It was ignited decades back, when they were still considered ghosts. Heard but seldom seen, tracks and signs evidence of their secretive presence. A blur of spots disappearing into the dense undergrowth in an attempt to again become invisible. An ability to melt into their surroundings that is unmatched. This nature is one of many reasons we are still captivated on a daily basis.
It often starts with a trackers keen eye, a group of shapes in the sand, and in anticipation of what is to come, a quickened heart rate. An experienced gaze is cast down on the footprints left in the dust. Clues slowly start to show, male or female, direction, how fast and how long ago it past by are all deciphered. Following these tracks in the substrate is a skill, an art form, a felling that is incredible to be a part of. Keeping up with our Shangaan trackers as they point out the most subtle disturbances and slowly lead you closer.
Finally close enough to catch a glimpse, the most striking coat jumps out and blends in at the same time. A soft white underside gradually becomes a rich golden ridge along the spine interrupted with clusters of spots forming perfect rosettes. A yearning ambition to recreate such beauty by the fashion industry falls short time after time. Each one slightly different, in colour and spot combination, but no less captivating than the next.
This coat so perfectly wrapped around the most perfectly tuned killing machine. With each deft movement they silently slide through the ground cover. Stopping periodically, they take stock of their surroundings. Pausing before slinking across a small open area. Eventually settling to meticulously groom their coat the facilitator of their invisibility. A lowered head and closed eyes, relaxed and trusting enough to sleep in our presence, we feel privileged and leave as quietly as possible to once again start thinking of the next time we will be in their presence.
We are incredibly fortunate to have a relationship with these secretive cats that has been built by many before us. We are spoilt to spend time with a number of different leopards at Londolozi and immerse ourselves in their history and habits. Sometimes to a point where we overlook the fact that this is not the norm and become so engrossed in the particulars of an individual that we don’t appreciate their acceptance of us. Sometimes simply seeing one of these beautiful big cats is special enough.
When you spend time with a leopard what draws you in most about them?
Written and photographed by Simon Smit