Saturday, December 21, 2013

Leopard (Africa Series)

This is a repost of the introduction to bring you up to date on why this is NOT about birds.

(Africa Series)
I recently traveled to Africa, with the intent of finding new birds to photograph. I found over fifty 'new' bird species, but not just birds.

I went with my good friends Barbara and Don Gilmore.  Barb is a tour organizer and owns Many Hats Travel. She led eighteen women and four men through Sweetwater Tented Camp, Lake Nakuru National Park and the Maasai Mara in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The experience was enlightening, eye opening and exhausting all at the same time. There was little downtime, chiefly self-inflicted because you don’t want to miss anything.  Missing a game drive could mean not seeing an animal others saw.  As our African host, Atonio Marangabassa stated, "If you want a vacation, go to Hawaii…you’re here to see animals!"

But Feather Tailed Stories is not a travel blog…it’s about birds and I will keep it as such.  Nevertheless, there were many interesting animals stories in Africa and to NOT tell them would be unfortunate. My focus here is still on birds, but for this series I will include four-legged animals, too. I hope you agree with this major deviation, but I will start with birds. 

November 26, 2013_________________________________________________________


It was like one of those picture puzzles,
‘Can You Find the Cat in this Picture?’
Supposedly hidden somewhere in the picture is a calico cat in a junkyard and you are being challenged to find it.

You may never find that cat...this cat is real!

I was in Kenya recently. I was photographing an oxpecker with a hippo under it when our driver, Lucas, called out, "There is something over there in the bush."  He couldn’t say what it was, but he noticed an eland standing tall and staring intently into a small brush-island.  Lucas figured there must be a sizeable predator in there somewhere because only a big cat could alarm a big eland. 

We pulled in our cameras, sat down in our seats and agreed, a big cat would be more exciting than an oxpecker.  Lucas peeled off the dirt road making a new path across rocks and boulders to find what the eland found. 

With our binoculars and long lenses we panned the brush searching for what the eland had sensed.  This game drive included Don and Barb Gilmore, along with the brother and sister pair of Glenn Falkowski and Pam Flanders, and me.

Don saw something first, maybe just a leg or paw, but eventually he put the picture puzzle together and saw a faint outline of a Leopard…a female Leopard.

Perfectly camouflaged in dappled twilight, she had no reason to reveal herself to us.  When Lucas moved the truck to give us a better angle, she would retreat to even deeper shade. 

The sun was too far-gone for pictures. I would need flash for pictures now.  The flash would give an unnatural glow to her eyes, but was technically necessary.

The waiting game had started.  We whispered encouragements among ourselves for her to come out, as if she’d understand or even care to please us.  We waited impatiently, but we were on a Leopard’s timetable now and there was nothing we could do to speed it up. 

Graciously, she emerged one-step outside the bush, sat down and looked our way. We were surprised at our good fortune and amazed at her generosity. She had nothing to gain by revealing herself, nor posing for dozens of pictures either.

Leopards are loners.

Typically a female leopard will hold a range of about six square miles, while a male’s range is from twelve to thirty square miles. They come together only for mating and then lead separate lives.

Leopards are admired for their strength and stealth.  Largely nocturnal and well camouflaged besides, stealth is built into the Leopard naturally. Powerful short legs enable the Leopard to creep through short grass and haul a heavy carcass vertically up a tree to safety. 

The ability to secure a kill from theft is a huge advantage for the solitary Leopard.  Packs of African Dogs or Spotted Hyenas or a pride of Lions will steal a Leopard’s kill…good reasons for the Leopard to eat in the trees.

(Click on any picture to enlarge)

After allowing us three minutes  in the open, something prompted her to move on.  Slowly she made an semicircle around the truck…gave us a few more minutes and disappeared into the darkness.


Wildlife of East Africa,
   Withers & Hosking