One night in Mala Mala, a private concession in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa, I had one of the most exciting wildlife experiences of my life. It was my second trip to Africa and only my second opportunity to photograph wildlife. I was not well versed in night time photography nor did I have professional glass, but the images I was able to capture bring back vivid memories of that incredible evening.
It started under a huge tree on the bank of the bone-dry riverbed. Our guide had discovered a young leopard with a kill. He was sleeping as we pulled up and moments later he became very alert of his surroundings. About the same time as the leopard began looking around, our guide received a radio with his colleague on the other side of the river and got word of a second leopard sighting. He explained to us that this tree was the territory of a large male who was currently on his way back towards us, about to cross the river bed. We sat and waited. As did the young leopard…
Now, leopards aside, there is something quite visceral about sitting out in the African bush at night, in a completely open-sided vehicle. You are totally exposed. With the engine off, every sound is amplified–including the sound of your beating heart. As we waited for the resident leopard to return to his tree, a glance over the side of the truck revealed two hyenas…the second largest, and most opportunistic predators in Africa. They are standing three feet away… Watching. Waiting.
The large male comes up ambles up the riverbank and looks up in the tree. In a flash he is bounding up the trunk, the smaller leopard scrambling higher in the boughs. The impala kill gets knocked to the ground ground–exactly what the hyenas were waiting for! The big male leaps down, grabs the half eaten ungulate in it’s jaws and throws himself back up the tree before the hyenas have had a chance to react! No free meal tonight so they retreat. We are somewhat relieved to see them go. Meanwhile, the young leopard, hiding way up on an upper limb now sits there, banished to the treetop he now has to watch as the big guy eats his dinner!!
Oblivious to the slack-jawed humans only yards away, this wild narrative plays out in a matter of minutes but never have so few moments afforded such vivid and exciting memories!
These images capture the sequence of events, albeit, not all that well. To allow for a sense of proximity I have left the glaring white “rod” in one of the photos. This is the antennae of the truck we were sitting in–under the tree. The focal length for these shots was 70mm-the shortest I had with me. Unfortunately the lighting is uneven as I was mostly relying on the headlights from the truck and “on camera” flash.
You might also enjoy the Big Cat Gallery!All photos © NJ Wight
PROMOTE PASSION – like, share, tweet, send smoke signals…
Subscribe for more Wild! (Use that little box on the right!)