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A Beautiful Beast
As an African based wildlife photographer, I have taken it upon myself to share with the rest of the world the bounty of wildlife that inhabits my splendid continent. I have, since a young age, sought out the wildest parts of Africa and it has therefore been a natural progression that I photograph mainly large mammals and predators. You see, you find these creatures in abundance in places where man is absent and its in these places, that I like to spend my time. My job as a wildlife photographer is multifaceted but I am most often trying to portray my beautiful subjects in beautiful ways. If I do this effectively I awake within my audience an appreciation for not just the individual creature, but for its entire species. If large mammals and carnivores are protected then basically entire ecosystems are too! As wildlife photographers these seeds of appreciation that we plant are in a very real way seeds of conservation and preservation. But, what do you do when you fall in love with a wild animal, that well, how does one say, um, is just NOT very pretty...
The leopard you see above goes by the name of the Airstrip Male. Sure, that is not a glamorous name but he is a wild leopard carrying out a free and wild existence in one of Africa's largest ecosystems. So, instead of calling him Borris or Dexter, he has been named after the area in which he set up his home and that was close to a safari airstrip. At first he looks like just any other leopard but when you look more closely you will notice that he has lost sight in his left eye. Over the years I have gotten to know this leopard well, having spent many hours with him and the joke has always been in trying to wait until 'you get his good side'. He lost his eye in a brawl a few years ago with another leopard, and although he is not the biggest male leopard around, he is a fighter. In his quest for survival he has fought males bigger than himself and he has won. He has also mated with seven different female leopard and for a guy who is not that pretty, it says a lot about his prowess. His territory has grown much much larger than the area of the airstrip and his big heart has won me over too. He is my favourite tomcat in the world! As such I have been waiting for an opportunity to take a portrait of him that does him justice and I am happy to report that I recently succeeded. But, before I share with you the portrait I took of this beautiful beast let me share a very interesting story about him, one so bizarre that it has never before been recorded in the natural world (or at least we don't think it has):
He was born into a litter of two cubs and his sibling was also a male. But one day they were feeding at an impala carcass when hyenas burst onto the scene and the two little cubs were separated from their mother. His mother only managed to locate his brother and the poor little Airstrip Male was left to fend for himself. But, in a bazaar twist of fate, his grandmother happened to be in the area and she had lost a cub of her own so she was calling gently for her cub. The Airstrip Male heard her and responded, and was subsequently adopted and raised by his grandmother. You see, he has been a fighter from the very beginning!
I call this one 'Steam and Dust' and it is a portrait of the Airstrip Male.
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