“I don´t want to have an argument with these animals. Because if I do get into trouble, I am going to lose. I just strictly ask you to follow my orders, once we are facing these cats!”
Tour Guide during our safety briefing
You might think you are safe. At least you had a very good briefing by the park rangers, guiding you on that Leopard Track. You start driving out in open safari vehicles, no roof, no wind shields. When it starts, you don’t have a clue on what to expect. It´s just another one of those tourist things you got to do, according to hundreds of recommendations, be it in travel guides or in countless web based forums. But then you realize: this is the bushland, there is almost no protection around you and you are going headon with one of the big 5 of Africa – the Leopard. This cat might look gentle, but it is not a tamed cat. It is a wild predator on his playground. The only thing you know about this animal is his name: Nkosi. It takes you between 1 and 4 hours, depending on the place that the cat hides away to track it down on an area of about 22.000 hectares. First you drive on bush-highways, then, depending on the signal´s clarity, you leave the gravel and sand roads, riding through the middle of the bushes.
As the signal gets more intense you realize that there might be a chance of spotting this impressive cat very soon, very close – your illusive expectation starts to set in. You hope that Nkosi is in a good mood today; otherwise you might be simply mock-charged and according to the circling bush stories that have been told around the fireplace last night, you do not want that.
All of a sudden your park ranger and guide stops the vehicle. His voice is calm but very serious. The cat is in spotting distance, now it´s all about keeping your eyes open. By now you know for sure that the predator has been observing you, long before you had any indication of his presence. This animal is a nocturnal one, but if it is about protecting his territory, he´s awake with a clear sense that outweighs your perception of what is going on. If you see him, you must not be excited – it could kill you. The order is clear: spot it, stay calm, observe it, avoid direct eye contact. If the cat comes closer, look away, breath normal, very slow movements only, no cry-outs…
“Nkosi seems to be very relaxed today. Maybe he has eaten a little too much of the zebra we just saw hanging from the tree behind us. If Nkosi starts getting curious and comes closer to our vehicle, don´t move, don´t panic!”
While remembering all that briefing information it becomes hard to further observe this tight bushland environment. Every stone becomes the back of a huge cat. Every littel sound could be the Leopard, jumping out of the bush – then, all of a sudden, loudlessly Nkosi is there: his head sticks out behind on of the countless bushes. A view, sharp as knife hits you. Now it´s clear: you are in the focus of the cat! As if all the briefings would not have been necessary, you can´t even speak. Every single rational thought in your mind seems to stand still. This must be a very odd instinct of yours: you sense the danger of the situation but it also attracts you, no more escape – you have to face it and see what you get, if you get out that is. After a second, that seemed to last much longer, I realized what I came here for: the perfect shot of my personal leopard encounters. As if he would have taken notice, Nkosi still fixates me as if to say “my dear guy, before you get a perfect shot of me, proof that you are worth it!”. I am aware, that this is just my kind of an illusive pattern. Does Nkosi really know? Does he care? What keeps him away from attacking? But then I am back to my normal focus mode – I just hit the shutter and try to get the perfect angle, lighting and focus in place, just for that perfect shot. And after the whole scene is over I instantly know that I have to come back – an obvious passion: the perfect leopard shot.