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Gazing Up

At first, I was simply struck by their astounding beauty; the way the black ink-like dots on their heads and forequarters slowly give way to beautiful rosettes, stamped perfectly across their velvet flanks. Each individual also possesses its own unique string of spots across their necks, affectionately known as the ‘pearl necklace’. With their often pick noses and extremely long whiskers, they are surely vowing for top honors amongst Africa’s most attractive cats?

I have always found their eyes to be the most beautiful feature of all; it is almost as if one can see the rods and cones embedded deep within. Their jet-black pupils juxtaposed against an underlying and delicate string of blood capillaries make their eyes wishful macro subjects, if only one could get close enough?

Not only are these cats exquisitely gorgeous but, they possess an ultimate spirit of prowess and independence, such as only a true cat can! When they walk, they carve through the African bush like a hot knife through butter, their shoulder blades rising and falling in synchronized succession. Hunting for these supreme cats is not a task to be completed, like it is for their other lazy cousins belonging to the same genus (lion). No, hunting for the leopard is a perpetual game of chess, the proverbial ‘cat and mouse’ if you like.

Over the years, I have grown fond of not just their outward appearance but their peculiar habits too, like the way the tip of their long elegant tails twitch vigorously, being aroused by the slightest of rustles in the grass. They are extremely patient hunters too and I have sat for hours watching leopards stalk the most insignificant of prey, very carefully inching closer, by placing each hind foot in exactly the same place, where their front paws once were.

Perhaps most of all, I have grown to appreciate that each individual leopard has its own unique personality and temperament, much like your domestic cat at home. The leopard depicted here, lives in the Tuli Block of Botswana; she is unique in that her eyes have a subtle pale blue hue to them. This striking specimen recently gave birth to a litter of three cubs (two males and one female), and prior to the taking of this photograph, she successfully killed an impala. When she went back to call her three young cubs however, she found only her tiny daughter to be in the safe hiding place where she had left them. We followed her as she agonizingly paced through a large Croton thicket calling for her two lost boys.

Finally, giving up, we returned to camp leaving the mother desperately calling and searching in the dark. The next morning, we were elated to find all three cubs with mom, and at the kill site! The boy cubs however, continued to make a nuisance of themselves, being more interested in playing with their food than actually eating it. Finally, the dangling impala carcass had had enough, and came tumbling to the floor. The mother quickly ran to the base of the tree to re-hoist the kill as the thud of the carcass striking terra firma, had no doubt not gone unnoticed by the hyenas waiting in the shadows. I knew that before re-hoisting the impala, she would glance up for just a brief second, to plot her way back up the tree. I readied myself and tripped my shutter just as she gazed skyward.

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