Ever since I saw my first leopard, standing with her two cubs on a sandbar in the middle of a river in Samburu National Park in Kenya, it has been the animal I most want to see on safari. Long ago, I learnt that leopard sightings are on their terms. They are so well camouflaged that they can be invisible, even when they are only metres away, and will only show themselves if they want to be seen.
Sabi Sands in South Africa has a reputation for providing close encounters with this magnificent beast. This was one of the reasons I wanted to visit the reserve.
Right from our first game drive, Sabi didn’t disappoint. I got closer to leopards than I have ever been in my life. Not even in zoos do you get within touching distance.
Nothing, however, had prepared me for my encounter with Quarantine, a 3-year-old male with his own Facebook page. He granted Mrs Footprints and me a one-hour-long audience with him at the end of March.
We were on our first game drive with Cheetah Plains guide, Andrew Khosa, when he told us that he was taking us to a sighting of a leopard in a tree. Unfortunately Quarantine had descended from that tree by the time we reached him.
We stopped as soon as we saw him, as he was walking slowly towards us. He paused in front of the Land Cruiser to take a good look at us before moving into thick bush. We thought that was it. It was a typical leopard encounter; just long enough to grab a few shots before the cat disappears.
A short time later, Andrew told us that he’d heard that Quarantine had emerged from the bush, so we went to find him again.
He was still walking slowly through his territory when we caught up with him. Clearly, he was looking for another tree to climb. When he found a suitable one he climbed it in a couple of bounds.
Andrew was able to position us directly beneath the tree so that we had a clear view and could get good photos.
As we watched, Quarantine surveyed his territory. It was hard to tell whether he was looking for his next meal or just checking that there weren’t any other leopards invading his territory. Either way, he was happy to stay there until after our time with him was up.
I love photographing leopards. I think they are particularly photogenic and work well in black and white too. Quarantine was the perfect model, adopting a range of poses including looking straight into my lens – a spine-tingling moment.
Thank you, Quarantine, for allowing us into your presence. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.