It is weird how the world works, particularly when it comes to friendship. It basically comes down to, somewhere, somehow in your life you meet someone, who you really get along with, and you just begin to do “stuff” together. This is something I have experienced in my life a lot, fortunately. But when this connection happens, and it is so immediate and sudden, it can lead to something special. In a post I wrote last week on Hylton Royden-Turner, I mentioned how a long standing guest, Ted Swindon brought his Godson along with him on a 9 day safari to Londolozi to view and photograph animals but mainly leopards. This is a small account of their stay here with us.
From the get go, myself and Ted had similar views, morals and passions. He has a thing for leopards and I could see his eyes light up at the mention of the word. Not only that, but photography is a huge passion as well. Ted arrived at Londolozi sporting a range of gear that would help us in many situations, even an 800 mm fixed lens for birds and portraits. After spending a very small amount of time with Ted, I began to understand and connect with him. He reminds me so much of my own father and I felt comfort in that. These 9 days were going to be a breeze. We had goals of course, but there was never pressure, we went out with a good attitude, come rain or shine, good light or cloudy skies. But positive and eager to search and explore. I remember Ted saying to me that one of his favourite drives was one where we drove to the southern boundary of the property and we saw almost nothing. He made the comment that he felt lost and couldn’t recognise anything. For him that was his happy place.
Now let’s get to the leopards. One of Ted’s favourite things out here, besides his photography, is the leopards, the individuals, the dynamics and their stories. He is in tune with what goes on and has been following the progression of the leopards of Londolozi and the generations for the past 8 years. When he visits, he tells stories of how he watched the Mashaba female as a cub, who we now view as an adult, territorial leopardess, mother and protector. He remembers the dominance of the Camp Pan male and his epic battle with 5:5 over the Sand River and he speaks of the Tugwaan Male (Shorty) who is now but a distant memory in these parts. A passion so strong it is hard to compete with.
Ted has this love affair with leopards, but he kept telling me how much he enjoys seeing new leopards, ones he has never seen before. Be it a new leopard in an area, a young cub or just a leopard who continues to elude him each visit. During his 9 night stay, we managed to find, view and photograph 13 individual leopards. Leopards mating, with kills in trees, climbing trees, avoiding hyenas, leopard cubs, new males pushing for undiscovered territory, old leopards he knows well and leopards he has heard of but never seen. Out of the 13 individual leopards we saw, 7 were completely new to him and we encountered them on more than 1 occasion. If I recall correctly, 25 different leopard sightings in 9 days. It was an incredible adventure that combined passion, hard work, enthusiasm and patience. We filled memory cards each day with images of all there is to offer here and we built a great relationship and will be friends for many years to come.
Here are some of the photographs I took during Ted’s stay with us. I hope you enjoy them.
Written and Photographed by: Mike Sutherland