The end of the dry season is one of my favorite times in the South African Lowveld. This is when the bush is at its driest, providing a great backdrop for photography, especially in the grassy plains. The light also seems to be more golden with all the dust that is in the atmosphere. All in all, it is a photographer’s dream and this year has been no different.
Incidentally, this is also one of the best times of year to track and find leopards at Londolozi as the vegetation is at its most sparse, making it easier to spot these elusive cats and, with the sparse vegetation, there are more areas where one can see and follow their tracks.
This year has proved no different and the leopard viewing during the past couple of months has been phenomenal. We’ve subsequently had our first rains and the landscape at Londolozi has transformed as there is a flush of green in almost every direction. I thought that this would be a good time to write a post showcasing some of the great sightings from the last few weeks of the dry season, as most of the images going forward will have a brilliant green backdrop.
Most of the images that I managed to capture in the past few weeks involved female leopards, so I decided to use this as an opportunity to showcase some of the female leopards of Londolozi.
A shot I have been waiting years to capture. After following her through some of the thickest bush on the property, the Dudley Riverbank female made it all worth it by walking along the rocks on the bank of the Tugwaan river in the most amazing morning light. Being a still spring morning, the reflection in the water was almost perfect!
The Dudley Riverbank female certainly hasn’t lost any of her beauty with age. Her face definitely has character and tells of a long life. She strolled out onto the rocks and then turned to show me her better side.
This is still the leopardess who I consider the most photogenic on the Londolozi property. The Tamboti female gazes into the distance, allowing the light catches her eye.
Somewhat uncharacteristically, the Tamboti female snarls at us. I put this down to the fact that she has had a nasty gash on her back leg for some time and had been battling to hunt for some time. When i took this photograph, she was in the process of feeding on an impala kill and I think she was in a fair amount of pain and was also very defensive of her kill. All this is quite understandable and as such, we left her shortly after capturing this expression which says so much!
The Tamboti female shows off her beautiful features as she stares right at us.
Another one of our older generation, the Maxabene female looks over her shoulder allowing the early morning light to cover her in a golden glow.
So often it pays to bide your time and follow leopards through the thickest of blocks, as invariably they decide that you have earned the right to have them pose for a few minutes. In this case it was no different. After following the Maxabene through a very thick block near the airstrip, she climbed up onto a termite mound and gazed into the distance, allowing us to capture a few portraits of her before the light disappeared.
This is one of the last of this type of image for a good few months, as the recent rains have brought with them a green flush. I love photographing leopards in long, brown grass. Just at the moment I was about to take the shot, the Maxabene female heard something it stood slightly more upright and perked up her ears, making her stand out above the grass.
Quite a different picture. The Maxabene female glances upwards as she passes under a pushed over marula tree. I like the way that the marula tree frames the shot.
This was my first ever sighting of the Piva female and what amazing light! We believe this to be a daughter of the Nottens female who is seldom seen on Londolozi as her territory only covers the very southern parts of our property.
A close up of the Piva female. The background is what makes this image and the colour seems to make her face and beautiful features just jump out at you.
After searching for and tracking leopard for the whole day, we came around the corner and just bumped into the Tutlwa female on the northern bank of the Sand River. So often persistence pays off. It was all made worthwhile as she posed briefly in the afternoon light before disappearing into the Sand River, contact calling for her sub adult cubs.
Written and photographed by James Crookes