I was just six years old when I experienced something that would change my life forever. The day had began to cool in the late winter afternoon in the Kruger National Park, and we were making our way back to camp before the gate closed, when we rounded a corner and saw a line of cars with people staring through binoculars into the distance.
Naturally the excitement level in the vehicle rose and we knew that there must be something special to cause the mini traffic jam that we had just stumbled onto. After a few minutes of staring into the bush and trying to figure out what all the people were looking at we pulled up next to a family in their hatchback and asked what all the fuss was about. “LEOPARD!!”, said a man with wild excitement in his voice. Butterflies raced through my chest, this was my third trip to this magnificent park and I had never cast my eyes upon one of these elusive cats. After around 15 minutes of scanning every tree possible with my binoculars my grand father said it was time to go as we had to get back to camp. I had seen nothing and was heart broken. My grandmother convinced him to do a loop and come back to the spot where all the cars had been so we could have another look before we headed back. We rounded the same corner we had been just moments before and there were now no vehicles. We stopped next to a fallen down tree and had binoculars glued to our eyes.We were all in silence, desperate to lay eyes on the cause of the earlier traffic jam, and saw nothing. “Nick, I’m sorry but we have to get back to camp!”, my grandfather’s words had barely left his mouth when a female leopard, seemingly out of thin air, simply hopped onto a dead branch just metres from our vehicle. There she sat, the most beautiful thing my young eyes had ever seen, staring at me for what felt like an eternity. The feeling that flooded my body I cannot put into words, her eyes penetrated into my soul and I fell deeply in love. This feeling stayed with me all the way back to camp and I could not quite comprehend what had just happened. It was love at first sight and since that day I have had a deep fascination and an obsession with these incredible creatures. They have influenced my life more than I could have ever imagined possible. What it is about them I can not quite describe but to this day they continue to leave me in absolute awe. A leopard has a presence about it and silently commands respect without ever asking it. They walk with a grace and beauty that cannot (in my mind) be compared to any other being on this planet.
A year ago I arrived at Londolozi with great excitement. I had watched documentaries about leopards made here by John Varty as a little boy and I was now about to start working here, in what felt Neverland must have felt like to Peter Pan. The past year has been an incredible journey and I have met amazing people from all walks of life. I have witnessed some remarkable sightings, from my first mating leopards to cubs playing with their mothers, to leopards lying lazily in trees or walking silently past our vehicles. I love the trust that has been built up between animal and man here. A leopard needs only to look you in the eye and you feel like nothing else exists. Everything else fades away instantly and for a moment, all seems right with the world. The Leopards of Londolozi have enriched my life and have given me experiences that will stay with me to my last days. It has been a privilege to spend time in their presence.
Londolozi is a very special place, the people here are warm and friendly and are always willing to lend a helping hand. I have learned a lot in this past year about photography, nature, people and feel like being around all of this positive energy teaches you how life should be lived all around the world. I have also learned a lot from the leopard.
The feeling I had on that late winter afternoon has never left me and I now have the privilege to show people from all over the world leopards on an almost daily basis; I feel a great excitement showing someone their first leopard. How lucky am I? I have been at Londolozi for a year now and have witnessed some amazing sightings and have met wonderful people to. How do you sum up a year at Londolozi in a blog? It is just not possible. So therefore I have chosen to share with you a few of my favourite images of the greatest animals on the planet and hope that the images make up for the lack of words that I have.
Enjoy the pictures…