into their secrecy. These photographs speak to a broader theme, showcasing how animals continue to adapt and fight for their survival in a world dominated by humankind.